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I'm a firm believer in focusing on assets rather than deficits "

Back in 2011 Shropshire Council took a pretty forward thinking decision to create an in-house service design team. At the time there were probably only a couple of other council’s in the country thinking that way, so I was pretty lucky be a founding member of the team. I started my career at Shropshire Council back in 2003, joining as Supporting People Information Management Officer. I spent a few years pinballing around various departments in data and performance roles, but I didn't always feel that what I was doing was having a real impact. That all changed in 2011. For the first time, it felt like I had a career. I was finally redressing the decision I made to study IT at university, rather than product design, and it felt great!

Service Design was like a breath of fresh air. From day one I was hooked, and I soon became passionate about human centred design. The biggest revelation was the fact that I could get out and talk to people about their lives, spending time with them and shadowing them in order to really understand them as individuals, not just service users.

I came to realise that the public and social sector can no longer afford to deliver one size fits all services which address a perceived need, and have to work with partners to design new types of service which develop communities by treating citizens as customers, understanding their wants and needs but also focusing on their own capabilities. I became a firm believer in focusing on assets rather than deficits.  

Over time I came to realise that the biggest impacts come when you involve people in change rather than deliver it to them like a transaction - really understanding the customers who I was designing for, and getting the buy-in of colleagues through rolling up my sleeves and working alongside them, rather than directing them like a traditional consultant might do. During my time as a service designer in the council's business design team, I worked with colleagues on a range of diverse projects including co-designing new approaches to adult social care, improving health outcomes for citizens, co-designing new ways of managing household waste and finding ways to mainstream the use of design thinking across the organisation.

In 2015 I setup the council's iLab to provide a space for the team to work on design challenges that allowed us to exploit the trends and opportunities which we spotted through the course of our work, or through the networks we had started to build. The idea was to provide a controlled environment in which to nurture, develop and test hunches and ideas and turn them into an evidence base that we could proactively present to leaders. Over the past two years or so the council’s iLab has developed into much more and is now used as a platform from which the team can run inspiration sessions and design thinking training sessions, as well as host global service jams and social design drinks events.

I’ve developed a simple mission to build networks for social change. The problems we are seeking to address in the public and social sectors are often wicked by nature, and because wicked problems transcend organisations and sectors, no single organisation can solve a given problem on their own. The solutions have to be found in creating networks that work together to transcend silos and create effective ecosystems that support and inspire people to be the best they can be.

I’ve followed with interest the work Paul and the team have been doing in the Lab at Bromford since I first started seeing tweets and blogs appear, so I’m over the moon to now have the opportunity to take up the position of Lab Designer in such a forward thinking and and progressive organisation, and write for the blog myself. I’m really looking forward to getting stuck into a new set of design challenges, and hopefully building some networks for social change along the way.

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