How do we make things together?

For four months, a mix of individuals with distinct and overlapping interests and expertise encompassing service design, data, and social innovation became a team, ‘Colour-in City’. We came together to experiment, to make, to learn. So, how did we do it? And would we do it again?


‘Building technologies can feel sterile. In this project, within a few days of building something people were using it, speaking to it, confiding in it and finding it valuable.’

Denise, Colour-in City


Colour-in City was formed by our project co-leads Eunji Kang and Rebecca Birch to answer OrganiCity’s open call to explore ‘what is a good future city, and how can we create it?’.

Our angle has been to focus on wellbeing. Specifically on whether a combination of human-centred design, digital technology and data tracking can help us measure, understand and ultimately improve wellbeing. To arrive at this outcome by catalysing co-creative relationships between citizens, public services and communities and enabling action at each of these levels.

In previous blogs we’ve discussed our theory of wellbeing, how co-design works in practice, the chatbot prototype we built and tested, and the data diary visualisations we produced.

Now we’ll be reflecting on the experience of co-creating and experimenting as a newly formed team. We’ll share what we’ve learned, the high points and the challenges.

Who are we?

As the core team who led facilitation, translated wants and needs into actual things to test, use, and provoke deeper learning, we are Eunji, Rebecca, Denise, Marcin and Emma.

We took on certain job titles and responsibilities for this four month project, but what was most important was we built a space for collaboration.

Embracing the ethos of co-creation, we drew on our interdisciplinary team make up and crossed over and beyond allocated job roles, sharing ideas, approaches, experience, research, knowledge. Asking questions, giving feedback, offering support.

Planning for co-creation

It was important to do this as a core team, because we needed to facilitate the same collaborative space for our wider team: partners in local government, the community sector, and local parents living in overcrowded social housing.

One way we did this was through a clear, very simple communications and engagement strategy and brand.

We needed all our partners to be on board with us not having the answers, not at the start and not even at the end of the experiment. We wanted people to be excited about the process and about discovering together. To know this was about ongoing learning through doing and making.

So we communicated this message in our writing, our presentations, our tools, our group facilitation, even through our team name:

  • Our name ‘Colour-in City’ invited everyone to colour-in with us — there was no bar to entry
  • We explained how the service design structure could contain the ‘messiness’, uncertainty and uncomfortable feeling of not knowing, and guide us to more accurate focusing in
  • We encouraged parents to see our chatbot as a ‘baby’, ‘a young bot’, still learning, growing, needing our support, patience and input
  • We took note of all parent feedback and quickly incorporated it into further iterations of the chatbot so they could see their role as co-designers.

It’s ok to not know. It’s ok to be messy. It’s ok to feel uncomfortable

In service design we’re used to supporting clients through the uncomfortable phase of gaining new perspectives on a challenging area: gathering research, co-designing possible solutions. Everything is open and unknown, nothing fixed or set down.




For members of our core team new to this approach, the slower pace demanded by co-designing with the people who would use our product and service was initially concerning. We had limited time for product development already and this reduced it even further.

But despite this being the case, it quickly became clear that it was the parents’ engagement with the project, their insights, objectives, feedback, which developed our question into a fully formed idea and interesting prototype. Without investing this time, we wouldn’t have gained their interest and trust or have learnt as much as we did.

‘What I’ll take away from this project is to not come with a ready idea and present it, but to plan for a second and third iteration.’

Marcin, Colour-in City

For those of us familiar with service design, what we weren’t familiar with was the data and digital technology process. Despite knowing that uncertainty is ok, that feeling uncomfortable is normal, actually feeling that ourselves was a great leveller. And a reminder: it’s always good to be a learner when you’re coaching others in something new.

‘It’s counter intuitive for us to expose a lack of knowledge as professionals but creating a space of ‘safe uncertainty’ for the whole team was important. Being confident enough to remain curious and remove the assumption that you know best or most. Next time I’ll create badges that say ‘I’m a Don’t know it all.’

Rebecca, Colour-in City

As for messy, we agreed early on that with limited time and no pressure to find the perfect solution, we would aim for quick, fail fast prototypes across all our work. We would start small and keep it simple, we could play, try something, get it wrong, learn, try again.

