Designing compassion into services

This week I’m talking at an end of life conference about designing compassion into services. The conference is being hosted by Good Life Good Death Good Grief and it about Everyday Compassion.

For anyone who is on a known trajectory towards end of life (rather than the rest of us who know death is inevitable but imagine it to be very far away), I imagine services and care being delivered with compassion make a huge difference to the quality of life in a challenging stage of their life journey.

Designing compassion into services

So how do you design compassion into services? Well, compassion simply means “human kindness”. Services are just a series of engagements and a delivery or exchange of some sort. And Service Design is a process that’s been tried and tested and in 7 steps can help any service improve.

The 7 steps of service design

Here’s how we go about tackling service design challenges:

  1. Research
  2. User engagement
  3. Sense-making
  4. Concept development
  5. Prototyping
  6. Testing
  7. Design development.

Using this process I’ve come up with design solutions for a ‘service’ as prosaic as The Vigil – the space where we sit by the bedside of someone who is in the last days or hours of life and a service as critical and challenging as Funeral planning, with modest aims of eradicating funeral poverty, modelling social change and designing a whole new rite of passage for engaging with end of life at the beginning of adulthood.

I’m a passionate advocate for the power of service design in bringing services to life, making them person-centred and ensuring they are delivered with compassion.

My experience of delivering the first Death Cafes in Scotland is a good example of how it works. Designing compassion into a service isn’t rocket science. It’s about small acts of human kindness. When I host a Death Cafe I warmly welcome people on arrival and help them feel at home. I set the mood and tone carefully. I bake a cake for all to share and provide lovely coffee and teas. I create a safe space to open up and do my best to ‘hold the space’ for an emotional exchange and do what I can to ensure everyone feels able and supported to contribute and their voice is heard. I give permission to talk about life and death and encourage listening and sharing. That’s designing compassion into a service.

And of course, never rest on your laurels. Keep asking “what do you need” “how can we do this better”. That’s service design.