Initiating human-centred services:
Shifting an organization’s approach to problem solving

This ethnographic research project gave our client, a provincially legislated regulatory body, insight into the challenges and opportunities faced by their members, developed internal awareness of design research methods, and created champions for changing the organization’s mindset towards service delivery.

Regulatory bodies can sometimes be slow to innovate. For these organizations in which staff are led by volunteer-based committees and revenue is generated by mandatory member fees, it can be difficult to mobilize change to processes or services. In this context, our client’s professional affairs team is taking on the challenge of developing a more person-centred and proactive approach to their member services. The intention is to first show the value of a design-driven approach on a pilot project within their department and then leverage that to influence the broader mindset and initiate a shift across the organization.

To kickstart this endeavour, we worked with the team on a member-centred ethnographic research project to better understand the behaviours, attitudes, trends and challenges faced by practitioners offering services to the public. We also wanted to understand why, when and how members interact with the professional affairs services, and how that experience could be improved. The research process combined qualitative design research interviews with a follow-up online survey to validate initial insights. The internal team participated actively in facilitated work sessions to co-develop the research design, synthesis and sense making. In doing so, not only did they deepen their understanding of the synthesized results and how to move them forward, they built their capabilities in design thinking methods.

The professional affairs team bravely took this challenge head on with an open mind and willingness to learn. Through the project they learned how much they didn’t know about their membership. The project helped the team re-examine their current approaches to problem solving and establish a new way of thinking. They now are focussed on the important work of putting the members at the centre of their services and spreading this approach throughout their organization.

Design research, if done correctly, is a brave step for any organization. If you’re doing it well, you’re inviting your customers to be beautifully, and sometimes brutally, honest with you about your products, services, and how well you meet their needs in general. Many organizations hire consultants to do that customer research from end to end, only to result in a final report that can be difficult to convert to actionable next steps. In some cases this can be the right approach, but for this project it was essential that the internal team gain insight and experience with a design thinking approach so that they were set up to be champions of the work moving forward.