Service Design Academy

Bringing service design principles into project management can improve outcomes and lead to happy stakeholders. It offers project managers a toolkit that supports effective delivery. By focusing on user needs, experience, and value delivery, service design gives project managers the opportunity to create effective solutions with users.

Service Design Academy helps to give project managers the framework, tools and skills to face the complex challenges of managing scope, resources and stakeholders’ expectations.

Here’s just some of the ways service design capability can help:

Solving problems

Projects are all about solving problems and service design methodology can turbo-boost problem-solving skills. Learning about user research, journey mapping, prototyping, and testing can help project managers better understand complex challenges, explore innovative solutions, and make more informed decisions throughout the project lifecycle.

Getting closer to users

Service design is all about understanding and empathising with the people who use your services.  Bringing these needs into every stage of a project can be confident that the final product or service meets what people need and expect.

Graphic with colour post-it notes with text Problem solving skills...

Holistic view

The entire service experience is looked at, considering all touchpoints and interactions between users and the service. Project managers benefit from this approach by identifying potential gaps or opportunities for improvement across the entire project lifecycle, leading to more integrated solutions.


Service design always encourages collaboration and interdisciplinary teamwork. Project managers can enjoy taking this collaborative approach to facilitate  better communication and co-operation among team members from different teams, leading to more cohesive project execution and outcomes.

Iterative and agile

Service design asks for an iterative and agile mindset;  continuous learning, adaptation, and improvement. Project managers can apply this mindset to project management practices, helping to respond to changing requirements and stakeholders’ feedback ultimately enhancing project agility and resilience.


Stakeholders are involved in co-design activities meaning that project managers can use participatory approaches to build stronger relationships with stakeholders, and give them a sense of ownership and commitment.


Service design creates value for everyone, aligning project goals with user needs and business. Project managers can give the assurance that projects will deliver value and impact, ultimately contributing to growth and sustainability.

Image of Service Design Academy team from left consultants Kim Anderson, Connor Finlayson, Business Manager Maralyn Boyle and Caryn Gibson Business Partnerships Manager

Service Design Academy L-R Kim Anderson, Connor Finlayson, Maralyn Boyle & Caryn Gibson

If you’d like to find out more about how Service Design Academy can build service design capability to help your business get to where it needs to be please  get in touch info@sda.ac.uk or go to our website https://www.sda.ac.uk/newsroom/

What does a good experience look like for the people you work with? The Service Design Academy can help you challenge your assumptions by understanding what matters most for a purpose-led and motivated team.          

When people are happy at their work, good things happen in that business.  

James Timpson, CEO of the high street and online home services company Timpson’s Group, talks about “Upside Down Management” . Business success comes down to two things: the satisfaction of its staff, and what it gives back to society.  

Watch James Timpson’s Channel 4 News interview here  

Picture of James Timpson , CEO of Timpson's Group

James Timpson  – Picture Credit: The Times

People vs Employee Experience

It’s important to think about how you frame good employee experience. At the Service Design Academy, we like to focus on “people” rather than “employee” experience. 

We believe that this subtle change in language can have a positive impact on mindset when creating these experiences. Breaking down the hierarchical assumptions around the word “employee” allows everyone who works with an organisation to be seen as a unique person – whatever they do and however they do it.   

Taking a service design approach offers the perfect way to improve people experience because it will always involve people front and centre.  

Picture of Kim Anderson, SDA consultant

Led by Service Design Academy educator Kim Anderson, our Design Your People Experience course will give you and your colleagues the mindset, and tools to build your new people experience plan. 

Find out more here  

Book Your Early Bird (£595 before 30 April) place now  

Quote on Green background

If you are interested in this course being customised for a group of 8 or more colleagues, please email our Business Manager Maralyn Boyle m.boyle@dundeeandangus.ac.uk 

If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.

Group of people attending a Service Design Workshop

Specialist service designers have a critical role to play in the development and improvement of services with large organisations. Their jobs are challenging and often clearly defined in terms of role and function

Their focus is on improving and optimising the end-to-end experience of a service. They research user needs, collaborate with stakeholders, and use design thinking to create human-focused solutions. Through prototyping and testing, they refine and make service delivery better for users.

