Over two days in July 2011, 55 students worked together at Said Business School in Oxford to explore issues around sustainable travel and generate and visualize solutions for new services that might involve changed behaviours, new forms of data usage and new service ecologies.

They were:

Concepts we worked with included: behaviours and practices, shareable services and open data. Combining concepts and theories from management, design and innovation, the project was unusual in using a collaborative design-based approach to imagine future services.

With input from the travel planning team from Oxfordshire County Council we situated the collaboration in a specific future context: reducing car usage in the Oxfordshire town of Bicester in 2015. Two people from Samsung Design Europe’s London studio joined us for the workshop. Consultancy Taylor Haig lent us their service design card deck to support the collaboration.


Thanks to Samsung Design Europe for financially supporting the workshop and the resulting video and to Said Business School for hosting a dinner. Thanks also to Oxfordshire County Council for giving us access to their research and participating in the workshop.

Workshop leaders

  • Lucy Kimbell, Said Business School
  • Alison Prendiville, London College of Communication
  • Cordula Friedlander, London College of Communication
  • Kiersten Nash, Parsons The New School for Design

Others taking part

  • Mark Gregory and Graham Bentham from Oxfordshire County Council’s Environment & Economy department
  • Jessica Diniz and Joe Scully, design researchers from Samsung Design Centre London

Guest speakers

  • Tim Schwanen, mobilities researcher from the Transport Studies Unit at the University of Oxford
  • Dan Lockton, a designer/researcher whose Design with Intent blog offers multiple ways of thinking about the impacts that designed things have on behaviour
  • Chris Parker who leads the Geovation initiative at Ordnance Survey talking about the issues of creating open data platforms to support geo-services

Visualising the service ecology

Principles behind the workshop design

–       Visual methods. We made extensive use of visualization techniques and tools to get students to express their ideas in formats that are not dependent on words only; supporting them in generating new ideas by visualizing them; and enabling students to work together more effectively. Examples included a deck of cards to visualize the service ecology, mind-maps and sketch sheets.

–       Small mixed teams. We put together students from quite different cultural and professional backgrounds and types of expertise enabled them to hear and be inspired by different approaches and responses.

–       Creative collisions. We used methods such as exposing students to conflicting comments from other students, tutors and guests to limit early convergence on an idea.

–       Frequent, fast feedback. Giving teams repeated exposure to peer review and an opportunity to do the same for other teams forced them to step back and reflect and helped them synthesize their ideas.

The students’ brief

In this collaborative project, students from different backgrounds and disciplines worked together to come up with new service concepts for changed travel practices in the town of Bicester in 2015. We asked teams to come up with prompts and interventions within services to change travel practices.

Practices rather than behaviours?

We talked about practices, rather than behaviours because we think this offers a much better way of understanding what goes on in the social world, and shapes our ability to intervene into it and change what people do. Academics whose work we drew on included Elizabeth Shove (Lancaster University). In her work on climate change she argues that practices help us understand the messy, interconnected ways that people go about doing things and how these habits and routines change over time.

The grossly simplified version of her work goes like this:

Behaviours are often thought of as having these components: attitudes (what people think), behaviours (what they do), and cognition (what they know). In much contemporary discussion on sustainability, the idea is that these need changing. The idea here is that if we inform people about the likely results of their choices, their attitudes will change, then they will be motivated to change what they do, and this will change culture. There are several reasons that this does not seem to work, or if it does, it works slowly.

Instead, looking at society in terms of “practices” helps us notice how culturally embedded ways of doing things are. In this theory, it does not make sense to give people more information and hope culture will change as a result, because this ignores how their habits became habits.

To kick-start the workshop Tim Schwanen from Oxford’s Transport Studies Unit summarized a practice as a routinised behaviour in which a number of elements are integrated into a ‘solid block’:

  • Material: artefacts, infrastructures, built environment
  • Symbolic: meanings, identities, norms
  • Affective: emotions, feelings, mood, atmosphere
  • Procedural: skills, know-how

Mobility practices are connected to other social practices which is why cars appear to be embedded in day-to-day life for many people.

If we are trying to change a cultural practice, rather than an attitude, we have more things at our disposal. Looking at how the four elements of a practice are intertwined helps us understand that the interrelationships between them.

Students’ preparation for the workshop included watching a video in which Elizabeth Shove gives an “extra-ordinary lecture” about climate change. In this video she and her colleagues explain what they mean by practices and why they think this is a better way to think about changing behaviours. (Dur 48m).

