Why was SILK set up?
Today we are working in a different world. The context in which we work is changing rapidly. People are increasing and resources are decreasing. There is huge complexity. The challenge for public sector: how can we work together to make the most efficient and effective use of existing resources? In the last decade or so there has been the emergence of a new type of response to the traditional rigid planning approach. Labs are now being recognised across the world as spaces where people can work together in an agile and multidisciplinary context to solve problems together. Yet there are still only a handful of Labs that work from within a Government body.
SILK was set up in 2007 through a partnership between a design agency Engine Service Design and Kent County Council. Kent County Council has 35,000 employees and the county has 1.4million residents. SILK was set up as an experiment with an aim to reconnect policy and decision makers with peoples’ day to day lives. This was and still is an ambitious task.
Two demonstration projects were carried out in 2007 - one on Social Care and one on Families. What was learned during these 2 projects informed the design of the SILK Diamond Framework and Method Deck which have subsequently been used in every project. However, this first year confirmed that above all, adhering to the Values and Principles that had been tested in the demonstration projects would determine the future direction and success of SILK.
What is your ‘lab’ like?
We don't have a 'lab', there is no white room - the community of Kent is our lab. We have two hot desks within a Kent County Council office.
What is social innovation and why do we need it?
We believe that social innovation is about culture and shared experiences. We believe that social innovation is about people, their values, relationships and networks. We believe we can all be more innovative in how we recognise collective value – we are calling this the priceless economy.
How many team members are there?
Today there are 2 permanent members of staff. This small team is agile, responsive, smart and well-connected, yet significantly part of a large and diverse network from across Kent and beyond which includes specialists and generalists from all fields in a professional and voluntary capacity.
How are people recruited for projects?
During projects a range of people become involved, Kent residents, those with lived experience, professionals working in the particular field etc. At the beginning of a project we would try to make contact with all the relevant people and take a network approach to finding out who needs to be involved in a particular project. We then work with people on a voluntary basis and with those who choose to be involved in the project. We find this works well as you get a group of people who are passionate about a subject and want to be involved, either in their own time or as part of their job. People from all parts of the council are pulled into projects and will have differing levels of involvement depending on their role. Some may become quite involved in the project, getting involved with meeting residents and learning the SILK approach along the way, while others may not be so involved and may just want to be updated about how the project is progressing.
The only time we really recruit people is when we need expertise that are not available within the immediate team or with the group of residents and professional we are working with. So for example we recently commissioned an author/illustrator/film-maker for the Dementia Diaries book. We had a group of young carers and families living with dementia who wanted to share their stories in the form of a book and we needed someone who could help with this. Other instances will be where we have needed designers to create a document or something else that we cannot do in house, but we do try where possible to use the experience and skills of the project team and this helps to keep costs low.
What is your methodology and how is it used?
The SILK Toolkit includes the Diamonds Framework and the Method Deck. The same stages Initiate | Create | Test | Define, inspired by Design-thinking, are transferable across strategy, service design and sustainable community projects. Over the years we have adapted our application of the Toolkit since it was designed in 2008. Significantly we have changed Sustainable ‘services’ to Sustainable communities – we recognize the significance of terminology and language when working across cultural borders. When we first developed the Method Deck, it was designed as a project planning tool – however it is now primarily used as a prompt when planning. Instead we always use the Method Deck to record a project process in a consistent way within the framework, along with a narrative. There is no right or wrong way to use the Toolkit.
An essential component of the SILK approach is bringing together new groups of people. New collaborations give new perspectives; assumptions and stereotypes are challenged; new solutions are found.
Our strapline - Starting with People – is absolutely critical to everything we do. Every project in our portfolio starts by talking to people who are closest to the issues. .
All people who work on SILK projects appear to be motivated by positive change, whether participating in a voluntary and/or professional capacity. We call this a coalition of the willing – we don’t push on closed doors. See each person as a contributor, as an asset; not a deficit. This approach starts to reorganise people away from hierarchical silos and duplicated services towards a community asset model which cuts horizontally across discipline and sector boundaries.
Problem solving that starts with people themselves as equal and active participants creates a different project environment. This positive dynamic has to be earned through reciprocal exchange - participation in shared experiences to achieve results together. Where diverse groups of people have genuine and collective ownership, the group grows in resilience and there is increased confidence to challenge the status quo.
At SILK we include people with lived experience in every project team or as part of a reference group that we can draw on for assistance in all aspects of the project including proof-reading, design, filming, analysis, user testing etc Managing expectations is a priority in every project. A clear and bespoke communications strategy for all those with an interest in the project is essential. It is imperative to know your audience. Some people like to come to meetings, some people use Twitter, some people like email and some people prefer a good old chat.