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