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Using partnerships to achieve reforms

The Danish Ministry of Education and other ministries are using a new method to achieve reforms in the public sector. They are using partnerships to achieve reforms.
There are some major challenges when the time comes to implement reforms. Ministries, regions and municipalities, if they actively make use of partnerships, are able to generate commitment and activate new stakeholders as partners, which can mean improved opportunities for the achievement of satisfactory end results.

1) Reforms present challenges when the time comes for them to be implemented

Once an Act of Parliament has been passed and a government has put a new project on the agenda, the really difficult job begins. How do you translate the good intentions underlying the reform into practice? At the Danish Ministry of Education, implementation of the reform of Danish state schools is in full swing. The Danish Ministry of Employment is focused on the new Employment Reform. Mindlab is helping out in both ministries. The Danish Agency for Digitisation is working on the next digitisation strategy for the joint public sector. In the Ministry of the Environment, the Minister has just published an ambitious strategy all about ”Denmark without waste II”. Reforms do not implement themselves. Nothing happens either if the minister just issues orders. Reforms require support, commitment and the building of new relationships if they are to succeed.

2) One method that is currently very widespread is to create and guide partnerships in order to achieve full implementation

Politicians and officials who are active in the reform have to generate enthusiasm and commitment if reforms are to be recognisable in everyday practice. And in many cases, they are. The Danish Ministry of Education has been working on the ”New Nordic school” initiative. They have also established a ”Partnership for the Danish State School System”. During the implementation of the reform of state schools, a number of new stakeholders have been established. It is not just a question of the Ministry, the Agency for Modernisation and Local Government Denmark facing off against the Danish teacher’s Association. The stakeholders who are being given new roles are pupils, parents and those in charge of schools. At the same time, new stakeholder groupings, such as sports clubs, NGOs and companies are being given important roles. Mærsk stands out among companies by having donated a billion Danish crowns towards implementation of the state school reform. It requires that both existing and new stakeholders alike will have shared responsibility for the progress of these reforms. At the Ministry of the Environment, the Minister wants to engage companies and NGOs in new waste strategies by using partnerships as an means to get things done. The Danish Agency for Digitisation is currently reaching out to businesses and citizens to get them actively on board with the digitisation reform and to already make a contribution to the shaping of the future of the strategy for digitisation.

3) The management of partnerships requires active and focused management

An active and focused effort on the part of management is frequently the key to well-functioning partnerships. We have already mentioned the new commitments by various ministries. Another example is the Wholemeal Partnership, which works towards better health by getting the people of Demark to eat more whole grains. Wholemeal partnerships unite groups such as the Danish Veterinary and Food Agency and NGOs like the Danish Heart Association and the Danish Cancer Society with companies which produce and sell bread in order to achieve a result. And the results speak for themselves. Quantity and consumption of wholegrain products have increased. Public health is improving. The management of Wholemeal partnerships are actively working and focusing on creating commitment and support for the work of the Wholemeal partnership. Seen in the broader perspective, research in the implementation of reforms also indicates that active and focused leadership in the form of partnerships is something that gets results. Patashnik, an American researcher, has shown in studies that if it is possible to create new stakeholders, who form new relationships among themselves, there a completely new situation will arise. A new constellation of stakeholders will appear. Alford & O’Flynn, two researchers from Melbourne in Australia, have examined the competencies that active partnership management requires of public leaders. Another American, Ed De Seve, was in charge of the implemention of the multi-billion dollar U.S. economic stimulus package during Obama’s first presidency, which he achieved with the use of controlled partnerships (or networks). Management has a role to play in the active, focused, leadership of the partnership. The efforts of DeSeves and others also generated visible results, which we can see today. The U.S. economy is creating jobs and in a state of growth.

There are bound to be people who say that politicians simply steamroller their reforms through. There will also be people who are unable to see the results of these attempts to guide and implement reforms through partnerships. To those people, I would say that this article mentions some of the most significant and complex areas for reforms, namely the state school system, employment and digitisation. If you are going to achieve sustainable results, co-operation is an absolute condition in cases like these.

The results of reforms are not achieved through conflict and barriers, but through new working relationships and constellations. Reform results require that leaders constantly thinking in terms of how they can establish, develop and maintain partnership relationships in such a way that partners are committed to reforms.

Design games that play

Design game as a creative platform for new ideas

Playing cards, dice and board games are not uncommon sights, when serious matters such as developing new services are underway. A design game is an effective and inspiring playground, where you can practise before ideas turn into reality. Get good advice and navigate around the most common pitfalls, if you are faced with rethinking or developing new services for your users.

With a game, you can play for a while and experiment your way to finding out what possible solutions might look like. Games can take many different forms, but common to them all is the opportunity to experiment first and thus more quickly learn what works and what doesn’t. You can put yourself in another’s place for a while or use the game as a platform for investigating current problems and dilemmas.

That’s why design games continue to gain ground wherever complex new projects are taking shape. Here you can read about how it’s done and get good advice about what you should pay extra attention to when working with games or just let yourself be inspired by the game world’s thinking and elements.

1) Promotes dialogue and common understanding

When something new is being created or an existing service has to be adjusted, it often results in a negotiation process and collaboration among many different stakeholders. And the co-creators usually have an opinion about how much, how often, how little or how the new measures should be put together. And that’s all good. The problem is just that the participants are all too often very busy making compromises, entering into written agreements and closing down the discussion, even before the project’s potential has been researched and discovered. Dense Word documents can change hands without it necessarily becoming clearer what the project should address. A4 pages with abstract risk and stakeholder analyses often amount to empty assertions that the most important aspects of the project have been identified and acted on in place. This is where the game format can help bring together the main stakeholders who will create a project and promote a dialogue among them. The game format paves the way for collaboration, dialogue and playing with and against each other. The simple, visual form allows the game to promote those dialogues that can otherwise be difficult to broach.

Example: Atlas Game – a map of the project

The Atlas Game is an illustrative example of a design game that deliberately works to involve key stakeholders at an early stage and ensure that they talk to one another.

It was developed in collaboration between the design school in Helsinki and a number of others in both Europe and the United States.

Its goal is to create a solid impetus for focusing on and planning a project. The players are those who together will shape and develop the project. Participants use hexagonal cards, which they lay end-to-end, literally taking them all the way around the project. The game asks basic questions that are important to keep in mind. The game also includes method cards, where some of the most important design methods are described. With the help of the game, participants can practise seeing the project from a variety of angles. It is a training space, where those who will create the project, can practise being very specific. What do we need to consider before we begin? Which methods are most suited to acquiring new knowledge? What should you do? What should I do? And what should we do together?


The Atlas Game is structured so that the various angles of the project are seen in relation to each other as the game progresses. The game strengthens dialogue among the participants. In the two-hour duration of the game, the participants circle all the way around on their project.

Try the game yourself. Here you can download the rules and all components of the game.

Read about the game’s background here.

2) Challenges your tendency to come up with the same thing every time

You are the expert and know in advance what works and what doesn’t. You know your area of expertise top to bottom, and perhaps your co-workers have the same background as you. The point of departure and the framework is therefore static, and much will be taken for granted. That’s part of being an expert. It is not necessarily an advantage when something new has to be developed. Some curiosity and a beginner’s ability to combine unexpected elements is lost. And often there is a lot that one simply cannot see.

Here the game, the play and not least chance can push the limits. A design game will often include an element of randomness. It can be in the form of dice that are thrown and link elements in surprising ways. It could also be cards, selected as the game progresses, that force players to see a problem from several different angles.

Example: Pick a card and come up with new ideas

A design game doesn’t have to be complicated, consist of a lot of different elements or, for that matter, mimic the form of a board game where – armed with dice, game board and cards – players compete with and against one another.

