Generating ideas

There are many ways to generate ideas for service development. We know through our work that it is common to find that public sector services are delivered in the same, or similar, ways that they have always been delivered. We also know through our work, and through the development of service design as a discipline, how important it is to consider the user and other stakeholder perspective on a service – beyond the limited touchpoints where we typically connect with them. In this context we explore user involvement in the design of services.

Where does this fit in the Scottish Approach to Service Design Principles?

  • Principle 2: We design service journeys around people and not around how the public sector is organised.
  • Principle 4: We use inclusive and accessible research and design methods so citizens can participate fully and meaningfully.

In the New Models for Learning Disability Day Support Collaborative, we introduced Health and Social Care Partnership (HSCP) Project Teams to test an idea generation tool. We refined this further, involving a broader range of Collaborative stakeholders (see below). 

Why involve more people in generating ideas? 

By involving users, stakeholders, and your design team in idea generation you will produce a greater variety of solutions to the drivers for change that you have identified. 

 An inclusive approach will help to: 

  • Reduce ‘groupthink’, limit closed thinking and address power imbalances, 
  • Encourage and promote a range of perspectives, including users and other stakeholders, 
  • Produce a high volume of ideas in a short space of time (eg in our prototyping, 23 people generated 201 ideas in 20 minutes), and 
  • Combine ideas to build stronger, more meaningful services.

The 6 ideas approach

In using this approach, we emphasise the need for robust user involvement in the discover stage prior to undertaking this activity. From the define stage, you should now be able to build user scenarios to support your design team and stakeholders to focus their efforts on a situation that service users face.

Who to involve

Your discover activity will have identified the stakeholders in your service. You should involve them in the activity that leads up to the develop stage and in this approach. 

Stimulating ideas

In our testing of this approach, we found that prompts were helpful. Below are the prompts we used, with rationale for each:

  • Freestyle – Leave a space for any idea to emerge. This is important to give your broad range of stakeholder perspectives the opportunity to draw on what they bring to this work, an asset-based approach, and emphasizing creativity. 
  • Unlimited resources – Ideas in this space have the full freedom to emerge without financial or other constraints. This is a useful space to examine as you may find that not every idea needs financial resources – stakeholders may be able to support these ideas with what they already have. 
  • No resourcesA constraint of no resources supports the asset-based approach of working in partnership with stakeholders. What do we have already, collectively, that offers a solution? 
  • The quickest solution - A prompt to focus thoughts on generating ideas that will have provide the fastest positive outcome for users.
  • Reduces inequalities – Inequality is intersectional and within our work in learning disability we found many more examples of inequality within the topic area. This is a space to consider what ideas might help to address and reduce the inequalities that people face.
  • Reduces climate impact – The climate crisis affects every society on the planet and every service. This prompt is an opportunity to generate ideas that will contribute to a reduced negative, and even support a positive impact on the current climate crisis.
Image of a sheet of paper with prompts for ideas

Image of a sheet of paper with prompts for ideas

How to use this approach

It is important to crease space for individuals to generate their ideas. This protected time is critical in reducing groupthink and power imbalances. We did find that some people will prefer more or less time, but that around 20 minutes to generate individual ideas works well. 

Following the individual idea generation, the group will need time to share their ideas, without judgment. It is important to pay attention to the dynamics of the group and emphasise that this is not the time to discount or promote ideas, simply to share. The size of the group will influence how much time to allocate.  It is best to ensure each person has 5 minutes to share each of their ideas.

The group will then need to reflect collectively on the scenario and the ideas generated. The group should reach a consensus on how they will assess ideas. This could involve one or more of:  

  • Each person selecting their best idea 
  • Each participant combining their ideas to build a better one 
  • Nominal Group Technique 
  • Voting across all ideas, or per prompt 
  • Building on ideas – picking several ideas to combine 
  • Asking ‘how might we?’ across the ideas to identify how each could be taken forward 

Key points 

  • Consider and agree beforehand how you will involve people in a suitable, equitable manner 
  • Consider what drivers or prompts might be useful to generate ideas. What did you find in the discover stage? What external factors should you consider? 
  • Agree with those involved how you will review ideas together