Service Design in Practice

How to turn theory into practice

James attended an excellent workshop at the conference he went to last summer -he came away feeling totally enthusiastic about the subject with a commitment that he was going to change his practice. Six months later, nothing has changed. Indeed, the workshop material is a dim and distant memory which may or may not see the light of day ever again.

Sound familiar?

Those of you reading this who’ve passed your driving test will know that you don’t really start learning to drive until the moment you pass your test. This is because the real learning happens through practice. And the sooner you can do this the better.

Photo by Jake Hills on Unsplash

I’ve been thinking a lot about how we give learning the best chance of “sticking”, resulting in sustained change in practice. This is in the context of a new learning and development programme “Service Design in Practice” which we have developed in partnership with the Chartered Institute of Housing, Cymru. Though the thinking will apply to other subject areas.

We’ve teamed up with Melys Phinnemore, an expert in leadership and workforce development to co-create and deliver the content for the programme.

We’ve been thinking about how we might develop something different. Something that pays attention to the whole learning environment. In particular, we thought about how we might support people to take that all important leap from learning the theory to seeing, feeling and experiencing doing things differently for real. Because we know this is how you can accelerate learning.

Learning the theory is fairly straight forward. Putting it into practice requires determination and resilience and can be difficult, especially without support.

Some of the ingredients we think may have promising results are:

  • get participants to contract with us at the start
    this sets the ground rules and expectations from both sides. Often missed with an “in and out” workshop, but important if we’re to understand each other from the start.
  • bootcamps
    participants learn the theory at a fast paced hands on workshop. The emphasis is on learning by doing as people tend to learn things better this way.
  • warm up participants “grey matter” before the bootcamp
    the time together is short and precious and so we get participants thinking before the bootcamp about the subject area. We want them arriving at bootcamp enthused and excited to learn.
  • set up peer support network between participants
    evidence suggests that people listen more to their peers than they do to people in positions of authority. Peers are able to empathise more readily with each other. We anticipate and hope that this network may continue well after the programme finishes. We are thinking of using a Basecamp project for this.
  • coaching
    when needed, participants can call on us to get one-on-one coaching and support. We hope that this will avoid people putting things into the “too difficult” box and continuing to do things as they have always done.
  • reflective log
    learning is cemented by going back to it and reflecting on for example, how it might be applied day to day. We have made space for participants to create and share their reflective logs.
  • share and learn workshop 
    a few weeks after each bootcamp, participants will come together to share what they learnt about putting the theory into practice. We think this will help to build trust between participants as they share their successes as well as their failures. It will also keep the programme running at a fast pace as participants will have to account for their activity after the bootcamps.
  • join the programme with a real work based challenge
    so that participants have the expectation, resources and capacity to apply the theory immediately.
  • show and tell
    work towards a show and tell of your learning on the programme. We think that this will build accountability into the programme and will share the learning more broadly.
Melys and Jo talking about Service Design in Practice

Melys and I will be testing out these elements in our new learning and development programme, Service Design in Practice, which helps public servants learn service design tools and methods and put them into practice.

We want to know which of these elements have the biggest impact on outcomes for participants and we will share what we learn.

The pioneer cohort will be running from 20March 2019 in Cardiff in partnership with CIH Cymru. The pioneer cohort is running at a reduced price.

Registration is open right now!

Find out more.


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