You want and need help in transforming your organization or business line and are seeking a consultant to help you. What should you look for? Let’s look at questions and issues you may want to consider when starting an innovation journey.
We break it down into three (plus) areas: Design research and foresight, service development, and evaluation.
Design research is about exploring the problem or circumstance that you’re looking to intervene in through introducing a new product, service offering, or policy (which we’ll refer to as an innovation).
Design research is much more than ‘doing your homework’ and is meant to work with any marketing and financial studies you may have done. Design research is about exploring your end-user(s) — both identified and potential additional users. Responsible design research is also about looking at who else your innovation affects.
It will incorporate systems thinking into the process by considering the various ways in which your innovation affects and is affected by the various interconnections around it. For example, your service might be tied to other things (e.g., supply chain, regulatory issues, community norms) and good design research will help articulate these and allow you to map and model systems using visual tools.
Your innovation design team should have skills in design and research and understand a variety of methods and approaches such as quantitative analysis, qualitative data collection, sensemaking (for innovations dealing with complex situations), and behavioural science. The last point — behavioural science – is what allows you to understand what, why, and how an individual or group will choose to engage with your innovation and serves as a foundation for the next stage of work: service development.
But first, let’s go a little ahead into the future to look at the other part of design research: foresight.
Strategic foresight is an approach to research that looks at the trends and drivers that influence specific domains of interest like your market, community, or social life as a whole. It draws on a variety of data sources such as published reports, publicly available (or privately held — if you have access) databases, as well as a series of exercises and activities that allow you and other stakeholders to envision what possible futures might look like.
The UK Social innovation agency Nesta has a useful, accessible primer on some of the methods that are used to envision futures.
Future-thinking is important because your innovation will always be applied to tomorrow, not today. Sustainable, effective innovations are those that meet emerging needs not just present ones. Foresight considers how and why things might change and, when combined with strategy and behavioural science, allows you to shape the design of your innovation to better anticipate and (hopefully) meet those changes as they emerge.
Service development can include everything from exploring the physical space where your innovation will be deployed to undertaking usability research on digital platforms. The range of practices associated with what is more commonly called service design are many and when enlisting support to design your innovation it’s critical to ensure you have the right talent.
Service design often seeks to develop models of your intended users based on the design research you’ve undertaken. This can result in tools such as personas that provide evidence-informed caricatures of your users that you can use to develop and test scenarios.
Service design methods incorporate visual thinking methods and tools and design thinking by exploring the research, developing ideas, testing and trying these ideas out in ways that inform strategy, and then deploying them into the world. Having a design team with skills in design methods, facilitation, and visual presentation will make this much easier.
Last and certainly not least is evaluation. It’s one thing to design an innovation, it’s another to know whether it does what you think it does. Evaluation allows us to assess what kind of impact our innovation has on the world, what processes lead to that impact, and what aspects of our service, product, or policy are most likely influencing this impact.
It is through evaluation of our innovation that we are better able to fine-tune, amplify, or retract our offering to ensure it’s creating the most benefit and not doing harm. Evaluation also allows us to understand what hidden value our innovation might be offering, to articulate your return on investment (ROI), and to widen your perception of what your innovation does and could do.
Bringing in design firms that do not build in professional-grade evaluation to the project is like doing half the work. What good is your new product or service if you have little idea how or whether it works in the real world over time?
These are some of the things that anyone looking to develop an innovation in-house or with a consultant team needs to consider. We have a lot of resources on our learning page on some of these methods and tools as well as overall approaches to supporting groups in asking better questions prior to engaging a contractor.
This is what we do. If you want help with any of this and doing good, quality service design, design research, evaluation and foresight, please reach out and contact us. We’d love to hear from you.