This article was published in full in May 2011 in the Journal of The Service Design Network: Touchpoint 3#1, Growing, Learning, Changing p.36-37
Camden Council is one of London’s 33 boroughs. It has been granted Beacon Status (now the Local Innovation Awards Scheme) for its positive engagement of older people in the development and delivery of services. Camden works closely with their local partners to continue engaging citizens, not organisations.
Camden wanted to create a dialogue for sharing expertise between Local Authorities and other organisations. They asked Engine to design and facilitate a series of workshops with these diverse practitioners from across the country, to be called the Beacon Learning Network. These workshops focused on ‘learning through doing’, with participants building on their collective experience to co-create new tools and methods for specific engagement challenges in their daily practice.
Each Local Authority has different concerns and priorities - such as digital inclusion or reaching older people with healthcare and other information. For solving these challenges much can be learned from each other’s experiences, for example around communication to specific user groups. The methods and techniques developed in the workshops were also aimed at other demographics, not just older citizens. One of the workshop participants has since applied co-designed planning on a project with disabled people, using existing knowledge and assets to the best effect: a necessary step in the current economic climate.
More than twenty Local Authorities and their partners went through a three-stage process designed and facilitated by Engine. During three full-day workshops, participants reflected on their experience, choose priority areas for learning, developed practical tools and methods, and packaged them for sharing with colleagues.
The first workshops theme was ‘Identify’. Participants reflected on their expertise, areas of interest and challenges. This was supported with a mapping exercise, where participants used worksheets to visualise their organisations capabilities at different levels, from service delivery and customer experience to organisational development. Within the group 4 priority areas were chosen, including ‘Online Engagement’ and ‘Designing services with users’.
These areas were built upon in the second workshop; Make. Using simple templates such as timelines and segmentations, the priority areas chosen in the first workshop were unpicked and existing experience around them was discussed. The group working on Online Engagement created a segmentation of older people based on motivation and abilities to use the internet. For each segment, the group formulated engagement strategies and specific advice to support different user types.
In between the second and third workshop, the early tools were tested with a group of practitioners from outside the workshops for usefulness and usability.
This was relayed to the third session, Share and Plan, where the early tools were refined for daily use and a series of engagement principles around the theme of engage with others as you wish to be engaged yourself were developed. Actionability in the workplace was also discussed, and instructions and examples of use were added.
In between the workshops, Camden Council populated and ran a blog as a repository of the work done so far and to keep workshop participants engaged over a period of 3 months. This served to keep the work fresh in people’s minds, encouraging feedback, reviews and ways of sharing information. When the tools were completed, they were also added to the blog in a downloadable format.
Beyond simply sharing knowledge, the workshops were aimed at knowledge transfer, through the co-creation of practical tools and methods. Some participants already started applying these tools and methods before the end of the workshop series.
One of the methods is a way to create user profiles. These could be used to target specific user groups, such as in projects about digital inclusion and identifying active and passive users and levels of ability. This method includes a step-by-step process, templates and tips and empowers practitioners to gather user insight themselves instead of having to bring in consultants.
There was really positive feedback around the ‘learning through doing’ nature of the sessions. As participants had developed the tools and methods themselves, based on their daily practice and needs, they bonded more strongly with them and felt a clear sense of ownership.
To support sharing the results, Engine produced 2 publications in collaboration with Camden Council and the workshop participants. One presents a compilation of the developed tools, including instructions and examples of use. Another presents the exercises and worksheets to apply the workshop process to new engagement problems. Both publications are freely available from Camden’s website.
The collaborative process has been extremely encouraging for all involved. The workshop exercises provided a practical way to tackle engagement challenges together, and the tools and methods enable people to continue to do so. A path has been opened for future knowledge and communication channels between Local Councils and their partners.