However, many of the organisations Service Design Academy works with simply do not have the luxury of being able to resource a full team of professional service designers. However, they recognise there is a need to build capacity, skills and knowledge to drive change and transform services to meet users’ evolving needs.

The ideal for these organisations is for an emerging community of non-specialist and committed individuals with service design skills and confidence. A community that understands that by taking this approach they’ll be equipped to adapt to change, evolving customer needs, and emerging market trends.                   

Why does it matter?

Creating a community within an organisation, where individuals and teams are aware of service design, leads to improved collaboration, a customer-focussed culture, and better problem-solving across different teams and departments.

In our experience of working with diverse organisations across different sectors there are some important reasons for not having one person or even a team responsible for service design. There needs to be a community.

What does a community look like?

A Shared Understanding

A community of individuals aware of service design principles establishes a shared language and understanding across different teams. This common ground helps in effective communication and alignment of goals. We learned a lot about shared language when we worked with The Centre of Civic Innovation Glasgow City Council

A Collaborative Culture

Service design often requires input from various departments. Building a community ensures that individuals from different teams have the space and empowerment to bring a 360 degrees approach to service delivery. We’ve enjoyed partnering with Edinburgh Napier University Information Services Directorate as their PMO makes amazing progress.

Breaking Down Silos

Service design can suffer in environments with departmental silos. A lack of big-picture thinking stifles creativity and leads to duplication and frustration. Creating a community encourages the breaking down of these silos, promoting collaboration, information sharing, and a more integrated approach to problem-solving.

Always keeping the customer in mind

The customer must be everyone’s concern. A community that is collectively aware of service design principles helps maintain a consistent customer focus across various teams. This alignment is crucial for delivering a seamless and positive customer experience.

Bit by bit - iterative improvement

A community will be geared for generating and sharing continuous feedback loops, allowing for regular evaluations and refinements of services based on insights from different perspectives.


When individuals across various teams are aware of service design principles, problem-solving becomes easier. The collective knowledge allows for a quicker identification and resolution of issues that may arise in service delivery. We loved working with ANGUSalive frontline staff with a customised “What’s your problem and how to solve it” programme.

Better People Experience

Having this conducive environment helps to provide a platform for employees to actively contribute to the improvement of services, creating a sense of ownership and pride in their work. Manchester City Council HR and OD had a clear vision of building service design capability to improve their people experience on our customised programme.

Facing Change together

A community that understands service design principles will lead to resilient mindsets – better equipped to adapt to changes, evolving customer needs, and emerging market trends.

If you recognise that service design is needed not just for you but for a wider group, we’d love to talk. We’ll find out more about your challenges and goals and you will learn what Service Design Academy programme meets your needs. info@sda.ac.uk

Service Designers taking part in SDA workshop

“A whole new way of doing things”                      

Data and service design work together closely.  Data analysis and insights inform service design decisions around people – their behaviour, preferences, and needs.

At the same time service design can be used to design processes that capture relevant user information to improve products, services and experiences. Learning more about how data and design work together means that we can understand the relationship between information about people (data) and insights (the things we can learn).

Thanks to support from our partners Tay Cities Digital Skills and the Data Lab, the Service Design Academy at Dundee and Angus College was delighted to welcome 25 people working in data roles to a 14 hour live and online Service Design for Data Professionals course over four mornings in November. 

Learners joined from a wide range of roles and functions including Data Analysts, Insight Analyst, Human Resources, Organisational Development and Improvement, Library Systems, Employability, Workforce Development, Policy and Programme management.

In our pre-training support survey, we discovered a variety of reasons learners had for wanting to learn more about service design:

– Developing new techniques to research and develop data analytics

– Problem solving in a project environment

– To have some tools and structure to use in the future will be very useful and help my audience     understand the data better

Everyone shared the goal of wanting to learn how service design can help them to solve problems with (not just for) stakeholders.

The course was designed to help data professionals communicate and effectively engage people in the story and context of data, helping their organisations to make data-informed decisions.

