Nicola Morelli – Beyond the experience: In search of an operative paradigm for the industrialisation of services
The contributions to the definition of a disciplinary corpus for service design come from two main directions: the first focuses on real cases, developing projects that are advancing the practice of service design and making service design visible to private business and public administrations (Cottam & Leadbeater, 2004; Parker & Heapy, 2006; Thackara, 2007). The second area concerns the definition of a methodological framework for service design. The main concern in those studies is on the development of methodological tools for analysing, designing and representing services.(Cottam & Leadbeater, 2004; Morelli, 2003, 2009; Sangiorgi, 2004)
The two areas mentioned above are developed along different disciplinary traditions, from engineering, which emphasise organisational and technical aspects in designing services (Hollins, 1993; Ramaswamy, 1996), to interaction design, which focuses on experiential issues, mainly related to service encounter (Parker & Heapy, 2006; Sangiorgi, 2004), linking service providers and customers. The focus on interaction design, though, has been dominating in several cases of innovative social and public services, whereas engineering studies are defining a clear methodological approach in existing business services. The divergence between the two approaches has inhibited the dialogue between the two areas. The consequences of this are that business services, which are very much rooted in the industrial tradition, focus on production processes rather than on user experience, whereas public services are often very innovative, but cannot overcome the local dimension, because their dominating logic is much closer to craftsmanship than industrial production.
Both the approaches need to be revised, in order to address the evident gaps between the solutions space they are covering and the problem space emerging from the the rapid changes in our social, economic and technological systems.
The area of public service has recently become one of the main grounds for such changes. The design effort in this area is mainly focused on social innovation. When working on public services, service designers are cooperating with anthropologists and social experts. Design intervention in this area has been heavily influenced by interaction design, because of the background of many design consultancies operating in this area. This paper will focus on this area, in order to suggest an operative paradigm that supports a logical shift from a “craftsmanship mode” to an industrial logic in design for social innovation and public services.
An operative paradigm?
The term operative paradigm has been introduced by Arbnor and Bjerke (Arbnor & Bjerke, 1997) to indicate a toolbox of methods and tools that allow for the resolution of problems in a study area, given a certain methodological approach.
In this case the study area includes public services and social innovation initiatives that address the emerging problems generated by a combination of demographic and social changes (globalisation, migration, population ageing, relocation of work), technological evolution (new technological applications, social networks) and economic crises. The methodological approach instead, refers to the cultural and logical heritage of industrial design, which has traditionally supported industrial production by working on the interface between industry and people.
According to Arbnor and Bjerke, an operative paradigm includes techniques borrowed from other disciplines and opportunely adapted into plans to address a certain study area.
The process of construction of such an operative paradigm in service design started with the earliest contribution from management and marketing sciences (Shostack, 1982), which were proposing the first blueprinting techniques. Besides generating a progressive refinement of blueprinting techniques, those studies triggered a series of explorations on different aspects of service design.
A toolbox for industrialised services
Several recent contributions, mainly coming from the interaction design area, focused on the touchpoint between service provider and customers. This metaphor, together with the idea of journey, made it possible to capture qualitative and immaterial issues, such as time and experience, in the process of designing services. (Parker & Heapy, 2006)
The methodologies developed in this framework provide interesting insights about the front office of a service, however their focus on interaction and experiential factors risks to overshadow the systemic nature of services, which would instead suggest a larger focus, to include organisational and technical components in the back office. Such components have been considered in engineering and organisational studies. (Hollins, 1993; Ramaswamy, 1996) Although they do not eventuate in a material product, services are a production system; therefore operative methods of a production system may apply. However the most rigorous system management techniques, such as TQM and Just-in-time can hardly be adapted to a system including customers as value co-producers (Normann, 2000), because of the high complexity and the unpredictability of those systems. The approach to such systems can be to create flexible architectures, in which knowledge and competences needed for the design of a service are disassembled in modules and distributed in the system. Each module is represented by a knowledge holder (a producer, or a service provider or a user). The role of designers is therefore shifting according to the change in the outcome of design activity, from material products to complex solutions including a combination of products, technologies and services.
The starting point for a design process can still be the point of contact between customers and service providers, focusing on customers’ experience, and generating forms of participation that would increase customers’ sense of ownership on the service. The process cannot stop here, though. In order to support the customer experience, the whole back office of the system must be planned, so that each single phase in the customers’ behaviour is matched by an adequate behaviour of the system, behind the scene. For this purpose use cases have been used (Morelli, 2007), that isolate each single functionality in services and generate requirements for the modular architecture of the service.
The process of building the service starting from the customers’ experience can be compared with a process of reverse engineering of such experience. The experience is de-composed in elementary modules. A set of competences, knowledge and technologies is associated to each of those modules. By grounding this process into customers’ involvement, new forms of knowledge can be captured, such as the customers’ tacit knowledge that would otherwise be very sticky and hard to integrate into a production process. (von Hippel, 1994)
The disaggregation of service systems in modular structures makes it possible to shift the production process for those services from a centralised and vertical logic to a decentralised and horizontal one.
A meal service for elderly people in Denmark is usually a centralised and quite rigid service, in which a central kitchen provides ready-to-eat meals to elderly people living in their own home. Elderly people are only involved in meal consumption, though some of them would be happy to be part of the process of meal preparation. If considered as part of the meal production process, they can use their knowledge (addressing personal tastes, adapting meal consumption to the ideal time of the day and social situation), to generating a highly individualised solution. Meal providers can coordinate the ordering activity, possibly outsourcing part of the meal preparation process to restaurants or local shops.
The re-aggregation of knowledge modules into new services is possible by using methodological tools to control the process both at the detail level and at the macro level. At the detail level each moment of user experience has to correspond to an adequate behaviour of the service system. To do this use cases can be used, which isolate each single function of the system (e.g. booking, delivery, meal preparation, in the above mentioned example). For each time fraction of the various phases of the service, the use case makes it possible to visualise a correspondence between front and back office.
At the macro level design orienting scenarios (DOS) can be used, to define the characteristics of the service system (Manzini & Jegou, 2000), and on this basis service platforms can be composed, which specify the interaction between the various modules, information, money and material flows. (Manzini, Collina, & Evans, 2004)
When shifting the focus from customer experience to the whole transformation of the industrial system in the design of a new service a new perspective emerges, that includes elements of the past in a new combination. In the traditional industrial production logic, highly individualised solutions were intrinsically incompatible with industrial production, because of the need to create economy of scale. In this logic, the user experience, which is unique and highly individualised, could never be perfectly matched with an appropriate industrial offering.
A systemic view covering both front and back office instances and supporting local and individual uncodified and tacit knowledge creates the conditions for a new convergence between local and individual solutions and industrial production. This view is based on a shift from economies of scale (based on material production) to economy of scope (based on organizational knowledge). (Morelli, 2007; Morelli & Nielsen, 2008) The challenge implied in this perspective shift consists of transferring the concept of modularization from products and components to organizational knowledge. The knowledge modules concern elementary components of a service, therefore they refer to activities that can be performed by local actors, thus making “tailor-made” solutions possible for individuals and local contexts. In a broader perspective, this challenge implies a radical shift in the way business companies, institutions and designers interpret economic system and seize new opportunities.
The knowledge modules are the bricks of the architecture for local solutions; the mortar is represented by individual motivations and shared interests among the actors participating in the system.
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