It can be simple. At MindLab, one thing we have learned from long experience working with new solutions across the public sector is that too little energy is used to fine tune, experiment with or moderate them. And sometimes it can be a good idea to copy, reinterpret and adjust the subcomponents of a solution from one area to another. MindLab has therefore developed a number of cards that stimulate idea development. The maps are based on idea directions that have been successful in one area and invite participants to consider whether they can work for them. The cards have often been used as a point of departure for a brainstorm. For example, one of the cards says: “What if the service must be put together in a strategic alliance with others?” Could one, for example, collaborate with the municipality, the insurance company or family members, when someone who has been sick needs to be helped back to work?


Here the idea card is used in connection with MindLab’s work with the United Nations Development Programme in Moldova. Read about the collaboration here. The goal was to look at how it could become easier for local residents in Moldova to get help in times of acute economic crisis. Currently it is a very slow process, requiring visits to a number of different authorities, and many people give up altogether, are refused or get so little financial compensation that it doesn’t help at all. The idea cards provided new ideas for the service.

3) Be sure that your ideas correspond to the right issue

When we work with new solutions, the point of departure is often an acute problem that we would like to find a solution to. That’s a good starting point. The only problem is that we often think we have a common understanding of the problem, although the starting points can be very different. If we are to reach clarity about what the problem really is, who is faced with the problem, and in what situations the problem occurs, interventions from the design-game world can be used to advantage. They make a powerful launching pad for getting from abstract discussion to concrete solutions. The game can formulate and enforce clear rules for how the issue can be explored and broken down.

Example: Sharpen your problem with Duplo bricks

Some years ago, Business Development Centre – Southern Denmark [Væksthus Syddanmark] (BDC) faced the challenge of attracting entrepreneurs for their consultancy services. Read more here. The consultancy services were really good, which should have brought entrepreneurs to their door. The problem was just that the entrepreneurs were not showing up. As part of the work to find out why there was no demand for the service, BDC, along with MindLab and the design firm 1508, invited a number of companies to participate in a problem brainstorming. On Duplo bricks, they noted the challenges they associated with greenhouse services or lack of same, and then they were asked to categorise the challenges. The exercise ended in a great construction of Duplo towers – some linked, others completely isolated. It helped show which problems were connected and gave a visual overview of how much space the individual problems occupied. Duplo bricks helped BDC to become smarter about the issues they should focus on if they were to succeed in creating an attractive service experience for the region’s entrepreneurs. They found, for example, that the use of the word ‘free’ in promoting consultancy services created mistrust and perceptions of less-than-competent advice.


Duplo bricks helped Væksthus Syddanmark to target their service to entrepreneurs’ real needs.

4) Put yourself in another’s place and get ideas that work

If you are working strategically with your target group, you already know that it’s a motley bunch. What works for one user does not necessarily have a great effect on the next user. But it can be difficult to keep track of a variety of users’ perceived needs when you have to solve a problem that ideally should have been solved yesterday. In this instance, it can be a good exercise to force oneself to stand in the users’ shoes. For example, it can be a good idea to make use of ‘extreme’ target group representatives, for example an auto enthusiast who owns four cars and has never used public transport, when you need to develop new public transport services. If you can succeed in getting that person on the bandwagon, then you’ve come a long way.

Design games can be the means to provide a quick reminder of your target group’s diversity. The game can help you to determine which target group you should aim for. It can create a framework for systematic and strategic discussions of how your target audience will react to various new approaches and ideas, without it being dangerous and having immediate consequences. Design games, for example, can take on the character of a management tool that can strengthen the selection and deselection of directions for one’s development work.

Example: Put different archetypes into play and get new perspectives

An example of a design game that has supported idea development from the point of view of looking for different target groups can be seen in a case from the Odense Municipality School Administration. In the wake of the new school reform launch, a number of initiatives were implemented to ensure that the reform got off to the best possible start in the municipality. In this context, the Administration, in collaboration with MindLab, created a snapshot of the dilemmas the teachers experienced. School headmasters in the municipality were asked to play a game where they were given the opportunity to work with how they could best address the most difficult current dilemmas. The game contained a number of visual cards with archetypal teaching staff characters. For example, the administrators were presented with ‘the Worried Teacher’ who, with good reason, resisted change in the workday, as well as ‘the Strategist’, who sought tools to translate the reform’s content into concrete practice in the classroom. The game gave school leaders a common reference point and the opportunity to test strategic decisions about which measures were necessary, there and then, if the reform were to be helped on its way.


A design game gave headmasters in Odense Municipality the opportunity to prioritise all the different measures that right now are to help get the school reform underway.

5) Play your way to a diversity of ideas

When new ideas and solutions are to be developed, it is often a mantra that one should ‘think outside the box’, support wild and unconventional ideas and do away with the tendency to focus too much on what can be done within the existing framework. It sounds easy, but it is often a severe discipline in practice. You can quickly end up mired in the same ideas, perhaps because you end up basing idea development on the challenges and user needs that you yourself identify with. Perhaps you’ve already fallen in love with one of the ideas, so alternatives are overshadowed. In this case, design games can be an intervention for experimenting your way to new perspectives and ideas, where by using simple methods you can create space and will to think creatively and untraditionally. One approach might be to let oneself be inspired by completely different sectors, industries or professional backgrounds during idea development, and this is where service analogies are an effective means to play with reality.

It can be a good idea to think of examples from other services that you associate with good and positive experiences. Think about why the service works, when you have been pleasantly surprised, and what causes you to recommend it to others.

Example: Let service analogies inspire you to new ideas

The KL Consultancy (KLK) and the design bureau 1508 have implemented a number of concrete development processes in interacting collaboration with Århus, Odense and Haderslev municipalities with the aim of inspiring and training municipal managers and employees to create targeted, user-driven innovation. In order to get municipalities to change their familiar ways of thinking and acting, service analogies were introduced as part of idea development for new municipal services.

The project participants were asked to let themselves be inspired by the expectations and experiences of other situations on the basis of questions such as “What if your service took place in the manner of a trip to the supermarket?” or “What if your service was like flying first-class on an airline?” The questions were supplemented by visual mood boards, which made it easy to be inspired by the well-functioning elements from other services.


In Århus Municipality, work has been done to optimise meal services for the elderly who live at home. As a step in developing new meal services, administration and staff worked with service analogies, whereby they let themselves be inspired by questions such as “What if the seniors’ meal time was arranged as a picnic?”

Read more about the municipal innovation process here.


  1. If you do not sum up, knowledge will be lost

To play is a unique intervention to create motivation, empathy and a common focal point for finding new paths together. The difficult, tedious or conflict-ridden take a rest. But the game’s playful form has a built-in risk that there will be no summarising, writing down, assigning of responsibility or final decision-making, causing participants to lack simple information for later use. The game would be detached from the real and more consequential work.

Therefore, always think about how you will incorporate and assemble what the participants produce or arrive at along the way in the game. It might be an idea to make a video of the game, a sound recording of the discussions or incorporate posters or playing cards that participants fill in along the way as a recap.

         2. Complicated rules easily end up taking over instead of the content

If there are too many rules, detailed point systems or a complicated game setup, they can take over and become misguided goals in themselves. Then game participants will go after points, begin to cheat or become irritated with one another over the rules of the game. In that way, the rules or points surpass the game’s significance and overshadow its real purpose.

The moral of the story is: When a game is developed, it must be simple. Participants should be able to easily and intuitively play the game and maybe actually even create rules along the way. The game should serve as a framework for discussions, not as an end in itself.

  1. Games cannot solve everything at once

Not everything lends itself to games. The overtly seductive elements that make the game effective can also be its weakness. If a design game is over-ambitious and not dedicated a priori to a well-delimited field, the game in itself can take over, but without bringing the participants decisively farther. The game should never be an end in itself. It must be a well-designed means to a decisive end.

