Service Design Academy

In a recent College Development Network blog post, SDA PDA graduate and College colleague 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.

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/

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:


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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

We have been working hard to plan our new courses starting in August 2023. Here’s a rundown of what you could be learning in just over a month from now!

Our flagship SQA accredited course

Professional Development Award in Service Design

Our PDA takes place in four parts over six months. All classes are live, interactive, and online, supported by a wealth of online course material.

You will:

  • Learn to use the fundamental tools and methods of service design.
  • Apply your learning in your own professional practice.
  • Build user research skills to help you identify user needs.
  • Explore how you can involve people throughout the design process using co-design.
  • Create a portfolio from four small-scale work-based projects to evidence your development skills and knowledge.
  • Drive innovation through the empowerment of others
  • Generate ideas to prototype and test before they become solutions. 
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It was so refreshing to bring it back to basics and put applicants at the heart of any redesign. Now I have the confidence to facilitate co-design workshops which are engaging, and end with clear actions and exciting outcomes.
Lauran Durand
Admissions Manager, University of Dundee

5 day short course

Service design for innovation and impact

Five six-hour online sessions over six weeks.

Each week you will join others in an online, learn-by-doing environment. You will learn and experience the service design process, making use of a core selection of tools and methods for problem solving.

You will be equipped to:

  • Demonstrate deep levels of empathy with customers and colleagues.
  • Engage with a core selection of service design tools.
  • Drive innovation through empowering others.
  • Generate ideas to solve problems.
  • Prototype and test solutions.
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A relaxed atmosphere was maintained by the trainers. They always felt approachable, interested, and supportive. I learned lots of good techniques I'm looking forward to trying out.

We are delighted to have received a high confidence rating on all quality assurance criteria for our Professional Development Award (PDA) in Service Design.

This comes from the awarding body – Scottish Qualification Authority (SQA) – who made a detailed external review of all our teaching resources, learner support and assessment processes.

From an online visit to the Service Design Academy team in late June, the external verifier summarised:

It was evident that the team work together very effectively. All candidate evidence and quality procedures meet SQA criteria and high confidence is identified against all criteria.

The visit included discussions with recent learners to understand how they are supported through their journey from application to assessment.

Our PDA learners shared:

  • We are always available for support when needed. 
  • Our assessment feedback is clear and concise.
  • Our teaching materials are well signposted.
  • Our pre-delivery course information was very useful, allowing learners to prepare in advance.

Our ongoing activity to continually improve was also recognised as good practice from SQA.

Reviews of our teaching resources are undertaken regularly to ensure they are up to date. Team members demonstrate a strong desire to generate new ideas and ongoing improvement to course delivery and assessment practice.

Our development of checklists and feedback forms ensures that learners’ work is marked consistently, and candidate feedback is clear and concise.

Katie Murrie (our Lead Consultant) and all the team are thrilled to receive such positive validation. It serves as a testament to the high standards we all hold.

Most importantly, it means for our learners that:

For anyone considering learning with the Professional Development Award in Service Design; you are taking your next step in building your service design capability with people who care.

Free Online Session with Katie Murrie and Robbie Beautyman

Tuesday 22nd November

09.30 – 11.00 GMT

It’s natural for us all to be guided by our assumptions. They are the ideas and convictions that we take for granted that constantly shape our point of view. However, they keep us firmly in our comfort zone, and can hold us back from making the change needed. Assuming you know the answer is the easy way to solve problems. It’s also a costly and risky business if what you assumed is completely wrong.

When you choose to challenge assumptions, you’ll make the effort to understand the problem fully by venturing into the unknown and do the right things to understand where the issues really lie. You will be rewarded with new perspectives and ideas to start you on your path to innovation.

In this 90-minute free and interactive online event, SDA consultants Katie Murrie and Robbie Beautyman will share how a shift in mindset to design thinking will start you on the right path to innovation.

Who should attend?

Anyone who wants to “learn by doing” as to how design can help their business innovate.

What will I get from attending the event?

You’ll learn from Katie and Robbie about the value that service design brings. They will share with you how building you and your team’s design skills can make the difference to your business needs.

or get in touch with us at info@sda.ac.uk