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Jonas Piet

Partner and Lead Service Designer
at InWithForward

18 November, 2015

Jonas, what is your background?

In the last few years I’ve been working in London in the social sector with Participle designing a service for socially isolated older people and with Engine working for the public sector. I’ve also worked in the Netherlands on a project involving homeless young people. What I’m doing in Vancouver now is the result of an iterative improvement of my previous experiences that left me partially unsatisfied. As from the website: “We make social services, neighborhood networks, and public policies that measurably shift outcomes with and for the most marginalized folks by collecting local ethnographic data, testing & tweaking interventions, and creating immersive learning experiences to spread the thinking and practice. We don’t use a fancy step-by-step process for this. We use a blend of theories and methods from design, social psychology, philosophy, and history.”

For the project we are carrying out in Canada, I partnered first with the service deliverer – in order to create the conditions to do the further work. Then the next stage with InWithForward - hence the project over there – was to do a nine months prototyping that we just before the summer - and during that part we grew the team.

So initially we were on the ground with three of the business partners and three of the people from the organization we were working with - six in total - and before the summer we grew the team to about ten people prototyping one of the service ideas we came out with. The Project is called Kudoz “a platform connecting folks with cognitive disability to learning experiences”. Now we are one stage further: we are about to go live with Kudoz, to implement it. One of the things which is crucial and we haven't figure out yet is the business model - because we've been one year only on Kudoz - that I think says a lot about where we are with InWithForward as well.

One of the (other) important things worth mentioning I think is capabilities building. One of the things that we've seen services fall flat in public sectors - and in commercial work as well - is that once the project is developed and delivered that's the end of it. The people that are in the organisation that are supposed to deliver the new service don't always know how to take it further, how to actually implement it. Turns out the reality is slightly different from how you expect it - or you haven't got the right people on board to develop the service. Things stop working, and that is something we want to target from the beginning - hence involving people from the organization or hiring local people during the prototyping phase. That's another big thing that we are trying to establish in our work - more than what we've done in the past.

Since you founded your agency two years ago, I assume this is your main project. Did you have any side project in the meantime?

Yes, we had a small previous project in the Netherlands that was around domestic violence and we worked with the "Women's Shelter" in the Netherlands as well.

Which kind of agency is yours?

We don't like to call what we do "service design", we are just using the service design approach aside other approaches.

Your work is all within the social sector. Would you like in the future to work within private or public clients?

We don't call the people we work with “clients”, our relationship is quite different. We work a lot in partnerships. This means that at the moment we're equally partner alongside the three largest disability service providers in Canada - but having said that we think that whatever we do, our work is about system change and that must involve public sector organizations.

"We don't call the people we work with “clients”, our relationship is quite different. We work a lot in partnerships."

So, to give an example, in Vancouver we've been hardworking heavily with the ministry of community living as well. We don't see them as clients. They are an important actor in the system because most of the money on the sector is obviously public money. So in order to create something that has any sort of bigger impact you need to also change something in the system - hence involving public sector organisation. So we don't call them clients and we wouldn't start there.

We start with a specific group of end users in a specific place and then we partner up with social sectors organizations and then we see who else is necessary in the mix to make the project work; often times that would be public organisations and sometimes that might be private sector organisations, but it really depends by what we need by them. And if we have a look to how much time we spend, we can say we spend around 20% of our time with public sector organisations.

What’s the background of the members of your team?

We recruit people according to the role that we need in that specific time. So we initially recruited a designer, a senior manager and a community worker from one of the organisations we've partnered with; we hire people sometimes on temporary roles - we've worked with documentary film makers, writers, learning specialists and professors. And I think roughly 1/3 of them are designers: a bunch of people with a science background, some with a business administration background. We're often interested in people that have a very specific content background. So that's the point of difference I guess between us and an IDEO or an Engine. For us it's important to have people with a content knowledge in the team and we often try to build the capacity in the organisation. So we have these people that might spend half a year with us and be really part of our team - and it's interesting because at the same time they don't need to be in our payroll as we might not have the resources to hire them directly, so we "borrow" them from the organisation we're partnering with. Sometimes we even hire end-users as well.

You said you never heard about PSSD. The academic definition describes it as a designer which adopts an holistic problem solving approach, working across different fields.

Yeah I think there's people who are reasonably good in all of those different fields and are able to "satisfy the user needs and the company profitability and social goals." But they're rare. I've worked with a few of them. I think even if you have people who are good in everything you still need more and more person on the team because the project tends to turn bigger hence it is just more interesting to have people from a different background because they bring in different perspectives and a whole different network. And by the way the academic definition for a product-service-system is so broad on that level of detail that would describe anything which is not just product design. It equally fits a service designer and I can’t point out the difference. You should go more in detail to point out the differences.

The research is aimed at contextualising London's ecosystem: you have been working for Engine as a Senior Service Designer. Why did you move from London?

After 4 years I was tired of London: I'm from the Netherlands and wanted to go back. It was a life choice.

Would a project like Inwithforward work in the London ecosystem?

At the moment we travel to where we see there might be interesting work to do - that's why we ended up in Canada; in theory there's no reason why it couldn't work in the UK but in the market there are a lot of other organisations which do something slightly similar, in the same space - so I guess there's more competition. Another relevant signal I think it's worth mentioning is that Participle just closed down. Anyway, I'm not excluding we might end up working in the UK in the future.

What’s your view about the social innovation scene?

We're not really involved anymore with the social innovation scene - we go to conferences, one of our business partners writes scientific papers, but a lot of it seems a bit inward looking.

"if you have a look to some of the most interesting projects that have been done in the last few months, they are not necessary related to the social innovation scene."

It seems to me that a lot of the people who are active on the scene - in order to have time to be active don't have a lot of time to do actual on-the-ground work - so it seems that either people are academics or are working in organisations that try to support other organisations. And then you've got a bunch of people that is spending most of the time on the ground. And if you have a look to some of the most interesting projects that have been done in the last few months, they are not necessary related to the social innovation scene.

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

I'm a bit out of touch with what's going on in London. What I've seen from the colleagues in London Is that some of the organisations in London focus on bigger multinational clients rather than doing smaller work. I think there's less design and more advisory work in it. What I think is more important and I’ve seen people talking about is "implementation": I believe service designers became quite good in design and research, there's pretty good people in designing user centred services - but I've never seen those beautiful ideas actually implemented. I hope to see some of that in the future, it' something that we struggle with and try to focus on a lot from the very beginning in many different ways.

I personally can't take people seriously if they just present some design research or a bunch of interesting ideas and not showing me something that's been actually implemented within an organisation. I wonder if those services are still alive after 2 or 5 years: what happened to them?

So, regarding London, you can see a lot of people that are starting to be interested in this thing called service design. In the university courses I've been teaching, some of the students are designers, some have a background from other creative industries or ad agencies, some have a business/entrepreneurial background, some come from social sciences. There are many different people interested in moving into this field of service design - which is very different from what it used to be around 15 years ago when the very first ones coined the name and started their agencies. They developed a definition, a practice around service design and when I see people bringing in different backgrounds I can see things changing. So it's interesting to understand what people say service design is and what is not. Those people seem quite successful in attracting clients and establishing business relationships that last a year or two. But what will that lead to?


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