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Jenni Parker

Innovation Consultant at FutureGov,
freelance Service Designer

16 November, 2015

Jenni, what is your background?

When I was in high school I wanted to be a psychologist, understanding how people think and behave. I did really like studying it, but I felt like something was missing. Since I liked Art and Design I applied to a Product Design course thinking that would be a more tangible way to respond to people's needs. I realised that my favourite classes were the entrepreneurship ones, where we had to build an idea, develop a business plan and so on. One of my professors told me about service design, and told me to have a look at the agencies in London.. At that time there were only Livework and Engine who were born around 2006-2007 as agencies – and it was the first time you would hear "service design" as a buzzword. I applied to work at Participle during the period when it was founded; unfortunately, I know it has just recently closed down. Everything was exciting at the time and I started to look for a good master’s degree to get a proper academic experience in service design. Norman McNally, formerly a lecturer at my university, told me about a really good course in Milan, Italy called PSSD, which I applied to.

I think we were the third generation of PSSD students and as you know there are and were a lot of talented, hardworking people from everywhere in the world. I really liked how it opened up my thinking and made me change direction again from my previous idea of service design. It taught me that you can’t solve any problem simply with a single product or a service or a campaign: what I learned and is still with me after all these years is that you have to understand the problem from a "systems" perspective - and to develop solutions from a systems perspective.
That’s why I consider myself a “systems thinker”: that’s a sort of a legacy that I carry on from my PSSD period because I don’t think of myself as a specific designer but more as a multidisciplinary designer. And I never wanted to apply those skills working for corporate or commercial industry.

Why did you take this decision?

I always wanted to do social impact work: I originally studied psychology because I wanted to help people. I originally did service design because I saw it as a way to create social impact through services. During my master I stumbled across a very interesting article about how mobile phones were changing service delivery in developing contexts, and I was fascinated by how a basic Nokia phone was being transformed from a communication tool to a device that could deliver services - such as health, education and mobile banking services.

I asked Valentina Auricchio if I could develop a thesis topic around this phenomenon, in order to apply and improve my skills in design for social impact. Rebecca Pera introduced me to the ITC-ILO (International Training Centre of the International Labour Organization, the United Nations agency for workers' rights). The ITC-ILO specialize in education and they were looking for an intern to explore the opportunity for mobile learning in developing countries within their big, international training campus in Turin.
Since their model was not sustainable because people had to come from all over the world to do their training, they were looking for “distance learning” opportunities. They already started working in the e-learning space, and they knew that in developing contexts people had better access to mobile phones than computers, so they wanted to understand how could they deliver mobile learning.
They were not looking for a designer - I don't know what they were looking for because in my head the designer is the solution to every problem! But I was accepted and started my 6 month internship alongside my thesis. Talking to people who were doing the courses and that were living in East Africa revealed some interesting insights and we realised we didn’t have to work on an app, but we developed a toolkit instead and we agreed to make it open source so that any other organization could use it as well. So I was kind of a product developer for them, I didn't really design a product service system. Actually I don't think any project you design is a PSS at the end - I think it's more a mind-set.

"Actually I don't think any project you design is a PSS at the end - I think it's more a mind-set."

After that I ended up having a three year career in international development and humanitarian aid. I worked with the UN for a year, including a job in the technology department of UNHCR, which is the UN refugee agency based in Budapest. I was working on smartphone apps for mobile learning; again I was not doing full PSSD, probably more service design.
When I became freelance I spent a couple of years working in the international development context. I worked with the Nike Foundation where I helped them move from an insight-led design process to applying co-creation methodologies with adolescent girls living in poverty, then I worked on a 9 months project in London with BBC Media Action. The project was focused on supporting local media organizations in Asia to develop better communication around climate change.

After that I decided I wanted to go back to my original plan doing public service innovation and service design in the UK. I collaborated with the Innovation Unit on a project involving Policy Lab – a small hub which aims to bring design thinking into UK government through policy making, and then I ended up working for FutureGov.

When was FutureGov founded?

It was founded 8 years ago.

