Using design mentoring to involve residents in public service redesign

Client: Barking and Dagenham Council

The challenge

Barking and Dagenham council is faced with a particularly high demand for social housing, and a concurrent problem with mismanaged front gardens and fly-tipping. In many cases, the housing and environmental services that address these problems would naturally overlap. However, instead of being delivered in partnership, these have often worked in isolation, with services failing to accurately identify customer needs and missing an opportunity to deliver better services and cost savings together.

What was needed

The council needed to find a better way of involving residents and staff in designing aligned services to meet people’s needs.

Barking and Dagenham 1

What we did

As part of the Design Council’s Public Services by Design scheme, Uscreates worked as the ‘design mentor’ for the council’s housing team. Our brief was to use design principles to involve local residents and frontline staff in service design. As part of this process, we created a ‘Conversations for Improvement’ model. This trained and supported council staff to avoid making assumptions about what an area requires; to ask open-ended questions when consulting with residents about what’s important in service design; and to practice not jumping in with an answer or explanation when residents expressed dissatisfaction.

Instead, through vox-pop interviews and drop-in sessions with local residents, the council staff listened, reported back, and worked together to develop over 70 ideas for service improvements in the area. Through this process, and by engaging with residents at the school gate or as they went about their daily lives, the council was able to speak with people who wouldn’t normally engage with council consultations.

Example intervention:

  • Residents told the council that they didn’t understand the rubbish collection process or the right way to dispose of unwanted items.
  • People were dumping large items on the street; and these items were then being collected by the council as an emergency response.
  • But residents thought this was how the process was supposed to work.
  • The council implemented an information and awareness programme to address this confusion.

In addition to service-level interventions, a film bank was developed through this work, with ‘Talking Heads’ video footage being captured over the course of research interviews, and then tagged and banked by the council. This means that for any future improvement schemes, council staff can simply search by key-word in the film bank, and hear what people think of a specific issue direct from the horse’s mouth.

The results

As a result of this work, resident satisfaction surveys were up by 5% 6 weeks after the programme. In addition, Design Council evaluation showed an estimated £30k cost saving to the council from going through the process of consultation and co-design.