Embedding service design skills within Dublin’s youth services

Service design workshop in Dublin

Service design workshop in Dublin


Youth unemployment is one of the biggest social and economic challenges in Ireland. Between 2014 – 2015 levels of youth unemployment were as high as 25.9%.

Long spells of unemployment can have serious long-term effects on individuals, including reduced earnings and social exclusion.

Partas is a social enterprise based in Tallaght, South Dublin that has worked with unemployed people since it was set up in 1984. For the SPIDER project they chose to work with Youthreach, (a Department of Education and Skills official education, training and work experience programme for early school leavers) to redesign services the offered to young unemployed people in Dublin. 

Youthreach offers young people the opportunity to identify options within adult life, the service design process has helped the organisation to enhance the experience for young people on the road to employment. 

The Process

Through user research Partas identified that the best way to support young people in Dublin was to embed service design skills the competencies of their own organisation, and use the project to train other youth service organisations in their area, including the Youthreach Programme.

This was achieved by undertaking a series of training workshops in service design methods, tools and process delivered by the service design consultancy Nahman. By taking part in this training Partas was able to upskill all members of staff in service design techniques and enable them to take a service design approach across all programmes of work.

Once they had the knowledge to undertake a service design approach they began trialing the process with Youthreach. The first stage was a stakeholder mapping session, followed by research activities where various new techniques were tried. The aim of this research was to identify new voices and insights from each stakeholders group, including funders, managers, teachers, students and parents.

In total, Partas staff interviewed over 50 young people and youth service providers to gain insight into their experience of education, training and courses and work experience. Following the interviews a number of insight workshops with young people and Youthreach staff took place that examined the barriers to employment and the services that Youthreach are currently offering.

From this research they were able to gain a number of insights into YouthReach’s current services and the users experience of these services. It was clear that many young people lacked self-belief and felt disengaged with training and employ- ment. At the same time, Youthreach staff were struggling and felt stretched to capacity.

The Impact

Through the insights gained in the research stage of the project the project team were then able to introduce three simple changes that Youthreach will implement from September 2015.

Introduction of a mentoring system.
When a young person arrives at Youthreach it can often be a daunting experience. By using a mentoring system a new arrival will be paired with an older student. This helps new students adjust to the new environment and also provides responsibility for existing students.

Changing the way career planning is implemented.
From the research undertaken by Partas it was clear that what most young people attending Youthreach wanted to gain the skills and experience to get a job. Previously work experience was delivered for one week towards the end of the Youthreach programme. Having more focus on career planning and delivering it throughout the programme would ensure that the young people are better prepared for employment and more likely to find a job at the end of the process.

Making the environment a more welcoming place for a new arrival.
This would involve adding simple dividers to the entrances so when the young person arrives they no longer feel like all the focus is on them and are given more time to settle in to the new environment.

By taking a service design approach the project team were able to understand the needs of all stakeholders in the project and come up with feasible low cost solutions that ensure Youthreach are able to deliver the best possible service to young people in Dublin.

At the same time Partas have developed their own service design skills and posess a valuable new capability. This has already resulted in new opportunities and partnerships with organisations in other areas of Dublin. 

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