The moral of the story is: Select a delimited problem or area in relation to which you want to rework or develop action tracks.

  1. No game without thorough preparation

To create something together may be the most important goal when a game is started. Therefore, preparations can sometimes be at least as important as the game itself. For example, if a game contains elements, where the participants’ target groups or stakeholders are to be described, it is not necessarily the game facilitator who should describe them, but the participants themselves.

The moral of the story is: Think about whether participants can develop content for the game’s subcomponents in advance. It is important that the game be the participants’ own and not an extra disruptive layer apart from the real, important work.

  1. Games must not be colourful for fun

Games are and should be visual and inspiring to work with, but it is important that the game be simple and easy to understand and use. Too many colours, game pieces and other items may interfere with and draw attention away from the real purpose. For example, if there are multiple colours, it is worth considering whether they constitute a point in themselves or whether any of them can be dispensed with.

The moral of the story is: Keep it simple! Think about each component of the game and consider whether it can be done more simply. Cut down on the components and, for example, leave some of the cards or the pieces blank, so the participants themselves can fill them in.

Good links to articles

Brandt E. (2006, August). Designing exploratory design games: a framework for participation in participatory design? In Proceedings of the Ninth Conference on Participatory design: Expanding boundaries in design, Volume 1 (pp. 57-66). ACM. Find it here.

An early theorist and one of the founders of design games, architect N. John Habraken’s: Habraken NJ, Gross MD. (1988). Concept design games. Design Studies, 9 (3), 150-158. Find it here.

Sanders EBN, Stappers PJ. (2008). Co-creation and the new landscapes of design. 5-18). Find it here.

Links to books about design methods and design games:

Rehearsing the future – research project at the Danish Design School, concerning design methods and user-driven innovation. Find it here.

Design for policy. Article collection with contributions from academia, design practitioners and public managers about design methods as an impetus to development in the public sector. Especially Danish Design School Research Assistant Joachim Halse’s article: “Tools for ideation: Evocative visualization as drivers of the policy process”. Find it here.

Teaching service design methods to UNDP

The UN Development Program (UNDP) Moldova has over the last few years been working on integrating design methods in their work on development of the public sector. The UNDP Moldova professionals have developed a social innovation hub where new solution tracks are completed in close cooperation with the civil servants at both central and local levels of government.

Recently UNDP Moldova, in collaboration with Moldova e-Government Center, launched a lab, the so-called Mi Lab (Moldova Innovation Lab).The new lab will contribute to the integration of co-production and design methods in the daily practice of UNDP’s work in the region.

MindLab has collaborated with UNDP Moldova earlier in the process and visited the country again this year in December. MindLab facilitated learning sessions in the first couple of days of the visit, where civil servants from the central administration were taught design methods and other techniques to experiment in the search for better public solutions. Moldova’s Ministry of Education, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Taxation and the State Chancellery office attended the learning sessions among others.

The last day was dedicated to developing sketches of how two specific public services could look like in the future in Moldova. Public officials from local and central levels worked together in the drafting of smoother ‘service journeys’ for citizens in need of the two specific public services.

A mayor of the small village Ciuciuleni participated in one of the learning sessions to get a feel for how the public system could accommodate easier access to help for local citizens in acute private economic crisis. At present the system in this public service area is extremely complex and the citizen is required to visit a number of different authorities. Sometimes it is impossible for the citizens to gather all the relevant documents and many give up on getting any financial assistance or receive so little economic compensation that the effort to get it seemed not worth it. A new service journey for material aid took shape during the final day of MindLab’s visit in Moldova.

Respresentatives from central public administration – National Social Insurance House and Territorial Chambers developed a concept for reengineering the service developed a new electronic service for the monthly childcare benefit service. Mapping the service outlined 26 steps to be passed for finally approving an application and enabling the citizen receiving the benefit. In the new solution that the citizens are no longer supposed to be ‘the postman’ between different stakeholders but instead will receive a coordinated and substantially simplified public service system through an online application platform where citizens will provide the minimum of information. The other data will be exchanged between the stakeholders in the back-office . The prototype of this new public service will be launched in the spring of 2015.

Read more about service design in Moldova in this blog post by Cristina Lisii og Dmitri Belan from the Social Innovation Hub.

Read more about the UNDP/MindLab collaboration on Cornelia Amihalachioae’s blog. Cornelia is Social Innovation Officer in Moldova e-Gov Centre



MindLab has previously collaborated with UNDP’s development unit, Knowledge and Innovation. Watch a short film about the collaboration here.


The serious business of setting up a lab

Something amazing is happening. The public sector innovation agenda is no longer exclusive and something that a few scattered believers are talking about in remote corners of the internet or at highly nerdish gatherings. Innovation, experimentation and alternative approaches are becoming the new normal.

A colleague who ran a workshop on setting up innovation-labs at a large OECD conference the other week reflected on a tweet from another participant. The tweet pointed to the fact that it seemed strange to discuss innovation in a room full of suits. My colleague’s perspective was that the fact that innovation and suits are no longer opposed is a victory for innovation rather than an indicator that the creativity is low when wearing a suit.

FullSizeRender (9)

Workshop on setting up innovation-labs at OECD conference.

At MindLab we notice the development with joy, because we have been around ever since user-centric methods for improving services and policies were just an unproven promise of better solutions. Now the world apparently has seen the needed share of results to convince administrations that setting up a lab may not be as big a risk as not doing it.

The trend has been there for a while. The UK has established a lab and many others with them. Latest Moldova has opened MiLab

Even more countries have been talking about it, mainly Western administrations. However more and more often the latter years I have been asked legitimate questions like “would it work in other cultures”, “what about developing countries”. My guess is that we will not have to wait long to be able to really compare across countries, cultures and levels of development. The list of potential labs-to-be is becoming longer every day. With deep interest and cheering them on I will follow the efforts that we now see on all continents.

When something becomes known by enough people it also becomes a part of the language, it even becomes a language in itself. Languages can fortunately be learned and we are part of the struggle and enthusiastic supporters to help translate where we can. However, a worry here could be that a word like “lab” potentially loses it´s meaning, a bit like it has happened to innovation. That the popularity of the word means that it will be applied onto anything that could do with a little popularity. Then we are at risk of not only hollowing a word but of discrediting the promise of effect and change.

So what is a lab and what should be considered if you wish to set up one? Besides reading this blog-post about license to act differently written by my colleague Jakob Schjørring , you may want to look at different crucial elements. It is not rocket-science, but it is not easy either. We can call these elements combined the innovation-framework or merely a handy model when you build up a new organization meant to experiment and offer alternative approaches. Helpful questions to consider before even setting out on this journey are:

  • To what extent and in what ways can innovation labs attribute something helpful to the work of public innovation?
  • What are the key conditions and attention points that need to be considered when dealing with the challenges of starting and running an innovation lab?
  • What characterizes the different lab approaches and what kind of approach works in relation to which challenges?
  • To what extent can we build labs for the long run that are considered a legitimate part of the infrastructure of the work of government?




Anyone who set out to build a lab should ask themselves why they want one. If they answer precisely it is quite easy to vision the criteria of success. The harder part is to choose what activities are fitted for lab-work and to define what resources, skills and narratives should characterize the lab to reach the goals. The governance structure is often a given, as administrations tend to decide that as the first thing. If it is so, the real question is how well supported the lab is in that structure and the consideration should be if there is a need for further support within or supportive partnerships with others.

It seems that labs are not only being sat up a lot of places- it also seems that the phenomenon is here to stay. The latter may be an in-build contradiction to note and consider. Any lab should strive to not only experiment and introduce alternatives for added value, but also to build up capacity in their administrations to long-term become redundant.

