Practitioner stories
7 min readMay 11, 2021


logos all in the same blue as our brand colour: slack, twitter, meetup, email

In a previous summary we looked at the way practitioners learn. A big part of it is by sharing. This happens within the practitioner’s professional network and during events.

In this summary, you will find:

  • How practitioners network and keep in in touch
  • How and what they share
  • The reasons why some do not share

Interviewees told us:

  • There is a a lack of space for honesty
  • They want to be open, share resources and research
  • Community should be a place to share

Networking — keeping in touch

Most practitioners attend various Meet ups, join Slack groups, mailing lists, keep in touch with previous colleagues and follow others on Twitter.

On Twitter, some observe more than interact. It’s a place to filter information.

“[I] follow people to keep an eye on what is happening in the community”

“Thanks to the algorithms, I get a sense of being able to keep up with people I’m really interested in”

But watching your networks to filter and select the events worth attending is still energy and time consuming:

“I need to gather the energy to figure out [what event] is most beneficial for me to attend”.

Service design is a field that forces you to have a wide set of skills and learn from a lot of sources, but there is a lot going on and it’s not always easy to keep up.

A lot of events, but not inclusive enough

Because of COVID, events are now online which creates new opportunities but also place barriers and exclude some people:

“As someone with a disability, this sort of communication [via Zoom] is so exhausting”. […] I feel extremely excluded from the service design community. I have enough of a problem working on a day-to-day basis […] just creating a space for me to exist as myself. So keeping in touch with the rest of the community is impossible.”

screenshot of the Miro board about the Sharing not sharing, what, why and where covered with post it.

How and what do practitioners share

Practitioners share case studies, what they are learning or reading, what they are working on or experimenting with. But some felt that we should share more: we “don’t even share the good stories”.

Many told us they share with others via blog posts and social media, speaking at events, via or sharing with colleagues within their organisation.

Some prefer sharing informally within communities of practice:

“There are some positive communities like on Slack, like the SDS [Service Design Scotland] as a way to connect with people, […] these things are more informal, kind of go along, everybody has a chance to chat, meet people, and that’s quite different from going to a talk, a workshop or a conference where you go to keep and absorb as opposed to share?”

There a lot of reasons why people do not share

Sharing takes time

For one practitioner, knowledge sharing was part of their delivery cycle. But more often, people who wanted to share their work did not always find the time, so they may share in more informal ways.

Client anonymity

Some can’t share because of an NDA (Non Disclosure Agreement)

“I do a lot less public sharing of things. It’s because of a mix of things, it’s harder to share clients stuff, especially now as I can’t share anything about my current project, [..] you’re limited by that, so it’s time but also the effort for getting out what you can say.”

Some were afraid to share the ‘negative’ as people might stop trusting the process

Service design “is something quite new and we are trying to get people engaged in it. [So] it is right to be cautious about how we talk about it. […] there’s a risk in it and you have got to trust the process.”

Some felt they didn’t have something worth sharing

There were many reasons for this:

  • So much out there already
  • Lack of confidence “it feels very difficult to share learning because we are not very confident in what we are doing”
  • Feel we can’t share when something failed

One practitioner thinks that “people who end up working in the public sector are really good service designers and are also ambitious. They want to show the good work that they’ve been doing.” But doing so, it felt that our interviewee could never reach that level and they “felt down on themselves”.

Another expressed a similar feeling:

“It’s hard, because every time you speak to other service designers, or you look at the Scottish Government community or SAtSD (Scottish Approach to Service Design), you feel a bit like you are doing it wrong, or you feel embarrassed of your own practice”

A Lack of space for honesty

Many practitioners felt we needed more honesty when things went wrong and share about failures, not just celebrate successes.

“You would never see that from the person on the stage saying “oh boy that was bad, and I totally messed up”

“We should not be scared of sharing how the process looked and what the failures were.”

Some felt people were “playing safe” a lot, but maybe it was because they were in “survival mode”: they might be out of work or have too much work?

The Service Design Network organised a Meet-up on failure in Glasgow in 2018. There was a huge turn up and ironically, a lot of things failed during the event: the sound was poor, it was really hot in the room and more. At least three interviewees mentioned that event because it was one of the very few occasions where failure was discussed.

image created to cover the event mostly orange with little doodles on it with the name of the event on it and the SDN logo on it
The Service Design Network organised an event about failure in Glasgow on the 24/07/18

“I felt it was therapeutic for service designers. Because actually I could hear that a lot of the issues that we have in our organisation are shared by others”

This was a feeling shared by the practitioners who attended our workshop on design contributions and barriers:

post its of people saying they have the same issues, challenges and one says: makes me feel a lot less alone and a lot less like I am the crazy one as a usually pretty lonely service designer in public sector
From the feedback frame of the workshop on Miro

Being open, sharing resources and research

In the third sector, “we’re doing things that connect charities very well, having webinars, briefings, WhatsApp groups… But it doesn’t go deep enough. You’re not sharing resources, you’re not working on the same projects, you’re just kind of tuning into what other people are doing”.

Some practitioners would like “some kind of open source way of working where you actually open up what worked well on a project. In the public and not-for-profit sectors, it should not be an issue to open up all the documentation on how you have tackled a particular issue in a particular community and how this service is now up and running and how it was co-produced by various different partners working together”.

Some went further, thinking sharing should not only be within the Third sector, or even with the Public sector, but felt that we should include the private sector too: “I’d like there to be a bit more focus on what we have in common”.

“We all face similar challenges, so we need to support each other a lot better.”

“The biggest challenge we’ve got is doing the same thing again and again re-inventing the wheel, we’re conducting the same research again, looking at designing the same patterns again, not reusing design patterns from different spaces and not considering design patterns in different ways and how they might be applicable in different sectors or spaces”

If we don’t share, “what we will end up with is everybody, everywhere, every local authority goes off and design services, every GP and NHS services goes off and design some appointments and booking systems”.

Community as a place to share

The next summary will be about being part of a community.

We want to keep these summaries short, so we extracted the sharing theme from the community one but they are strongly linked to each other: many practitioners described an ideal community as “a space where people feel safe to share and are nurtured by their peers”.

Contextualising Insights

These insights come from 15 remote interviews. You can learn more about the research project and approach on our website.

Although we speak about service design practice, we use the term service design very broadly.

  • Half of our interviewees self-identified as service designers or have service designer as their job title. Other practitioners using service design approaches have roles in areas such as user research, accessibility, community engagement, user experience design, and design training
  • We interviewed people working in different locations across Scotland
  • Some practitioners worked as freelancers, consultants and contractors; others were employed by design agencies; and others were employed by public or third sector organisations
  • All interviewees had a mid to senior level of experience working in service design and the public/third sector

When we refer to ‘practitioners’, we refer to people who engage in service design approaches and practice within the Scottish public and third sectors independently of their job title.

Want to learn more about the project and want to get involved?

Visit our website, follow us on Medium or on Twitter @PractitionerSt1

Thank you!



Practitioner stories

We are collecting Practitioner stories of Service Design in the Scottish public and third sectors