Service design training helped them think through issues and problems and develop techniques and confidence to undertake user research, analyse and synthesise qualitative data, generate ideas, and create prototypes for testing and communication.

Kim Anderson, lead educator on this course shares what happened over the 4 mornings.

Kim Anderson, SDA Consultant

“Using the double diamond and its phases Discover, Define, Develop and Deliver the group were introduced to service design through a blend of theory and practical activities.

Working on a relatable challenge  – the Future of Food – the group first gathered thoughts and experiences to then work in seven self-selected themes. 

Graphic of Service Design Prototype

These themes covered diverse topics from Policy and Regulation to Education and Human Rights. To challenge their initial assumptions, learners made user research plans and learned interview techniques. We then showed the teams how to analyse and synthesise data. From there they worked on problem definition and then to generate ideas before prioritising, prototyping, testing, and iterating their ideas.

We love working with enthusiastic learners, and this first cohort of the service design for data professionals course didn’t disappoint.  Each person gave it their all every week which created a fun, and supportive learning environment.

The group left with reflections on what they liked and what they had learned, and we’ve taken that feedback to update our next course running from the Friday 8th March.

Picture with coloured post it notes with feedback of what the group learned in the session
Picture with coloured post it notes with feedback of what the grouped liked about the session

Service Design Academy is passionate about offering a hands-on experience of service design as an approach to understand the issues and needs of people to collaboratively problem-solve. We hope a key outcome for our learners will be a shift in mindset; that working in a data role is seen as a service that supports many others within and outside their organisation. We look forward to hearing how the participants continue to use service design in their role.

We are incredibly grateful to Digitay and The Data Lab for giving Service Design Academy the opportunity to be part of a fantastic programme which will contribute to building new skills and opportunities for people in Tay Cities.”

Service Design for Data Professionals will run again four mornings 09.30 – 13.00 from 8th  – 29th March with fully funded places for people living or working in Tay Cities available meeting the eligibility criteria.

We highly encourage those living or working in Dundee, Angus, Perth & Kinross and North Fife to take advantage of this valuable opportunity and apply for a funded opportunity to upskill.

For more information about Service Design Academy please contact Maralyn Boyle


01382 448868

Taycities logo
The Datalab logo

Are you aware of service design but have been wondering whether you want to develop your skills further in this field? Could it be helpful to your business or career advancement?  

Perhaps you are curious about the value of supporting your employees to use service design to improve your service offering?  

Service design helps you design services well. It equips you or your team members with the tools and knowledge to solve problems by taking a human-centred design approach. 

Our Professional Development Award (PDA) in Service Design, which is accredited by the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA), is a training programme designed to empower learners to grow as confident service design thinkers and leaders in order to transform the organisations they work in.  

Who is the PDA in Service Design for?

The PDA in Service Design is ideal for someone who: 

  • Wants to become a service designer. 
  • Has been in service design roles and wants to consolidate their knowledge by obtaining a qualification.  
  • Is looking to empower and enable their team to develop their skills to innovate and problem solve. 
  • Is in a job role where they want to adapt their current service offering to better suit what customers and colleagues need. They want to create impact by making things work better with the improvement of team processes and working environment.  
  • Is looking to enhance their future job prospects by upskilling in service design. 

It would suit someone who already has a basic understanding of what service design is but wants to be able to use it to create positive change in their workplace. Learners join us from many different roles including digital transformation, organisational development, project and change management. 

Participants taking part in a workshop using post it notes

What’s unique about this PDA in Service Design?

  • It is delivered part-time and online, offering you flexibility with your work and the opportunity to build collaborative skills in remote environments. 
  • Our online and interactive learning labs give you a safe space to practise new methods and techniques with other learners on a relatable design challenge. 
  • Across the 4 units in the course, you’ll apply everything you learn straight back in the workplace, with your practical assessments based on challenges you or your business are facing. 
  • On completing the course, you’ll be able to demonstrate that you have the skills, experience and confidence to drive change. 
Employees collaborating by writing on white board

8 Benefits of the PDA Service Design Course

Here are the 8 main benefits of undertaking the PDA in Service Design with the Service Design Academy: 

1. Skill Enhancement 

The PDA in Service Design involves training and learning experiences that improve your skills in areas such as user research, prototyping, customer journey mapping, and other relevant aspects of service design. 