Read Nesta’s guide for setting up a lab:



Collective Impact – an action tank. Not a think tank

“Collective Impact”? That will be something about partnerships and wider collaborations won’t it? We’ve been doing that here for years and years.” You may well be thinking along those lines, when you (like plenty of other people these days) hear about this term; Collective Impact. It is a way of working that has spread like wildfire over the last couple of years, especially in the USA where funds, public organisations and NGOs who are working with complex challenges facing society, have acknowledged that they unable to lift the burden alone.

If you are thinking “did it, done it” or (maybe) ”doing it”, then also respond affirmatively that your partnership or wider collaboration does actually:

  • Set common and measurable goals in relation to what you want to achieve or change, and with a long-term perspective in mind.
  • Find mutual common agreement as to how to gauge the means by which you will create change and on a joint monitoring system to ensure progression and learning
  • Combine to establish a common and binding plan of action which means that the parties prioritise the investment of resources to achieve the common goal in their daily work

If you agree to be part of a Collective Impact programme, you are indeed entering into a rather demanding and committed form of partnership. On the other hand, it seems to achieve results in areas where it is usually incredibly difficult to achieve successful change at society level. We are talking about measurable results in areas such as the reduction of obesity in children, helping mentally vulnerable or disabled people to become part of the labour market [1], better grades and educational statistics among youngsters transversal to social environments. [2] These examples are mainly from the USA, but are also beginning to appear in other countries around the world. Likewise, organisations like the UN are achieving good results. [3]

In other words, there is good reason why there is a buzz about Collective Impact in circles that are affected by the ambition and expectation of actually trying to solve some of the Gordian knots that society presents.

Collective Impact has recently arrived in Denmark. Few are working systematically with this form of working. At Realdania, we have just launched three Collective Impact groups and are thereby getting a grip on this new way of working, as part of the association’s problem-driven philanthropic work.

In specific terms, Realdania is making a working platform available for the three Collective Impact groups. Each group will each have its own secretarial department to support the work by completing such tasks as collecting and producing relevant data, which is another key feature of Collective Impact. It is very much based on knowledge. Knowledge is the basis for action. Collective Impact groups are not think tanks. They are action groups. Therefore, it is the decision makers who are also seated at the table, so they can act in unison, with a focus on common goals.

Realdania is funding the working platform, but is otherwise engaged as an equal partner among the range of other stakeholders in the groups. This arm’s-length approach is important. The parties must set aside their own exclusive agendas, for the benefit of going for a common goal. An independent chairman for each Collective Impact Group is in charge of the joint tasks which deal with subjects concerning 1) the living built heritage in the rural areas, 2) the potentials of outlying rural areas and the open land, and 3) social issues in relation to the built environment.

The initiative is brand new, but there is a great deal of interest, fortunately. But probably no coincidence. At a time when there is noticeable pressure that is the result of complex challenges to society, the demand for new ways of thinking and a public economic framework that is in decline, Collective Impact is perfectly timed as a working form. Whether we are able to translate the working method to actual results in a Danish context remains to be seen, but is definitely worth a try.

PS if you thought “yes, actually that is what we do” about the three requirements for common goals, gauging techniques and binding action plan, please call me, or write. We are very happy to learn from good experiences.

Mette Margrethe Elf is Head of Collective Impact at Realdania and member of MindLab’s Advisory Board



[3] See cases at

How do we issue a “Licence to act differently”?

Last week, someone asked me what it is that really makes MindLab a Lab. This was a very good question, and one that I thought about quite a lot. Of course, our user-centric and design-driven approach is a central anchor point for the work we do every day and it is this that our partners initially buy into. But new methodologies alone do not quite cover what goes on when our four owners cooperate with MindLab for specific development projects.

The laboratory as catalyst

Over and over again, it turns out to be the case that this collaboration with MindLab also gives the civil servants with whom we partner up an opportunity to use facets of themselves that are not usually given free rein in their official capacity; facets that involve creativity, the ability to think innovatively and to transcend organisational “boxes” and (not least) the courage to try out new approaches to welfare creation. When viewed from this angle, MindLab’s capacity as a laboratory is more about how we introduce other codes, norms and values about acceptable and unacceptable mindsets and actions for a Ministry and/or Municipal official. In other words, Mindlab gives our partners a “Licence to act differently”.

Creative Confidence

I am not alone in having made this observation. Last summer, David Kelly (founder of the world’s most well known Innovation Agency, IDEO) published a very inspirational book, titled “Creative Confidence” (Link:]

The tenet of Kelley’s book is that all people are creative and innovative, but that these facets of an organisation’s workforce are only able to flourish under the right conditions. Creating these conditions is obviously one of the services that IDEO is selling.

The laboratory’s function is therefore not only to be creative for its own sake, but is also very much to serve as a catalyst for the full realisation of creative potential in ministries and municipalities, and to indicate some interesting potential. Do any other catalysts exist, other than an innovation unit?

Other catalysts for creativity and innovation

The Finnish “Mind” initiative [Link:] , which is part of Aalto Design Factory; since 2009, Aalto University has awarded practitioners, researchers and other collaborators with official licences to act in new ways. The physical manifestation of this licence is a credit-card sized plastic card. This allows the holder to take out their licence and show it in situations where creative and innovative activities need to be legitimised. Obviously, the licence is a gimmick. But nonetheless, it has still helped to establish a community of practice, with codes, standards and values ​​that support creative thinking.

Licence - kreditkort

The Culture and Leisure Administration of Copenhagen Municipality is another good example. Here, interestingly enough, performance-based contracts for staff with management responsibilities have been introduced as an incentive to greater risk-taking within the administration. Managers are only paid their bonus if they annually submit and argue for at least three mistakes, and how they have learned from them.

I am aware that there are many more examples out there of catalysts to creativity and innovation. Let us remember to appreciate and to build on them, both for the sake of our own job satisfaction and for society’s.


Less analysis, more design

This article has also been published in Mandag Morgen

Former American Secretary of State and peace mediator Henry Kissinger is an active man. At the age of 91, he has just published his latest work, World Order, a comprehensive mapping of the world’s problems and challenges. I have not yet read the book, but according to The Economist, it amounts to a fairly depressing experience: there is war, conflict and instability wherever you look in the world, and no prospect of things tentatively improving. All the more surprising is that Kissinger uses 400 of the book’s pages analysing all the problems and only about four pages of suggestions and recommendations. Obviously there is not much of substance to get hold of here.

In the same issue of The Economist you can read about a pretty much equally depressing book, namely the prestigious Financial Times journalist Martin Wolf’s analysis The Shifts and the Shocks, on the financial crisis and its causes. This is another massive tome, which admittedly allocates a bit more space to recommendations. The reviewer nonetheless notes that the proposals would have benefited from significantly more detail.

We’ve gone analysis-crazy

The two book reviews prompted me to think about how we live in a time and a culture that have, in a sense, run amok with analyses. We spend incredible amounts of resources conducting investigations, collecting data and disseminating analysis results. This applies to public institutions, such as those I deal with on a daily basis, but also to private businesses and not least the media that willingly disseminate “brand new” figures and results at an ever-increasing pace. And it applies to our university researchers, many of whom them see themselves exclusively as knowledge-producers. It is up to other stakeholders to put their research into play in practice, if they discover that it exists.

Even insightful writers such as Messrs. Kissinger and Wolf – when they analyse such crucial issues as our military and financial world order – choose to expend a very great preponderance of their intellectual energy on analysis and its dissemination.

It often seems as if the analysis itself is the goal. Over the years I have met quite a few officials who gladly spend a year on an analysis project and preparing a comprehensive report, after which they will be completely convinced that they now have a final “result” in their hands, and then move on to the next analysis.