Which kind of organization is it?

They describe themselves as "the digital and design company for public services".
There are three teams in FutureGov: Organization Design, Service Design, and Product Design. So it's a combination of user researchers, service designers, people who used to work in local government and developers.

What kind of clientele does FutureGov receive?

It's mainly public sector work, largely with local governments, however they have also worked a lot with GDS (Government Digital Service) and for UNDP abroad. They are also doing a project for the United Arab Emirates at the moment – but it’s all within the public sector.

Which services are usually requested by your clients?

Only in the last couple of years I actually saw people looking for service design, which is an interesting change, but usually, since we work within the public sector, the brief is “we need to save money and we want to make services better for people”.
As you know there have been public sector cuts in the UK, austerity measures, so it’s quite hard to deliver services when budgets are being dramatically reduced, sometimes even quartered from what they were five years ago.

So that’s the main driver when they start to look for FutureGov. They know that they need to reinvent everything: we teach them to think as start-ups, as new customer-centred businesses – which is why we have the Organisation Design team.

Most of the time when we speak about social innovation, it means clients actually have to invest money. How do you combine this with the public sector cuts?

We try to teach the “invest to save” model, meaning they need to invest a little more in understanding their customers and the problems in order to design better solutions – that sometimes even means a little more investment upfront to develop better technologies.. But it all drives longer terms solutions.
We try to connect them to facilities: we let them think more as platforms, like AirBnb that is a platform that delivers services, instead of owning products, and then the other theme that comes in is prototyping - which is a new approach to experiment without investing a lot of money. So we talk a lot about low-fidelity prototypes to test new ideas.

What is the location of Future Gov?

The HQ is in London and they have another office in Australia.

How many people work at your company (London agency only)?

About 40 people.

What is the contribution of each member on your team and how is it applied?

I’m on the organisation design team. There’s about 5 of us - we’re called “innovation consultants” and our role is kind of project management duties: we manage the clients and we are the strategic lead on each consultancy project: at a certain point we meet the service design team and the product design team - and sometimes I am more a service designer than a project manager: it’s flexible.

We not only manage the client but try to implement systems thinking around other part of the organisations, trying to connect the dots. Then there is the Service Design team which includes about 10 people including service designers, user researchers and UX designers.

You mentioned the “Product Design” team. What do you mean by product design?

Product design for FutureGov is only digital, no industrial design is involved. There are front and back-end developers and project managers. They work in an Agile environment with sprints, user stories and standups.

What about the service designers' background?

Some of them used to be product designers, some UX coming from a computer science background, then we have a visual designer with a graphic design background. We don’t have anyone who actually studied service design yet. FutureGov is a bit concerned about hiring people who just graduated from service design programs, they are trying to get mainly senior designers with a few years of experience.

Considering you are a Product-Service System Design graduate, how would you describe the role?

I usually describe it as a multidisciplinary international course that leads you to kind of forget your former design education (product, graphic, fashion..) and forces you to think more about problems and solutions. So instead of looking at the single design opportunity, it is more about understanding the problem from a really broad systems perspective. This leads you to identify underlying problems and then think about every possible solution to solve that problem, eventually designing a system based solution which is not a single solution but a combination of multiple services/physical touchpoints/physical spaces and communication. So all these elements exist in a system based solution space.

I think strategic design and design thinking are the same thing. Many service designers are actually quite good in “wider thinking”, but I would consider service design to be a small part of product service system design.
Jenni Parker service design map

What problem solving process does your company embrace?

FutureGov follows the double diamond process, but it’s mainly used for communicating our work to clients. About the tools, in our department we don’t use many tools: we use system mapping, we do a lot of communication within the organisation - understanding who are the stakeholders, how to get them involved, to take them on a journey with the project. Regarding the Service Design team, we use traditional tools for ethnographic research, we develop custom tools like mapping tools, printing maps and asking people to draw on them, social network mapping tools and analysis, very basic journey mapping, tools for capturing the findings and we use personas for almost every project. Plus, we do service design prototyping.