2. Improve Your Problem-Solving Skills 

Service design focuses on solving complex problems related to user experiences and service delivery. The PDA can enhance your ability to identify, analyse, and solve problems in innovative ways to help your business or organisation thrive. 

3. Stay Updated with Industry Trends 

Service design is an evolving field, and staying current with the latest trends, tools, and methodologies is crucial. This course provides insight into emerging trends and best practices to set you up to be the best service designer you can be. 

4. Validation of Expertise 

Completing this accredited training course in service design can serve as a validation of your expertise. It provides a formal acknowledgment of your skills and commitment to staying current in your field. 

5. Cross-functional Collaboration 

Service design often involves collaboration and co-designing across various disciplines, including business, technology, and user experience. The PDA can equip you with the ability to co-design and work effectively in cross-functional teams. 

6. Increased Job Satisfaction 

Contributing to the improvement of services at your place of work or business with your enhanced skills learned through this PDA can not only increase the employee experience for your team but also create job satisfaction for you. The ability to make a positive impact on user experiences and business outcomes can be very rewarding. 

7. Entrepreneurial Opportunities 

For those interested in entrepreneurship, a background in service design can be valuable for creating and optimising services, whether launching your own start-up or contributing to innovative projects within existing organisations. 

8. Career Advancement 

Acquiring new skills and knowledge through the PDA can improve your career prospects. Employers often value employees who actively invest in their professional growth and development.  

Our next PDA in Service Design cohort starts on Monday 4 March 2024. Find out more and book your place here: https://www.sda.ac.uk/pda-service-design/  

One of  Service Design Academy’s standout moments of 2023 was when we helped to co-design a unique lived experience tartan at CanDuCancer Dundee Support Networks  conference at the V&A Dundee  
People living with cancer, clinicians, health and cancer support specialists came together in November to share and learn about the value of lived expertise. 
Everyone listened to stories about the physical and emotional challenges that people living with cancer and their families face. A thought provoking Q&A facilitated by Dundee and Angus College’s Claire Mackay brought a wide range of voices together

Presentation slide at the CanDu Cancer Support Network Conference at V&A Dundee

We learned that although cancer treatment is world-class, patient empowerment for mental and emotional wellbeing needs to be explored and elevated. Empathy is good, but it can only go so far. Space needs to be made for people’s lived expertise to be really heard.  Collaboration is critical.

Design has an important part to play – not making assumptions about what people living with cancer need, but asking questions and listening to understand what the problems really are. Making sure that everyone’s voices are heard will shape future cancer services for the better. 

In the afternoon participants local designers Linsey McIntosh and Gary Kennedy asked participants to think about: 
💙 Why sharing lived expertise matters 
💛 What practical and emotional needs must be met. 

2 participants weaving thoughts and ideas together as the warp and weft of a magical tartan.
Participants weaving thoughts and ideas together as the warp and weft of a magical tartan.

Thoughts and ideas were woven together as the warp and weft of a magical tartan.  

2 participants weaving thoughts and ideas together as the warp and weft of a magical tartan.
2 participants weaving thoughts and ideas together as the warp and weft of a magical tartan.

Kim Anderson and Robbie Beautyman from Service Design Academy are now working on giving the lived expertise tartan a lasting legacy. They will analyse data gathered to synthesise into themes. This will help Dr Julie Wardrop and the CanDu team to share and continue to action with the Cancer Support community in Dundee and beyond. 
Thank you to everyone for making this a unique day. 
Peter Nurick Alison Connelly, Vicky Reid Gary, Linsey, Claire, Robbie, Kim, Aleksandra Daszyńska 
There were some tears, some shared frustrations and lots of laughter with a fantastic sing-song to end the day with the fabulous Maggie’s Centres Dundee Choir 
Thanks to all the partners and people who supported this event.  

