Last week, Ben kicked off our climate week notes, setting out our intention to openly share what we’re doing and learning as a company as we explore what it means to be an organisation in the climate era. The Service Design team has begun defining what responding to a climate and ecological emergency means for our practice.

On projects, we’re responsible for the service vision. Where do we want a service to be, what are the needs we want to design for and why? And while the circular economy has received a lot of attention recently, its focus remains on products, even though we live in an economy where 71% of the UK GDP is made by services. What does it mean, then, to design services in a climate emergency?

It’s a team effort

To make sure we prioritised this incredibly important work to evolve our practice, I decided that every other Service Design team meeting would be dedicated to this topic. Within the team, Stef, Joseph and Maia volunteered to lead these sessions.

We started by asking ourselves:

How can we use design experiences that limit the impact on our environment and contribute to how we restore and regenerate the places where people live?

Emily helped us realise that ‘green services’ are not enough. We need to aim to design regenerative ones.

Emily shared this framing, adapted from Bill Reed, 2007

With this in mind, we all shared concepts, frameworks and processes that we wanted to review together in the near future. This created the first backlog of topics our team is interested in and is helping us prioritise what to cover, making the best of our current in-house knowledge.

Service design conversation with FutureGov team on Slack

This is where we started collating inspiration around us, like the Stop Designing For Yesterday toolkit.

Bringing this into everything we do

Though more local authorities are declaring the climate and ecological emergency, the number of projects specifically focused on this work is still few. When we work on a project, we need to have handy tools that can make us accountable to design restorative services. Frameworks are great, but they require a lot of commitment both from our side as practitioners and from the client-side as well. So we’ve also started looking for other ways of evolving our practice on any of the projects we’re currently working on, whether it’s housing, healthcare, or planning. This time, we looked to inspiration like the Society Centered Design principles.

The Service Design team works collaboratively and remotely on Miro.

Using Miro to support our remote collaborative working, we identified early ideas to craft our principles. The exercise made us discuss and understand where we’ll need to stretch our current principles further. We’ll need to shift our mindset beyond thinking about how design can solve immediate problems to thinking in the long-term, the art of what’s possible and its consequences. How can we use design to build resilient services to not only answer to a user’s problem but also help play a different role in their place and community?

It’s early days, but we can treat these concepts as areas to explore to revisit every other week. This will shift our mindset quicker and prepare the ground for the application of more complex frameworks that we’ll discuss later in our community of practice.

While we work urgently on the COVID-19 emergency, we believe this is an opportunity to test and learn how to design responsive organisations and regenerative communities that will ultimately put us in a better position to make real, impactful change for the climate.

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