Which is all well and good to say (or write in a strategy) but in practice… It was more difficult to let go of perfectionist tendencies. And there was a very real need to create something good enough for partners to see the value in, usable enough for parents to stay motivated.

Having this ‘messy’ principle written down was a useful reminder when we needed to get prototypes out the door. But it definitely wasn’t easy and that gap between our ambitions and what we could realistically achieve remained a tension throughout.

‘Communicating what is possible to parents and service providers and keeping realistic expectations with them is challenging. Everything is possible so a design team needs to understand boundaries and limitations.’

Eunji, Colour-in City

It’s good to meet up

This was a part-time project for all of us. We were allocated a number of days which we fitted around other commitments. By and large we worked from our own offices and homes, catching up with a weekly video call and using Slack to collaborate in between.

We also scheduled regular team workshops, half or full days, where we met in person to move our ideas and work to the next stage. Where possible, we all facilitated at the co-design workshops with parents and service provider partners.

These in-person meetings were really important to get to know each other, to figure out our ways of working and communicating, to share what we were excited about and our concerns, to laugh and commiserate together about work and non-work things. To feel connected to each other and our vision for the experiment.

We saw this in co-design workshops for parents too. These were planned to make sure parents were central to and engaged in the product and service development. What we hadn’t anticipated was how important they were for parents to get to know each other, to share, laugh and commiserate together, to build relationships.

It was the same for all of us and that feels important to remember: active community building will need to be a central part of this, or other similar projects, going forward. After all, people need people.


Celebrating together at our final co-design event

Getting outside the designer bubble

The highlight for our whole team was working alongside local parents. We hugely benefited from their insight, energy and ambition for what we might produce together. From their generosity in sharing their experiences and community spaces with us. From the practical value of having regular access to feedback, helping us to keep improving the product and service.

‘It was really motivating to hear and see parents’ ideas and ambitions for what they wanted the digital tool to achieve, especially how focused this was on social connection and empowering parents.’

Emma, Colour-in City

This video gives an insight into the amazing parents we worked with. The love they have for their children, the commitment they put into developing the chatbot with us, and the impact it’s already starting to have. While this blog post is focused on team reflection and process, none of this would be happening or need to happen if it weren’t for the parents we see here.

‘What you see your children achieve as they grow up, watching them love each other and play with each other… to know that you carried that child for nine months and then they start talking to you, it’s just amazing.’ Simona, Colour-in City

‘I am a 24 year old mother of two. My daughters are 9 and 2 years old, they’re my life basically, and yeah, I wish I had more time with them. That’s the hardest thing about being a parent.’ Stephanie, Colour-in City

‘I wasn’t expecting to be a mum, came like a surprise, changed my life. I pray for him now, everything is him.’ Loyola, Colour-in City

What’s next?

One of the biggest frustrations for all of us, including parent and service provider co-designers, was having to pause the chatbot and service development as the OrganiCity project came to an end. So would we do it again? A pretty resounding yes.

‘Accepting the lack of time was hard. Seeing that our experiment was working, and having many ideas about how to make everything better (from data collection and analysis to parent engagement), how to achieve more but not having the time or capacity to do so.’

Denise, Colour-in City

Our final co-design session was a celebration event marking what we had achieved together so far and getting parents’ feedback on the latest data visualisation iteration. We’re now in the process of exploring with our partners and through other opportunities how to continue development. We have a wealth of parent comments and ideas ready to start testing if we get the go ahead.

Thank you

To all the parents who took part in this experiment and co-designed the chatbot with us. To our partners at LEAP, especially David and Sam, and to Simon and Noel at Lambeth Council.

To OrganiCity for inviting us to be part of their exploration into how to create good future cities. Visit to find out how you could get involved in the next round.

If you’re interested in finding out more about our project, the team, or in collaborating on the next phase of development, do get in touch. We’d love to hear from you.

Blog post authors: Emma Field and Eunji Kang, Colour-in City
Film by Fan Sissoko, Colour-in City




Tambov, Russian Federation - March 24, 2015: Lego figure heads on black background. Studio shot.