Macmillan Cancer SupportTayside Cancer SupportJohn AlexanderThe ALLIANCE 

Our lead consultant Katie Murrie was delighted to join expert colleagues and service design practitioners at the Service Design Conference at the beginning of October.

Bringing the best in our industry together to share service design knowledge and new cross-disciplinary methods and thinking The Service Design Global Conference more that met its promise of two days of interactive learning, keynote presentations and in-person and virtual networking.

The theme for this year’s Service Design Global Conference was Catalyst for Change. Our world is undergoing radical, disruptive changes at an accelerating speed. Innovation, digitalisation, and technological and environmental shifts are changing the way we live and work, transforming industry and reshaping consumer demands. Service transformation is at the heart of this change with impacts being felt through new and innovative service experiences that serve people, the planet, and the invigorated organisations that deliver them. 

The conference speakers addressed the question – how can service design be the ingredient that not only increases the rate of transformation but also improves its quality and impact?

Katie’s reflections:

Attending SDGC was an absolute delight. It was an incredible experience. The venue was quirky and inspiring, the speakers were top-notch, and the people were amazing.

Surprisingly, despite our strong relationship with SDN (Service Design Network), this was the first time I had attended the global conference in person. I can confirm that it was worth the 6 year wait.

Katie Murrie in checked hoodie with other SDGC speakers

From start to finish, the entire experience, was just a design dream and I cannot thank those involved in organising everything enough – I can only imagine the orchestration that went into creating such a wholesome experience for those in Berlin and those online, using the immersive platform Hopin.

Group of speakers on stage at SDGC23 event

One of the best things about the conference was the line-up of speakers. They came from all over the world and covered a wide range of topics related to SDN. The talks were informative and engaging, and the panel chats were particularly insightful.

But the real highlight of the conference for me was the people. I had the chance to meet and connect with so many talented and passionate people from the SDN community. It was inspiring to see how many people are passionate about what we are doing.

I’m excited to share more about my experience and reflections on the conference in a future post. Follow me on LinkedIn to stay tuned.

Katie Murrie's LinkedIn QR code

As we get ready for a programme of scheduled and customised training into 2024, we reflect on the importance of knowledge and skills gained in our workshops making an impact back in the real world.   

Making an Impact

We believe that our service design training should always be focussed on how it will be implemented and put into practice. Our learners and customers know we are all about action!

Building skills and knowledge should improve not only capability for individuals but the capacity for organisations to use service design. Not all our learners will change their job title to Service Designer, but everyone will have evolving mindset and confidence – focussing on people by asking questions, listening, and collaborating to design better services.

We’re working with forward thinking organisations who have different motivations for taking a service design approach – digital transformation, continuous service improvement, effective project management and customer engagement. They all share the purpose of becoming more focussed on understanding and defining problems by speaking to people, to then design better solutions with them.

This is demonstrated with the innovative project we are currently delivering in the South of Scotland with Dumfries and Galloway Local Employability Partnership. This has the critical goal of developing support services for families who continue to be adversely affected by the cost-of-living crisis.

Service Design Academy is training the workers involved directly in service delivery to connect with families to fully understand their challenges to then develop new ideas together with them.

We are energised by this service design for everyone approach. By building skills in how to listen to families, to gather and analyse data to evidence what change is needed, means this is a sustainable way of developing new services. The new skills and confidence grown through this training will benefit not just this programme but drive change in the future.

To ensure that training is sustainable and will make an impact, we are designing learning pathways with organisations in diverse sectors including IT Services, Higher Education, Health and Social Care. Each organisation is focussed on ensuring that their investment will reap positive rewards in delivering better, efficient and effective services.

Picture of beach with rainbow and canoe

Upcoming Courses - Book Now

7 hours
30th November and 7th December
09:30 – 13:00

This course meets a growing demand for a comprehensive introduction to the mindset, approach, and principles of service design.

This course is for anyone who wants to learn how service design can help them engage with people, solve problems, and bring ideas into reality.

Find out more about the course here

Book your place here

Four weekly 3.5 hour online sessions from 2 November 

This interactive online introductory course has been designed for you to grow our knowledge of the value of service design. You’ll learn how to use the process to understand problems, to then work towards solutions.

