Eldery lives at home with PuntExtra

How can service design bring people together? One frustration some people experience when trying to improve a service is the amount of different organisations that might be involved. What we’ve found at STBY is that it’s still possible to make service design techniques work with broad, loose consortiums who are all involved with a single issue.

This was the background for a project in the Netherlands, where we built on our previous project expertise with care services. Working with a consortium of 10 local organisations, we helped design a project exploring how older people in a small village in Brabant could be helped to live in their homes for longer. This involved widening the focus beyond services that could traditionally be classed as ‘care’; instead, the project looked at more generalised services that could provide support for well-being and postpone the use of care services, helping elderly people remain self-sufficient for longer.

The trigger for such work is rising pressure upon existing care systems; an ageing population and widespread cuts to budgets are already presenting challenges for organisations trying to maintain care standards.  What made it special meanwhile was the wide range of stakeholders that were involved. STBY were initially contracted by PuntExtra, an organisation who provide additional service support to those people needing care services. They wanted to demonstrate to other organisations the value of the service design approach, and invited us to showcase the collaborative methods needed to make this way of working a reality.

For this work, we reused some of interview material gathered from an earlier project with ZuidZorg (which was possible as they are one of the patrons of PuntExtra). This was a great way to demonstrate to the other partners the longevity of design research materials, which can remain both relevant and resonant for years.

As well as recording the perspectives of older people, we also incorporated interviews with several of the partners from the consortium itself. This helped them understand better what their respective views, concerns, capabilities and weaknesses were – facilitating horizontal knowledge sharing and producing a collective understanding of which organisations could deliver each of the services proposed in a concepting workshop.

The point here is that as crucial as empathy with service users is, it’s equally important to build similar understanding between peers and partners at the organisational level – especially in the multi-stakeholder situations that are so typical of real-world service environments. This helps prevent a whole range of all-too-familiar problems – such as how it’s easy in such circumstances for everyone to take a back seat and see if others will take the lead in creating a service.

The workshop at the culmination of this project demonstrated to all involved how both user- and peer-perspectives, when accurately and engagingly recorded using design research techniques, can facilitate a far higher-level of discussion on the issues involved. All those taking part are forced to see the issue from multiple points of view, and are able to ascertain which of their peers (and indeed which combinations of different partners) are best placed to tackle some of the challenges uncovered.

The end-result of this project were three ideas which were  presented at a local village fair in order to collect responses from local people. The partners involved meanwhile are now in discussions as to which services they would like to start prototyping and implementing; a broad, loose consortium is thus able to tackle a complex, multi-faceted problem in an effective and cohesive manner.