Service design for universities

Jean Mutton
Sometimes solutions are under our noses – you just need the right approach to unlock them. In this post, consultant Jean Mutton explains service design, which she says is for anyone who often thinks “there must be a better way”.

Now we have it – the BIS Green Paper ’Fulfilling our Potential – teaching excellence, social mobility and student choice’ and it is ‘Hello’ to the brand new Office for Students.

This shift throws an even greater spotlight on the importance of putting students at the heart of the organisation, working with students as partners and co-designers. A key part of this approach is getting to the bottom of the felt student experience – what is really happening with our students – their frustrations, anxieties, challenges and triumphs.

“In analytical thinking, emotion is seen as an impediment to logic and making the right choices.  In design, products without an emotional component are lifeless and do not connect with people. Emotion needs to be thoughtfully included in design decisions’’.  Saffer, 2010

Service design – a human-centred approach to process improvement and student satisfaction – is rapidly gaining ground within the further and higher education sector. The techniques can be applied to any aspect of the student lifecycle, from prospect to alumnus. Journey mapping using service blueprinting, student personas and storyboarding both supports and helps to re-engage students whilst making systems and processes more user-focussed and results in more efficient and effective organisational systems and structures.

Service enhancement

At the University of Derby, we broke new ground in the use of service design approaches to define current delivery and develop service enhancement around the student transition and then to identify and support students ‘at risk’ by scoping out a set of engagement analytics, co-designed with students. This work led to changes in processes and relationship management, and resulted in significant enhancements to the student experience as well as to working practices.

Staff who were involved in the workshops and other activities learnt how to employ the techniques to inform their own systems reviews. Here is some feedback from one participant:

“I’m a blueprinting convert.  It’s such an enlightening process when you break down the complex web we often weave ourselves in HE to what a student actually sees, experiences and has to negotiate their way through.  Blueprinting gives an often stark visual representation of what we need to get right.  Having the right cross section of staff involved showed that some of the solutions were actually there under our noses – we’d just never looked for them together before.” Bev Matthews, Team Leader

Jean Mutton is a consultant in service design who has worked in higher education institutions, including the University of Derby, where she co-authored a Guide to Service Design for FE and HE.

Jean Mutton
Jean Mutton is director of the consultancy Go Process Design