The same trend applies to the infatuation we currently see in many private enterprises with big data. Many managers are preoccupied with the large amounts of data available via new sources such as social media, and are curious about how they are collected and analysed; a lot fewer are concerned with how the insights on gathers are then translated into specific actions and value for your customers and your organisation.

I believe there are at least three reasons for our insatiable appetite for analysis. First, employees in both the public and private sectors increasingly are highly educated and schooled in traditional university environments, where the ability to acquire an extensive material and analyze it – i.e., to separate its elements, break it down to its components and different types of knowledge and data in certain ways – is in focus, and is rewarded. Second, analytical work is relatively harmless for the organisations in which it is implemented. It is not a matter of deciding to do something, it is simply a matter of becoming smarter – and fortunately, dangerous analyses can always be shelved or neglected. Third, analyses have become easier to carry out. Anyone can manage to retrieve data or conduct surveys and get the results summarised with the help of various digital tools. It quickly becomes a lot more difficult to come up with thoughtful, effective and convincing solutions for what we should do about the problems that are revealed.

The problem is just that we thus keep thousands of people busy making themselves (and sometimes others) smarter and not much else. Faced with the many analyses one generally feels like asking: “So what?”

Creating a better future

I myself come from an analytical background and cannot say I am immune to going through large amounts of information in order to create order and clarity. But at the same time, I am absolutely fascinated by design and design processes as a second and more forward-looking way to relate to the world. Most designers I know are more concerned with finding possible solutions to problems than to chew through them from end to end. In fact, many designers take a fundamentally different approach when they need to understand the world and its problems: instead of collecting data sets, they quickly put unfinished solutions – prototypes – into play in a specific context in order to be able to see the reactions of customers, users, stakeholders and decision-makers.

Designers’ proposals are often quite specific, for example, in the form of graphic sketches or physical models; thereby they gain insight into something that is often only uncovered at low levels of traditional analyses. They gain insight into the experiences and opinion formation that a given solution will potentially trigger and how it will affect human and organisational behaviour. Thus, they systematically explore the possible futures and apply what they learn from prototypes to improve ideas, concepts and solutions. Design researcher Joachim Necks calls the process evocative visualization in Design for Policy, a new book I have edited.  So the ability to make abstract, strategic concepts – such as we find in the world of politics and in business – so concrete that we can experience them and engage with them. In the book he illustrates this with complex energy and waste systems that are made more sustainable and efficient through the use of visual dialogue tools in workshops with all the stakeholders in the field. A central notion in this context is that new proposed solutions can thus be created together with those who can help to make a reality.

A new balance

It would be interesting to see how Henry Kissinger’s book about our world order would have ended had he spent half of his time and energy trying out potential policy ideas in practice. He could indeed draw on the vast network of current and former decision-makers he still has by virtue of his role as former statesman as well as via his active work as an adviser and consultant.

By the same token, it might have been interesting for Martin Wolf to have engaged the financial sector pressure in a thorough pressure test of his radical new ideas about management reform for our financial institutions.

Of course, it is not that the ability to understand and analyse problems is not important. In fact, many designers themselves say that the way a problem is represented often contains the seeds of its solution. I just fear that today the production of knowledge has to a great extent become a goal in itself. The objective – in the short or long term – must be to improve our world. It is a much-needed activity – a design activity – to which we all can give higher priority than we do today.

Find the problem before you solve it

We all know that it can be very difficult to know what to do when you receive mail from the Tax Authority.  Dennis, a young guy in his early twenties who was becoming an auto mechanic definitely thought it was difficult. As he said: “I have absolutely no idea about it and what it means to me. Nobody ever told me”. Everytime he got a letter from SKAT, the Danish Customs and Tax Administration he drove to the nearby citizen service center for help. He had never used the online digital platform that SKAT had developed and when we asked him to try, he was completely lost and confused. The first words he faced were “Interest payments to the bank?” and “employer-administered pension capital?” As he said: “I don’t have a clue what that is about!”

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Read the feature about Dennis.

Why are the citizen’s stories important?

You need to know what problem you seek to solve before you design your solution. SKAT had a lot of young people calling. By stepping back and taking a closer look at the problem, MindLab found out that the young generation actually lacked basic knowledge about tax. They needed a person to translate the complex tax vocabulary in order to understand their own situation. Few used the digital platform – it was not intuitive and smart. Read the case about SKAT.

Many organisations fail to address the central problem when they develop the public solutions. We often have knowledge about what causes the problem but way too often we do not know why the problem exists. Working as an Anthropologist in MindLab that is what I am helping our owners to find out and incorporate these insights in the development of new public solutions.

Put yourself in the citizen’s place

The first step is to understand what is going on out there. We have to listen and explore the citizens’ stories and let them tell us about their frustrations. We need to put ourselves in their place. I often invite colleagues from the ministries to participate in the fieldwork. It is my experience that it is an eye-opener every time. The problems become very concrete and real.

Engage with the organisation you work with

To design a solution you need to engage with the organization you work with and understand what triggers change in the organisation. If not, the stories from “the real world” remain outside and irrelevant to the organisation.

Give the citizen a voice 

It is crucial to communicate the user’s experiences in the organisation. As an anthropologist I am really focused on giving the citizens and companies a voice in the organisations. In MindLab we do that through several methods: through pictures, video, sound bites, quotes. Dennis’ story became a reference point in the organisation and in the development of the digital platform.

A holistic approach to public sector development

The close look into the user’s experience and perspectives does not replace statistics and surveys. It is a serious supplement which has dramatic consequences for the way we design public solutions. By taking on a different attitude to developing public solutions which involves a broader scope of people and a closer ethnographic insight into the user’s life, MindLab helps facilitating a systematic process of creating new solutions with people, not for them.

What did MindLab and the anthropological and design-driven approach do to Dennis and to SKAT?

  • SKAT found out why young people called instead of using the digital platform
  • Dennis became a reference point in the organisation and in the development of a new solution
  • SKAT developed a better solution

What do you need to do?

The next time you have to develop an initiative, then go out and talk to citizens and companies – put yourself in their place. Find out how their daily life is, take pictures and share with your colleagues and start the discussion on the basis of the citizens and companies. I am sure you will design better public solutions if you do so.

Watch and be inspired

Watch the presentation on how to involve citizens in development of the public sector. The presentation was held in Paris at the 13th edition of the International Public Management Symposium (RIGP) focusing on alternatives to new public management. The symposium was organized by the French Institute for Public Management and Economic Development.

Inspiration for service design

Service design places the user of a service at the center. If you look at the process from supplier to end user as a service journey, you get an accurate picture of what your service design should look like. Read the most important advice and inspiring case studies here.

In our daily lives we avail of services constantly. When we check our online bank with our mobile phone, deliver our children at kindergarten or school, or when we book a flight to our next holiday destination, we use a service. Often we do not think about our increased consumption of services – mostly we do it only when something goes wrong or when we’ve been pleasantly surprised.

Kforum 12A service journey in paper clippings.

Look at the entire service journey

The service industry is growing and growing. In Denmark it represents approximately 75 percent of our gross domestic product. More and more private and public institutions and companies are becoming conscious about designing services which put users at the center, ensuring that quality is as high as possible. In this article you will find the most important points that are worth considering if you need to give your service a service inspection.

A very useful point of engagement is to look at the full service journey. So that you can identify where you do too little or perhaps too much, where to begin and where to end your service, what you should do yourself and what you should leave to others.

1) Have you got hold of your most important users?

Often we focus exclusively on the end user when developing services. A one-sided focus on those who will use the service, however, can block our ability to see significant development potential. We simply overlook the most important people.

