The Goldilocks Conundrum: The ‘Just Right’ Conditions for Design to Achieve Impact in Public and Third Sector Projects
Joyce S. R. Yee, Hazel White


What are the most important conditions necessary for a design-led approach to innovation or transformation to flourish in an organization? This paper introduces and discusses three ‘just right’ conditions for design to achieve the desired impact in the context of public and third sector projects, where third sector refers to a broad range of community and volunteer groups. The paper draws on a six-month Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funded project, aimed at identifying and mapping the impact and value of design in public and third sector organizations. Our research insights are derived from six case studies that were co-created with the project participants of service innovation projects. The case studies were selected based on three criteria: 1) an acknowledged value that design-led approaches have brought to the project; 2) access to a triangulated base of stakeholders: service users, service commissioners and service designers; 3) projects that cover a range of sectors from healthcare, mental well-being, youth services and social care across England, Scotland and Australia. In total eighteen conditions were identified and the ten most important conditions were selected and ranked by the research participants through a workshop validation session. We further clustered these into three overarching themes: community building, capacity, and leadership based on the authors’ previous experiences with public service innovation projects. This research suggests that community building is valued above leadership and capacity as the most important condition for design to have the greatest impact in innovation and transformation projects.

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