Posts tagged ‘public services’

March 4, 2012

Life 2.0 supporting elderly people’s independent life

The Life 2.0 project is a EU funded project that aims at supporting elderly people’s independent life through a platform of geographical positioning and social networking services. The project started in November 2010 and is now starting a pilot phase in which such applications will be tested in 4 pilot locations in Denmark, Italy, Spain and Finland.

The project is also involving elderly people in training centers (such as Kastanjegaarden in Aalborg, Denmark) community centers (such as  Agora in Barcelona) and local library (as in Joensuu, Finland and Milano, Italy).

In this blog I extracted a synthesis of the first results of the ethnographic analysis, the scenarios and the use cases the full deliverables and more information about the project are available at


December 15, 2008

Three good reports on service design

Three very interesting reports are on my desk in this moment. I’m very slow at reading them, but I think they are a must for whoever wants to work on service design, especially in the public sector.

The only one I managed to read so far is “the Journey to the Interface”, by Sophia Parker and John Heapy (Engine) (Parker and Heapy 2006). The other two are “Designing for Services – Multidisciplinary Perspectives “(Kimbell and Seidel 2008) and “Innovation by Design” edited by Emily Thomas (Thomas and Grace 2008). In fact there are many interesting reports on public services coming out almost every week and mainly from UK (Damn!!! How comes the other countries are so late in this?) Therefore I created a new page in the service design wiki on recent reports on service design.

The report by Sophia Parker and John Heapy is VERY interesting. In fact the report was written in 2006 and things seem to change very fast in UK, but probably this document was a good step towards the most recent announce of a design council program for the development of innovative public services in UK.

Initially, the reference to the journey and the interface made me think that this was yet another report on experience design. In fact the report doesn’t go very deep in the question of how to design the “mechanism” of a service, but it considers the whole strategic and political framework for the development of innovative services. The report considers the shift from fordism to mass customization and to new needs for services to be co-produced, thus it emphasizes the importance of designing the point of contact in a way that supports individual needs and local solutions.

I found the third part particularly interesting, because, for the first time, I’ve seen someone mentioning the need for measuring service performance. The authors propose to measure service performances not just in terms of traditional metrics (e.g. waiting time) but also in terms of user experience. “this form of measurement – in customer terms, not universal standards set centrally and sometimes arbitrarily based on what users might judge to be good – can be called my metrics” (p70)

Also part 4 – on the politics of service design – Considers the main assumptions in the existing public service system (about efficiency, personalisation and devolution] and analyses those assumptions in a service design perspective. By focusing on the relationship between services and people, rather than on organizational efficiency, service designers can really think of improving services on a day-to day basis. This can be done thourhg harnessing users’ participation, feedbacks and insight generation.

Another concept I found very interesting and very close to the way I see the question of innovation in public service is the investment in “in-between” spaces. Traditional public services are creating “light spots”, in which services are offered. Within those spots services are working at their best. However those light spots are also creating deep shaded areas, in which services are not very efficient or are not accessible. For example some elderly care services may work very well in an area, but may be very inefficient or may not respond very well to people needs in another areas. Childcare services may work very well for people working in standard working areas, but be inaccessible or inefficient for people with unusual working hours. Meal services for elderly people may work very well for people with relatively normal diets, but be inefficient for people with very special dietary needs. Serving those interstitial areas would be very expensive or sometimes almost impossible. Investing in “in-between” space, as far as I understand, means giving spaces for people to work out solutions in those spaces. This would be possible by making space for people to contact each other, thus promoting horizontal network and forms of collaboration institutions and the users of public services. (e.g. the patient opinion website,

In such interstitial spaces the wisdom and creativity of people emerge, harnessing this wisdom would be a big resource for innovation in services. Of course the intervention in those places requires a very delicate approach. In fact the authors pose the question of how can the government invest in those spaces without legislating for everything that takes places within them.

Kimbell, L. and V. P. Seidel (2008). Designing for Services – Multidisciplinary Perspectives: Proceedings from the Exploratory Project on Designing for Services in Science and Technology-based Enterprises. Oxford, Saïd Business School, University of Oxford: 56.