Making data meaningful

How can we collect and communicate wellbeing data that’s useful not only to policy makers, but to the people who generate it and the services who support them?

We’re nearing the end of our involvement with OrganiCity, an EU-funded project that asks: how can we create good future cities using digital technology, data, co-creation and experimentation?

Our focus has been on whether it’s possible to use digital technology for long-term data collection in order to track, measure, understand and improve wellbeing.

We’ve been exploring this question alongside parents living in overcrowded homes and the services that support them.

Where are we now?

Through co-design with parents and services we created Squeezy, a community chatbot. Squeezy guides parents to reflect on their daily experiences, links them into an online parent forum, and sends them visual reports of the data they’ve shared.

We’re currently in the ‘develop and test’ phase of our service design process (see below), getting rapid feedback on this chatbot prototype. Over the last six weeks, 30 parents have been testing Squeezy, informing us about the user experience and inputting data so we can test data analysis and visual ways of communicating the data.

Design process FINAL

Our service design process

Headline findings

Prototyping is about discovering through doing what we don’t know when we set out.

Ultimately, we want to measure wellbeing — general, subjective and the drivers that influence it — and people’s attitudes to long-term data collection.

At this stage, our data collection period and sample size are too small to reach conclusive results about what the data tell us. What we do have is proof of concept, and that:

  • a digital tool to collect and communicate data can be accessible, relevant and motivating to parents and services
  • it appears possible to collect data sets over regular time periods that are rich in qualitative and quantitative data, that can inform service development and that can support parents directly.

How we’ve collected data

A chatbot provided a way to interact with parents that was both non-traditional (in terms of data collection) and something they were familiar with (chatting and online messaging).

It gave us regular, direct access to parents and gave them a platform to explain and expand on what affects their personal wellbeing.

Feelings are a powerful door into relationship for parents and services as well as for us with the data, and Squeezy starts every chat checking in on how people are feeling.

It then guides parents to track their feelings towards various factors related to wellbeing, interchanging standardised wellbeing questions (where responses were numbered scales), with questions expecting free text and image responses, and questions expecting parent-defined categorical data (eg emojis, keywords, topics).

Conversations 2

Typical chatbot questions and replies

What the data tell us

We’ve analysed and shared parents’ responses back with them and with services as visual ‘data diaries’. In this way parents’ personal data, their individual and collective experience, sit at the heart of the data collection.

Squeezebot parent data diary

Mock up of a parent’s data diary

Squeezybot dashbord

Mock up of the diary dashboard services receive

The diary gives visual snapshots of how parents have felt over time and why (in their own words). It shows which areas of everyday living preoccupied them and starts to look at how these factors influenced their feelings.

The data diaries include:

Parents’ emotional journey

The journey line chart shows that for the testing period, on a daily basis over time, individuals’ wellbeing stayed the same.

What’s been on parents’ minds and how this made them feel

The topics section shows parents’ preferred topics of discussion during testing (chosen from the ONS wellbeing domains) and whether these contributed to feeling better or worse. For example, initial analysis suggests parents were generally happy with services, and that learning and volunteering are areas to focus on.

We still need to explore why people choose topics. Is it because they want to chat about positive rather than negative experiences?


Focus on topics chosen and how parents felt about them

Parents’ self-assessed overall wellbeing

We were able to collect data that shows a relationship between subjective wellbeing (according to OECD core measures, see p31 of this report) and the variable topics of everyday living.

Our data isn’t sufficient to provide a reliable and significant relationship. However, with more participants and more time, it shows we can determine factors that positively or negatively impact subjective wellbeing. This has huge potential applications for service development.

More thoughts on data

While we’re still at the develop and test stage, we have been able to create a structured dataset that can be easily analysed.

Unfortunately, we’ve not had time to carry out thorough analysis of unstructured data, eg free text and images, and hope to do this in the future.

Here are a few parting thoughts on our data collection.

A future of stories

Asking for emojis and numbered scales correlated well with the tone of parents’ stories.

This suggests that if successful analysis of human sentiment can be carried out in the future (through Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Natural Language Processing (NLP)), we can imagine a world where individuals sharing stories will be enough to infer wellbeing. There would be no need for standardised surveys that may be less likely to be filled out.

