IRISS Forum: A designer's response

16 Jan 2012

Last Tuesday I had the pleasure of live blogging on behalf of IRISS for their 2011 forum focused on Designs for the Future.

I was particularly honoured as IRISS have a superb forward thinking team which I've had the pleasure of getting to know in the last 12 months through various projects and events.

IRISS are in a period of embracing new approaches, particularly what it means to design and prototype public services and where and how this can be used with Service Providers in Scotland. Their three step approach of Evidence informed practice, Innovation and Improvement and Knowledge media scream design practice to me, and I'm glad to see the link being made between these pillars and the design process. It also aligns closely to the fairly recent Christie Commission and I think IRISS will have a big role in the future of developing policy like 'Reshaping care for older people' and 'Self Directed Support' by taking a practical service design approach to these issues and opportunities outlined in such policy. What I think design can do for these policies is go from 'insight' into fully formed ideas about how policy might work for people in practice.

I was pleased to see IRISS take such a bold step in championing design as a process to drive innovation in Social Services, such projects can be found in their Strategy for 2012-2015 include projects championing Co-creating service improvement ideas for young care leavers and Hack Social.

I've broken down the day into key statements from my perspective as a designer.

The Design Process can help unlock knowledge at the coalface and turn these insights into tangible services and products

The day kicked off with Angela Constance, the minister for Children and Young People. It was refreshing to hear from someone who had previously worked as a social worker talk about the distance between now being an MSP and the short time she has spent away from the front line. She spoke about her time as a social worker;

"In any point as 10 years as a social worker, I would have struggled to tell you who the minister that was responsible for the workforce was"

This highlighted early on in the day a particularly frustrating relationship between decision makers and people delivering services 'at the coalface'. Angela referenced SSSC's Re-imagination work of the social service workforce as key to delivering the workforce and services we want to be running and skilled up for. This begs the question of design and it's mindset/skillset/toolkit being shared amongst a workforce to reshape and redesign the services currently on offer themselves. As Angela put it,

"With increasing financial pressure, we need a workforce who is capable of designing and delivering services that are robust"

Does this mean teaching the workforce to design or making more spaces and opportunities for designers to exist within the public sector? In my opinion, I think both.

Service Design is a magpie practice which is appealing and accessible to many

One man who gave some answers and perspective on this was Joe Heapy, the director and Public Sector lead of the London based Service Design agency, Engine. I've always had a huge amount of respect for Engine as a young designer and it was great to hear Joe's thoughts on designing in this sector and where it is going next in terms of strategically working with organisations and taking a multi-sector approach to ensure great service experiences are delivered. In Joe's words, design provides just enough process to take you from something very open to something concrete, a process that lends itself to innovation to take a group from an idea or insight to an 'end'. To find out more about a basic process, check out the double diamond thinking by the Design Council, Engine's process, or

"Design is about affecting people's behaviour, systems...all of these need to be consciously designed"

We're still not 100% on the impact design has, but we're working on it

What I most appreciated about Joe's talk was his honesty, questioning whether design is a valuable approach and that as designers we are still considering our input to the projects we work on. Last year, Joe wrote an honest account and open letter to the community entitled 'Make yourself useful' that is worth a read.
Launching into the use of Service Design, Joe talked about how solutions to complex problems and in particular localised issues can't be discovered in isolation of service users and communities. In short, Service Design has people as a key principle. My thesis in 2010 looked at the relationship between an organisational hierarchy where knowledge of how a service runs and could be improved/innovated is locked at a grassroots level which is directly opposite to a traditional business mode of thinking which is top down. Surprisingly to some people, I have heard senior people within the public sector ask what their frontline staff actually know. Design in itself and it's very process has to fight these barriers.

Joe spoke about the need to develop co-productive models of service and to unlock resources, which will have to battle the system. Not that we should be defeated about this, there are ways to effect a culture through changing behaviour and structures of organisations. The big question is;

"How can the public sector have a shared practice for research and development?"

My favourite quote from Joe was about the discipline being a magpie practice, an umbrella if you will of approaches. Service Design should be inclusive enough to share tools and process for participants in the development of services work alongside designers to improve and innovate services. As designers, we are facilitators, we bring tools and techniques but we collaborate with people, we don't use off the shelf solutions nor immediately have the answers.