When working with service journeys, we talk about what happens front stage, where the consumer is in direct contact with a service. And what happens backstage, that is, the underlying processes, which can be crucial when a successful service is being designed. Sometimes the most important users are, in fact, backstage.

When the lead character is a supporting character

Case: Frederiksberg Health Center

Frederiksberg’s Health Center developed, in collaboration with the design firm 1508, a rehabilitation process intended to help people with COPD, also known as emphysema, remain in the labor market. Lifestyle changes are often seen as a daunting task for the chronically ill. Just finding the required resources for the necessary changes can be difficult. Therefore, patients alone were not the sole focus in the design of a new service process.

Employees at the health center, doctors and relatives turned out to be centrally important in order that COPD sufferers could create a better life for themselves with the disease. The composition of the new service was not, therefore, aimed directly at the front stage, meaning the patients. It was instead aimed at the backstage processes. When the new solution took shape, the starting point was the many actors around the patient.

For example, a plan of action was developed in which employees of the health center could help patients to identify goals for their rehabilitation. Thus, the health center could prioritize which offers patients should be given.

The lesson being: Be aware that the main actor may well be quite different from the person who is in direct contact with your service. Identify those actors surrounding the recipient of your service, and consider whether they might really be the most significant.

2) Service starts before and ends after your contact with the user

A service consists of many touchpoints. The experience often starts before and ends some time after the company’s product or service has been in contact with the user. It is precisely here that a service journey can be a useful tool for uncovering the entire process from the user’s perspective, and help identifying which periods are most important to your user. When does the service experience peak, seen through the eyes of the user?

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Virgin Atlantic discovered that good service is not limited to a good experience on board the plane. A quick and smooth check-in when flying is at least as important for the overall service experience.

Guides from start to finish

Case: Virgin Atlantic

Virgin Atlantic planned to re-design their flagship area at Heathrow Airport. They wanted to develop some services that could get people to choose their company over other airlines. Previously, they had primarily focused their efforts on services aboard their aircraft.

The British design company Engine was hired, and they chose to investigate the users’ service journey from the moment they left home for the airport, to when they had actually landed, collected their luggage and were sitting in a taxi on the way to their destination. By shadowing the travelers and interviewing them about their experiences, they were able to map the passengers’ ‘journeys’ through the terminal.

As a result of this process an effective and efficient service flow was designed. For example, a series of self-service stands were set up in the check-in area, supplemented by Virgin staff who functioned as guides at key entrances to the terminal.

From prison guards to advisors about life after prison

Case: Singapore Prison Service

For the Singapore Prison Service, one of the major challenges they faced was that many former prisoners returned to crime after being released. In fact, nearly half ended up in prison again. One of the first steps in tackling the challenge in new ways was to rethink how the public service process for prisoners ended.

Previously prison security had been the sole focus, now prison services looked at how to empower inmates to get out of crime. Resources were invested in educating families and other relatives so that they could best help the inmates when they were released from prison. Also, at the central level, interest groups and representatives of the administration were brought together to strengthen cooperation. The project ran over a ten year period, and over that time it proved possible to go from 45 percent of prisoners being given another prison sentence to the today’s figure of just 27 percent.

The lesson being: Good service consists often in seeing the product or public service process in context and from the perspective of a longer time period. Sometimes it pays to end contact later, so that the user is helped further along.

3) Identify the time periods that matter

On a service journey, the starting point is to get users to map their experience and identify the points on the journey where it is difficult, unsatisfactory or incomprehensible. You can work with so-called moments of truth, heart points or pain points. Meaning those parts of the service that hold great emotional significance for users, both positively and negatively. Once you know them, you can deploy resources to where users need it the most.

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Denmark has a hard time holding on to highly skilled foreign workers. Pain points during the journey were identified. It became clear that it was not just the foreign experts’ but their entire family’s level of satisfaction which was the crucial factor in deciding if they would remain in the country.

Keeping on foreign labor is a service that encompasses the whole family

Case: Ministry of Business and Growth

While Denmark lacked highly skilled foreign workers such as biotechnologists and engineers, the challenge lay not in attracting foreign experts, but in the fact that they left the country too quickly again. And that is expensive for both companies and public authorities.

In the past, resources were used to optimize the service offered to highly skilled foreign workers. But a service journey conducted by MindLab on behalf of the Ministry of Business and Growth made it clear that the most important thing is really how families experience the new country. Are there places available in an international school? Are there opportunities to meet other accompanying spouses in the same situation? Failure to thrive for the spouse or children often being the crucial reason why the family quickly leave the country again.

The lesson being: Be attentive to whether your service is targeted at the places that are most important to recipients. Identify the pain points and determine if your service has been designed to help in the right places.

4) You are not the only one who offers a service

Providing a good and effective service requires that we systematically turn our attention to what kind of alternative or experience we would like to achieve. Often, there are many actors involved along the way. We have seen examples of companies or public bodies who have set up an excellent and efficient service line that, unfortunately, just does not answer users’ actual needs. A service journey can help to ensure that you look at the overall experience and identify where there is potential for better interaction between the elements.

kforum 4Businesses no longer need to contact a range of different authorities in their search for the correct code for their industry. Authorities viewed their new service from a users’ perspective and adjusted the procedure so that all involved delivered a coherent service: A new self-service solution enables companies to find the right code in one place.

Industry Codes: A service that transcends

Case: Danish Business Authority

When SKAT, Statistics Denmark and the Danish Business Authority wanted to improve services for companies seeking to find their proper industry code, a service journey revealed that there was great potential gain in thinking about service across authorities.

A service journey was the impetus as MindLab helped develop a new self-service solution and an official site for the case officers working with industry codes. The new solution transcends the authorities and makes it easier for companies to find their industry code in one place. At the same time streamlining the regulatory procedures in the field. (Read about industry codes in an international case study from Helsinki Design Lab)

The lesson being: The recipient of the service does not distinguish between the various entities that make up the service. Look at who, besides yourself, participates in the provision of the service. Can you work together in new ways?

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In Australia, authorities worked with service packages for vulnerable families who encountered a plethora of public services. Here it became clear that it was a good idea to work on integrating all the various services across authorities.

Service across systems

Case: Vulnerable families in Australia

There proved to be great potential to work across authorities when the Australian service design company, ThinkPlace, examined service journeys in relation to some of the country’s most vulnerable citizens.

These were people who faced a variety of challenges, such as domestic violence, substance abuse, unemployment, financial problems and mental health issues. For this reason, families interacted with a variety of public services, which in themselves were well-run and had skilled social workers or other professionals attached. The challenge was that the variety of services were not integrated and therefore unable to budge the core of the problem. They each addressed only one part of the problem or only one family member.

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Outside of the vulnerable families a variety of actors, organizations and institutions hum with activity. But within the vulnerable family itself the status quo remains the same. The various authorities only view the challenge from one angle and fail to provide a comprehensive service.

The service was put together based on the system’s premises and not on how users can best be helped further across systems. In this project, the service journey proved a helpful tool to turn the view from the system’s angle to the user’s angle.

The lesson being: The basis for a good service must be to place oneself in the users’ situation and view the service from their angle. Otherwise, there is a risk that you end up optimizing a system service which doesn’t address the user’s actual problem.

5) Have you chosen the correct channel?

Service journeys can be a good starting point for evaluating if you have communicated with the right target groups at the right time and place. Did you choose the proper channel to carry the content of your service?  New target groups arise and new communication channels are added. So although satisfaction rates may be high among your users, and your choice of channel seems obvious, it pays to rethink the communication channels utilized and get ahead of latest user behavior trends and media use.

New channels led to greater satisfaction

Case:  Midwife Center

The Midwife Center at Aarhus University Hospital found that too many clients weren’t showing up for planned consultations. Surveys of users and occupational professionals showed that pregnant women were unsure of the purpose of the midwife appointment.

