Jamming for Public Service Design – Global Service Jam, Canberra

Hello Folks,

It’s been way too long. I kind of dropped off the radar there. Eight weeks back into work and not a moment to spare. Who knew my day job would interfere so much with my newfound hobby! The important part is that I am back, for now at least, and keen to share my insights from this year’s Global Service Jam, which I attended and mentored from Canberra. The results are posted at http://planet.globalservicejam.org/ where all teams from around the world share the services they’ve designed to shape a better world. They’re not all gems, but there was some good thinking going on, that’s the important part.

Although not my favourite city or my usual destination of choice, Canberra was actually a good place to go to attend a Global Service Jam. The room was full of federal public servants of one description or another really keen to apply design thinking, service design and user experience to the design of what government is supposed to do best: write policy and design services. It was a young, enthusiastic and switched on crowd, with representatives from all of the most interesting federal agencies such as  the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency. The Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy was the most notable absentee, an omission we must address in the next iteration of the Global Service Jam in Canberra.

We got together for a two-day intensive on service design, looking at methodologies, processes and tools that are commonly used both in the public and the private sector. I was part of the mentoring crew with people from Different Solutions, the Immigration Department, service design firms as well as the team from the Inspire Centre, at the University of Canberra. It really was the perfect venue for this kind of thing (even though the building had not been properly opened to the public yet), as a building that is designed to foster co-working and collaboration on how to use ICT to enable learning and teaching. It was surprising to find out that the design was actually by Cox Richardson, they’re known for architecture of monumental scale like the AAMI Stadium (also an Arup job by the way) and all those under-utilised buildings at Darling Harbour. Sorry Cox, I am just being honest (and somewhat blunt).

Together we explored what a service design toolkit could look like, and what the various strategies to get into the psyche of the user are such as personas, customer journey maps and business model canvasses, all of which we had been using at Arup in the Informatics Team. It got me thinking about another way of seeing the business of designing urban experiences, which is what we do: we actually help our clients understand the various interfaces between the urban environment and users and design information flows and urban experiences that are meaningful and useful. So in a way, we are also designing services, but using the city as our canvas.

The GSJ 12 teams came up with some interesting services, a majority of which rely on some form of social entrepreneurialism to exist. This is the first Jam I attend, but I cannot help but wonder whether previous james were always so digital, or whether the shift to social media is a recent one. Many struggled to identify a real need to design for and relied on the manpower and dedication of volunteers. It’s perhaps an optimistic view of the world, but in a way it was quite comforting to think that all teams were spending two days of their free time coming up with a service they thought was for the greater good.

The Inspire building is, in my opinion, quite successful: a double height atrium space is flanked by a variety of flexible working spaces, one of which is fully covered in whiteboard paint, just in case there is that one stray thought you’d like to write down. It is also fitted out with some pretty impressing AV, with the ability to project on all four walls simultaneously. This was our main workspace for the jam. The atrium is the home to a number of informal seating arrangements, from colourful sofas to chairs you can wheel around for ease of congregating. It also has group workstations of the kind I’d only previously seen at UTS in their new den under the Business School. And finally, and not least, there was an XBOX connected to Kinect, which was the funnest part of the week end, let’s just leave it at that.

The building is perhaps predictably plonked in the middle of the University of Canberra’s campus, surrounded by a few other buildings but mainly by native Australian bush and scores of kangaroos. A report I watched on TV upon my return unpacked that mystery for me: kangaroos are fleeing to the city in search of shrubs and lawn to munch on as much of the ACT and that part of NSW has been subject to years of drought. Kangaroos have since colonised the city and become truly urban creatures.

Back to the Inspire Centre, the facade reads as a Mondrian painting, with geometric patterns of primary colours cladding what is mainly a concrete and steel structure. I like the raw use of concrete in this building, it’s treated as a noble material in this context, which it can be when used as more than a structural material. The windows on the northern facade are small and geometric and countered by uninterrupted glazed facades on the other sides of the building. A real contrast that enables good quality natural light, an essential ingredient to good workspace. The timber elements on the facade and in the interior are apparently salvaged timber from a bridge structure in Queensland, a nice use of recycled materials in a contemporary building.

Overall an enjoyable and instructive week end. And most importantly, an opportunity to see another side to Canberra. A creative, young and energised side. Until next time Canberra!

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