Magazine article Policy & Practice

Design at the Heart of the Matter: How One Organization Used Service Design to Transform Whole-Person Care

Magazine article Policy & Practice

Design at the Heart of the Matter: How One Organization Used Service Design to Transform Whole-Person Care

Article excerpt

Design is not only about making things look better. Good design makes them work better. That's why Lutheran Social Services of Illinois (LSSI)--the state's most comprehensive social service organization--used service design to address the health, mental, emotional, and social needs that factor into a person's wellness in an entirely new way.

LSSI worked with service design pioneer Fjord to explore how design and digital innovation could transform care coordination across a network of health and human service providers. The team developed the Whole Person Care Journey tool through a highly collaborative, co-design process.

The groundbreaking tool is a visual representation of how LSSI serves clients. Case managers use the digital application to track clients' care journeys between agencies in real time, gather analytics on overall network health, enable collaboration, communicate return on investment, and improve client compliance and accountability. Tim Sheehan from LSSI and Linda Pulik from Fjord reflect on this experience.


Linda Pulik: It's an outlook and a way of applying creative thinking consistently and collaboratively across all the people who are part of the service. This can include providers, clients, patients, customers, decision-makers, and partners--even an entire community. Ultimately, service design puts people at the heart of the creative process. It's human-centered, and because of that, the ideal outcomes happen when all people that depend on the service or product feel they are heard and that their world has been made better by the design process.


Linda: I think it's probably viewed by those who haven't experienced the process as a luxury reserved for the private sector. When you run an organization that's working with limited resources, it seems like an extra. There's also the fact that our work product is not necessarily familiar to all organizations working in a social service environment, which can be volatile. When leaders are focused on putting fires out, it's hard to prioritize unfamiliar approaches to manage a crisis.

However, my work within the social sector reveals an interesting dichotomy. Social service leaders are cost conscious because they need to be. But this sometimes makes them more receptive to creative approaches. For example, after I explained service design, an executive director of a nonprofit organization told me, "I'm not sure what you do, but there is something about it that makes a lot of sense with how our organization delivers services."

Tim Sheehan: I agree. In general, the challenge for this sector is a lack of orientation to the possibilities of service design. The reality is that client services, funding, clinical issues, and the like understandably dominate people's thinking. There's also the limitation of siloed funding. It's not often that we can step back and think about what comprehensive integrated services should look like.


Tim: No, but our CEO, Mark Stutrud, was clear when he came in that we were going to focus on strategy and development in the midst of making multiple cuts and a reorganization. The need to maintain a future focus set the context for us and we felt that service design was a good fit.

The impetus was to keep clients at the center of everything we do as health care transformation happens. We were looking to support client services amid changing funding and service models.

Linda: I have to disagree with Tim. He is being too modest by saying that his organization had not used service design before. Service design is not something that only designers practice. We wanted to work with LSSI because their human-centered focus shares the fundamental spirit of service design. …

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