Parker, S. and J. Heapy (2006). The Journey to the Interface – How public service design can connect users to reform, Demos.

Thomas, E. and C. Grace (2008). Innovation by design in public services, Design Council – Solace Foundation inprint – The Guardian: 64.

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November 19, 2008

Wiki page on public services

I’ve just finished updating the page on Public Services of the service design wiki. I’ve included some cases of public service design (those in which service design was a planned or explicit activity, at least) and all the main bibliographic resources I know of.system150

November 6, 2008

Obama’s acceptance speech is a design brief (?)

A discussion on design for democracy in a list on design and transformation forced me to think about the relevance of Obama’s victory acceptance speach as something very similar to a design Brief. Peter Jones (Humantific) asked some fundamental questions that forced me to listen to the speach again and again and think about that for the whole day,

Peter asked the following questions:

What is such a transformative design brief? Let’s say before the “Obama design brief” is written, who frames the problem with Obama and how is this done?


What kind of brief creates the space for something new to show up, in an inclusive, co-creative way, making way for this leadership for participation we now are seeing?






I’m  not sure I am able to answer, but I can try:

Any good brief should start from a Problem definition. The speech somehow frames a problem definition, proposes what in design terms I would define a methodological approach and opens the discussion for a vision

Problem Definition:

“we cannot have a thriving Wall Street while Main Street suffers”

This statement refers to deep unbalances in the economy, which reflect in social and economic inequalities. The problem is how to reduce such inequalities. In other speeches before this he talked about a redistribution of wealth across the American society. In general the problem definition concerns the generation of a more equal society and a society based on participation


Methodological approach (How should we solve the problem, what are the problem solving strategies):

“we have never been just a collection of individuals, we are the United States of America”

Refers to a perspective that refuses individualism as a value. This perspective, of course, is not calling for a new form of socialism, but remarks the essence of a nation as a community of people, with their diversities, but with a common identity.

Furthermore he reminded how this electoral campaign was based on a sort of bottom-up approach, as he was not the candidate of the highest levels of the hierarchies, but the result of a common effort of citizens to support him. Other references in the speech are to the sense of participation and responsibility of people. Besides the obvious rhetoric of this part of his speech, the speech refers to a space for co-creation, participation, based on the activation of the whole society, starting from the lowest levels.



In the last part of his speach he opens a window on the future (especially that of our kids):

“if my daughters should be so lucky to live as long as Ann Nixon Cooper, what change will they see? What progress will we have made?”


This is not yet a vision, but a call for a shared vision of the future (he puts it as a question and use WE, not You or I as a subject).


I think this gives a good frame to us, as designers, to imagine design for democracy as a future perspective for our activities.

Design can work for democracy by transforming public institutions and administrations in order to support a process of active involvement of people in finding their own solutions, expressingtheir own opinions and participating in the construction of a community or the identity of a city or the destiny of a country.

October 21, 2008

Design of the healthcare system

In an article on the Health Service Journal Deborah Szebeko talks about her experience of service designer in the public sector, an issue I’ve been working in the past (also in this blog). Deborah describes how she worked on service design in the healthcare sector and why are designers important in developing innovation in those sectors.

I also found interesting the description of the stage of the process, because I suppose it could be a step towards a sort of a “blueprint of the blueprint” of a service: she mentiones the following stages [the text in square brakets is my interpretation or the way I would qualify each stage]:

  • Observing to understand [I would describe this as the analytical phase]
  • Capturing patient and staff experience [interpretation of the analysis]
  • Mapping the service process and experience [towards a design concept]
  • Bringing people together to share experience and identify challenges [ concept solution co-creation]
  • Generating ideas and opportunity mapping [similar to concept selection?]
  • Prototyping [Prototyping, just that]
  • Testing and gaining feedback on prototypes [still on user’s co-creation]
  • Designing final output [Detailing]
  • Implementation and social marketing
  • Evaluation

I wouldn’t say this is the perfect process, but I would be curious to see whether this process could be compared with other service design interventions in the public sector.