The mothers to be were craving information, and the internet was their preferred channel. Therefore, the midwife center chose to consider alternatives to face-to-face consultations. In cooperation with design firm, Designit, they developed, for example, a digital appointment book for pregnant women. Here the woman can log on to her own page, view scan pictures, coordinate midwife appointments, read educational materials and chat with professionals and other pregnant women.

The lesson being: To think about new communication channels and media when designing your service. Maybe you’ll meet your users’ needs much better utilizing new methods.

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A digital solution will complement traditional consultations at the Midwife Center at Aarhus University Hospital, so pregnant women experience a seamless service course.

6) Look at users – they have already solved it

Sometimes a new and improved service is right in front of our noses and in this respect the observation of users can be a great source of inspiration. Users often follow their own path and find creative solutions in the attempt to avoid bother or achieve a desired effect quickly. By observing their self-invented solutions, you can learn more about what needs are expressed through their unintended use of products or services.

It can be seen in urban settings, a good example being when architects at CBS established a beautiful path system, where gaps in the paving, however, caused cyclists and baby carriage owners to experience an uneven passage. In response to which users established their own paths in parallel to the architects’.

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When finely landscaped footpaths are not user friendly, users find new paths for themselves in parallel to those laid down by the architects.

The positive deviators have already found the solutions

Case: Prison and Probation Service, Køge Local Prison

The Prison and Probation Service has implemented a determined strategic approach and worked to resolve the tough challenge of growing conflicts between staff and inmates by systematically disseminating users’ existing solutions to problems.

The method is called positive deviation and relies on the recognition that there are always individuals who find sustainable behavioral strategies that enable them to succeed better than others in the same situation. Employees have often already identified a workable solution.

By working to reveal positively divergent behavior and apply it to other situations Køge Local Prison has achieved a concrete, significant reduction of conflicts between inmates and staff, a fall in the use of force, violence and threats plus a far higher level of satisfaction among personnel.

And it is the small deviations that matter. It makes a difference to the relationship, for example, if an officer remains sitting with his feet up when an inmate calls for help, or if he hurries to assist. Or if he knocks on an inmate’s cell door and waits for a moment before he sticks the key in the door instead of tearing the door open.

The lesson being: It is important to look for positive deviations. And they are always there, just as long as you look hard enough.

7) Good service is not always more service

To rethink and optimize a service is often postponed because both companies and public authorities associate good service with multiple touchpoints, more communication, or more attentiveness on the whole to the customer or citizen. And that is both expensive and difficult – and consumes resources that you do not have.

But in fact the exact opposite is often the case. It may be that a simplified and more focused service is much more effective. And here the visual mapping of a service journey can be the first step towards pointing out how a service could be simplified.

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A mapping of the communication from the National Board of Industrial Injuries showed that they needed to simplify their communications. In fact, there were far too many letters sent and at the wrong times. The Board of Industrial Injuries now works on prioritizing their communications.

Less service is more service

Case: National Board of Industrial Injuries

MindLab observed this at the Board of Industrial Injuries, who wanted to know how they could make the process for young people with injuries go more smoothly. At that time, the Board was in the habit of posting many letters to those with work related injuries. And there were many others who did the same. Among others, the municipality, labor union, medical specialists, insurance companies and many other players who had a share in the process.

Which added up to an awful lot of letters. A young social and health care worker received, for example, 25 letters, only four of which required a reply. Often written in difficult to understand legal jargon.

A service journey showed the potential gain in finding a simpler service, where a clear prioritization of information transmitted to the injured person was made.  Instead of sending many letters, the board now works on prioritizing their communications while at the same time writing in language that the recipient can understand and relate to their own situation.

The lesson being: It is a good idea to look at each individual step in the service and consider whether it can be simplified. Too much communication which is difficult to understand is often a source of frustration and uncertainty for the user.

8) A good service journey can save time, resources and money

When services are designed to meet user needs and perceived challenges, it is done, of course, to generate significantly improved user satisfaction. But it is just as much about streamlining and optimizing. Service design can help to ensure that an organization or company offers the appropriate and relevant services and tools for its users – and can therefore also dispense with the elements or services that do not create additional value.

Simple and straightforward design solutions make a difference to the emergency room

Case: PearsonLloyd

A good example of how the proper design of a service can actively contribute to efficiency can be seen in a project design duo, PearsonLloyd, implemented at a London hospital emergency room. Here the patients grew so frustrated as they waited to be treated that it led to verbal and physical violence against employees.

This obviously created a poor working environment and too many resources were expended on chaos handling. It was found that patients felt they had a right to be angry because they lacked knowledge of how things worked.

PearsonLloyd developed a number of solutions. For example, signage information indicating where patients were in the department, and how far in the process they had reached. This was a matter of simple solutions that were easy and cheap to implement. The initiative resulted in a reduction of aggressive encounters and a subsequent business case revealed that for each pound invested in new solutions the return was threefold.

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An investment in simple solutions which are easy and inexpensive to implement can give rapid and visible results on the bottom line.

Read more:

Many, both in Denmark and internationally, are already working with this method. Many happily share their tool kits. Here is a list of the best and most useful tools you will need if you want to work with service journeys.

ServiceDesign Tools

New Ways of Visualizing the Customer Journey Map

ServiceDesign Toolkit

Documentation Tool

Engage Costumers and Engage the Organisation

Design Thinking for Educators

Human-centered Design Toolkit 


Spread and Scale: What and How?

Debate writing between Sarah Schulman, Anna Lochard and Jesper Christiansen.

Prompt #3: There is a lot of talk about spread and scale. We think it is about spreading processes, not scaling products. So what does that mean?

This is our third response using the same process; we each have 45 minutes to respond to a provocative question we grapple with in our day-to-day work. You can read our responses to the first and second prompt.

Jesper’s Response:

The ability to spread the process rather than the product is key in much government planning. Notions of ‘blueprint’, ‘manual’ or ‘best practice’ have done much damage in mismanaging the expectations to what could actually be expected of the ‘solutions’ that are supposed to create change in public systems and services. A common and reoccurring question amongst decision makers and civil servants is: why are there so few solutions that actually scale?

This is seen as a huge problem – mainly when seen in economic terms. But also in relation to the role of the public sector more generally. Many civil servants see their role as one of standardization and replication. “We can’t let 1000 flowers blossom” is a common phrase. Instead, there is a desire to find the ‘best practice,’ to analyse every aspect of it, and then to scale it – as a product that is able to change its contextual environment. In practice, this logic is reversed when dealing with social change.

Sarah is pointing our attention to the notion of ‘tacit knowledge.’ This is important. In particular when working in contexts where the dominant epistemological position is based on one of its counterparts: rationalized, stable knowledge.

In MindLab we are currently assisting the Ministry of Employment to implement some ambitious reforms focusing on, among many other things, reinventing the role of the social worker. The Ministry realises that in order to create better outcomes for vulnerable citizens of society, they must let the social worker work more flexibly with the citizen to explore and learn what kind of activities, interactions, and service offers will make sense in the given context. The political intention is that the case worker has to be allowed to break free from the current rigid management systems and trust her or his own professional judgment. So that they can support the citizen in creating a better life for herself – a better life that includes a productive work life.

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MindLab visited a Job Centre as part of our work with the Ministry of Employment

In other words, the reforms are deliberately attempting to localize employment services. Ways of dealing with citizens should inherently be local, contextual, and based on a specific professional expertise applied in the particular situation. In this sense, this process entails a kind of centralized decentralization where ‘solutions’ constantly have to be discovered in particular contexts. As an intent, this is very much in line with what social workers have wanted for years.

