What we learned from this year’s Global Service Jam


This year’s global service jam took place from the 29th – 31st March. All kinds of people, familiar with service design or not, gathered at 124 locations worldwide to ideate and prototype around a surprise brief. We attended the sessions in Manchester and Liverpool and, as first time service design jammers, took away lots of learning that we hope to apply in our work going forward.

A broad theme kick-starts creativity and inspired thinking

The service jams are known for their broad and sometimes obscure themes – this year our starting point was the word ‘blue’ (in black font, on a yellow background, no less). We were asked to individually come up with as many ideas as possible and it was amazing to see how many diverse thoughts and associations we ended up with. It was also really interesting to hear people’s personal stories and cultural influences behind certain post-its.

Post-it notes were everywhere, a wall full of ideas and connotations surrounding the word blue. We identified various themes from different ideas by grouping similar patterns and split the teams based on which topic each want to explore and tackle.

The key take-away from this is to try to create opportunities to break away from project focused work and to exercise our creative muscles by letting our thoughts loose on a ‘random’ theme or idea.

Time box activities, make decisions, move on

One key characteristic of the jam is that it’s fast and only lasts a certain time. This gave us a healthy amount of pressure and adrenaline to move through activities (and difficulties) in order to get to the end. We all shared the same, clear goal – to finish with a tangible, prototyped and tested idea (and of course, learn and have fun while doing that). 

We already work towards iteration goals in our agile development teams, but there might be some opportunity to treat workshops or meetings more like mini-jams. The jam set-up adds that bit of extra energy and collaboration, and it would be interesting to explore how to create that kind of environment/mindset whenever a group of people get together to get something done

Test in the real world…early

However interesting and deep our discussions around our ideas were becoming, it came to a point where we were getting stuck in our thoughts and not progressing. We had to stop talking, go out, and understand if all those assumptions we had were even valid.

Going out and talking to the people of Liverpool about how technology affects their lifestyle and wellbeing gave us valuable insights.

We headed out to the corn exchange in Manchester to find out about people’s perceptions and ideas around personal data and privacy. I was wearing our amazing cardboard data suit. It may have looked odd, but it made us more approachable and was a familiar metaphor that helped people engage in a complex topic like private and public data.

We came back not only with lots of new insights, but also with some more clarity into which ideas would be worth pursuing, and which had only been unique to us or the group (and therefore less suitable to solve a ‘real’ issue).

It would be great for us to introduce this more often to our work in the council – even if we are ‘just’ roaming the office and asking our colleagues. It’s very easy to get stuck in a bubble with your team, where you just take certain knowledge/ideas for granted. We should be able to pause at any point, and be able to get out of that bubble sooner and more often.

The definition of a prototype

Because of the tight timescales during the jam, quick and dirty prototypes were the way forward. Perfection was not the focus – it was about creating quick, chuckable prototypes to test something and help you move on (rather than spending a lot of time doing detailed mock-ups of something that weren’t right in the first place).

We created paper prototypes that we can quickly stitch together in Marvel app which we tested with one of the parents and gathered feedback.”

We also learned that prototyping isn’t just for digital interactions/interfaces – it’s really important to not shy away from other ways of prototyping like bodystorming (a less ‘scary’ word for roleplaying), if those are what you need to do to properly explore your idea. The key to getting the most out of this type of prototyping is to agree on your roles, have props to help make it more real, and take it seriously.

Because our final idea was a board game, it was so important to test not only the individual physical bits of it, but also the interactions people would have with each other as they played the game.

A lot of the work we do is focused not only on digital journeys, but also on all the offline elements that complement and enhance them (phone calls, letter, face to face interactions, timing, feedback etc.). Together they influences someone’s experience with council services, and so we should make sure we are prototyping and testing them together too.

Definitely introduce fun and play, but structure it

Although often exploring serious topics, jams are designed to be fun. We did all kinds of crazy warm- ups and energisers, played around with prototypes and felt safe to be creative and think outside the box. However, in all of this, there was never a moment where things got out of control. That was because the most important rule was that when we heard the rubber chicken (the official mascot of global service jam) we would immediately stop talking/doing and focus on the facilitators. This worked astonishingly well – everyone respected the chicken, but there was still an element of fun to it.

We know that play stimulates our brain and helps us make new connections, and so can really drive the design process. The challenge for us will be to introduce more moments of play in our projects and to show people that, even if it can seem strange and unfamiliar at first, it will help us get closer to our end goal. We will definitely also be introducing our own version of the chicken, for all those moments where we need to re-focus everyone and get things back on track.

So we’ve learned a lot from our 48 hours of jamming, and will do our best to bring at least some of the good stuff into our work.

We’re also looking forward to meeting more wonderful people and challenging projects next year!

(Have a look at our jam submissions from Liverpool and Manchester.)

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