“Synthesis, in Human-Centred Design, is a collaborative process of sensemaking, which leads to creating a coherent summary of all the data gathered during the design research.”

Marion Baylé, Designer, Hyper Island

We are currently in the process of wrapping up our Home Maintenance Coach test; a relatively short learning opportunity designed to enable us to understand more about how we might work with some of our customers to help them develop new skills and build confidence around home maintenance tasks. Over a 16 week period, a Home Maintenance Coach has worked with a number of customers on a wide range of activities, from bleeding radiators and replacing toilet seats through to replastering hallways and hanging wall paper. My colleagues and I have also been out and met some of the customers ourselves in order to start to better understand the impact that the Home Maintenance Coach has had on their lives.

We are now at a point where we need to make sense of all of this data; unlocking what’s in the heads of the Neighbourhood Coaches involved (who make the initial referrals) and the Home Maintenance Coach, as well as factoring in the conversations my colleagues and I have had with customers and analysing the data contained within individual coaching journals.

On Thursday, I facilitated a synthesis session in collaboration with colleagues who have been part of the test. The aim of a synthesis session is to provide a structured way to collectively make sense of what we have learned. Using white boards, post-it notes and sharpies I wanted to:

  • Make individual learning the knowledge of the group.

  • Identify insights supported by data, quotes, photos or observations that provide key learning.

  • Uncover opportunities to inform future service design.

In order to arrive at these outcomes the session was formed of several activities:

  • Uncovering - Getting to the data, observations and experiences held in the heads, laptops and notepads of everyone involved in the test.

  • Sorting - Creating a set of themes to start building a common understanding of what we have learned (considering observed and inferred customer need as well as business need).

  • Interpreting - Uncovering insights that can be clearly communicated and easily translated into opportunities for design.

During the session everyone was able to feedback on how they feel the test has gone. From the beginning we framed the test as a learning opportunity rather than a way of testing a fully formed ‘mini-service’ in the way you might with a pilot, so it was important to recognise any areas of the test that didn’t go so well as it was to highlight those that did.


Participants shared thoughts, stories and experiences from the past three months. To guide the conversation we kept these headings in mind:

  • Onboarding process

  • Understanding why people chose not to take part

  • Understanding the value that those people who chose to take part took from the experience

  • Interview data (field notes)

  • Data analysis (journal data)

  • Personal accounts

Participants were able to share stories which answered questions, raised questions and challenged and verified assumptions in equal measure. As people spoke, everyone else listened and wrote down notes and observations on post-its. The result was a wall of post-it notes which we had already started to gather around themes emerging from the discussion.

Quote from a customer interview -  “I can build the theory, but my confidence is low until someone has done it with me”.

Quote from a customer interview - “I can build the theory, but my confidence is low until someone has done it with me”.


As we had started to organise the post-it notes as we went along, the emergent themes were already starting to provide us with a common understanding of what we had collectively learned over the course of test.

“Home Maintenance Coach isn’t about the property, it’s about people.” - Head of Locality

Some of the early themes to emerge included:

  • Motivation - People didn’t always learn new skills, but they did find the motivation they needed to get started on a task they had been putting off.

  • Learning through doing - People found being shown how to do something more valuable than being told to do it.

  • Support networks - People sometimes used friends and family to help them with home maintenance tasks.

  • Choosing Life - Life often gets in the way. Home maintenance isn’t always top priority. The time needs to be right for people to take an active role.

Quote from customer interview -  “For me it was the motivation I needed. I knew Wayne would becoming back, so I needed to get it done”.

Quote from customer interview - “For me it was the motivation I needed. I knew Wayne would becoming back, so I needed to get it done”.


Towards the end of the session we were able to start to use the themes to shape some opportunities for future design work. We will continue this work over the next week or so in order to identify a set of insights supported by data, quotes, photos and observations, which might ultimately help us design further iterations of the test, or if the learning is sufficient and the buy-in is there, a larger scale pilot.

Next Steps

Over the coming weeks, together with colleagues from the Strategic Insight team, we will be pulling together a learning outcomes report. Keep an eye on the Trello board for updates.