Service Design as a way for Social Innovation

Written by
Mariana Ribeiro
Service Designer
Apr 28, 2021 . 5 mins read
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Service Design and Social Innovation are a match made in heaven. But why, do you ask? Well, they have ‘People’ at the core of their purpose, and they empathize deeply while bringing innovative solutions to the world. Basically, to improve people’s lives is at the center of their engine.

Social Innovation emerges as a creative and innovative response, combining existing assets to achieve meaningful social goals. Frequently, Social Innovation rises from a local initiative’s response to a certain real social issue in a community, but it can also come from external parties who want to make a difference and improve a certain community’s needs.  These initiatives happen because the traditional/ conventional methods aren’t being able to cope and fulfill the community’s needs. However, responsible and sustainable solutions are created only by combining multidisciplinary fields and approaches.

Let’s look at 4 reasons why they go together like Peanut butter and Jelly:

1. Service Design providing structure to Social Innovation

Social Innovation is spontaneous when it comes from the community, therefore it can lack support and structure with a clear direction in its development process. Service Design can be great support because of the structured way of approaching challenges, it is a defined but flexible process for problem-solving. The methodology applied following the Double Diamond offers the foundations for an impactful, coherent, and sustainable development for the Social Innovation initiative.


2. A common holistic and practical approach

As Social Innovation is the response to community needs that are asking for a solution, it urges an actionable, straightforward, and practical approach to achieve a response to the urgent needs in question.

The Service Design methodology is transversal to any field and industry. Its practical approach can guide Social Innovation initiatives in responding to the trigger and offering value. By using Service Design methodology, it’s possible to develop a mindful solution while promoting innovation.

Both Social Innovation and Service Design processes have a holistic and multidisciplinary approach. They integrate a diversity of stakeholders to contribute with their expertise on the subject. Both actively listen to the target/end-users to deeply empathize with them and take them alongside in a co-creation process to achieve the solution that can be implemented in a sustainable way for all stakeholders.  


3. Deeply understanding and empathizing

In both Social Innovation and Service Design initiatives it is of most importance to be unbiased in the analysis process. It’s mandatory to understand and accept the surroundings and the real needs of the society/ community, as well as the differences between all the stakeholders that are involved. In the Empathize phase in the Double Diamond methodology, it’s precisely where that happens, and this is taken into account. Deeply empathizing with the people whose problems you are trying to solve is the only way to achieve something valuable.

Service Design can offer an efficient approach to give some confidence that the investment in the development of Social Innovation initiatives makes sense, and it can prove whether it is worth the investment of its implementation before committing any resources. With the qualitative deep research about the context, it gives trust that you are going in the right direction, meaning that it’s actually solving the right problem and not “almost” hitting the nail on the head. Where it can also provide the insurance of testing the solution before its development, safeguarding the resources invested, meaning it’s solving the problem right.


4. Meaningful solutions

In Social Innovation, the people who have the initiative are the ones who create the solutions to respond to their daily problems and needs. When solving their own problems, they are equally responding to other citizens through participating in the public and social sphere. 

There is a growing dependence on fast expansion and fast results, meaning fast profit. Every day it gets more valuable to speed up testing and diffusion that delivers results efficiently (less time and less money as possible). This creates an even bigger pressure on having meaningful, efficient, but also sustainable answers.

New forms of organizational models are arising, whereas the mainstream polarities between private vs public, needs vs wish, local vs global start getting combined and mixed when Social Innovation solutions enter the picture. Combining resources, skills, and tools for the end result to meet the needs triggered in the first place is a characteristic of Social Innovation, so boundaries between these polarities get blurred. Service Design thrives, whether used in public or private organizations, industries, and contexts, it’s a chameleon that adapts in conformity to the challenge proposed. It’s this parallelism between Social Innovation and Service Design that introduces disruptive ways of thinking and problem-solving strategies, resulting in impactful and meaningful solutions to the community concerned, where traditional approaches failed to be effective.

Want to know more about Design for Social Innovation? Koos facilitated a Meetup with guest experts! Check the main insights from this discussion!


Service Design and Social Innovation have a lot in common since both have a holistic approach to problem-solving to empathize deeply. Service Design can provide the development and growth of Social Innovation initiatives and projects in two manners: 

  • When an initiative rises from the community in a spontaneous way, Service Design can help create a structure and a way to achieve the means;
  • When it comes from an organizational structure, it can help to identify the needs and involve the community.

In both scenarios, it provides guidance, depth, and trust when taking the next step in responding to social needs in an innovative way.

Want to know more about social innovation?

Written by
Mariana Ribeiro
Service Designer
Apr 28, 2021 . 5 mins read
Share this article