Service Design as a Tool for Social Impact

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Service design methods are incredibly powerful when it comes to aligning enterprise processes and organizational structure with the needs of the customer. Service design, blending an empathy-first approach with many tenants typically associated with systems thinking, creates a strong platform to solve many big, hairy, audacious problems. And where are problems bigger and hairier than complex, social challenges often impacting marginalized or otherwise underserved populations?

Back in 2017, we had the pleasure of working with Population Services International (PSI) at our Service Design event. The organization is a global nonprofit organization focused on the encouragement of healthy behavior and affordability of health products. The difficult Service Design for Impact challenge they presented to our attendees: Giving people access to health products. Attendees were encouraged to consider all aspects of this challenge, to include community values, cultural norms, infrastructure, provider behavior, partner preferences, physical products, etc. Our attendees definitely weren’t expecting prototyping tools to include condoms and pipe cleaners at 9:00am in the morning, but each table group was quickly engaged in empathizing, ideating and prototyping solutions to solve this critical social challenge. I was floored by some of the incredible ideas that emerged:

It was such a pleasure to work with PSI and get a glance into the incredible work that they do. I encourage you to check out some of their incredible success stories. I can only hope that some of our nutty, off-the-wall ideas and prototypes contributed to the continuous research and work they do in the development world.

Another design-focused group in particular who marries big, hairy problems with service design methods is Global Service Jam. Founded in 2011, the non-profit organization brings designers and non-designers alike together to use service design methods to create a better future. The first Global Service Jam was so successful that the organization branched out with two additional, more specific global jam branches:  one for sustainability and one for government. A truly incredible undertaking, a Global Service Jam gathers jammers in up to 100 cities for 48 hours or less working simultaneously to prototype new services based around a particular theme.

Of course, we all have plenty of service design needs in our own enterprises, but I challenge you to consider how design tools you use professionally can also affect your immediate community. Moreover, what can enterprise designers be doing for their greater community of stakeholders? Who knows… maybe your team will be joining the next Global Service Jam!

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