Can everyone be a designer?

An interesting question came from the audience on design toolkits and wether owning the process and toolkit will make you be able to design services. In short, Joe's answer was yes BUT it is not about tools, people still have a role. You need a bit of both.

He spoke about not forgetting the role of a professional and their skills just as much as we respect lawyers and doctors. Professional designers have been through an education and there's something in the educational process that makes you the type of person you are, in an art college case, a designer who has a certain way of thinking, using tools and making ideas tangible with their hands. Three recommended reads from Joe include Demos paper on Codesign, Sophia Parker's Social Animals Paper on young designers entering the public sector and Nesta's recent publication on Prototyping.

I think it would be safe to end with the final point of Joe being;

"What new systems and infrastructures need to exist to let service design happen"

Design is a very democratic, evidence-based practice, and sometimes intuitive, which butts against many existing top down systems and processes as articulated by people such as Roger Martin in publications like The Design of Business. The next big question past understanding and using design is creating the space for it to exist. And this is one challenge IRISS is going to need to tackle as part of a multi sector approach with Scottish Government.

Joe was followed up by groups from the 3rd year Product Design course at the Glasgow School of Art. For anyone who hadn't considered that a course like this wasn't a factory for producing James Dyson types but a breeding ground of young people set to tackle extreme social challenges may want to rethink the term Product Design again. In the words of the course leader Gordon Hush, this course at the GSA is about designing for experience, and a large section of their students create products and services under the bracket of 'Social design' throughout their career at the college.

The students undertook a project called the 'Future Choreography of Care and Support Project' and were broken down into groups to look at 4 themes;

  1. reablement
  2. partnership working and communications
  3. anticipatory care – specifically non-admittance to hospital
  4. social isolation

The project concerns itself with matching the future expectations and aspirations of living a good older life to the resources that will be able to deliver it. The project brought together knowledge and experience of the social services sector and its users with the student designers to foster innovative and holistic strategies and actions for the future well-being of older people.

"This work aims to complement that of the Reshaping Care for Older People agenda and is all about empowering practitioners to come together, to think about the services that they provide differently and to come up with new ideas and ways of working that might provide better outcomes for the people receiving support in this area."

What struck me straight off about the process was the education the designers had been given at the start of the process to get them used to the language and existing policy work, so that as designers they would support this existing thinking by bringing the policy to life as opposed to re-invent the wheel.

I'm not going to go into detail of every project, you can find the projects online but what I liked about the process is that IRISS had helped create the conditions for the students ideas to be taken seriously by supporting their concepts with theory and evidence in what works already. IRISS were facilitators to create environments for people to learn from each other which I think should be a role of most organisations, to facilitate the learning between staff, 'customers', the organisations involved and a design team.

'People need friends not services'

Was one insight from the groups which asks a difficult question which Joe touched on the theme of: How do you design human behaviour? Concepts like a hub and volunteering networks all need designed, in a similar way to get people to give up smoking, to become actively involved in volunteering.
What the students showed was a great maturity towards the subject, a human approach using personas to communicate their ideas. Further to this they told stories and used customer journey mapping, a visual tool to explain how their concepts worked from beginning, middle to end.

Interestingly, all of them had taken an asset based approach, highlighting opportunities where people and organisations could collaborate in communities. This could be for two reasons;

  1. IRISS already champion an assets based approach, seen in some of their project work in Kirkintilloch
  2. This is a natural extension of the 'positive optimist' designer who seeks connections and opportune ideas in the world. Tools like stakeholder mapping naturally seek for designers to visually see the landscape.

Either way, this project highlights some of the basic design skills which can be used to bring policy to life. A next stage of the project would be interesting to really bring the service concepts to life and show what we call the 'touch points' of the service. How would this actually work in real life, what would it look and feel like? How would you book a space at the hub? How would you sign up to a peer to peer network? On the phone? Online? At the door? A slightly longer term project but you have to commend the students. They had less than 7 weeks, working at 2.5 days a week to pull this together. A great introduction to designing for policy, I take my hat off to them.