May 8, 2008

More on Public Services

Two people, Charles Leadbeater and Hilary Cottam, are doing an amazing job in rethinking public services. Here you can find a draft for a chapter they wrote on “Public Service 2.0

April 26, 2008

The strategic dimensions of design policies and highly individualised solutions

I discussed the need for design policies for local and highly individualised solutions in other occasions (Morelli 2007), in this post I would like to consider what the criteria could be for those policies and how those design policies can be articulated. I also consider some examples in some relevant areas of intervention.

Some design criteria

In order to support local and highly individualised solutions, design policies should support horizontal process of peer production and collaboration. Such processes are often developing as “natural” processes; the activation of such process “by design” is made easier by the availability of advanced communication technologies, such as social web applications, but still requires firms and institutions to abide to some criteria. The horizontal process of innovation has several analogies with the emerging cases of peer-production processes, which are being widely documented and discussed (Lessig 2004; Von Hippel 2005; Tapscott and Williams 2006). Therefore the characteristics of those processes may inspire a set of criteria for the definition of design policies to support this approach to social innovation. Tapscott and Williams’(Tapscott and Williams 2006) principles to address business strategies towards peer production, for instance, inspire the following criteria for design policies:

  • They should highlight and empower existing and emerging initiatives of social innovation Grass-root initiatives can be identified by observing emerging and spontaneous cases of cooperation between citizens, in order to solve relevant needs. Such initiatives provide information about local and individual needs and also about feasible and admissible solution strategies.
  • They should support the generation of a critical mass likewise natural and social ecosystems, local cooperative initiatives are based on a large and motivated participation to the co-production process.
  • They should supply physical, social and institutional infrastructures for cooperation by making sure that communication networks are in place, citizens are empowered to express their needs, their opinion and ideas, information is provided about the way local initiatives work or may work
  • They should negotiate governance structures and rights. Unlike top-down decision processes, design policies based on value co-production should build the rule and structure of cooperation on the basis of an iterative process.
  • They should make sure that all the participants can work for their own value. Identify and make explicit actors’ motivation. This is also the basis of negotiation among participants, in order to realise the value of their cooperation.
  • They should abide to community norms. The rules and structure of the cooperation should be built upon shared value and norms in the community. This requires a deeper understanding of tacit knowledge and shared experience that links people sharing the same local context, the same needs, or the same practice.
  • They should raise people’s aspirations. The development of new solutions depends on people’s aspiration and confidences in their capabilities and attitudes. Raising such confidence means increasing people’s responsibilities upon their own solutions, choices and lifestyles.
  • They should support and empower creativity at the community level. Examples, scenarios, test and mock-ups can be used to provide inspiration and tangible suggestions that would enhance creative process emerging from the cooperation within a community.

The dimensions of the design policy

The redesign of public policies in the new perspective should take into account of three dimensions:

People: this dimension defines the actors, the capabilities, tacit knowledge,

Contexts: this dimension defines the social, geographical and natural context in which solutions should be developed, including possibilities for interaction within each contexts and among different contexts

Solutions: this aspect defines the nature and the characteristics of the functionings in terms of products, services, technologies and organisational forms used, including the possibility to generate organisational structures that would support the reproducibility of solutions with different actors and in different contexts

The combination of elements in each of those dimension may generate different policy actions, for example:

Areas of intervention


Prevention strategies in healthcare may be based on the association of different people having the same problems. This is particularly relevant for people suffering of “social” diseases, such as Diabetes, blood pressure and heart problems, cholesterol and fat control. In many of those cases an adequate treatment and prevention strategy consists in creating “horizontal” communication systems between patients, that overlaps the “vertical” flows of information from the doctor to the patient. People can help each other in solving everyday problems that the “codified” knowledge of the doctor cannot solve (e.g. what is the right recipe for low cholesterol food? What is a nice walk for doing daily exercise?)