Our context: Travel in Bicester in 2015

Bicester is an Oxfordshire town where Oxfordshire County Council is focusing on researching travel behaviours. As well as being a proposed site for a new eco-town development, Bicester is also somewhere that the County Council is exploring policy in relation to behaviour change. During 2010 the Council conducted baseline research with 2,097 people living in Bicester. Using travel diaries and 103 in-depth interviews, the researchers created a picture of current travel behaviours resulting in quantitative data about different kinds of transport mode (eg car use, sustainable modes such as walking, cycling, public transport).

The report showed that “subjective reasons” were an important factor shaping why people use cars rather than sustainable modes, however the research did not explore what this means.

Having read this report, the MDes students from London College of Communication then spent a day in Bicester taking photos and observing and interviewing people. This complementary research was presented at the beginning of the workshop to focus attention on specific kinds of user.

Focus for the workshop

We asked students to focus on achieving a modal shift from car to sustainable travel, focusing on employed people who are car owners. We shifted from thinking about “travel behaviours” to social practices that involve cars. The brief to the teams can be summarized as: What prompts and interventions can you create within the service ecology to change the practices of employed people who are car owners, that result in them using their cars less often?

Workshop Day 1

1.1 Introductions

After welcomes and introduction, the workshop kicked off with a talk by Tim Schwanen, a geographer from the Transport Studies Unit at the University of Oxford.

We then had short introductions from Mark Gregory and Graham Bentham from Oxfordshire County Council to the town of Bicester and the research they had conducted about car usage and other modes of travel.

1.2 Exploration/visualisation

Next the MDes students from London College of Communication presented their findings from reading this research and their own trip to Bicester. They synthesized their observations into three personas/scenarios, which we used to provide a focus for teams in the workshop. Teams were assigned one of these to work with:

  1. Helen, an employed woman living in Bicester who is a car owner.
  2. Jane, an adult living in Bicester with her husband and two school-age children.
  3. A smartcard payment system within Bicester.

1.3 Exploration/visualisation

Teams then worked together at their tables, interpreting the findings and summarizing what they know and don’t know about travel in Bicester.  We suggested they create mind maps to visualize the issue as they understood it, but some teams also began to summarise their knowledge about Bicester and the user persona they working on

1.4 Exploration/visualisation

Method: Card decks to visualize the service ecologies

Teams created visualizations on the tables of the existing service ecology around travel in Bicester, focusing on one of the three personas/scenarios. They visualised and then analysed service ecologies through the lens of “practices” – where are the habits/routines, skills and knowledge, meaning, and stuff/technologies/infrastructures. Teams identified where they might make changes in the service ecology, producing an unfiltered list of possible ways to make these changes happen.

Workshop Day 2

2.1 Introduction of frameworks/methods

We introduced two more methods for students to use:

(1) Service blueprinting/customer journey. This method uses a template to get teams to describe in a structured way the future activities, knowledge and skills, activities, and objects involved in the new practice. Download the Designing Better Futures_service blueprint template (PDF).

(2) Scenarios: future stories about users’ practices. This method uses a template to focus on the user’s new story, describing what happens to them and what they do in the new service.

Students were also invited to use the Business Model Canvas created by Alex Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur.

2.2 Cycles of idea generation/visualization and critique

Much of day two was supporting students in rapid cycles of generating ideas using the visual methods, and then exposing them to feedback from the tutors and guests, but also crucially, from other teams. Although these also served as interruptions to students’ work, the feedback helped quickly surface inconsistencies.

2.3 Outputs and presentations

Student teams were asked to create and present for up to five minutes, which had to communicate

–       the specific issue they were trying to change

–       their proposed service concept or intervention into the service ecology

–       the resulting new practice.

These were presented at the end of Day 2 to a mixed audience including people from our partners Oxfordshire County Council, Samsung and colleagues from the Environmental Change Institute. We followed this with a brief discussion of the difficulties and opportunities presented in working in small, mixed teams using methods of this kind.

Synthesizing the workshop

Rather than trying to present here all of these outputs, which, given resource and time constraints, are not immediately digestible to a wider audience, we decided to create a short video communicating some of the concepts the students worked with. This video – Behave: New services to change travel behaviours  illustrates how approaching behaviour change benefits from the cultural perspective which starts with studying people’s practices. It presents some of the students’ service concepts focussing on three particular reasons why people use cars for short journeys – car usage as part of other social practices.

Workshops such as this are not easy to create or take part in. They throw together students who have never even met before, from quite different backgrounds and professions, with varying degrees of motivation and energy. By focussing on a place – Bicester – we aimed to ground their activities in something meaningful. Bringing together students from different institutions and degree programmes is also challenging, finding ways to make work such as this happen with limited resources and within different learning contexts. However indicators such as the energy in the room, the high levels of creativity and the serious way in which students engaged with one another suggest that such learning experiences are productively challenging as well as enjoyable. Further, by investing in making a short film to make the ideas accessible to a wider public, we think the students’ service concepts can perhaps inspire others.