live|work: The new business of changing behaviors

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Last weekend I attended, and presented at, the world's first service innovation and design conference —"Emergence" — kindly hosted by Carnegie Mellon University. The event was filled with leaders in the field (there aren't many!). My take-out from the conference is that most of us 'experts' have something in common: we are all in the business of designing for behavior change — creating 'disruptive services that change behaviors' (our new mantra, which you heard here first). That is what service innovation does. And that is why as a discipline it is well placed to change the way we do things in this world that are in need of change, whether reducing waste, rethinking mobility or improving health, creating new forms of value in the process. In the case of the RED team and Jennie Winhall, who was a real highlight at the conference, they are disrupting citizen behaviors in the UK around chronic disease and its prevention, energy consumption and ageing. Their work is hot. Also featured in my post is Dave Chiu, who's reputation management service "RentAThing" is an enabler of change. It challenges the nature of single use and ownership of products. Dave wasn't a presenter at the conference though, he was delegate. His work is hot too.It appears to me that designing platforms or tools that create awareness, agency and enable fundamental change in the way we do things is the key difference of this new and emerging design and innovation discipline, compared with its well-established big brother new product development. And this new breed of design innovators is utilizing networked technologies and cultural trends, such as social networking, as their raw material.

Service innovation then (metaphorically) makes new product development (NPD) and technical innovation appear rather lazy, because it ruthlessly reaches beyond the problem and seeks to address the cause or need before any consideration of the fix/product/piece of tech is created in response (so instead of thinking about making cleaner cars, we might think about how transport is used and how we may re-think movement around any given area). And typically addressing the cause requires some level of awareness of the existing paradigm and behaviour, then agency — that means putting mechanisms in place that support doing things in different ways and finally results in a behaviour change and new business model.

Let me give you some great examples of the work that Jennie Winhall from the UK Design Council RED team presented to illustrate the point. RED describes itself as a 'do tank' that develops innovating thinking and practice on social and economic problems through design innovation. They have been re-thinking public services in the UK because as they quite accurately indicate, most public services were designed in the early and mid part of last century and despite undergoing incremental innovation, the social and environmental context in which they operate demands a complete re-think in the service provision.

As an illustration, RED worked on a chronic healthcare project. They point out, the UK National Health Service was shaped in the 19th Century in response to problems of contagious and acute disease and institutionalized in the industrial era. It was designed as a linear system, based on a flow of the patient through stages of diagnosis and treatment. Today it has to cope with a new epidemic of chronic disease. RED has been questioning this model.

Chronic disease is a result of individual, social and environmental factors, many of which are preventable; once it has set in, long-term treatments depend on actions of the patient more than the medical staff; chronic disease typically then in the end leads to demand for acute care. So, the linear flow through model does not work. Services and tools need to be in place to first support prevention of the disease through social and behavioural change and action and then, were the disease does prevail, provide services to support ongoing individual management and evolution of the disease.

To begin to address this gap in service provision, Jennie and the RED team worked with Kent County Council and some of the most inactive people in a deprived area. They prototype "activmobs" - a platform that supports people to get active and stay active in a way that fits with their lifestyle, interests and abilities. See the work here.

And in Bolton RED worked with the local NHS to improve their nationally acclaimed diabetes service. Here they developed "Agenda cards" - a simple set of cards that reframe the interaction between patients and professionals (which had not been working and yet had remained unchanged for 10 years). They also prototyped a Me2 coach service - a new and powerful support role, like a life coach but for people with diabetes. This work is really hot and has fuelled a whole series of investments into public service transformation in the UK, some of which I have profiled here before.

Service innovation holds lightly the use of the term 'expert'. The art of the disciple in many ways is in maintaining non-expertise around a given problem. Service innovators are best placed to remain 'naïve' in any given sector or field, because our value lies in the ability to look beyond the current frame or existing paradigm and learn from others that aren't like you (so you will note the different sector that RED are working across). That doesn't mean just anyone can pick this stuff up and do it, but it does mean that talent is emerging from different areas and different backgrounds (you don't have to be a grey-haired exec to be winning). It also means disruptive services may emerge when you least expect them and from those you weren't expecting to receive them from.

On route back from the conference I met Dave Chiu, a delegate. In transit home Dave presented me his service prototype RentAThing — a reputation service —, which is another great example of a disruptive service that will change behaviors. RentAThing manages your reputation, so that you are best positioned to access and share (or rent) products and services amongst community groups. It builds on your personal data and recommendations by peers, to create a single containable view of your reputation. This is an enabling service and one that has huge potential to change the nature of single use and ownership of products and the way we behave (our reputation). It enables a whole new way of trading and reusing goods or services. Up to now our reputations have typically been 'owned', and managed, by the companies we interact with — who make a whole load of assumptions about who we are. The RentAThing model challenges this and provides a different level of access to fulfilling our needs — one that doesn't necessarily rely on creating a new product.

Written by Tamara Giltsoff

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