Active mobs Mobs are small groups of people who carry out activity together on a regular basis. They are connected by the Activmobs system. Activmobs is a platform for activity. It provides webbased tools to help people find, suggest and start mobs, to monitor their progress, set goals and reward commitment. It provides support roles to motivate mobs and ensure their activity is effective.(Murray, Burns et al. ND)


An increased flexibility to the transport system may be created by linking people living in the same area, making it possible for them to coordinate their movements (e.g. sharing a car, coordinating shopping), and reducing the amount of local traffic. This solution may require the use of advanced communication technology (e.g. GPS), though the solution has to reach the user using existing technological devices (such as mobile phone or internet) and with a reduced complexity. The generation of solution of this kind would therefore benefit from a centralised policy for the development of the technological infrastructure, but would be operated at the local level. A policy to support those instances would be particularly effective for certain social groups, such as elderly people living at home or people moving across medium distance location (e.g. from city to city, when the trip requires a minimal planning)


Car sharing Several car sharing systems are emerging in cities where traffic and parking problems are taking too much of people time, or in countries where the cost of owning a car is too high (e.g. Special cases of car sharing are lift-sharing scheme that encourages people to offer and request lifts to their venue.

Lunch Couriers: Meal delivery services are offered to provide lunch to employees working in central areas, where companies cannot afford a canteen for their employees. Similar services are very common in India -where meals are prepared in peripheral areas of the city and delivered to central areas at lunchtime- and in some European countries, where meals are prepared by local restaurants and delivered by a courier service. The service reduce the need for movement at lunch time in central areas, while providing employees with meals that may not be available in the closer proximity of their office

Micro entrepreneurship

So far technological systems have created global markets in which even small sellers can reach buyers located far away. This kind of commerce is giving new chances to small producers, however some small firms are challenged by the relevant logistic problems that may emerge in the new market. The internet, however, may be also used to promote local communication among people, thus creating a market for small scale production and individual exchange of goods and services. Small scale production system are a resource for local economy, though they are often economically unsustainable for the lack of an adequate market, that links offering from small producers to the buyers. The presence of an adequate communication infrastructure at the local level can create a network that links producers directly with their final customers, thus reducing costs and in some cases creating opportunities to optimise production processes and increasing environmental sustainability. The communication system may require a centralised effort to generate the basic technological infrastructure (as for NEM), but can also work on the basis of local events (such as in Middelsborough) or use the existing social network and basic communication infrastructure, such as phones, and SMS, as for GAS


Neighbourhood e-Market is a marketplace where anyone can directly sell their time, around other commitments in their life, with total control and all the information they need about localised patterns of demand/supply and pricing for the kind of work or services they wish to offer. The market works through the internet. NEMs are neutral, very low-cost, user-protecting, marketplaces with facilities that can barely be imagined in low level sectors today. They would be designed built and run by private sector companies but directly underpinned by the highest authorities in the land.

Urban Farming makes it possible for people in urban areas to take care and use local green areas, cultivating small allotments with fruits and vegetable plants. The food produced locally is sold or made available to the community in kitchen playgrounds (where people learn new recipes) or in Meal assembly centres, where people can buy ready made ingredients for preferred meals.

Purchasing groups are set up by a number of consumers who cooperate in order to buy food and other commonly used goods directly from the producers or from big retailers at a discounted rate. Such groups can support local production of food and other local products, because they can create a solid local market for small local producers. By organising pre-ordering of products, local producers can plan their production in advance, thus avoiding wastes and inefficiencies. This is particularly relevant for agricultural products and food.

Residual capabilities

People’s residual capabilities are often held back by the lack of opportunities to use them. Besides their normal job or when retired, people can be active in cultivating their hobbies or exercising their skills. There are many things that people are good at and can help others in their own living area, but the lack of communication systems that make it possible for citizens to know who can do what hides this diffuse opportunity.


Rent a Granny is an initiative that activate ageing people in Germany and Denmark, connecting them to single parents who need occasional assistance (baby sitting or even some suggestion). Ageing people and single parents are put in contact through a website managed by an association, which takes the responsibility to create trust between people. Public institutions are sometimes contributing by providing information and education.

+bici is an association of people with the passion for bicycles and the capability to repair them. The association has several workshops in Milan, where the members are teaching people how to repair their bicycles.

Creating local networks and reintegrating externalities

Externalities from a production system are often useful for other production systems. Yet this exchange does not happens and many resources are left apart, just because of the lack of communication between different production systems. Such a communication network would also generate opportunities for collaboration and exchange of knowledge among firms citizens and other actors located in the same geographical context. Stronger links have already been considered as the basis of success for several districts (Castells 2000; Becattini 2004).