After lunch breakout sessions took place. I had the opportunity to eaves drop on several including;

  • Involving people in the design of services
  • Getting your services right: Prototyping services
  • The role of evidence and practice wisdom in social services

At the Involving people in the design of services session I dropped in to hear Gayle Rice and Lisa Pattitoni discussing two projects. Lisa was covering the Asset mapping project in Kirkintilloch which now has a live map online using the Ushahidi platform. Lisa talked about how they had used visual tools and props to help people to talk about their mental health.

"...because we had visual tools we could see much more about what participants lives looked like.. "

Some people had thought maybe the visual 'tools' like a giraffe would not suit every type of participant and Lisa was quick to answer that in some cases this approach is not suitable to all and that establishing a relationship when co-prducing any form of value or knowledge was very important. She did talk about how visual tools were used positively to cut through jargon and gave people the opportunity to get across difficult information they had felt nervous to discuss. Gayle Rice echoed this sentiment when explaining co-creative sessions she had run needed to really focus on building strong relationships between the young people they had engaged with and the organisations. She mentioned that when the young people had not turned up for one of the workshops the organisations had felt a bit lost, the energy of the workshop had been reduced and the organisations felt that they didn't really want to push forward ideas without the young people's feedback which is a good learning for future projects.

After lunch, Catherine Macrae, James Baster and Glen Mehn from Social Innovation Camp took to the stage to discuss the project Here's a Hand which is being supported by IRISS and Sicamp. Social Innovation Camp this year gave Catherine the opportunity to bring forward her idea and have it developed by designers and coders over a 48 hour weekend.

"Here's a Hand is an innovative tool for older or disabled people who’d like a bit of support and advice from family, friends or neighbours.

It is an online service that transforms the process of asking for and offering help by connecting the people you already know and trust via email, SMS, Skype and social media.

By communicating across the group instantly and simultaneously, the service creates a real time, dynamic network of support"

Catherine is going to be piloting the product next year with Edinburgh council in early 2012 and is looking for people to test the product with so do get in touch with her and sign up for their newsletter on their website. I was pleased that James Baster talked about the concept of agile development and how important prototyping is to get software and ideas built that work before investing money into final solutions. He spoke about hack days as perfect opportunities to show a concept, not something that works perfectly. This approach of being agile works perfectly with the design process and I think is something that could be adopted by organisations in terms of service and product design online and offline.

Last up was the lovely Denise Stephens from Enabled by Design who shared the idea behind her enterprise and passion for doing so.

Enabled by Design is a community of people passionate about Design for All. We believe that good design can support people to live as independently as possible, by helping to make day-to-day tasks that little bit easier.

Enabled by Design was inspired by co-founder Denise Stephens' experiences following her diagnosis of multiple sclerosis (MS) in 2003. Having suffered a series of disabling relapses and hospital admissions, Denise was assessed by an occupational therapist (OT) and given a range of assistive equipment to help her to be as independent as possible. Although this equipment made a huge difference to her life, she became frustrated as her home started to look more and more like a hospital.

Gaining one of those agreeing sounds from the audience who were probably thinking,

'I can't believe we design such grotesque medical products'

Denise shared pictures of some of the products she had been given and showed how she had found products in IKEA which not only matched her needs physically but aesthetically made her and her friends who would visit feel more comfortable to use. Enabledby have also had a role in reviewing products for companies and have made a great video one of their members did of the Volaris S7: The Rollator Road Test, with the reviewer calling the handles 'B+Q Orange' which reminds us again that not all design is inclusive. Particularly poignant was Denise's thought which I feel tied in many of the themes of the day.

"Things don't have to be tech or expensive to make a difference"

Which is something that echoed throughout the conference. Many of the solutions the students had generated showed (in a ball park figure kind of way) to save money on transactions from citizens. If services are designed right in the first place, that meet the needs of people then we can prevent costs further down the line. This 'spend', I guess is what our preventative spend should be allocated to, but we shouldn't just lay all our eggs in one basket there. Scottish government as a whole should be championing good design and learning and embedding the processes that designers work to. Co-creation, prototyping, story telling, people and being agile is what I took away. If you're an organisation out there, hire a service designer and help them understand your organisation, they'll help you understand what you offer and find a way together to help design flourish in what you do.