This stuff is important because it can be a very real barrier, especially since if it’s not your day job and you are juggling lots of other commitments, many of which might be more urgent and probably all of which will feel more comfortable and familiar. It can be tempting to keep deferring it, especially if resources are stretched and your targets are tied to other things.
It is tricky to step back from your service
We need to create a sense of distance from our service to do service design effectively, and this can be difficult when our day job is delivering the same service. It is so familiar that sometimes it is hard to see the wood for the trees. We have accumulated knowledge about how the service works and tend to make assumptions about what users can and should be doing that can blind us to their actual experience. When acting as interviewers, the service team had to fight their urge to intervene and help when research participants got stuck, or made ‘mistakes’.
You can only learn by doing
Service design feels as much a craft as it does an approach. Theory will only take you so far: you learn through practice. We are getting better at the techniques each time we use them, but we still have a way to go, and having a mentor makes a really big difference. She helps build our confidence in the process, brings experience to our approach and contributes clarity and an external perspective.
Some of the things we are still pondering
How do we combine quantative data with service design? To borrow from Public Digital, we “Trust data over intuition. But trust insights from user research over both.” We have a rich range of data, but we are still trying to wrestle it into a manageable shape for analysis, and find a good way to work it into our design process.
How do we keep social impact centre stage? User needs, even when considered in their wider context, do not always equate with social impact, and sometimes they even clash.
It really does make your service better
The main benefit of adopting service design is, quite simply, better services. It helps us focus on the right things because it gives us the discipline to prioritise the things that are most important to our users and most likely to have impact, rather than be tempted by funding opportunities or pet projects. Testing things with users at every stage, means that improvements really work for them, as they engage with our service in the context of the wider world.
Developing without this approach leads to much poorer services. We see the world from our own perspective, and as service providers our perspective is different to that of people using our services. This is hard to see this unless you do rigorous and systematic user research, to build that empathy. Our natural instinct is jump straight to solutions, which are based on assumptions and intuitions. Service design slows things down in the short run, but gets you to good results much quicker.
Because service design is iterative, it means that we continue to evolve the service in line with the changing needs of charities and volunteers, and changes in the wider digital environment. Given the rapid pace of change in tech, staying still is not an option. For example, we needed to be ready and able to adapt to Google For Jobs, launched this July.
Rewards for the team
Combining staff from different teams into one service design team brings together different perspectives in useful and interesting ways. It gives the team a sense of ownership over the service, and the opportunity to problem solve and create solutions, which is empowering. Team members benefit from engaging in the process in different ways. For the digital service manager, it is energising to step out of day to day activity to look at long term solutions. As the CEO, first-hand knowledge of the experience of the people using our service is invaluable to me for grounding strategic thinking. All of us find it really rewarding to hear about the positive impact our service has on the lives of volunteers and charities. It makes the connection between our daily work and social impact very tangible.
And building a better service is, of course, motivating in its own right.
We hope this is useful to others who are thinking about how to improve their services. Service design is great for improving services and putting the people who use your service at the heart of its design. It can also increase your charity’s agility and resilience, and create a more flexible, learning culture. We’re keen advocates, so so we’d love to hear from others who are working in this way.