Last month, we (the Relationships Project team) shared a first attempt at a set of relationship-centred design considerations with our growing group of co-producers. We’re very grateful to everyone who has shared their thoughts and reflections with us. Our thinking has come on a long way as a result of this collaboration.
The design considerations are intended to be a broad and open entry point to thinking about relationship-centred design. Our first draft included eight considerations, each of which consisted of a statement that we believe to be true, and a set of questions which invite you to reflect on the statement in relation to your particular ‘place’. We refer to ‘place’ in a broad sense – it could be physical or digital, big or small, formal or informal. The intention is that the considerations are useful to a broad audience, and that we can pool ideas and learning from a wide range of sectors and settings.
We asked our co-producers to reflect on whether each consideration is useful and how it could be improved. We also invited broader reflections on the considerations as a whole.
What we learnt
Not all relationships are good
Some relationships can be a source of pain and prevent us from achieving the things that matter to us. In response, we’ve added a design consideration around the quality of relationships.
We need to understand barriers
Most people agree that everything works better when relationships are valued, but there are sometimes things – competing objectives, logistical barriers, cultural conventions etc – that prevent this from happening. It’s important to identify and understand what these are, which we can affect, and how.
We also need to understand enablers
Whilst it’s important to be aware of barriers, we were reminded that we should also think about enablers. There are some things that many of us already do which help us to build and sustain good relationships. We need to identify these things so that we can do more of them. We’ve started doing this by developing a bank of case studies which showcase examples of where a relational approach has been used to good effect. We’ll be publishing these on our website over the next few weeks.
Relationships have inherent – as well as halo – value
We talk a lot about the power of relationships to improve all outcomes, from health, to employee satisfaction, to customer loyalty. We believe that making an economic case for a relationship-centred approach is necessary to get buy-in and support for this agenda, but we were reminded by our co-producers that relationships are not just a means to some other end but have an inherent value. It’s important to keep sight of this to prevent us from designing places that end up focusing on process-driven, impersonal transactions rather than real relationships.
We should keep it practical
Version 2 of the relationship-centred design considerations
We’ve taken all the feedback we’ve received into account and had a go at revising the considerations. In the next round of development, we want to understand whether these considerations are useful – i.e. whether they could help you to improve your place by putting relationships at its centre
We’re striving to continually amend and improve these, so please do let us know if you have any feedback in the comments section below or by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. What are you trying to achieve?
Most things are better when relationships are valued. Some outcomes are likely to be particularly influenced by the strength of the relationship.
What are the outcomes that matter to you and how can relationships help?
2. How will you know if you’ve been successful?
Given that we expect relationship-centred thinking to produce outcomes that matter, we should also expect to be able to assess whether this is the case.
What is an appropriate way for you to judge whether relationships have helped you to achieve the outcomes that matter to you?
3. Which relationships should you focus on?
We have lots of different types of relationships. All of these matter, but they matter for different reasons.
Which of your relationships matter most to the outcomes that you’re trying to affect?
4. What does a ‘good’ relationship look like for you?
Not all relationships are good. The quality of a relationship matters.
What does a ‘good’ relationship look like for you?
5. What’s stopping you from developing and maintaining ‘good’ relationships?
Most of us believe in the importance of relationships but face obstacles to prioritising them. We need to identify these barriers in order to develop a plan that is realistic.
What are the barriers that are stopping you from developing good relationships? Which of these can you influence and which are beyond your control?
6. What can you do (more of) to develop and maintain ‘good’ relationships?
There are lots of ways in which you can invest in and prioritise the development of good relationships. Some of these will be more suitable to your context than others.
What can you do to develop and maintain ‘good’ relationships to help you achieve your outcomes?
And then for the Aladdin’s cave…
We are also developing a set of practical instruments which compliment the considerations, enabling relationship-centred thinking to be more rigorously and thoughtfully applied in different places, sectors and settings. One approach wouldn’t work everywhere so we want to build a real Aladdin’s Cave of analytical instruments, creative exercises and social games for individual application and for working together. We are designing this treasury to meet a need and to serve a purpose in each of three phases….
In the beginning
There are reasons why common sense isn’t always common practise. Getting started on changing things is often the most difficult part. We have found on other projects that practical tools, even simple diagnostic instruments, help everyone to get involved, to better understand the challenge and the opportunity and to build confidence in the possibility of positive change.
In the middle
Effective and sustainable relationship centred design isn’t just about product. Doing it must also be an exercise in relationship building. Only by working together can we best understand and accommodate every perspective. Appropriately customised collaborative exercises and social games, engage and involve the broadest constituencies.
In the end
We know that most places don’t work well when relationships are undervalued or at the very least they don’t work as well as they could. Individually designing or redesigning from a relationship centred perspective will ultimately improve outcomes for everybody.