Yesterday I had a revelation. One of those, ‘aha, now I get it!’ moments. It was Day 2 of the Service Design Thinking workshop with Marc Stickdorn, and right after lunch he eased us into theatre games…without us even realising what was happening.
Seriously, mention the words ‘now we are going to role play all afternoon’ to a group, and unless they are a talented bunch of extroverts who love improvisation, I’m betting that people would start to feel shy. And a little bit worried.
Secondly, I must also confess that I’ve read about theatre games as a tool for social change and design research, but I just never imagined myself doing it. I’ve been a little dismissive in thinking, “oh, that’s just for those actors, who are comfortable with it as a method…me, I’ll use some other tools in my projects”.
But having had a chance to try it out, I’ve got say I’m thoroughly impressed. Let me explain a little about how we worked and why it was so powerful, and I’ll try to frame my description with a bit of information about the techniques I’ve learned from Marc (and also @adamstjohn and @markusedgar who were kind enough to skype in to the class this morning to share some of their knowledge of investigative rehearsal).
Why borrow methods from theatre for service design?
As @adamstjohn explained this morning, theatre provides a toolset for modelling any human interaction. It’s the only one he knows that can deal with different levels and layers of emotion. It’s also a quick and affordable way to iterate, test and prototype services.
It’s critical to create a safe space for all participants. We talked about a few ways to achieve this:
- Closed door, closed curtain - lock out the world and prying outsiders.
- Shut down all media - say no to twitter, phones, any recording devices.
- Warm up exercise - aim to get people laughing and failing straight away, so that whatever comes next, cant be that bad. As an example, I was instructed to stand in the middle of two people. One person was repeatedly shouting questions about colour into my left ear, the other person was shouting mathematical questions into my right. Neither would stop asking the same question until I answered them correctly. Then they would pick another and go. As you can imagine, it was really overwhelming, we’re just not designed to multitask like that, so you’re forced to switch focus from one person to the other, and laugh at yourself failing miserably. The other challenge was to mirror any physical actions that the facilitator did. It was really hard and ridiculously funny.
Another tip from @adamstjohn and @markusedgar that I really respect:
- Take your clients and their problems very seriously, but don’t take yourself too seriously. That’s why the props, like the squeaky rubber chicken, are important. And, also, judging from this amusing clip, karaoke at the at the end of a presentation (finally, someone at a conference speaking my language :) ) Note** the rubber chicken also acts as a great prop during rehearsals…so flexible!
Ok, so the scene is set, everyone’s relaxed and enjoying themselves, but what does this have to do with service design?
Being a real novice at this, I can only explain how the method has fitted into our process within the confines of this workshop.
You may remember from yesterday’s post that I talked about personas. From there, we developed a customer journey map, which charts a user experience through different stages of a service.
From this draft, we then did a deep dive into one small touchpoint, or interaction, along the journey, by storyboarding it.
We worked as a team to develop the story, then @bencrothers put his amazing sketching skills to work.
We now had our scene and were ready for rehearsal!
The rules of investigative rehearsal
- Set the room up the way you want it.
- Each group needs a director, who will guide the others through the scene.
- Each group has a designated note taker, who can document observations and insights.
- Engage rubber chicken as key prop!
- The broader group must count in the scene with a, “3,2,1, GO!”
- The first take runs its natural course, with no interruptions from the broader group. This is so everyone understands how the scene is currently working.
- Next - repeat the scene from the beginning, but now with the opportunity for disruptions from the broader group. At anytime, an observer can yell, “stop!”, explain what they want to change about the scene and then jump in and demonstrate it.
- Which leads me to the key rule: don’t talk, do it!
- The other technique that I just love, is called, ‘subtext’. Basically, at any time an observer can enter the scene, place their hand on the shoulder of an actor, and speak the subtext, that is, what the actor is really thinking but not saying. There can be layers of subtext, as people form in chains, going deeper into the hidden thoughts and motivations behind the first layer of action. It’s hard to explain without seeing it, but I found it to be quite powerful as it takes us to a place that feels raw, unfiltered and honest. When operating at that level, you can quickly see where the heart of the problem is, and immediately start acting out how you might address it. Here’s a photo from @subsystem that illustrates the setup:
This all sounds great, but are corporate clients really going to dig it?
This is a question I had for Adam and Markus, and they provided some great answers.
Firstly, spend as much time as a need setting up that safe space, to really ease people into the experience. In an environment where employees are constantly measured on success, show them that it’s more than fine to fail in this safe space.
Secondly, involve them in rearranging the furniture in the room to their liking - this gives everyone ownership of the space.
Thirdly, try a few techniques that encourage an incremental level of honesty (it’s critical that everyone has some level of protection from potential negative consequences of truth telling, especially if the boss is in the room). Forming small groups to talk about some of the things that are wrong in the workplace, then having the opportunity to pick which ideas to share to share with the broader group, provides a filter, so people only share the things they comfortable sharing. The other technique mentioned is the ‘one-word story’ where as a group, each participant adds one word in succession eg. I might say ‘the’ and the next person say’s ‘worst’ and then next, ‘day’…etc. till it becomes meaningful. Apparently, this can lead to incredibly honest results too, without any one person feeling too exposed.
I could probably talk about this for much longer (see what a convert I am!), but I think I’ll cut it here for now. If you have any stories to share about theatre and design research, I’d love to hear them too. Oh, and don’t forget to check out Adam and Markus’ website - Work Play Experience and learn from the professionals!