THE MAPPING PROCESS
Our design team – Susi Brister, Adam Niederpreum, and Kelsey Greathouse – has been working with Recycled Reads, a used bookstore that’s a branch of the Austin Public Library system. They sell both ex-library materials and donations accepted from the public. In the early stages of our research, we interviewed 24 research participants in various roles at Recycled Reads, the Austin Public Library, and the City of Austin, and accompanied them while doing their daily jobs. From this research, we recorded approximately 25 hours of audio interviews, which we then transcribed.
From the total hours of transcription, we selected 2 hours across 6 participants to map into service slices. The purpose of creating service slices is to focus on what happens within a service during a particular moment in time, but intentionally separate that moment out into 4 separate diagrams – one diagram each for:
- Behavior & Information Exchange
- Power, Policy, Influence, & Emotion
- Artifacts found in the environment
- Diagram of the environment
Mapping actions, feelings, objects, and environment separately allows us to separate each from the other, and examine how these interact and affect each other. The service slices allow us to make sense of a complex system by pulling layers of that system apart.
SETTING A TEAM LEARNING INTENTION
We’ve had the feedback that as a team (and individually), we tend to be product-focused rather than process-focused. This has been beneficial to us because we have been working toward the goal of crafting our client presentations alongside the methods and research that support that presentation.
But has also caused, at times, less emphasis on the process itself – so the underlying work and synthesis itself has been minimized in favor of the presentation of a small portion of that work, rather than flushing out the research more fully before starting on the presentation.
This time, our assignment spanned the week break of school between Quarter 1 and Quarter 2. Since we had no classes to attend and no other assignments due, we challenged ourselves to take the necessary time and attention to focus on a more thorough, rigorous process and think less about any final structured outcome.
To accomplish this, we worked together in conjunction as a team, making sense of our data, but also making sense of the new methodology, leveraging each other’s perspectives to work through the complexity of the assignment.
SERVICE SLICE DIAGRAMS
Mapping the service slices was time-consuming and challenging, particularly teasing apart what people were doing (Behavior & Information Exchange) and what they were feeling about what they were doing (Power, Policy, Influence & Emotion), largely because the latter required a degree of interpretation. While what people were doing was somewhat obvious and factual, the power, policy, influence, and emotions that surrounded those actions were not directly expressed.
Although we only used 2 hours of transcription for our maps, they became complex and chaotic very quickly. With one glance, it becomes clear how interconnected behaviors and emotions are within an organization. We made several iterations of our diagrams to help us better understand those connections, while retaining all the data from the transcripts.
When we finished mapping our environment diagram, we realized that most actions within Recycled Reads happen at the front desk, and in the very back room of the store. This is represented visually by a huge absence of artifacts in the blank middle space. For our final iteration of our service slices to present to our client, we decided to reintegrate some specific interactions from all four maps, effectively collapsing them again to a single diagram, but with much greater simplicity and focus on a few key areas. To reinforce the two discrete areas of action within the store, we mirrored that spacing visually in our final composite service slice diagram to present to our client.
FINAL DIAGRAM: INTERACTIONS AND AREAS OF OPPORTUNITY
When presenting our service slices to Recycled Reads, we wanted to focus on two key opportunity areas that we uncovered through this process, one in the front of house and one in the back of house. Although we aren’t going deep into problematic issues at this stage in our overall process, we wanted to bring up these two areas for initial discussion and to lay the groundwork for our next presentation, when we will be discussing problem areas in more depth.
The main artifact we identified in the front of house as an area of opportunity is a scale located at the front desk that is used to weigh customer book purchases when they leave the store. Because Recycled Reads’ primary purpose is to divert used library materials from the landfill, they keep track of the weight of those materials as they leave through the front door, and report that to the administration at the Austin Public Library. What we discovered through mapping out service slices was that even though the scale performed a very important role in their service, it was not addressed in the customer interaction in any way. Customers weren’t aware of what was happening with the scale, nor of its importance in the role of carrying out Recycled Reads’ mission. Moreover, we discovered that several other side tasks are undertaken by staff at the front desk that may be disruptive to their role as the primary customer-facing staff member of the store.
In the back of house operations, we also identified an artifact that was influencing behavior in different ways, depending on the individual staff member or volunteer. Ex-library books and public donations are sorted in the back of house into books that are kept to sell in the store, and those that are sent downstream to another repurposing partner. A major part of this sorting process is a set of criteria determined and revised as needed by the manager of Recycled Reads, which is referred to as a sorting chart. The chart defines, by category (or genre) of book, how recently published a book must be and what condition it must be in to be kept for resale or not.
Through our service slice mapping, we discovered that one staff member was aware of the sorting chart criteria, and sometimes used it to determine what books he kept and what books he didn’t. On many occasions, though, he would override those criteria and instead base his judgments on his own personal criteria, whether that be personal preference and censorship, or a knowledge of current book-purchasing trends. An air of autonomy in one’s job is present at Recycled Reads, and this particular staff member embraced that with gusto.
On the other hand, a volunteer doing the same sorting job used the chart very differently. Not only did he rely heavily on the sorting chart criteria but expressed that he felt he would always do so. Moreover, there were times for him when the chart wasn’t specific enough, and he required the input of the manager or other librarian staff members for an ultimate decision. Where the staff member sorting books reveled in his ability to make autonomous judgments, this volunteer felt more of a struggle with some of the ambiguity.
The three full-time staff members at Recycled Reads that we presented our service slice diagrams to were impressed by the complexity that the initial, chaotic maps illustrated, and commented that they couldn’t believe so much was happening in their space. They appreciated the more focused version that illustrated the single front of house and single back of house areas of opportunity.
The issue that emerged with the scale at the front desk was appreciated but did not have as much impact as the map showing the varying usage of the back of house sorting chart, which was discussed with enthusiasm. The manager mentioned that she had begun to recently pick up on a few hints that there was something to be addressed, but our diagrams brought some clarity and definition to what was just beginning to be recognized. We discussed the dichotomy between autonomy and structure and she expressed a burgeoning reflection that she herself may have moved away from the sorting chart and was not being an appropriate role model for staff and volunteers.
We have completed our service slices and are working to finish up identifying behavioral and attitudinal patterns from our collected transcription data. In combination, these patterns and our service slice diagrams will point us toward creating insights – provocative statements about behavior – that can be presented to our client as the basis for addressing distinct areas of opportunity at Recycled Reads.