PDR and iLab at NICS Live

By: Dr Anna Whicher Date: 30/05/2017

Last week, 12 members from across different departments in the Northern Ireland Civil Service (NICS) participated in Greenhouse, our immersive two-day service design training course, and then presented their findings at the NICS Live conference to over 80 colleagues. In collaboration with iLab, the Northern Ireland Innovation Lab, PDR led the session on an applied challenge set by Belfast City Council

St George's Market is the oldest covered market in Europe and an attraction for locals and tourists alike. At present, the market, prime real estate in the centre of Belfast is only open Friday to Sunday generating income for the traders and Council. Greenhouse is always based on a live challenge, which was set by St George's Market's Market Development Manager:

"How can we maximise the use of the market on Mondays to Wednesdays to increase footfall an spending while not adversely affecting current traders?"

After an inspiring brief, using PDR's problem definition tool, some of the anticipated outcomes and metrics were identified as increased footfall and spend, new business start-up and an understanding of market users and economic impact on the city. Following the theory on user-centred design, service design and policy design, the three teams were facilitated through a process of planning a user research study. The teams then went out into the field to conduct user research for themselves by interviewing a cross section of traders, council workers, local businesses, tourists, tour operators, event managers, teachers from a local school and the general public.

To analyse some of their findings the participants mapped a series of user journeys to identify positive interactions with the market, surrounding services and the council as well as to identify less positive experiences in order to turn them into opportunities. The groups then 'downloaded' further insights and reflections grouping them into six broad action areas:

How can we...

- Capture the tourist market?
- Attract community participation and business sponsorship?
- Improve the layout and amenities of the market?
- Improve the car parking/transport experience?
- Find appealing ideas for Mon – Weds not adversely
affecting traders?
- Improve the council understanding of its users?

Using ideation techniques the delegates generated over 250 ideas to tackle aspects of the action areas. Through a grouping and prioritisation process the ideas were clustered and refined based on expected impact, desirability and feasibility. Individuals then chose clusters of ideas they wished to further develop. The teams were informed of a range of low to high fidelity prototyping techniques and introduced to the concept of Speculative Design in order to reimagine the future of the market in five, ten or twenty year’s time. Each team selected a number of ideas ranging from quick wins to more strategic interventions that would need to be supported by more in-depth user research and co-creation. The teams refined their ideas and developed elevator pitches to feed back to Belfast City Council and colleagues at NICS Live.

On Wednesday 24 May, directly after the plenary session with Malcolm McKibbin, Head of the NI Civil Service, the session ‘Concept to Conference: Design Live’ hosted by iLab took place. Malcolm Beattie, Head of the Northern Ireland Innovation Lab presented the Lab and stressed the point that “Good design is expensive, bad design costs more.” 

I explained how private companies can prototype over 1,000 versions of a product but this does not happen with public services and public policies. I presented Greenhouse and the methods and tools that the teams used. A representative from each group steered the audience of 80 through their user research, insights and concepts. The Market Development Manager is taking at least one idea from each group back to her colleagues:

"The insight from the 'Four Marketeer's' group has reinforced and provided impetus for our plan to develop merchandise and more effective signage. The 'St George's Gems' also highlighted the need to more clearly identify the Council staff in the market and tap more effectively into tourism organisations."

"The idea from 'Living the History, Loving the Craic' to engage with all the local schools to bring aspects of the curriculum to life in the market is certainly one we are keen to pursue as is the idea for themed evening events. Fundamentally it has made me realise the importance of user research, which we are commissioning very soon."

Greenhouse is ideal for civil servants looking to gain practical experience of service design and policy design in an immersive and highly participatory environment. Click the links to find out more about Greenhouse and iLab.