The keywords provided by parents to tag their free text matched perfectly with the content of their story. Again, apart from showing we can engage people creating data to do this tagging, it suggests successful keyword extraction using AI could in the future help determine causes of wellbeing.

Combining data sets

Although we didn’t have time to add to parents’ data sets with external data (eg weather, crime rates, social data), we did confirm that this is possible. It would be great to explore the relationship between data which comes directly from parent chats and other open data.

What’s next?

We hope to continue working with our partners to gather more data, from more parents, over longer periods of time.

If we’re able to do so, we need to keep developing all of this — the data collection tool, analysis and visual reporting — with parents and services as co-design partners. This would make sure we’re providing them with the information they need to make decisions about change, individually as well as collectively, on community and service development.

Get in touch

If you’re interested in finding out more about the project and our team, or in collaborating on Squeezy’s development, we’d love to hear from you.

In our next blog post we’ll share perspectives from the team, parents and our partners about what it’s like to collaborate on a co-design process. Visit for all our blog posts.

Blog authors: Emma Field, Eunji Kang, Denise Xifara, Marcin Ignac, Colour-in City


‘Hey there! Is this a good time for a chat?’

From reciprocity to respect; how our friendly chatbot is generating rich data, community connections and unexpected wellbeing outcomes.


‘Hello, hey, hi! My name’s Squeezy because I’m like a stress ball you can squeeeeeeeeze to get out some of your stress, worry or anxiety. I’m still a young ‘bot so please be patient with me. The best way I learn is if you tell my makers about my mistakes. Looking forward to chatting soon!’


We’re Colour-in City, a team of service designers, data analysts, public sector providers and citizens exploring how to create a good future city using digital technology, data, co-creation and experimentation.

Our ambition is to co-design a digital tool that helps reduce stress and anxiety and improves wellbeing for parents in overcrowded social housing.

The quote and picture above is from Squeezy’s profile. This introduces the parents we’re co-designing with to Squeeze, an ‘internet robot’ ready to help them track, use and share data about their everyday lives with the local services that support them.

Our hypothesis is that if parents and services better understand what supports and what gets in the way of wellbeing on a localised, individual level, they’ll be in a better position to identify, shape and access the support they need.

In this blog post we’ll explore the process of developing Squeezy together (beta version), focusing in on how we’ve built collaboratively for reciprocity.

Reciprocity through chat

‘Reciprocity: The practice of exchanging things with others for mutual benefit’

‘…from Latin reciprocus, moving backwards and forwards’

Oxford Dictionaries

The idea of creating and using an AI chatbot to collect data was the most popular of various digital options we explored with parents. It quickly ticked their usability needs, which included:

  • be easy to use
  • feel fun, not another survey or questionnaire
  • work on their smartphone or desktop computer
  • be reciprocal, give something back.

The need to embed reciprocity was one of the most important design principles to come from parents. A chatbot offered huge potential to deliver this. It allowed for back and forth conversation; a 1:1 ongoing relationship; a means to collect data and provide data in response.

By systematically building up our understanding of parents’ needs through a human-centred design process, we’ve been able to see how reciprocity can and must run through the whole of their relationship with the chatbot. This means we’ve designed for:

  • Reciprocity of data: parents share personal information, they get clear, useful analysis back
  • Reciprocity in kind: parents give data that’s useful to local services, they want useful data back, eg about kids’ activities, answers to their questions
  • Reciprocity in conversation: parents give data, the chatbot responds appropriately
  • Reciprocal relationships: new ways of connecting are set up that create mutual benefit, between parents and parents, parents and services.

Building in reciprocity together

We developed the first iteration of our chatbot as a design team based on research into wellbeing frameworks, insights from parents’ experience, and their feedback on inspiring data tracking tools and visual reporting options.

Creating a chatbot gives us the opportunity to experiment with different types of data, using quantitative and qualitative research and analysis. This includes free text, emojis, keywords and images, as well as traditional scales.


IMG_4510A parent tests the chatbot interactions 


With the initial prototype ready, we asked parents to help us improve it. Here are some of the ways their feedback is embedding that sense of reciprocity.

