Can you see the difference in their way to work? Is it already possible to spot the impact of the introduction of design?
I believe design has introduced new types of approaches and a new type of thinking for the city leaders. But also a new way to understand where we are heading to. As we all know, linear thinking is not applicable anymore for the complex issues we are dealing with.
I can see that the city leaders are more interested in the future and they are more willing to test new ways to approach a challenge. They enjoy very much this kind of multidisciplinary discussion and different viewpoints. Even the politicians, they love it! Since they are just among people that share the same set of values as they have, the exchange of viewpoints has a strength on its own.
How do you measure the impact that you are creating?
We are just taking the first steps, so we haven't had the time to measure it yet. But after my two years as a Chief Design Officer, we will need to do this employee experience assessment in order to see how much it has been changed. However, we have to understand that there are so many other changes going on at the same time within the city of Helsinki that is hard know what is the impact of design alone.
But I may say that as a public sector organisation, we don't have really a good criteria for measuring the impact. If we think about design in business, there are already some measurements, especially when we talk about the hard stuff, like technology. But if we want to understand the impact we should not only have the hard measures. The Mayor is more interested in what kind of cultural changes we can create within the city organisation to be more agile, resilient and effective. He is talking about digitisation of course, but on the other side he is emphasising the importance of soft value.
So then, how do you believe this impact can be measured in the long term?
We can measure citizen satisfaction, like most companies have a system to measure customer satisfaction. But maybe we don't have to ask questions, because we can screen the understanding of the collective mind from data. If we start to use artificial intelligence following the discussion of citizens, we can come up with a quite good understanding of how happy people are. Data and technology can allow us to get a more coherent picture of society, with real-time understanding.
In the discussion about impact, of course we can always improve. But if we build the most efficient machine, we can end up forgetting the human side. We need a person, a human heart, interfering in critical moments and saying: “No, we are not following the process now because of this human reason.” This is more relevant for me than this endless search for a more efficient system.
This year the focus of the Service Design Impact Report is the health sector, and the publication aims to investigate the impact of service design in healthcare in different countries. The Finnish health system will undergo a big reform in the coming years. Does design have a positive impact on how current healthcare reform is being deﬁned and managed?
The current healthcare reform is quite a top-down process and therefore gets a lot of criticism. I haven’t been personally involved in any of the discussions and don’t have much information. But I assume that a more collaborative and involving decision making process (which design could bring) would have benefited the adaptation and implementation of the decisions.
The design process can help to create a buy-in, and a mindset change before starting to implement a decision. It can lead discussions and the creation of a shared set of values. During our processes, we mixed different city divisions with very different political views, and it was very interesting to see how people came up with shared ideas about how we should live in the future.
From my perspective, there should be more pressure for cities to promote healthier lifestyle. We should think holistically and create visions on how the city environment can support a healthy lifestyle, for example with more bike lanes, offering sports, culture, etc.
We have in Helsinki a very nice case, where design has been used in a very impactful way: the city’s new central library. Before the architectural project began, there have been many design projects done in order to understand the needs of the citizens and exploring new roles that the library could play in city life. This design work and the vision it created influenced the new mindset and culture change among different stakeholders before the actual project started. Making it much easier to start to implement new ways of working.
The current library concept is not only about books, there are different hubs, it offers different type of activities; it is a learning space for citizens. The city strategy should influence the physical city and building decisions. And they need to be shaped by larger discussions on shared values, and how citizen experience should be.
To wrap up, how do you see the global evolution of service design for the public sector in the next ten years?
I see the next level as political. I think we are coming back to the era of value discussion in design, how to change by design. I haven't had this discussion since the 1980s, when I finished my studies. It is interesting to see that in all these years in between, design has been considered as a non-political activity. Recently a young designer told me that service design is always a political act. Yes! Because it has an impact on people. We can't say that we are non-political designers and still do service design. You have a set of values beyond your decisions. I see young people starting movements by political design. Instead of waiting for the cities to implement something, they are doing it themselves. I don't want to emphasise that it should be political, but the world is nowadays more political than it used to be.