by Thomas Brandenburg
I often find that social impact is best measured by talking to the people I am serving and finding out what they truly think. It’s honest, it’s real, and although it usually doesn’t align with the data, it’s more often than not the truth.
1. Within the social innovation landscape, what issues/problems do you find lend themselves best to using a service design approach?
People are always the focus of service design. People are the drivers of social innovation. Because the two are so aligned — at least in my mind — there are so many issues in social innovation that can be solved using a service design approach. If you’re looking to understand who it is that you are dealing with and creating solutions for, look to a service design approach. If you want to understand the bigger picture surrounding your social innovation, look to a service design approach. And if you want to create the world’s greatest customer experience for the folks within your landscape and prospective folks who don’t know about you yet, service design is ideal in helping you cultivate what will work best. It’s often at the core of what organizations seek to accomplish so (obviously!) I think most social innovation organizations can lean on a service design approach.
2. What are some of the biggest challenges you face applying service design for social innovation?
People are a problem. I mean, people are the reason that we do what we do in social innovation. They are the drivers behind what we build. It is vital that we understand people: Customers, clients, their experiences, what they’re hoping to get out of what we offer. That said, people are not static objects. Their expectations shift.
Their moods change. And once you think you’ve figured out the perfect blueprint for what you want to do using a service design approach, people change and you have to revisit everything you thought you knew. Also, people are the ‘things’ that keep us on our toes and are the reason we love to do what we do.
3. In developing social innovation, what are some of the most useful activities and tools you have used, especially if you consider how you would engage stakeholders with diverse perspectives and backgrounds?
The trials and errors that I’ve gone through using different tools (I’m an app junkie, to start) have left me with one realization after many years: The best tool is always feedback. You can measure and plan and create and test til the cows come home. You can assure and reassure yourself that this thing worked for X so it’ll work for me. But without feedback in some form, you won’t really know. Particularly in the social innovation field, there are too many reasons to keep even your growth and your analyzing what you’re doing...social.
4. What organizations come to mind when you think about social innovation?
It’s funny, I don’t think of traditional social innovation organizations (a lot of folks cite nonprofits here.) I tend to look at the businesses doing very outside-the-box activities or the ones that really feel like they’re paying attention to me. I adore Mad Mini, an email marketing company, because they care about each and every one of us. Uber’s practices are not sound but the innovative ideas they came up with (kittens!) were really almost out of left field in the best way. Danny Schuman over at Twist really cares about helping people solve problems and is doing it the right way. If you don’t know 360connext and its founder, Jeannie Walters, she’s a customer experience guru who is pretty much the queen of social innovation right now. Stacy Ratner’s Open Books and her newer Chicago Literacy Alliance are exemplary, too. There are so many, I could keep going but I’ll stop here.
5. What are the most useful framework(s) for measuring social impact?
There are countless tools that you can use to collect data. Website analytics, social analytics, newsletter analytics, [insert favorite marketing tool] analytics. But I’ve always been old-fashioned in the measurement department because I ask people. Be it a testimonial, a survey, an email inquiry or a conversation (gasp!) in real life, I often find that social impact is best measured by talking to the people I am serving and finding out what they truly think. It’s honest, it’s real, and although it usually doesn’t align with the data, it’s more often than not the truth.