Dr. Josina Vink:

-My name’s Josina Vink.

I am currently an Associate Professor in Service Design at AHO, the Oslo School of Architecture and Design. I have a background doing service design in healthcare in Canada, the U.S., and Sweden. Social structures are these, kind of, shared things that we share that are taken for granted and become, kind of, entrenched over time. Things like norms, and rules, and roles, and common beliefs. So, it could be something like the idea of the role of the service user, that is an entrenched social structure that we have in services. But it could also be our family structures and the role of parents and children and how those things take on. So, they’re both, within services, there’s kind of certain social structures, informal and formal. So there’s a large variety of them, and they’re things that we, are across society, that we share.

Even the idea of the service provider and service user, I think those are our fundamental social structures that we hold in design, that we need to piece apart and question and things like that. And so, a lot of businesses work with that sort of social structure in mind. We are a business, we serve you as a customer, that is a shared belief that we have that is part of what service designers work with and shape. So we often draw journey maps of one individual moving through a system. That’s how we understand things. But there’s a ton of cultures and ways of thinking that are not so focused on individuals as one entity that, it has their own autonomy, has freedom of all of these different choices and can have access in different ways.

And I think that we could learn a lot from cultures that have a more collective understanding of society and service design can, yeah, look very differently and does look very differently. People are already practicing those things in different ways in different cultures so I think there’s a lot we can learn by opening up to some of those things. For me experimentation is really key in this way of learning that we’re shaping social structures through design in this ongoing way in our everyday lives.

So we’ve been working with things like tiny tests. Getting people to go out into their everyday lives and try and challenge a certain social structure and way of working. And that ongoing experimenting, and then documenting what they find when they’re doing things differently is a way to build in a more experimental way of working in general and help people realize their own agency in the systems that they’re in. And I see those, not as a design practice that only designers can use and do, but that people more widely can start to understand how they’re shaping the service systems that they’re in.

I’m really interested, so I’m the academic space now, but I’m very interested in the idea of reflexivity, or this building the awareness of these social structures, because I think once we have that, both within service systems and within the larger society, then we can more intentionally shape them. But if they stay at the taken for granted, invisible level then we’re never really able to be intentional and they just define our lives in ways that we aren’t even aware of and might not be comfortable with, if we’re really taking a hard look at ourselves.

So I think there’s been lots of critique in different spaces and places but there is a sense of maybe the mainstream waking up to some of these critiques and building them in. So I think that’s hopeful, the sense of listening around that. I think there’s a lot more work to do. I don’t think we can just celebrate that we’ve asked the critical questions now and done the work. I think there’s a long way to go, and making and shaping those things over time and reinventing our work and how we understand service design.


Jaimie Boyd:

For me, when I think about the practices of highly proficient, digital governments, I put it into three big buckets. So, those buckets are being agile, being user-centric, and being open. So some of the things that have come out of the BC Government that I’m very proud of are commitments to user-centricity, and how we build digital services. So, one thing that we run is the BC Developer’s Exchange, or our Exchange Lab, it’s in Downtown Victoria, and it’s a phenomenal space, we have up to 12 teams from the ministries that are working in there at any time, and they show up with a clearly defined business problem, we mentor them, we support them through the physical space, and we use resources from the ministry to procure a technology team. That comes and is completely embedded with those public servants.

Yael Berger:

So one of those areas in government that is a bit new, and is a change or an area of change in government is the way that we do communications. And, so, like some of the new techniques and methods, and tools that are coming into government through digital transformation, it provides an opportunity to also push some of those edges for communications as well, and so, there’s been a chance and an opportunity to bring together folks in government who are trying to do new things in storytelling, and trying to use new ways of communicating with the public and with each other, yeah. And so, we’ve put together a community practice for storytelling the government. And there’s an opportunity to meet with people who work in different government departments that are doing this kind of work, and search a job from those practices.

Safiah Chowdhury:

For me, it’s always about speaking the language of the individual that you’re working with. So, in the upfront process, it’s a lot of what’s within your scope of possibility, and then we can kind of negotiate that together. So it’s not often that they’re invited to design charrettes, it’s more so about, okay I have this idea, for example, having a harm-reduction program from a culturally indigenous perspective. What does that look like for you, community health centre. What does that look like for you, indigenous serving organization, what does that look like for you, Toronto Public Health, and I can tell you what it looks like for me, from a social services point of view. And then, we collaborate and use, very often, traditional government tools like term sheets. And project plans, but truly the product is more collaborative than perhaps other government intervention.

Jeff Maher:

Yeah, there’s so many roadblocks, there’s the roadblock of trying to deliver things, in a short period of time, there’s roadblocks to being able to go out and do this research, and actually talk to the people that these benefits serve, there’s challenges in being able to use new tools and infrastructure. There’s tools around making things like consent forms plain language, while still pleasing the lawyers everywhere. Yeah, there’s just so many of them, and I think a big part of what we try to do, when trying to clear these roadblocks, is that we try to tell the story of why we’re doing it, and what the mission is, and there are many tools to do this, but being able to tell a story is one of the biggest tools to clearing those roadblocks.

November 3, 2023 Delta Hotels, Toronto
November 1, 2023 - November 3, 2023 The Globe and Mail Centre, Toronto

As seen on


Stay up to date on the latest news, tips, events, and other essential digital transformation resources

Please select a valid form.