You will explore the relationship between information about people (data) and insights (the things we can learn).

Fully Funding places are available for people living and working in Tay Cities area.

More information about the course here

Book here 

The Professional Development Award starting on the 22nd January, is live and online with interactive learning labs. It offers you the benefits of one-to-one support with our expert team, learning resources in a dedicated digital space and the value of sharing your journey with other people developing their service design practice.

Every Professional Development Award delegate also benefits from a full membership with our partners’ Service Design Network for a year. 

Find out more about the only accredited PDA in Service Design and apply here:

Information on our Website and to Apply

Quote mark

Fantastic course…..

The best part? The feedback from the stakeholders involved has been very positive!

One of the major advantages for me as a leader in these initatives is the active involvement of stakeholders from the initial design phase right through to delivery.

Duncan Brown
Quality & Academic Standards Development Manager
Univesity of Dundee


You can find out more about the Service Design Academy and what we do to train and educate people to design better services here https://www.sda.ac.uk/

New online course with fully funded places launches

We are delighted to launch our new 14-hour online course Service Design for Data Professionals running over 4 sessions from November 2nd.

This is part of The Data Lab Data Skills for Work programme – a skills-building programme has been designed to support the development of key data and digital skills and prepare people for the changing world of work.

Thanks to funding from the Scottish Government through the Tay Cities Deal Digital Skills Project, we are excited to be working with The Data Lab on this new service design training opportunity.

Who is this course for?

Anyone who loves working with data and is looking for ways to solve problems beyond purely technical solutions will find this course useful to enhance communication, storytelling, curiosity, and critical thinking skills.

Why have we designed this course?

Data and service design work together closely.  Data analysis and insights inform service design decisions around people – their behaviour, preferences, and needs. At the same time service design can be used to design processes that capture relevant user information to improve products, services and experiences.

Learning more about how data and design work together means that we can understand the relationship between information about people (data) and insights (the things we can learn).

We’ve been inspired to design this course by our learning partners the Data Lab’s purpose:


Quote mark
to change lives and make Scotland a more productive and sustainable place by transforming the way we use data……… our aim is to turn Scotland into a thriving, data-driven economy.”

How will this course help data professionals?

Learning how service design can be used to solve problems with (not just for) stakeholders, delegates will learn how to communicate and effectively engage people in the story and context of data, helping their organisations to make data-informed decisions.

The course will them help to think through issues and problems and develop techniques and confidence to undertake user research, analyse and synthesise qualitative data, generate ideas, and create prototypes for testing and communication.

Lead consultant Katie Murrie explains “A key outcome for our learners will be a shift in mindset. They’ll learn what they do is a service that supports others within and outside their organisation. We’re passionate about offering a hands-on experience of service design as an approach to understand the issues and needs of people to collaboratively problem-solve.

We are incredibly grateful to The Data Lab for giving Service Design Academy the opportunity to be part of a fantastic programme which will contribute to building new skills and confidence for people in Tay Cities.”

We highly encourage those living or working in Dundee, Angus, Perth & Kinross and North Fife to take advantage of this valuable opportunity and apply for a funded opportunity to upskill.

To support under-represented groups in Tay Cities area, fully funded places are available for learners meeting the eligibility criteria.

Fully funded places are available to individuals who meet both parts of the following eligibility criteria.

You live or work in Angus, Dundee, Fife (North East), or Perth and Kinross.

You identify as belonging to one or more of the following groups:

    • Women;
    • Having a disability;
    • Neurodivergent; or
    • From a minority ethnic background.

Anyone not meeting the eligibility criteria can join the course for £500.00 (no VAT)

For more information and to apply, please visit https://www.sda.ac.uk/short/service-design-data-professionals/or contact us at info@sda.ac.uk

In a recent College Development Network blog post,  SDA PDA Alumnus Amy Monks reflects on how she has championed service design as Student Association President to amplify the student voice in decision-making at Dundee and Angus College. 

