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A service design led pandemic response gave Dundee & Angus College students the support they need

By Caron Sandeman, Service Design Manager

“The right customer experience plan can be implemented quickly, saving time and creating organisational resilience”

The week we started the Student Engagement & Service Development Project 2020 in response to the COVID pandemic at D&A College I read Andrea Cooper’s blog Working From Home. It’s a reminder that investing in anything, from a small home-spun project to building a team or changing a whole organisation, isn’t easy and there are seldom quick fixes.

Our Service Design team has been working with the College for 3 years now, and we’ve made great steps towards improving ways of working and cultivating a focus on their customer wants and needs. Our Service Designers work collaboratively with teams across all services in the College. This lets us take a holistic view of the services that we offer and influence how we make the most of the benefit to their customers, the students and staff.

The College is used to change following a merger, restructure and a cyberattack. We introduced service design in 2017 when 600+ staff spent a day Designing Good to Great; an ambitious change programme driven by data and powered by service design for which they were awarded the Public Sector Reform Award. We were relying on the lessons learned and the successes of the past to drive Project 2020.

Project 2020 was a new piece of work, there were no partially formed solutions, there was a just a problem. 

How do we deliver all the services we provide to students on campus, during a pandemic?

We needed to take all the frontline services that were once delivered face to face on campus, at the start of each academic year, into the new Covid_19 ways of working. Where once there was a smile or a comforting and reassuring chat, which we knew from research and experience was often needed for new students in their first days, weeks and months in College, we were working out how to do things remotely and physically distanced. 

We were not looking for a one-off fix. Solutions were needed to design accessible and easy to use services no matter whether they were delivered wholly online, remotely by staff or face to face on campus. The focus of the design effort was not so much on any single service but across the whole organisation. There needed to be a concentrated effort to shape a personalised offering around each individual student.

We faced a ‘wicked’ problem in that we were working without rules. And by this, I mean, we did not know if the campuses would be open and what operational restrictions might be in place for Session 2020/21. The continual flux in guidance and directions made this seem for many, like the problem was insurmountable.

Our approach

We started by mapping the current on campus end to end service so we could highlight every digital and physical customer touchpoint – whether they were emails or text messages the customer received or an on-campus conversation with our staff. This holistic view let us see everything the students interacted with on their journey.

Project timeline

Working with the delivery teams, we applied their known qualitative and quantitative research and expert insights to the map. This was key to making sure we were bringing others with us on the journey. These people would be working on the detail, so their input and awareness was crucial. When we did this, we could see the digital and physical interactions our students had with us and identify where services could easily be moved to a remote delivery or where there was potential for friction. And importantly, we saw issues might arise with a remote service delivery, or where the physical interaction could no longer take place face to face. We also identified areas where our insights were not enough and where we needed to ask questions of our customers.

Once we identified the problem areas and made sure they were backed up with insights, we were able to prioritise any problem areas with the teams. This was essential to make sure we didn’t create silos of work and that the services were considered across multiple groupings for planning and prioritisation. Identifying dates that services must be in place for helped us plan the work schedule.

The Process 

We ran two workshops for managers introducing them to working collaboratively in a remote environment using Zoom and Miro. We set prework to familiarise them with the online tools. We introduced Lou Downes principles of good service and we worked on several generic journey maps to familiarise individuals with the sessions we would facilitate.

Before team sessions, managers introduced the timeline and journey mapping techniques on Miro to staff and at the team sessions we planned to concentrate on ideation. Some team sessions where staff had completed the pre-work were more successful than others. The sessions also highlighted capability and competence issues. The remote collaboration brought technical skill frustrations to the fore and it took mindful facilitation to keep sessions on schedule and accessible for all participants. Seven team workshops took place over two weeks. 

coloured posts of a journey map

Teams worked with their live boards following the session and were able to call on our team for help at any point.  Weekly progress meetings took place to ensure the plan was running on schedule.

Key outcomes

By overseeing the work of multi-disciplinary teams and bringing them together, facilitating workshops, gathering and articulating insights, and looking at our services from an end-to-end point of view we were able to

  • identify where teams were well placed, and confident, to redesign and deliver the service themselves
  • break down silos when teams came together to co-ordinate a service
  • adopt a holistic approach to some services reducing duplication and improving the student experience
  • look at a service in its entirety and identify where there were gaps between team knowledge and business knowledge
  • provide focus to various teams and cross-college groups on previously unknown customer needs and problems that needed to be solved or investigated further when new problems were identified

While change felt slow to start as teams learned new ways of working, small wins quickly started to build on each other, proving that change really was happening and that building of momentum showed that the problem wasn’t insurmountable after all.

What has this delivered?

Leann Crichton, Head of Administrative Operations at the College led on the Student Engagement and Service Development workstream of Project 2020. We asked her how using service design has improved the pandemic journey for students and staff at the College?

“We’ve definitely seen a culture shift where people previously conditioned to find solutions now spend more time exploring problems. We have services for several possible scenarios and phases so the right customer experience plan can be implemented quickly, saving time and creating organisation resilience.

The ability to get ahead and respond quickly with the right service delivery plan to minimise disruption for teams and customers has meant less stress and a feeling of being in control, as much as you can be in uncertain times!  Being able to imagine and visualise the service and experience for several likely operating environments has equipped us to respond quickly when the situation changes allowing for more considered processes and reducing the interruptions to services.

Because we’ve designed carefully and proactively, we’ve avoided an impact on student satisfaction and that endorsement of the Project 2020 outcomes was the real result for us”.

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