Make the bot kind enough to share happy and sad moments with

Parents wanted the chatbot to be fun, informal, to ‘be a robot’ rather than pretending to be human. We used this in the visual identity and voice, aiming for cute, friendly and plain English. We were also interested in how to bring play into the normally serious world of data collection.

Parents’ feedback and what we’re testing as a result:

1. Squeezy’s ‘cheeky’ style had parents laughing. They wanted the more formal standardised questions made friendlier and easier to understand.

What we’re testing: We‘ve softened the language around these questions, tagged them all as #wellbeing, and added emojis.

2. Its responses weren’t empathetic. Initially it asked a wellbeing question, gave a generic thank you, then went to the next question. Some felt this rude, especially when they’d given a sad response.

What we’re testing: The bot can’t yet know if it’s been told a sad story, but we’ve reworded responses and included a reminder that the bot is still learning in order to make it feel more sympathetic.

3. It was too pushy too soon. Some were annoyed that the bot asks for an image to describe an answer, before they’ve developed rapport with it.

What we’re testing: We’ve rejigged the conversation flow so the bot asks about the image at the end of the conversation, and are clear this is optional.

Help parents connect

Parents were keen to connect on issues in common. A chatbot didn’t seem to enable this, so we created a private Facebook group we could link to.

Parents’ feedback and what we’re testing as a result:

1. The group is hard to find and not connected to the chatbot.

What we’re testing: We’ve added links to this as part of the bot’s conversation flow, including asking if parents want the bot to post questions or tips for them.

2. There isn’t much parent interaction on the group, but where there is it helps. For one parent, a tip helped narrow her job search and feel connected.

What we’re testing: We need to build on this. Online communities benefit from facilitation. We have limited resource, but aim to do more in the next iteration.

3. Simply having Squeezy to chat with makes some parents feel less isolated and more supported.

What we’re testing: This was an unexpected and powerful finding. We want to help parents feel supported but be wary of creating dependence. Parents can type keywords HUMAN or HELP at any point in the chat for a human reply. We’ll test how this scales with a larger group. Could we use the bot to connect parents with in-person support? As an experiment, we need to design for the end of parents’ relationship with the bot in a supportive way.


‘I like it, it’s like my friend. It’s my getaway.’

Parent tester


Share back

Parents want to receive something back for the data they share. This includes signposting to support, advice and ideas as described above.

It also includes their own data, clearly sharing this back in a way that helps them to track their wellbeing.

We’re on our first iteration of providing these kinds of visual data reports. While we’re currently limited by a small data set, as parents input more data and we expand our group of testers we’ll be able to visualise more.

Here are some early examples. We’ll get parent feedback on this soon to share in our next blog.

Screen Shot 2017-01-24 at 12.14.39Text based summary report



Screen Shot 2017-01-24 at 12.14.46Visual report of topics chosen


From overwhelm to control?

While not directly related to reciprocity, another important design principle was to help parents feel more in control, less overwhelmed.

We’re already getting feedback that simply chatting with the bot may be supporting parents with their wellbeing. It will be interesting to find out whether the act of tracking and noticing their wellbeing may in itself have an impact on those feelings of control and overwhelm.

‘I’m enjoying my chats with Squeezy. Normally, I go through my day, and i just ‘Do’. Me being aware of what is on the forefront of my mind motivates me to want to sort it out.’


‘Squeezy doesn’t insist that you chat. But you don’t feel alone. I feel secure and I can ask a question. Sometimes you don’t have someone to speak to. It makes you feel relieved.’

Parent testers

Respect for people’s stories

The reciprocity we’re designing for and that parents have asked for is, in a sense, about respect. Respect for the stories, the experiences, and the value of the data they are sharing with us.

While respect for personal data is important to every researcher, often the results of data collection aren’t felt in a direct way by those sharing their experience.

In our small-scale experiment, working directly with parents and their local services, we’ve got a chance to do this differently. Building in reciprocity at every interaction with the chatbot is one way we hope to show our respect in a visible and timely way.


Our main challenge has been the limited time available to make and test this prototype (this is a four month funded experiment).