Surprisingly, as the implementation process of the reform unfolds, social workers are increasingly calling for ‘tools’, ‘methods’ or even ‘manuals’ to work in this new way. As they are ‘set free’ in their professional work, they are actually asking for more restrictions. This partly highlights the significance of this kind of change in the employment system. Where meeting specified targets, exercising certain procedures, and managing a portfolio of cases was (and still is) the norm. But it also reveals the challenge of spreading or scaling the process. The problem of intangibility is not only apparent on the level of policymaking, but is also something that is experienced on the ground. It creates a significant paradox of wanting a more open process when exercising your role as a social worker, whilst wanting assurance that what you are doing is actually ‘the right way’ of dealing with the citizen in the particular situation.


This brings me to talk about outcomes. It seems to me that any talk about either product or process does not make sense unless it is contextualized in relation to the outcomes that they are creating. So when attempting to make processes visible – in this case the challenge for social workers to learn what is good when dealing with vulnerable citizens – it is essential that in order to really understand the process, it needs to be part of a narrative that ties it to the outcomes that are expected. So while the process may include various possible recipes, tools, principles or methodologies that should be applied accordingly in the local context, the risk of spreading or scaling the process lies, among many things, when it becomes detached from a conversation about what is actually to be considered as a good outcome.

Sarah’s response:

Spread and scale. Most of us ‘social innovator’ types use these words. Arguing to funders that investing in innovation methods – be it ethnography, co-design, or prototyping – will be efficient. Because you can figure out what works at a small-scale, and then spread what emerges at a large-scale. The question is: what should we be spreading if we want to prompt systemic change? Should we be spreading the product - the new app, the new service, the new network? Or should we be spreading the underlying principles and process?

I believe it is the principles and the process that prompt change. But, this is a step away from work I did as Co-Lead of the Radical Redesign Team in Australia or as Project Lead at Participle. Where we looked to grow and profit from the solutions we ourselves created. Loops, Family by Family, Weavers, Care Reflect. That meant productizing the solutions. Creating an identity and a brand; specifying each interaction in a blueprint (think: how-to manual); and ultimately creating a new organizational infrastructure with staff to do ‘sales’ and ‘delivery’. But, had we sold the process, what would we have codified?

That is what we are asking right now at InWithForward as we start work in Burnaby, British Columbia. Where success for us is not one scaled solutions. But multiple prototypes taken forward by local teams – with lots of folks (inside and outside of public systems) mobilized, trained, and taking ownership over explicit and shared outcomes. It is more in the spirit of ‘Collective Impact’ than ‘Lean Start-up’ - although there’s plenty to learn and apply from the latter.

So, what will we actually be making? And, what will be selling? Products are so much more concrete. When you go to a bakery, you buy the nice looking cupcakes. With the chocolate frosting. If we are not selling the cupcakes, then, are we selling the instructional recipe to make the cupcake? Are we selling the cupcake making tools – the icing pipettes, the baking tins? Are we selling the baking school experience – unfolding in the pastry chef’s context? Or are we selling the cooking TV show – for DIY learning in your own context?

The challenge, of course, in selling the recipe is that you can follow all of the steps, and still get a pretty lousy result.  You might not have any prior reference points. So when the cupcakes are not rising, you do not know what to do. And if you are missing an ingredient, you cannot easily adapt. You do not realize you can make buttermilk with two squeezes of lemon in a cup of whole milk. You see, key to making things good, is tacit know-how. It is that extra sense of how to tweak as you go along to get a good result. That is darn hard to communicate in a stand-alone recipe. You are much more likely to learn that through watching your grandmother, through practice, through trying lots of different recipes and seeing what works and what does not for yourself.

Selling tools is fraught with similar difficulties. I can sell you the baking tins. But that won’t help you figure out what to fill the baking tins with. And you can easily put the baking tins to a different usage. That is not necessarily a problem – if you are able to make something yummy using the tins. But if I am trying to prompt intentional social change, then peddling the implements, probably won’t get me to coherent implementation. And it definitely won’t get me towards fidelity. When we do one-off workshops and create method card sets, we are really in the tool business.

Then there is the baking school experience. So in-context project based learning. With the right instruction in baking chemistry, exposure to different baking methods, guidance and a lot of feedback, you could learn to be a pretty competent cupcake baker. But this is time intensive. How much learning do you need to be competent, versus be good? And how do we actually design our processes in such a way that more and more people can be immersed in the doing? So that it’s not just tight project teams – from social labs – doing all the work? Plus, how do we find and up-skill the instructors? The key to teaching baking is actually having made a lot of cupcakes yourself, and being able to extrapolate transferrable concepts. But who in our field has actually made a lot of what we are talking about? The rhetoric often feels ahead of the practice.

Finally, there is what I will call the Jamie Oliver approach. Developing a mix of inspirational and learning content – so a TV show which exposes you to new kinds of cupcakes and to somebody else’s tacit knowledge. Along with a magazine with stories, and embedded recipes. As well as product partnerships – so ‘quality approved’ tools to use in your home contexts.

How could we create a similar mix of content to bring more and more people into our processes? Indeed, what is so compelling about Jamie Oliver is that he has managed to build a movement alongside a set of products. And he operates at differing levels of fidelity. Go to his restaurants, and get the full Jamie Oliver quality-approved experience. Use his books and tools, get a taste of the Jamie Oliver experience, and add your own spin. Of course, whether you go to his restaurant or do-it-yourself at home, key to a good experience is a shared idea of what constitutes a good outcome: is it taste, health, speed, value, novelty, or some combination?

Anna’s Response:

In the program “La Transfo” of la 27e Région, one of the main difficulties was precisely that there were different outcomes expected, without any hierarchy between them. Was a ‘good’ outcome to train and empower a core team of civil servants? Was it to create a new service embedded within the regional administration, who was then in charge of spreading this approach at the end of our program? Was it changed mindsets and ‘aaah’ moments amongst a large number of civil servants and elected representatives? Was it radical changes in one or several specific policies, with a visible impact on citizens’ lives?

As long as we did not prioritise what the main outcome was, the process stayed really opaque, even for regular participants of the program. If the beauty and value of our jobs resides in the way we are browsing together, we needed, at one point of the process, to clarify the direction we were taking: in the case of “La Transfo,” we chose in the middle of the program to prioritise the creation a new service and a trained team that could continue the work of transformation after the end of the program. This decision make the process more understandable for everybody.

We spoke about the outcomes, and about the process… but we should also be careful to look at the entry point: if the whole process of training and empowerment requires contact with tacit know-how, we have to make it understandable and pretty clear the way to enter the process and connect with this tacit know-how.

This implies intelligent viral communication to those who are interested, appealing entry-level experiences, and clear instructions about how to engage. In fact, after two years of programs, only a small part of civil servants of the regional administration were aware that “La Transfo” was taking place in their building or even in their service directory. How many times did we hear, “If I knew, I would have come earlier…”.

And for those who were aware of our existence, we found they were often reluctant to come and try, precisely because some people do not like and feel threatened by what they cannot easily understand. Even for those following our program regularly, the information about next appointments and workshops sometimes came too late for them to re-organise their calendar. This experience points out the fact that our inter-disciplinary and highly-trained team of designers and sociologists have their own timelines and way of working (e.g – they like working under pressure) which can sometimes be incompatible with the time of civil servants. It also points out we paid too little attention to investing in the whole space of the building, to going to meet the different services, and to communicating what was happening.

We have certainly found that a good process – that is, a process that will create a good solution to one problem at one moment of time in one particular place – cannot be defined and generalised as easily as a cupcake recipe. However, that should not keep us from clarifying where we are going so people don not get lost. And we should be careful to indicate the pathway and make it desirable enough for people to walk with us until they reach the “aaah” point. That’s the point where there is no way back because your mindset is too transformed to return to the routine.



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