Getgo Glasgow was a collaborative project undertaken by Masters of European and Design Innovation at the Glasgow School of Art.  You can find out more about the project at

I worked on it as part of my Masters in Design Innovation, and became particularly interested in the co-creative approach that we undertook to support and empower communities to generate solutions aimed at improving community interaction and lowering crime.  The project won £20,000 in the Audi Sustain our Nation competition and Snook are now using this as a case study to champion co-creation and production and develop new narratives so that local government and authorities can support communities in a facilitative role.

“Social Innovation is my motivation” is an article featured in the Guardian focusing on Get Go Glasgow from 2010.

“Sarah Drummond may be only 23, but she is already sure of the direction in which her career as a designer is heading. “Social innovation is my motivation. If I’ve got the skills to improve people’s lives, why not use them for that?” she says.

A trained product designer, Drummond has a clutch of social change projects under her belt including a community cohesion scheme in Wyndford, north-west Glasgow, as part of the GetGo Glasgow team from the Glasgow School of Art. She recently co-founded Snook, which, according to her, is the only socially led service-design consultancy in Scotland.

Drummond is among a growing number of young designers using their expertise in service design to help create social change. The people using services may feel isolated and vulnerable. Perhaps they have been let down by the authorities. With its holistic and participatory approach to problem solving, service design can directly engage with these end-users to identify what they really need and how best to deliver it.

Although relatively new in the UK, this approach to social innovation has been pioneered in Germany by Professor Birgit Mager of Sedes Research, the centre for service design research at Köln International School of Design. She instigated several student projects to set up the Gulliver Survival Station for the homeless in Cologne in 1996 and, more recently, a unit for 30 drug-addicted street prostitutes in Eindhoven.

Both projects demonstrate the ability of service designers to take a broader perspective. The clients needed disparate services to be brought together in a new way. In the Eindhoven project, nine different service providers come together in the new Power of Life centre.

Whole picture

“Service designers can step back and take a look at the whole picture,” says Mager, whose young team spent weeks on the streets talking to prostitutes about their needs and aspirations.

The use of creative techniques to help clients, who normally have no voice, visualise and work towards a successful outcome is also a key new skill that has rarely been brought to social benefit projects, she says. Designers call it co-creation. In the Eindhoven project, useful ideas might be something as simple as having a year book or a system of certificates showing attendance at centre programmes. “The process of creativity is not usually used in a social context,” says Mager. But this is slowly changing. In south-east London, Lewisham borough council is working with service designer Sean Miller and the agency, ThinkPublic, to improve the performance of its homelessness prevention unit.

The project, which is part of a Design Council mentoring programme for managers across a range of public services called Public Service by Design and funded by the Department for Business Innovation and Skills, started with extensive research through visual media. The first priority was to understand the clients’ needs and their experience of the service by getting staff to film them before, during and after their visits. This visual evidence – presented in three “insight” films – was hugely enlightening to both frontline staff and management. It demonstrated in particular that clients often wrongly remember or misinterpret what they’ve just been told in a meeting.

“You wouldn’t find this out with traditional questionnaires. It’s incredibly raw and real … It’s the first time they’d received a form of insight that wasn’t written,” says Miller.

One quick outcome was to introduce a What’s Next? document showing the client where they were in the process and how they could move to the next stage. This was just one of 35-40 initial ideas that emerged from the client research. Through staff workshops these were whittled down to 10 ideas that are now being prototyped. The hope is that more clients will be properly directed to the appropriate office, more will keep appointments and more will be able to move through the process faster to get off the streets and ultimately into permanent accommodation.

Collaborative approach

Creative thinking is also at the heart of Glasgow’s Wyndford project, which, in February, won the £10,000 national award in the Audi Design Foundation’s Sustain Our Nation competition. Like the Lewisham project, the Glasgow scheme demonstrates the key service design approach of working in collaboration with the users, rather than imposing a solution on them.

“It’s really important not to design for people but to design with them,” says Drummond. “You have to motivate people to become part of social projects to get the community on board.” Through interviews and workshops with Wyndford residents, Drummond and the GetGo team established the need for a framework for all manner of community events and groups, from book clubs to football games. This is delivered via a website and traditional message board – both tools that the community can use after the service designers have gone. Visual media have again been very important. The team filmed hundreds of hours of footage of interviews and documentary, and then showed this to a community and stakeholder audience to promote the new initiative.

“Filming is much more powerful than an old-fashioned questionnaire. You have to sell a service,” says Drummond. At Wyndford the £10,000 Audi award will be used to reward people for idea pitches. The best idea each month gets a £100 prize. It is all about using creativity to engage with those who use – and those who deliver – the process of social innovation. Hopefully the result is not only a satisfied service user, but motivated staff and a fulfilled service designer to boot. Drummond says: “When you get people to co-create, you get people who are excited and inspired. It’s very rewarding.”