Innovation Week 2012 – theatrical tools and service design

[Originally published on the Australian Government Public Sector Innovation Network under a Creative Commons 3.0 BY AU licence]

What has the theatre got to do with designing better services? On Friday 8 June our team participated in a workshop that made the connection.

As part of GovJam for Innovation Week, we brought to Canberra Adam StJohn Lawrence and Markus Edgar Hormeß from Work Play Experience, a European service design and customer experience consultancy. Adam and Markus are the initiators of the Global Service Jaman event we participated in earlier this year, and helped us run the inaugural global GovJam event.

As part of their visit Adam and Markus also facilitated a training workshop, undertaken with our colleagues from the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations and the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, where we as participants used theatrical tools to unpack and understand services.

The workshop began with a group work ‘whole of brain’ exercise. The exercise is a little hard to explain, suffice to say it was quite full-on and felt a bit silly – but Adam assured us that it was psychologically proven to get all the parts of our brain working and make us more open to new ideas and perspectives.

I suspect it also helped get people out of their comfort zone, quickly built trust with other members of the group (which is very important if you want people to share new ideas) and got people thinking differently.

Adam and Markus then explained that there were three rules for the workshop:

    1. Doing not talking
    2. Play seriously
    3. Use what you have

As small groups we then shared stories about good and bad service experiences we’d had previously. Groups then picked their top negative story, sketched out the story board and acted out the scene, using improvisation and whatever we had to hand (which included an assortment of props that Markus and Adam had provided). The group I was in looked at a recent negative experience that one group member had in getting their car serviced.

After all the groups had played out their scenes, Adam and Markus picked one for us to explore in detail. The scene was then acted out again but this time any member of the audience could at any point pause the re-enactment and ask a question about the scene – e.g. what the customer service person was doing when the customer entered or where the customer had been or was going afterwards. This was a sort of rapid process for unpacking what was going on in the interaction. It was really enlightening in showing how many assumptions we make about any casual interactions and what that might mean if any of the people involved in the process had a different understanding.

Markus and Adam explained afterwards that the aim was to use the scene work to firstly understand the context of the interaction and then to put forward ideas, suggestions and work to solutions in a rapid iteration/prototyping fashion.

The underlying process was a cycle of

    1. discover
    2. design
    3. develop
    4. deliver

We also looked at how these methods could be applied to public sector services, particularly in understanding the ‘stakeholder constellation’ for individuals and teasing out how that might  affect their role in the service process and a process of using group members to tease out the sub-text of the thinking of the parties in the service interaction (and the sub-text of the sub-text). It was a very hands-on process that really engaged you with the service process through acting and improvisation.

I found it a really useful workshop for showing some practical tools on how to understand the customer/client and to understand our own assumptions about all of the parties involved with that interaction. I learnt a lot and can see a number of ways this methodology could be applied, even in the policy end of government activity.

It was also a great workshop for demonstrating how to bring together a diverse bunch of people from different organisations to work collectively on an issue in a very short time.

A number of Australian Public Service agencies are now using design methodologies to help inform their work – we’d love to hear from other public servants using similar tools. How do you think this theatrical approach compares?