Service design and organizational change


I’m drawn to creative people and to organizations seeking to design systems and solutions, to implement them, and to effect change.

Through my work, I’ve become aware of the gaps between developing coherent strategy, a kernel, as Richard Rumelt suggests and the endless complexity of implementation. Without strong shared commitments, teams dissolve into coalitions, people reenact learned habits, and conversations turn prematurely to the IKEA-instruction sets of implementation.

Service Design: Insights from Nine Case Studies offers an interesting collection of service design project descriptions, methods and interviews surrounding a public transit service design initiative in Utrecht, Netherlands. A recurring theme in the collection is the challenge of achieving consensus and buy-in from stakeholder organizations, particularly in the early stages. Co-creation and visioning workshops were among the most successful ways of bringing people together and moving forward. Reading the project reports persuades me that leadership team coaching offers a powerful set of tools for facilitating collaboration amongst design firms, client organizations, people and users, and other stakeholders.

Planning demands that teams step out of time and context and park egos and agendas, at least momentarily, to envision shared futures.

As another example, Kronquist et. al describe the challenges of aligning all the factors to “go all the way” and implement service design innovation. To create an innovative pharmacy required significant commitments amongst the pharmacy brand, the individual pharmacy owner, and the employees and customers.

What are your insights about initiating successful service design collaborations?

Learning to maintain buildings

"building" by Narumi
“building” by Narumi

When things go wrong and I don’t know what to do next, my instinctive reaction is to scan the scholarly literature to see if I can find solutions or new angles to whatever challenge I am confronting. Two weeks ago, the owners of our strata corporation didn’t support a motion to take an incremental step towards a major maintenance project.

The anthropologist in me wants to consider the implications diversity on collective building maintenance projects. It turns out that this owners in multi-owner housing (e.g. condominiums, co-ops, strata corporations) in different parts of the world have different attitudes towards the need to do maintenance on common property. For example. Yau studies homeowners attitudes in Hong Kong.  Yau (2011) mentions two barriers  that Hong Kong owners cite as barrier for them participating in building care that resonate with my building’s situation:

difficulties in raising fund or collecting money was the most frequently mentioned barrier (71.4 per cent). This obstacle is followed by the lack of confidence of the homeowners in the building professionals and contractors engaging in the building management and maintenance exercise (64.2 per cent)

Many of my neighbours, regardless of where they are from, distrust the professionals that the strata corporation employs to offer professional service and expertise, and the most cited issue they raise is about proceeding with the project is how lower- or fixed-income owners will be able to obtain financing to cover the cost of the common maintenance. It will be hard work to address both these barriers, but it might lead to interesting conversations on different perspectives on trusting expertise.

In another 2011 study, Yau sets out conditions that are most likely to precipitate collective action and participation by owners in collective maintenance:

In general, collective action is likely to occur when members of the group are geographically close, have low turnover of membership, share a common interest and believe that they can succeed (Elster, 1978; Bicchieri, 1990; Chwe, 1999). By the same logic, if homeowners in MOH deem that their participation offers genuine opportunities to influence collective outcomes and make gains, they are more willing to participate in housing management affairs. As a result, collective action is more likely to occur. (p.5)

This passage inspires me to reframe the wicked problem my strata corporation is currently facing from the immediate challenge of how to advance a specific project to the broader issue of how my neighbours and I might co-create a shared vision for  our property  and working together to make that vision a reality in the future.