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Master´s thesis: Key considerations when designing services for social good

The most vulnerable people in society face a variety of social issues concurrently, or one after the other. Yet too often, the services that are meant to help these people, fail them in practice. To overcome this problem, a Masters Thesis recently completed at Laurea University of Applied Sciences identified three key questions that organisations should consider when designing services for social good: Who is the design team? How is the team operating? And where is the team operating?

News 6.11.2018

Three key questions

It is critical to consider the people who makeup a design team to ensure they have complementary skills and perspectives. Bringing together people with lived and work experience of the relevant issues alongside experienced designers, can help shed new light on the nature of challenging social problems. For a team to get positive results, they also need to spend sufficient time together.

This allows for ideas to be rapidly developed, tested and improved - without any one perspective dominating. Finally, where the team works is important, because it determines if they can interact directly with the people and place they are designing for and with. Without a strong understanding of this social context, service designs are unlikely to work effectively.

Design by exception

The three questions apply when creating a team and approach for a service design project, but they may also have wider implications for organisations. If effective service design is to become part of an organisation’s DNA, there is a need to look beyond traditional structures, which often silo users and ‘frontline’ workers away from head offices, as well introducing departmental boundaries that limit productive interaction. These ways of working mean that in may organisations today, the three key questions are answered successfully by exception, rather than by default.

New ways of working

For an organisation to be structured to ‘design by default’, a number of alternative approaches might be considered. These include developing multi-disciplinary teams located close to service users, routinely seconding staff across teams, or creating roles that are split across separate functions which include direct interactions with service users and their context. The findings also point towards moving design closer to users, by empowering people with lived and work experience to conduct their own rapid research and testing.


This Masters Thesis builds on existing research and theory on how to successful design services to help vulnerable people and on how service design works in complex situations. The key findings emerged and were tested through a case study in the UK during 2018. The author works for a non-profit organisation in the UK, and studied at Laurea between 2016 and 2018.


Further information:
Adam Groves
MBA in Service Innovation and Design   

Service Innovation and Design

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