To get the chatbot set up quickly we’ve used a chatbot integration with a private messaging service. While this has definite advantages of ease of use and access, it also means we’re bound by the data privacy rules of both providers.

We’ve explained this clearly to parents, but for the final product, ideally we’d build a bespoke chatbot. This wouldn’t rely on external providers, so we’d have full control over the chat experience and the data generated.

But the limitations of running a short experiment are far outweighed by the benefits gained from being encouraged to ‘experiment’. This ethos opens up the making process to genuine collaboration and curiosity, to testing new things, to being patient, and to keeping a critical eye and a sense of humour.


IMG_4509Parents feedback on how the bot works 


What next?

‘To be honest with you, I really wasn’t expecting it get this far in such a short time. The Squeezy has become something really productive and useful to me.’

Parent tester

By mid-February we’ll have more data to analyse, more developed visual reporting, and we’ll be learning from parents about what worked, what didn’t, and what they want to happen next.

We’ll share all this on our next blog, as well as discussing the wellbeing questions we asked and the data analysis methods we’ve used.

As always, for more about this experiment visit our about page, read about the team and get in touch here. We’d love to hear from you.

Blog post authors: Emma Field, Rebecca Birch, Denise Xifara


Design makes us human. And it starts with a story…

Knowledge and expertise traditionally filter from the top down when designing services and products. While this works for many commercial brands, in the social sector it can result in ideas that fail to meet the real needs of those they aim to serve.

At Colour-in City we design for social impact by starting with people, not the idea. We design socially, creating meaningful products and services together with the people who use and deliver them. We design systematically, listening and trusting in people’s expertise and knowledge from all layers of a system.

We’re currently exploring how parents living in overcrowded social housing can use digital technology to reduce stress and increase wellbeing.

Towards the end of 2016, we spent time with parents in their homes to gain insight into their everyday lives. We carried out two group co-design workshops; one with parents, one with local service providers.

Our aim was to understand, in parents’ own words, what supports and what gets in the way of their wellbeing. From this shared starting point, we could begin designing together a digital tool for parents to track, use and share data about their everyday experiences.  

Colour-in City is part of a bigger project exploring how we can create good future cities using digital technology, data and co-creation with citizens.

In previous blog posts we’ve talked about our process of human-centred design and reflected on how learning from people’s lived experience has challenged our thinking about what wellbeing means.

In this post we’ll more fully introduce the people we’re designing this digital tool with and for. For confidentiality, all details have been anonymised.

What happens when we start with people’s stories?

‘Maybe stories are just data with a soul.’ Brené Brown

At the co-design workshop, we shared the story of one mum’s experience of overcrowded housing, gathered during ethnographic research – the time we spent with her at home.

While she is at the extreme end of overcrowding, a single parent sharing one bedroom with her three children, through her story we found experiences and emotions that other parents understood, echoed or added to. These included:

  • The impact of limited space on their children’s play, learning and development, especially as children became teenagers and needed their own space.
  • Feeling overwhelmed physically and emotionally by the amount of stuff around them at home. Clothes, bedding, toys, games, shopping all crammed into one or two rooms. Not knowing where to start to bring about order.
  • A sense of shame in their living conditions, not wanting to invite people over, feeling isolated. At the same time, desire for connection, if they could just find someone who knew what it felt like.
  • Support from family was a lifeline; people without this felt more alone and were frustrated the difference wasn’t taken into account by local services.
  • Feeling invisible to local services, not meeting criteria for support, or falling between boundary lines.
  • The risk of losing their personal identity into being ‘a mum’ and just getting by. The importance of taking time for themselves and their interests, from a few minutes alone to breathe, to an hour at the gym, to a course at college.
  • How doing this helped them care for their families, yet it was so difficult when times were hard. At these points it was enough to get the basics done for the children.

As important as the stories we share at co-design workshops is the reaction they trigger from citizens and service providers. At these sessions we noticed a few things.

There was an immediate sense of empathy and of sadness to see someone struggling, from parents and service providers. Parents shared their own experiences in response, where they overlapped or differed, their frustrations, their coping strategies, where they found support. Service providers connected with the person whose story we shared beyond simply her needs as a parent or tenant.

