20 October 2007

Participle, a new type of social enterprise

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Hilary Cottam
Hilary Cottam, UK Designer of the Year 2005 and former director of RED [archive site], the meanwhile closed innovation unit of the UK Design Council, is now one of the founding partners of Participle, a new social enterprise designing the next generation of public services, with a focus on the big and seemingly intractable social issues of the 21st century.

The two other Participle co-founders are Charles Leadbeater, the internationally renowned thinker and innovator, and author of the book We-Think, and Colin Burns, designer and formerly the CEO of IDEO London. The initiative is supported by NESTA, where Participle has its offices.

Participle designs public services that provide systemic solutions not only to the persistent problems of inequality, poverty and exclusion but also to the ‘new’ problems resulting from changing demographics, new lifestyles and global resource constraints: chronic disease and long term health conditions, learning cultures beyond the school, new approaches to crime and security, new approaches to community collaboration and social isolation and new energy systems. A brief presentation is available for download (pdf, 560 kb, 3 pages).

The Participle methodology is one of transformation design (pdf), a hybrid approach which combines people-centred methodology with systemic policy thinking:

“We start from the individual, unlocking a unique set of insights and motivations, which we then apply to the broad systemic problems we are seeking to answer.

Our hybrid approach also means we test and scale in a different way. We rapidly apply our thinking and insights to the development of ‘prototypes’. Prototypes differ from pilots: they involve early service models developed in situ, which are then tested and improved in rapid cycles, again in situ. This approach reduces risk and tends to result in new services that work and can be scaled as well as important new policy insights.

Our hybrid approach and our person centred starting point enables us to work beyond existing service silos, efficiently harnessing a broader set of resources contributing to the development of affordable whole system solutions.”

In an interview I conduced last week, an extremely fast talking Hilary said:

“In a situation where now one in five Britons has got a chronic disease it will be more important to think about how we begin to design new services which engage with people’s behaviours, emotions and lifestyles and help them either prevent the onset of a chronic disease or at least manage better that disease within their daily lives. […]

What is really important is that we can very rapidly move concepts into action [by using] a design process. The way designers prototype and mock up things very fast in real time, is very different from the traditional piloting approach in the policy world, where models are often built in a very artificial environment, which then usually do not scale very satisfactorily.”

A full text version of the interview with Hilary, who has a social sciences background and once worked for the World Bank, will be published shortly on the website of Torino World Design Capital.

Given the dire state of UK healthcare, Participle has got work to do.

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