Deborah Szebeko of Think Public

Deborah runs a service design company Think Public for the public sector (mainly health), and also started to do a PhD to reflect more on her work practice. One of her Think Public projects is called Experience Based Design, focusing on how patients and staff in a hospital can work together to improve services. Think Public approached active patients as a resource that has a lot of knowledge about the health service. The patients and staff come together in situations that are different from their normal encounters to avoid these become moaning shops.

Think Public collected experiences from both sides and then brought everyone together to exchange these experiences and listen to each other. That worked because there was a shared goal to improve the service, instead of criticising the staff. So the meetings did not become moan shops. Then the group was involved in designing small pieces of the service such as a communication tool in the service. Think Public also trained champions to engage other people in the hospital into the process. Outcomes were for instance redesigning information leaflets, changing waiting rooms, and other rather simple things that were very achievable and easy to do for staff and patients themselves which created ownership of these changes.

Challenges Think Public faces at work daily are for instance language barriers between themselves and the people they work with: users and service providers. It is also difficult to influence the stage at which designers get involved in projects (they can have more impact of they are engaged earlier, but often are invited to participate only rather late). Other challenges: Finding the right people to involve and engage in co-design projects is hard. How to make the service design sustainable, how to make sure it continues, is difficult too.

For her PhD work which she just started a few months ago she looks at opportunities for design in public services, for designers to work there and for education to train designers better for that kind of work. She made a website for this research called The Real Work Experience.