As a facilitator at the recent Board of Management strategy day, Amy led participants through an empathy mapping exercise to uncover barriers and emotions students face when considering college. By immersing themselves in the student perspective, board members gained renewed appreciation for student-centered policies and support.

Amy argues this empathetic approach helps reconnect the College sector’s purpose – serving our students. Through her leadership and insights, Amy models how seeking student voices and experiences is key to empowering their success.

A thought piece by Amy Monks, Dundee and Angus College

I discovered Service Design as a new beauty student at Dundee and Angus College in 2018, taking part in a Service Design Academy workshop. I collaborated with other students and staff to find out what was needed in the Hair and Beauty department to remain industry relevant and to improve the student experience.

I fell in love with Service Design! The process and the methodology – designing with not just for people – made so much sense to me. By 2021, I had finished four years of study, served as Vice president of the Students’ Association for two years and graduated with a Professional Development Award in Service Design.

As I began a two-year, full-time position as Student President I took every opportunity to use Service Design to bring the students’ voice to the heart of everything we do at the Students’ Association. From Class Rep training to team meetings to our office spaces, we use service design tools and methods to improve our services for the better. We could see that understanding our students’ needs and designing services with them made a stronger and positive impact.

High-level decision-making is critical to the College’s success, but I believe it’s always important to never lose sight of who these decisions ultimately impact: our students. They are the people at the heart of our Colleges, and we must support them by understanding their needs for them to succeed.

With this front of mind in my last week as Student President, I facilitated a session at Dundee and Angus College Board of Management Strategy Day in May 2023. I wanted to ensure that the student voice was heard and understood, supporting Board members to engage with this central community.

My goal was for the group to empathise with the students to understand the effects of decisions made around the Board and College table. The group needed to grasp the barriers students face when considering starting at College – both their feelings and the influence of their surroundings. What do students consider when deciding whether college is right for them? This understanding would enable us to provide better support in learning, teaching, and pastoral care.

Before the session, I asked a group of our students two questions:

What mattered most to you in the past year?
What do students value most for their future at college?

At the session, I posed this question again to our Board members and guests, asking them to speculate on what students might have prioritised. Equipped with post-its and pens, the group had one minute to jot down their assumptions.

Some answers aligned, but a few were surprises! The room revealed diverse perspectives on the importance of travel, mental health, family, finances and friendships, emphasising that everyone values different things just like our students do.

Black graphic with words

Moving on to the second question: What do students value most for their future at college?

This time, I shared our students’ answers with the group. This insider information would assist them in their main task: an Empathy Map. This tool from the Service Design Academy helps individuals fully immerse themselves in someone else’s shoes, considering their emotions, fears, hopes, and aspirations. While many thoughts will be assumptions, I encouraged an open and non-judgmental approach, to uncover hidden barriers faced by many individuals.

Working in teams, the Board were given one student bio with a description of someone who was thinking about studying at college in the upcoming academic year. This technique allowed them to start thinking about what it feels like to walk in someone else’s shoes.

My final question to the group was: 

“What can we do to make students feel like they belong and become successful?“

Each group shared their responses, allowing others to hear about students’ lives and how the college can support them in achieving their goals.

The answers from the room were similar: support, reassurance, personalised approach, and security. Students’ needs must be met where they are on their journey; a one-size-fits-all approach leaves gaps. To achieve this, we need confident and capable staff, an innovative and flexible college, and government funding that promotes growth and enhances skills across Scotland. 

My reflections:

Some participants, unfamiliar with our culture, found the session challenging. It pushed them out of their comfort zone and made them feel vulnerable. This in itself was a literal embodiment of the task to empathise with students – it’s how many students feel when they first come to college, full of nerves and unsure of expectations. This gave students a voice, uncovering difficulties unknown before and helping make their experiences real to others.

By stepping into students’ shoes, participants started to open their minds and hearts to envision real lives. My hope as the facilitator is that all the people present left with a reinvigorated purpose on why we work in the college sector. Where can they influence change and why so much work is being done by college staff to keep our organisations thriving and sustainable. It’s for our students, our people.

You can find out more about the Service Design Academy and what we do to train and educate people to design better services here https://www.sda.ac.uk/