Social service design

As part of Fire Starter Festival 2019, Iriss ran a workshop which provided participants with an opportunity to learn about service design in a social services context, and think critically about how we put people at the centre of such processes.

It can be hard to get the head around what service design actually means –  this may be because as a discipline it is relatively new and encompasses a range of skills and approaches.

Service design can be delivered by external partners or consultants, but can also be delivered by staff embedded within organisations or by people using services. By reviewing what service designers ‘do’, participants could see what skills they already have in their toolkits!

There are three ‘strings’ to a good service designer’s bow. These include:

  • Delight: making services look and feel good.
  • Offering: creating the right service in response to the correct question
  • Usability: making the service easy-to-use. Removing pain points or ‘groan zones’  in the service and testing iterations to find out if the service works in real life.

While service design is often discussed in a business context with a user or customer as an agent in the process, within a social services context we must be mindful of bringing the users of services into the design process as equal participants. .

The group then moved on to explore how we place values of inclusion, integrity and honesty into our design of services. I highlighted the Design Justice Network. This network uses design to challenge and dismantle establish power structures. 

The Design Justice Network  suggests that together with your colleagues, you create a set of principles in accordance with your shared values to guide how you will work, the types of work you will choose to do, and the impact you want to make.

This is a great place to start if you are thinking about learning more about service design or developing a service design project. You could also use the ‘thinking hats’ activities to help reflect on the values that are embedded in your organisation. 

Design Justice Network principles

  • We use design to sustain, heal, and empower our communities, as well as to seek liberation from exploitative and oppressive systems.
  • We center the voices of those who are directly impacted by the outcomes of the design process.
  • We prioritize design’s impact on the community over the intentions of the designer.
  • We view change as emergent from an accountable, accessible, and collaborative process, rather than as a point at the end of a process.
  • We see the role of the designer as a facilitator rather than an expert.
  • We believe that everyone is an expert based on their own lived experience, and that we all have unique and brilliant contributions to bring to a design process.
  • We share design knowledge and tools with our communities.
  • We work towards sustainable, community-led and -controlled outcomes.
  • We work towards non-exploitative solutions that re-connect us to the earth and to each other
  • Before seeking new design solutions, we look for what is already working at the community level. We honor and uplift traditional, indigenous, and local knowledge and practices.

Underpinning the conversation was the acknowledgement that the most valuable ingredient in service design is often the inclusion of people with lived experience. It is this principle that led us to spend the second half of the session talking about co-production and how this can be used as a service design methodology. The level of engagement from participants was excellent and the range of ideas and projects that they were involved with was fantastic.

Participant reflections

“I enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere. Now I will be able to use tools to build a clearer picture of service design.”

“I will make use of the materials in the co-production project planner which offers a more structured way to approach what I do, having previously used a ISO 3100 risk management model. It was informative and gave me a lot to think about.”

“It was great to hear about what other people are involved with. I love the pack and I’m going to plug it across violent against women partnerships. I would like to learn more about lessons learnt from failed co-production projects.”

“It made me reflect on building stronger foundations before starting new projects”

“The workshop was participative, active, relaxed and visual. It changed the way I think about the contributions of people with lived experience.”

Further reading:

Design Justice Zine 

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