And there was a desire to help, to connect. Service providers suggested places that could offer support or advice, at the same time as being aware this doesn’t always get to the people who need it most. Parents wanted to offer reassurance and hope, and came up with ways to support this mum whose name they didn’t know but whose story felt close to their own.

Design for me, with me

‘All goods and services are designed. The urge to design – to consider a situation, imagine a better situation, and act to create that improved situation – goes back to our pre-human ancestors. Making tools helped us to become what we are today – design helped to makes us human.’

Ken Friedman and Erik Stolterman, Editors, Design Thinking/Design Theory Series

At Colour-in City we take the human urge to design seriously. That’s what co-design, or designing together is about. Enabling and equipping people to be involved in designing their own support not only acknowledges the human urge to design, it gives people their due respect as fellow designers and makers.

So while we start with a story, that’s not where parents’ involvement ends.


Designing with parents at the workshop


During the co-design workshop we moved from sharing stories and experiences to drawing out insights and design principles, making storyboards for how the digital tool could work, agreeing the problems it would solve and the outcomes it might achieve.

Our design principles, key insights from parents, will guide us throughout the experiment to make sure the digital tool fits their needs and experiences. They include:

  1. Help me to feel less isolated, to connect to people similar to me, to know what support is available  
  2. Help services to understand me as an individual
  3. Help me to have time and space to breathe
  4. Help me to make and see progress in my wellbeing
  5. Help me to find things to do with my children outside my home

In the next blog post we’ll discuss how we’re incorporating these as well as other insights and ideas into our first prototype of the digital wellbeing tool.


Parents’ prototype ideas for the digital tool


We’ll also explore gaps in our research and recruitment. For example, so far we’ve heard about the experience of mums. What about dads?

We’ll share our co-design tools on our website later this month. Let us know if you find them useful, or have suggestions for how we could add to these.

As always, for more about this experiment visit our about page, read about the team and get in touch here. We’d love to hear from you.

Blog post authors: Emma Field and Rebecca Birch, Colour-in City

Happy and sad face. Women holding papers with happy and sad emoticons.

Towards a process of (well)being

What does wellbeing mean when you feel far from flourishing?

Wellbeing has become a pretty standard measure of how we’re doing, as individuals, communities and countries. But what does it mean to people who are struggling to get their basic needs met? Is it a concept that can be useful no matter where we are in the process of being-well?

We’re Colour-in City, one of a number of experiment teams currently exploring how to make a good future city using digital technology, data and co-creation with citizens.

Our focus is on understanding what wellbeing means to parents living in overcrowded social housing in one London neighbourhood. Together with parents, we’ll be creating and testing ways they can generate and use data about their everyday experiences to improve their wellbeing and shape support from local services.

We’re keen to include people’s stories and perceptions of wellbeing as part of creating that good future city. But there are challenges in doing this. For example:

  • How do we collect and present data that can catalyse change in both services and individuals when their data needs are different?
  • How do we connect existing wellbeing data (eg from the Office of National Statistics) with our participants’ in-depth, subjective, localised data?
  • How do we talk about wellbeing with people who feel far from flourishing, without it appearing simplistic or unachievable?

This last question has come out of early conversations with parents and local services and has been key to our thinking about wellbeing.

An essential part of our experiment is that citizens are both producers and consumers of their own data. For this to happen, we need to use measures that are meaningful and motivating to our participants, and that generate clear data which they, as well as service providers, can use.


Notes from our team discussions 1:
Data needs to work for individuals and service stakeholders


In response to feedback from parents and local services, and to shape our work around their needs, the experiment is initially focusing on reducing stress and anxiety at home.

The idea of reducing anxiety at home as a building block to wellbeing fits with Maslow’s much cited hierarchy of needs. According to his theory of motivation, when we struggle to get our basic needs met (related to safety and security through health, housing, employment etc) we’re likely to experience anxiety. It tends to be once these needs are satisfied that we can fully focus on ‘growth’ and reaching our potential.


Notes from our team discussions 2:
Could a process of (well)being use Maslow’s hierarchy of needs?


While Maslow’s theory is critiqued for its lack of a scientific evidence base, it’s also widely used and researched in relation to wellbeing and growth. The idea of stages of wellbeing feels relevant at this early point in the design process, but it will be the parents and services we work with who shape both the framework and language around wellbeing we end up using.

