Serving Users in Complexity

Returning from a meeting yesterday where colleagues from across the university in data collection facilities were discussing issues of seamless data transfer and the challenge of offering better services to users of the data. It made me ponder on the value of design and design thinking. My design team and I are charged with bringing design thinking to the effort.

Information design is of great value in making information and data accessible to those who read it. But more important in this case is going upstream to the process of data delivery in a complex large institution. Two mindsets of design thinking are going to very useful:

Making things visible: Design helps make invisible aspects of a system visible. Mapping the system, showing the nodes/hubs and interconnections will be useful. Showing the flows in a particular part of the system will help members participating in the system see where they are,  what the system looks like and where the ‘gaps’ and ‘blocks’ lie.

Empathy for the user: As core data facilities do their work, they serve specific users. There is an art to identifying the needs of the users and in serving users well.  The world is changing quickly in how it operates. We are now in an era when a lot of institutions that traditionally did not see themselves as being in the business of service delivery are recognizing that they indeed are, and that they need to learn the art and science of better service delivery.

In a complex, contemporary university there are many kinds units serving multiple users – external or internal to the university. Universities have traditionally seen themselves at either mostly serving students (in a teaching university) or mostly serving research needs (at a research university). Really, the question needs to be asked by each unit within the university as well as at the level of the whole university – Who are we? Who do we serve? What does excellent service to our users look like? How might it be delivered? Very excited to be part of finding answers and prototyping new models with colleagues for improved, contextual service delivery at my university!


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