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How the design of businesses, services & social innovation can support during the COVID-19 emergency and shape a post-crisis society

How the design of businesses, services & social innovation can support during the COVID-19 emergency and shape a post-crisis society

3 April 2020 Written by By Jessie Johnson Lead Programme Manager

On Thursday, 26th March, Design Council convened our network of experts through a series of remote roundtables. Key topics on the table spanned from getting equipment and resources to those most in need through to a total redesign of services as we currently know them. Read about these topics in more detail in a blog by Cat Drew, our Chief Design Officer. Two key themes came from the conversation with our Design Associates*; what is the role of design and designers in the more immediate term and how might we support communities, businesses and government to reimagine what a post COVID-19 future might look like?  

*Thank you to Sabina Mohideen, Cat Drew, Gyorgyi Galik, Neal Stone, Laura Williams, Phillippa Rose, Sophie Dennis and Megha Wadhawan for your time and to all of those that contributed to the Google Doc!

Community level responses 

Everyone agreed that there is so much amazing work already underway from communities supporting the most vulnerable in society through to businesses pivoting their entire operations to support residents, the NHS and the country respond to the virus. As a group we acknowledged that communities are already under a lot of pressure, and were keen not to add to these, but to amplify people’s efforts and share these with the world while taking the opportunity to connect and reflect. So, here is an overview of just some of the remarkable community level responses we’ve come across. 

Businesses pivoting production 

It has been impressive to witness how quickly businesses across the world have been able to change and adapt their mission in recent weeks. Some of the best examples have come from collaborations with businesses partnering with stakeholders across the system bringing together the best experience and expertise. Some of these examples are linked below. 

Rapid service redesign 

In the wake of the crisis many services have no other option than to quickly rethink how they deliver products, services and support to their customers and users. Again, no one organisation can solve this on their own, rather they need to collaborate and draw on the experience and skills of others to become bigger than the sum of their parts. Here are a few examples of organisations coming together to rethink more traditional modes of delivery. 

Designers are being engaged in different ways across service redesign. There are organisations that are actively seeking creative responses by call outs such as those being led by the government and the United Nations (UN) and World Health Organisation (WHO). And then there are examples of people using a design mindset to tackle problems, such as those skills being employed by the team leading the design and build of Nightingale Hospital London. 

How do we ‘bottle the buzz’ of innovation happening right now? 

There was also lot of discussion about the shifts we are all seeing and experiencing as part of our “new normal”; we’re actively seeking out nature and new ways to interact with others that aren’t physical, as a society we have developed a deeper empathy for people in later life and the most vulnerable during this time, we’re having to rethink how we educate children and young people…the list is endless. 

How do we “bottle” these behavioural and mindset shifts to make sure these are embedded and sustained by individuals and their communities, organisations, government and policy in a post COVID-19 world? 

How can we capture the evidence and insight over the coming weeks to inform future models of service delivery, business innovation and policy creation?

Ultimately, how can we take all of the incredible work, insight and rich learning and use it to design more consciously in the future? 

Designers embrace complex challenges. Putting people at the heart of problems and solutions, protecting the good and making visible the bad (or unintended consequences of our actions). Designers are uniquely placed to help communities, businesses, policy makers and decision makers shift their focus towards social impact in the long term.  

Reflecting on our recently launched strategy for 2020-2024 and our key partnerships across local government, education and with businesses, we have crafted the following challenge statements that will support us to focus our efforts over the coming months: 

  • How might we support businesses to rebuild and shift ways of working that increase productivity while focusing on social impact? Our extensive work with businesses over the past 10 years has proven that design is key to business success in challenging times.  

  • Recognising that many health & social issues will be exacerbated by the crisis, how might we redesign public services that support residents and communities to feel socially connected, often during physical distance and with volunteer staff? So far we’ve seen how critical physical interaction and engagement is to current service delivery, but at the same time we’ve witnessed a shift of people embracing technology to stay connected. How can we take this insight and learning, and support councils reframe their public sector challenges coming out of the crisis?  

  • How might we support communities to build on the neighbourhood level care that was so vital during the crisis? Designing with and for communities by bringing together key partners across the system to make sure interventions meet the needs of those they are intended for. Something we successfully explored via our Transform Ageing programme

  • How might we reframe education to support new models of learning? We have already had some great University partners in this space with Design Academy and have recently prototyped a global and digital offer with the launch of Global Design Camp last year. 

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