R00 OXD Embracing The Vertigo Of Service Design Insight Assets Hero V05 ST

Embracing the vertigo of service design

Gordon Ross shares insights around the profound impact of viewing service design from a broader perspective.
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"I'm so glad we didn't try and do this on Teams!" That was the quote of the day at a great in-person workshop I participated in recently. We were preparing for an upcoming co-design session, following a period of design research and reflecting on the findings to date. 

As we shared ideas and insights about how to make an existing service better, we quickly came to realize we’d learned quite a lot during the past few months of interviews and desk research. 

While tons of great stuff happened during the workshop, three things, in particular, feel like they're worth sharing. 

First thing that happened was that our definition of the service became much larger than originally anticipated. 

Our service scope was no longer "find someone, schedule an appointment, and do an assessment." We had seen the service in a much broader temporal context, to include more of the activities that came before and happened after our assessment moment-of-truth.

Our service now felt more like "try to solve a problem, find funding in order to solve that problem, and do an assessment as part of getting funding along the way." Lou Downe has some lovely language about how this happens when you consider a service from the perspective of the person using it

That resulted in the second thing worth noting: the team zoomed out from the context of the service back into the policy intent and considered the big ideas of how government policy interventions cause beneficial effects. We talked about information and education. We spoke about economic incentives. We spoke about regulatory regimes. We talked about compliance and enforcement. 

What followed was a really interesting conversation about goals, outcomes, incentives, and our underlying theory of change that, while implicit in so much of the work, had perhaps not yet been fully articulated and shared explicitly across our team until this moment. 

When working in complex policy spaces, this seems to be an important zone or space to move through ("is this liminal?" as one participant mused out loud mid-workshop); the figuring out which of the many desirable public outcomes are in the foreground and which are in the background, which ones are guiding our decision-making when it comes to changing a service, improving a service, and working towards a shared understanding of what"better" means anyhow. 

And finally, that policy conversation led to the third thing we did: consider a much wider range of options for co-design that both embraced the real-world findings on how to improve the usability of the proximate service (i.e. get an assessment) as well as contemplate how to design a better service experience associated with the original intent of the policy (i.e. help a group of individuals find, apply, and receive funding in order to solve problems associated with their commercial activities). 

Kudos to the team for their perspective, willingness to do the zooming in and out and experience its corresponding vertigo, and move so skillfully between the who/what/when and the bigger why of the service-policy context throughout the course of a few hours. I’m always impressed and grateful to work with people who possess this type of mental dexterity and intellectual flexibility, people able to perceive the big picture and the details that matter, all at the same time. 

My advice to you after a productive in-person workshop day: if you’re tackling a similar service-policy challenge currently, don’t be afraid to work across scales, from the usability challenges of a form all the way to the policy intent underpinning billions of dollars of investments.

Your service users and the public will appreciate your holistic perspective in the long run as you seek to improve services.

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