We’ve talked about FutureGov. How about your freelancing work? What do you do to move past not having a team when freelancing?

I try to overcome the problem by working closely with my clients, building their internal capacities, organising workshops, introducing my tools to their team while continuing to use my methodology.

Are clients keen to spend their time on these workshops?

Yes, most of the time they are very positive. Most of those things are pretty new to them: their daily time is usually spent behind a desk, so involving them in original activities makes them excited. I used to do "brainstorming breakfasts" for example, and people would come often to contribute to the project even if they were not working on that specific project. I think it's also a way to spread the methodology inside the organisation. Another way to overcome the “team-lacking” problem is trying to keep getting people from the social innovation world involved, exchanging feedback with them on the things we are working on. There is a quite interesting “social innovation scene” in London and I usually go to meet-ups and events to keep it alive.

What process do you follow when carrying out your service design consultant role?

I’m quite obsessed by processes and methodologies. I spent almost 6 months at Nike Foundation developing a methodology. It took me quite a lot of time to develop my own, which is displayed on my website. I guess it’s pretty much the same as anybody else's – it’s probably just the way it makes sense in my head. It’s composed by three parts – that’s why I don’t use double diamond, it doesn’t fit for me – the first part is all about researching, then there’s the co-creating and finally the prototyping phase.
I really like the diverging and converging steps of the double diamond diagram, but I think it lacks a bit on the actual iterating side of the process which cannot be perfectly represented in a linear diagram. I use the double diamond a lot to explain the process to my clients, but I believe that if no one is there explaining why it’s a diamond and what you go through as a designer, it is not as self-explanatory: it requires a narrative around it. However, I think we still need those kind of tools to explain people what we actually do –especially to those who are not very convinced design is the correct approach – so that they can go away with a clearer picture of what we do for them.

Which tools do you use in your freelancing activity?

I use journey mapping and personas the most, I think they are the most important.
I see journey mapping as a collaborative exercise with the client, as a way to present them the information, so I do workshops where I get people to actually map their experiences and process and then create the graphic afterwards. You can use it to document existing experiences and to show possible future ones.

Considering your background and sensibility about social innovation/sustainability, how does it work for you in your daily life? Other design agencies like Fjord and IDEO do talk about it a lot: do you think they are actually producing impact?

I believe those bigger agencies relate to sustainability as a core part of their business model. They rely on it for marketing reasons. I like the projects but I don’t think they do it for fun.

"there’s a misconception that if you want to work in those “sustainable” projects you’ll end up being poor"

Anyway I think there’s a lot of opportunities in the social innovation space: I haven’t been working for any big corporate clients but I could say I’ve never had any “income” problems – there’s a misconception that if you want to work in those “sustainable” projects you’ll end up being poor: I get paid well for doing social innovation work. I think you just need to have the confidence to go for it, spreading the word, going to the client and explaining what you are doing - because they are not looking for you. That’s why I’ve been freelancing for so long. I had to talk a lot to people to explain what I was doing. I believe, whatever is your interest, being it public sector or charities or whatever, it's all about just going out and exposing yourself.

How do you believe service design will evolve in the next few years?

I’ve seen service design exploding in the last year. Years ago when I was looking for work and I didn’t have any network I was calling up recruitment agencies and they couldn’t even register me on their system because there was no box for service design, they didn’t know what it was. And now it’s all calls and emails from recruiters because agencies are trying to meet the demand. This is just in the past 12 months. Suddenly agencies are having a dedicated part in their websites, they know what it is and they are collaborating with big service design studios to find talent.
Many of the leading service design studios are being bought by large management consultancy agencies which is a bit sad but it’s also a recognition that it is what their clients are asking for and they don’t have the capacities internally.
I know for graduates it’s pretty hard.
I also believe there’s a bit of discrimination against people that aren’t British in London – which I really don’t like – I think there’s a lot of really talented designers that are not being considered, especially from Politecnico’s PSSD. Agencies tend to hire experienced people and don’t really believe junior service designers are good enough, but I believe it will change as soon as they realise they actually have the capabilities to help them to solve problems.


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