Gisborne: gorgeous. Credit: aimee whitcroft

Service design for Councils: Better Gisborne events

In November 2016, Nick and I ran a service design workshop with Gisborne District Council, focused on introducing human-centred design principles into better supporting events in the region.

Here’s what we did.

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Gisborne faces an interesting situation. It’s not on the way to anywhere, nor between anything. This means that people who visit this (stunning) part of the country are doing so specifically.

It also means Gisborne has to work harder to attract visitors.

Apart from the stunning scenery, events are a major way for Gisborne to celebrate itself and its residents, and also to bring in tourists.

They include major events like the annual Rhythm and Vines festival, as well as smaller community-run events and things like school galas.

The Council wants to do a better job of supporting events in its region, and the people who plan and attend them. So they contacted us and asked if we could come and run a learn-by-doing workshop with them, to:

  • teach them some of the basics of service design and agile service development
  • develop problem definitions, and
  • prototype solutions.
Council participants hearing from a professional event planner about their experiences, pain points and suggestions. Credit: aimee whitcroft

Our 1-day workshop had both tangible and intangible aims

As mentioned above, the aim of the workshop was to identify potential service solutions for some of the existing problem areas the Council has around event management (both in- and externally).

We expected the workshop to result in some or all of the following:

  • policy documents people could act on
  • change suggestions supported by research, and plans of action
  • service designs and/or initiatives
  • (tech) platforms, and/or ways to use them
  • things that hadn’t even occurred to anyone.

Less tangible but equally valuable results would include:

  • experiencing different ideas and new work methods
  • building real connections to people in the same team, other teams and in the community
  • seeing how a structured innovation process can produce robust, concrete and human-centred results — even in just a day.
Some of the potential user journeys participants mapped, and then compared with event planners’ experience. Credit: aimee whitcroft

So many things, so few hours

Because we wanted this to be an initial crash course, and demonstrate both a range of different techniques but also how quick and powerful prototyping can be, we did a lot, in a very short time.

[Our participants were exhausted by the end of it, and in future we’ll have the data to back up our suggestion to clients that 2 half days is more productive, and much kinder, than one full day.]

The basic shape of the day used the UK Design Council’s Double Diamond process model. As a group, we:

  • discussed definitions for “event”, and agreed that we’d include more than the large events, as many events might trigger Council requirements whether they know it or not, and wouldn’t necessarily know to apply to the Council for permissions
  • split into groups to identify the range of events held in the region
  • identified the common problems experienced by events and their organisers
  • identified 3 core event types to focus on for the day: professionally-run events, community-run events and smaller events like school galas.

From here, we took people through:

  • designing personas for event organisers and making an initial journey maps
  • meeting as a single group to talk with a very senior event planner in the region, to learn from her frustrations and experience
  • going through several iterative rounds of talking with event organisers, Council staff and other stakeholders to validate personas and journey maps, major pain points (ie problem definitions), and potential solutions.

Finally, we took all of the information and context that participants had gathered during the day, and:

  • placed their validated prototype solutions into an organisational context, developing service outcomes, value statements and key performance indicators (ie “how do we know if we’re succeeding at this?”)
  • reworked their journey maps for each of the new service initiatives, including outward-facing customer touchpoints and internal system and process touch points.

These final 2 pieces of work will form the basis of the inevitable business cases required by organisations like this to get new initiatives off the ground.

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From problems, to solution sets, to solution features to develop, test and explore— all in a day. Credit: aimee whitcroft.

Fine, but what did you actually learn? What solutions did they test?

The team realised that:

  • talking with “users” — both internal and external (eg event planners) — needn’t be scary, and is a brilliant way to figure out what’s not working, and how to improve it
  • they didn’t really understand the timelines of event planners, and often had Council processes out of step with what event planners need to do, and when
  • there are many kinds of event planners, and they all want early, clear communication about requirements
  • event planners, general members of the public and Council staff all wanted to be able to look at which events where happening, when
  • Council and those who interact with them often make assumptions about each other — sharing more information could mean big savings in time and costs
  • event planners wanted a single source of contact with the Council — someone who could guide them through the necessary paperwork, liaise between them and all the Council departments necessary, and help them feel welcome and valued
  • all isn’t broken — Gisborne District Council is doing lots well
  • users (eg event planners) are happy to get involved and help improve matters, and it’s a great way to mend relationships, get people reengaged, and make sure services are relevant
  • everyone’s keen on the same end goal — making sure people know how lovely Gisborne is, and enjoy their time there.

The team developed 3 possible solution themes. They went back out to test them with people, and used that feedback to hone them.

From there, we helped them build the frameworks they’d need to build business cases around the solutions, and sent them home, exhausted but also energised.

Of course, that’s not the end of the story. We fed them back a number of suggestions for where to go next and, of course, are in touch with them to see how things go.

We’re as excited as they are :)

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If you’d like to see the full report we wrote for the Gisborne District Council, please get in touch with us.

Interested in chatting with us about how we can help your organisation work on real solutions to real problems? Get in touch!