Service Design in Dundee: A Creative Gathering

Mike Press
Nov 29, 2019 · 7 min read
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How do we make new connections between those in Dundee working or interested in service design? How do we share what we’re doing? And how can we raise our collective ambitions? Those were the three aims of Service Design in Dundee: A Creative Gathering — an event that attracted over 50 people to a Dundee City Council committee room on 28 November 2019, hosted by UNESCO City of Design Dundee.

Service Design is transforming how we do business and how we deliver public services — and is something that Dundee has embraced. Initiatives include:

  • The City Council applying the Scottish Approach to Service Design to transform its services.
  • Dundee & Angus College using service design methods in its Good to Great programme of organisational change and delivering training and consultancy through its Service Design Academy.
  • Dundee regularly participating in the annual Global GovJam and Global Service Jam events.
  • NHS Tayside currently applying a design-led approach to improve its services.
  • Local businesses and social enterprises — such as CANDU and the Social Mirror — using it to engage and energise their communities.
  • Open Change delivering specialist service design training and development programmes for public and third sector organisations.

“A Spirit of Generosity…”

The gathering, facilitated by Open Change, used service design tools and approaches from liberating structures to stimulate creative conversations that included everyone in developing ideas. Before the event participants were invited to contribute to a visual directory of service design projects that fed into the discussions.

We began with conversations between participants about what they were bringing, what they hoped to gain and what they aimed to give the gathering. These were captured on post-its and summaries shared with the room.

  • People were bringing: curiosity, enthusiasm, willingness to learn, specialist knowledge, open mind, experience, hope, passion, experience, etc.
  • People hoped to gain and give: how service design can help business, understanding, seeing a different future, connections, connect and learn, practical ideas and optimism, new insights, networking, a broader view, meet people and grow, be less insular, a spirit of generosity, etc.
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“People have problems, not needs…”

We created more time for structured conversations between participants and less for listening to presentations — each of which was around four minutes long. Our first batch of three talks were themed as provocations. The aim was to get three of the world’s key people in service design to lay down challenges for participants to discuss.

Adam St John Lawrence is co-founder of WorkPlayExperience and co-founder of the Global Service Jam and Global GovJam. His provocation was in the form of a video that he shot on the streets of Hong Kong shortly after one of the recent demonstrations. Against this backdrop, his theme was the need for people to work together and collaborate:

“A situation like this where collaboration does break down shows how important it is for government, citizens, everybody to find new ways to collaborate to face the changing world that we’re in and situations that we increasingly find ourselves in that are different from what we have seen before.”

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Sarah Drummond is co-founder of Snook and one of the key drivers of service design in the UK. Her provocation, again in video form, was filmed in Rio de Janeiro and London. She began by highlighting the progress Scotland has made in embracing service design approaches, then continued:

“I want to push us a bit further in where we go with this now and set a challenge for Dundee that has a wonderful place-based boundary to start seeing the changes that it can make with these approaches.”

Sarah’s was a three-fold provocation. First, stop tinkering around the user experience — think about policy, finance and other factors that power our perspectives and frame our activities. Second, question what “better” means — which is again about challenging structures and perspectives. Third, to champion the principle coined by Dundee’s own Patrick Geddes — Think Global, Act Local.

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Cat Macaulay is the Chief Designer of the Scottish Government and architect of the Scottish Approach to Service Design. She concluded the provocations section with a radical call for us to change our focus. Highlighting some of the acute issues of poverty, deprivation and poor health outcomes in the city, she argued that it is not enough to empathise but rather we need to talk to people to understand what their problems are — people do not have ’needs’ but problems that require solutions. Designers are good at marginal gains, but less good at the radical step forward that is necessary. One way of addressing this is to encourage and enable more designerly thinking within organisations.

At the end of the provocations, participants were asked What ideas or actions does this suggest? A 1–2–4-All discussion followed, the outcomes of which were shared with the room and captured on magic whiteboard, as below.

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“Be brave, be bold, be Dundee.”

The next section — perspectives and initiatives — included three four minute talks from people leading change in education, healthcare and public services in the city.

Jaki Carnegie is Vice Principal of Dundee & Angus College. She told the story of how the college’s Good to Great initiative, based on service design principles, had been instrumental in making a radical difference to student retention. The problem of a high drop-out rate during the October break has been tackled by well researched and designed interventions that resulted in an 80% return to college amongst those who had left. The College has made other design-led changes that have had a positive impact on the student experience.

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Rod Mountain is an ENT surgeon at Ninewells Hospital, Senior Associate of Open Change and champion of service design in healthcare. He highlighted achievements made through collaboration between the healthcare and creative sector locally, the opportunities to build on these further and highlighted the potential to integrate more with local and national government. Rod emphasised the principle of collaborative creative advantage in the city, and proposed his own 2020 Declaration of Dundee.

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Steven Kyle leads the Changing for the Future Programme at Dundee City Council. His video talk began by focusing on the achievements of service design across local government in Scotland, and the value of the Scottish Approach to Service Design. He stressed that Dundee is seen as leading the way in using service design to transform services but we need to keep that up, arguing for the need to capitalise on the all the city’s strengths and work together. Steven concluded “Be brave, be bold, be Dundee”.

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Next steps

Our final section of the gathering was a what — so what — now what? session that took us towards practical steps we could take that expressed Steven’s call for bold Dundonian bravery.

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Participants were asked what issues or conclusions were emerging, and what we should do next. Views and ideas that were shared included:

  • How we collectively can think like a designer
  • How we can make use of implementation science methodologies
  • Practical initiatives that can be taken at NHS Tayside
  • The need to link up conversations between design champions, lived experience groups, business and others.
  • Keeping hope above frustration
  • Being evidence based
  • Giving form to The Dundee Enlightenment
  • Increasing awareness at all levels in organisations
  • Publishing and using social media to tell our stories better

These are all pulled together in the visualisation below.

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One practical need that was identified was a digital platform to share best practices and to continue discussions. This will be actively explored in the weeks ahead.

But the event was less about practical outcomes and more about making connections in the room and beyond it — by thinking globally and acting locally. It was also about raising our ambitions through a spirit of generosity.

Time will tell if we achieved that.

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Our thanks to UNESCO City of Design Dundee, Barbara Mertlova and Poppy Jarratt for support on the day, Sarah Drummond, Adam St John Lawrence, Cat Macaulay, Jaki Carnegie, Rod Mountain and Steven Kyle. Particular thanks to the fifty people who participated and shared.

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