Based on this, the starting assumptions we hope to test through co-design and experimentation are that:


Notes from our team discussions 3:
Wellbeing is influenced by individuals and their environment


Notes from our team discussions 4:
Steps to improve wellbeing can come from individuals and services


Wellbeing is a broad concept that can feel tricky to unravel and pin down when discussing the existing research and the implications of what we measure. This post has been a brief insight into some of the challenges we’re exploring.

Over the next few months we’ll be developing our wellbeing framework and approach with our co-design partners. We’ll share insights on our blog and website and welcome your feedback, thoughts and suggestions if you’re interested in or working in this area.

For more about the experiment visit our about page, read about the team or get in touch here. We’d love to hear from you.

Blog post authors: Emma Field and Eunji Kang, Colour-in City


Service design and the city

What is a good future city, and how can we create it together?

This is the challenge set by OrganiCity, a three year project that asks how can we make cities ‘smarter’ using digital technology, experimentation and co-creation with citizens.

We’re Colour-in City, one of 16 teams across London, Santander and Aarhus exploring this question. Our focus is on wellbeing and how to generate rich data and insights which citizens and local services can use to start creating that good future city, today.

Together, we’ll be figuring out how to achieve this through combining new digital technology with people’s stories and perceptions of everyday living.

The idea of colouring-in puts us in a space for creativity, for play even. But as an experiment we also have structure and boundaries. And we’re not starting from scratch.

There’s already lots of data about people’s wellbeing, objective and subjective, that provides us with the outlines to colour-in. There are pre-existing digital tools we’ll be testing and adapting for OrganiCity and from other platforms. The way we bring all this together, bring people in and run the experiment, has structure and boundaries too.

To build a space for ideas, conversation and collaboration we’re using a service design process inspired by the Design Council’s ‘double diamond’.

We start by opening up to learn from inspiring examples of what works elsewhere, diverse ideas and people’s real life stories. We narrow in on insights and opportunities, then open up again to develop innovative, high quality ideas. This process takes us from research to testing through to growing a particular course of action.

See our Colour-in City design process below.


Design process stages

Set up and planning: Get the right people in the room and a clear direction of travel

Explore and define: Understand the problems and opportunities by listening deeply to people who use and deliver services

Co-design and generate: Explore possibilities and ideas together with people who use and deliver services

Develop and test: Try out ideas quickly and cheaply to fail fast and collect evidence about what works best

Activate: Demonstrate the idea works, develop a compelling case for it and map out the steps needed for it to grow

Grow: Implement the idea, develop the conditions for it to continue to grow.

For our four month experiment, we’re working with parents living in council-run social housing in one London neighbourhood, in partnership with Lambeth Council and LEAP. Our aim is to explore how we can support parents to gather and use data about their everyday life to improve their wellbeing, in collaboration with local services.

Right now we’re in the early stages of this, doing design research to ‘explore and define’ the problems and opportunities.

This phase is about openness. It embraces the messiness, complexity and colour of life. Rather than simply evaluating a service, design research aims to generate new and revealing insights and put people who use services at the heart of decisions about what those services and support could become.

While we know the direction we’re heading in, we’re not starting with a solution in mind. This can be an uncertain and uncomfortable space to be in. Our job as an experiment team, with experience of working in this exploratory way, is to hold the tension this invariably brings. The rigour and flexibility of the design process and our knowledge of the results it can produce is one way we do this.

We’re excited to have funding from OrganiCity and the support of our partners in Lambeth to explore wellbeing using quantitative and qualitative research and data, digital tools and in-person collaboration.

We know many of you are exploring these areas too. We’d love to expand that space for ideas, conversation and collaboration to the online community and welcome your input and comments.

This is the first of a number of blog posts we’ll publish over the course of the experiment, to share our learning, insights, challenges and questions with you. We’ll also share tools and resources as we go along for you to use and adapt.

For more about the experiment visit our about page, read about the team and get in touch here. We’d love to hear from you.

Blog post authors: Emma Field and Rebecca Birch, Colour-in City