I’ve been thinking about whether what we’re doing with SameRoom is just a case of putting ourselves in someone else's shoes.

These ponderings have sprung from a conversation with someone who was saying that our approach to user-centred design was not a new concept for them and that it was something they were used to when they worked in another organisation.

They said how they were used to walking through the service as if they were a customer or service user, considering what might need to be changed and improving their service through putting themselves in the other person’s shoes.

I understood what they meant when they shared their thoughts with me, but there was a niggling thought in the back of my mind… one I couldn’t quite verbalise at that moment in time.

The question was: ‘Is this really what we’re doing here? Putting ourselves in the shoes of the customer?

The more I think about it, the more I disagree that the approach we take to user-centred design allows us to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes.

SameRoom goes much further than that.

With SameRoom, we walk alongside the actual people who are going to use our services to experience things through their eyes.

What does ‘walking alongside someone’ mean in practice?

It might mean being present with someone whilst they use our services or it could be investing time in getting to know some of our service users on a deeper level (through interviewing and spending considerable time with them) to understand where they’re coming from.

It’s so vital because it’s impossible to guess the experience of our residents due to the assumptions, history and context that we bring with us and are unable to put aside.

For example, I’m in the fortunate position of never having needed to apply for housing benefit and council tax support. I can put myself in the shoes of someone who does need this financial aid. I can think about how the process can become simpler, more automated, less hoops to jump through, but I cannot know about what is in my ‘blind spot’ - things I’m unaware of as someone who is not the user.

What could these be? At a guess, they could be:

  • The fear I feel when communicating with the Councils because of the language used by council staff.
  • My inability to find time to apply for support if I’m a working parent juggling the responsibility of looking after my children and holding down two jobs to make ends meet
  • Disabilities or language barriers which make getting any support difficult

These could be right or it could be wildly wrong. Without asking our users and walking alongside them to find out about their experience, I can’t know what barriers exist. I can only make a guess.

And so, for me, the difference with SameRoom is that we walk alongside the user instead of just trying to put ourselves in their shoes.

And whilst we’re walking with them on the journey of using our services, a SameRoom approach helps us to stay open and curious about their experience. We ask questions, actively seek to hear their experiences and test any prototypes with them to find out what we’ve got right and what we’ve got wrong.

Walking alongside the user is the best way I can see to remove any blind spots we have.  

And that’s what I find really exciting about using a SameRoom approach - the fact that the user, not just our assumptions about the user, can help shape, change and design services to meet their needs.