Handing Down the SDN New York Chapter to a New Leadership Team

A brief story of our creation, evolution, and finally succession all in the name of sustaining a meaningful space for the Service Design community in NYC

Handing Down the SDN New York Chapter to a New Leadership Team

From our start in the downstairs of a local bar playing service design BINGO, to standing on stages around NYC and collecting a global chapter award for innovative events, to finding connection through the last two years over Zoom events—the Service Design Network New York Chapter, once known as the NYC Service Design Collective, has been through a lot together. It is both bittersweet and exciting to be announcing a new leadership team, but before getting into that process I would like take a moment to reflect on all we have accomplished together as a founding team. We kicked off our work with a simple question back in early 2018: what local platforms exist for people passionate about, or even simply interested in, Service Design and are they enough for what the community truly needs? From there the rest is history.

Left: Early 2018 in person polling regarding New York Service Design community needs–we did a comprehensive Google survey as well. Right: a successful in person workshop event in early 2020.

The SDN New York Chapter winning global chapter award for innovative events at the end of 2019.

Paving the Way as the Founding Team

Almost five years ago Kathleen Chao (she/her), Antonio Cesare Iadarola (he/him), and I found each other through the Global Service Jam. We began an important discussion with friends, and fellow jam mentors, around how we could find the spark and connection we felt at this annual event year round. We all recognized that we participated a Service Design related event here and there, but didn’t feel that there were enough opportunities to truly build relationships, learn from one another, and ultimately grow as practitioners. So we decided to create something ourselves that we hoped would be welcoming, interactive, and consistent for all those who wanted to get involved. And after almost 50 in person and online events ranging online talks, panels, workshops, mixers, and service safaris I think we did just that — we created a space for those who love Service Design within the New York City area, and beyond once we moved to Zoom, to come together and talk shop, catch-up, learn, and grow. Outside of monthly events Kathleen, Antonio, and I also offered SD content and our time as mentors to more junior practitioners.

Steps We Took to Get the SDN New York Chapter Started

  1. Starting grass roots discussions amongst folks within our network.
  2. Sending a Google survey that we shared through our social networks to understand current landscape and needs of our NYC SD community.
  3. Hosting a rough, casual event to continue to learn about NYC SD needs.
  4. Defining basic principles for our events–welcoming, interactive, consistent.
  5. Identifying ongoing flow to organize sessions, i.e., starting with casual networking to allow folks to show up housekeeping to provide context on group and allow a few more late joiners; featured content; official closing; photo of all speakers, volunteers, and organizers; and final mingling opportunity to allow some to debrief from the session and others to leave.
  6. Finding, getting approval, reserving a venue through a local sponsor.
  7. Putting in place a monthly cadence that was easy to remember “second Tuesdays!” events = second day of the week, second week of the month.
  8. Proactively reaching out to, and hosting, both up-and-coming and as well as popular, known speakers and facilitators from our personal networks.
  9. Defining core organizers, volunteers, and ad hoc support roles needed.
  10. Hosting working sessions with core volunteers to plan sessions in advance so that we didn’t feel stressed closer to each second Tuesday–pooling all our networks and ideas was huge for success in our early days.
  11. Setting up a process to onboard speakers, facilitators to our venue, event–we mostly worked with speakers who came with their own material prepared, but also worked as a collaborator to help a new speaker refine their materials and in turn needed to set up milestones to make sure everyone was ready.
  12. Setting up documentation processes for later reference and those who could not attend–we used a combination of Medium recap articlesYouTube recordings, and a website that linked to all materials in one place. We also have a robust Google drive space for everything that we have ever done.
Core volunteer group work session related to the vision and sustainability of the SDN New York Chapter.

Our Decision to Shift Leadership

As the pandemic continued and our community grew Kathleen, Antonio, and I became more reflective about how we wanted to contribute to not only the Service Design Network but the Service Design community at large within NYC and beyond. We wanted to take a step back from monthly event coordination to not only avoid burn out, but to make space for new qualified leaders who could continue to grow and evolve what we had initially created. That had always been the vision—to create something fluid and ever evolving that others could contribute to and build upon. We were excited about the prospect of a new avenue for mentorship through advising the leaders taking over in whatever capacity they needed most. And who knows, maybe we could take on new roles within the SDN itself too? More to come on that later on. For now we are supporting our brand new team! We are proud to be one of the few, if not only, chapters to have successfully passed a chapter down to new leaders without a time gap or loss of momentum.

Steps We Took to Make Space for New Leaders of SDN New York

  1. Aligning as an SDN New York Chapter leadership team on what we wanted to do next with the chapter, how we hoped our roles could evolve.
  2. Reaching out to head of all SDN chapters to inform them of our approach and thinking as well as align around official process and paperwork.
  3. Brainstorming, also as a leadership team, the experience of becoming a new leader of our chapter–Expectations, requirements, and qualifications of a new SDN New York Chapter leader? How many people? Timeline? Key milestones? What would we personally expect from this experience if we were interested in becoming a new leader of the group? How would we onboard folks? What kind of support might they need? How would we share permissions, documentation? How could we transfer learnings, knowledge?
  4. Mapping out key milestones and timeline with a Service Design mindset, of course, to think through the ideal experience for candidates.
  5. Getting the word out–socializing our interest in recruiting new leaders through our live events, social media, and personal networks and collecting interest through a Google form application.
  6. Reviewing incoming applications and deciding on ideal candidates.
  7. Reaching out individually to each candidate to get a sense of their availability and deeper interest in taking over the chapter.
  8. Bringing together the set of candidates to meet one another and have a two way conversation about what they wanted in order to align even before officially becoming new leadership–we wanted to make sure folks met one another, set expectations of their contributions early on in the process, and generally could get along as a team.
  9. Confirming process with head of all SDN chapters and introducing them to who we wanted to take over as the new team of leaders.
  10. Making sure the new leaders were paying members of the SDN, signed the chapter agreement paperwork, and met with all key SDN stakeholders.
  11. Giving the new team a debrief of our experience, tour of all materials, access to all tooling–Google Drive, Meetup, social media channels, and offering ongoing support as mentors as questions come up.
  12. Getting sign off from the SDN headquarters for the new team.
  13. New leadership team setting up a recurring time to connect as they got going, and launching their first event!
  14. Currently we are offering ongoing support as needed, but the new team is doing great and we could not be happier with how they are showing up for this community. They have even released a new poll to gage interest in in person versus online events to plan for the warmer months.

So without further adieu I am excited to announce Barry Decker (he/him), David Russo (he/him), Francesco Petronelli (he/him), Cassie Ang Yu (she/her), and Max Masure (they/them) as the new leaders of the SDN New York Chapter! Thrilled to have these folks take what we started and carry it forward in whatever way they see fit. They have all engaged heavily with the SDN New York Chapter over the years and I could not imagine a more qualified group. Congrats new team!

One of our first connection points as founding and new SDN New York Chapter leaders.


One More Look Down Memory Lane

I would love to close with a few photos from some of my favorite events.

Thank you to all those who have made this journey so memorable. I feel it is still just the beginning of what we can do together as a community. Check out the archives here within our SDN New York Chapter website.

Natalie Kuhn (she/her)
Natalie Kuhn (she/her) - Design Leader // SDN Accredited Service Design Master // Researcher // Teacher & Community Builder

NYC | Passionate about research, design and technology. http://www.nataliekuhn.com/

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