Local business networks can be created with the help of technological platform that enhance communication and collaboration, sometimes sharing competences and experts among different companies-e.g. New York– or by transferring and integrating expertise and externalities produced in the same geographic area Costellazione Apulia


Becattini, G. (2004). Industrial districts. Cheltenham, Edward elgar.

Castells, M. (2000). The rise of the network society. Oxford ; Malden, MA, Blackwell Publishers.

Lessig, L. (2004). Free culture : how big media uses technology and the law to lock down culture and control creativity. New York, Penguin Press.

Morelli, N. (2007). “Social Innovation and New Industrial Contexts: Can Designers “Industrialize” Socially Responsible Solutions?” Design Issues 23(4): 3-21.

Murray, R., C. Burns, et al. (ND). Open Health, Design Council – RED.

Tapscott, D. and A. D. Williams (2006). Wikinomics. How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything. London, Atlantic Books.

Von Hippel, E. (2005). Democratizing Innovation. Cambridge, Massachusetts London, England, The MIT Press

May 15, 2007

Design of public services

Design for public administration

The theme of planning public administration services becomes more and more crucial in
Europe because of the stringent financial conditions imposed in this area, which is severely reducing the time horizon for the organization of services. The short term planning deriving from this condition often reduces the possibility to optimize the results and the available resources.
The ongoing informatisation of public services adds further complexity to the radical changes in this area. If not adequately designed, the informatisation process risks to increase the distance between public administration and its customers. On the other hand, an adequate design and development process for public service can emphasise broad innovation opportunity around the new services (that means at the local level). A new approach to health services, for instance, may generate opportunities for innovation for all the companies that are able to provide products and services to support the new solutions.The need to an adequate design process for public services is becoming more and more critical. Research in this area is growing, though there is still large scope for the creation of new knowledge, whereas the academic education is starting to introduce some programs on design for public services. Both the research and teaching activities, though, are mainly located in the disciplinary area of management and organization. Little contribution has been offered by the design discipline, although this discipline is slowly moving its focus from material products to immaterial values (service, experience, interaction) and is increasingly contributing to the design of new services.A strategic design process, that can really increase the qualitative level of public services must be based on wide time horizons and propose long term scenarios that can drive planning and political decisions. Another fundamental aspect to consider is the systemic perspective in service design. A tight cost reduction tends to separate each single functions in public administration, whereas an integrated vision of the service provided and the available resources would emphasise the opportunities for economies of scale and economies of scope.Service informatisation is the second crucial element that influences the interaction between customers and the organization in the back office. Several cases demonstrated that neglecting human aspects when configuring technological system may in fact inhibit the huge potential improvements made possible by technology.

The design discipline and the focus on services

Only in the last few years the design discipline has started a critical analysis of those themes. It has extended and moved its focus from material products to services, from manufacturing industries to all kind of public and private organization that can produce innovation. Furthermore a systemic approach to design supported the development of methodologies to manage complex systems in which new organizational logics that are replacing the traditional vertical and hierarchical structures. The new logics are based on horizontal forms of cooperation between heterogeneous actors who bring about their culture, knowledge, economic, social and cultural interests. Such forms of cooperation generate innovation that produce economic prosperity, but also increase the level of knowledge in local communities and create the condition for economies of scope.The design discipline has also been studying the interaction between new technologies and people when designing products and services, thus proposing different views and approaches to design the interaction between actors involved in services.While the most traditional approach to the design of public services keeps a rigid distinction between service providers and users, other studies on service design propose that both providers’ and customers’ roles are integrated in a process of value co-production, thus encouraging the active participation of customers in the definition of the solution. This is the condition for a better quality in public service and a better capability to provide solutions for individual needs. This perspective is particularly important in view of the increasing demand for a better use of resources. At present such demand has caused continuous and massive cuts to public services, whereas a perspective in which customers are actively involved in the production of solutions that meet their own individual needs suggests that public administrations can substantially improve the quality of their services, while specifying the target groups up to the level of individual segments.