The History of the Global Service Jam

An interview with the Jam Initiators.

Thanks to Sophie Renault of the Université d'Orléans for permission to publish her interview. We spoke to Sophie between the first Global Service Jam (March 2011) and the first Global Sustainability Jam (October 2011).

(Questions translated from French, all errors are mine.)

How was the idea of the GSJ born?

Markus is involved in the Global Game Jam movement. We loved the energy of this event and wanted to apply it to our area of interest: service design.

Who is behind the GSJ?

The GSJ was initiated and coordinated by Markus Hormess (who had the initial idea) and Adam Lawrence of WorkPlayExperience, a German-based service design agency.

Markus is German with a background in theoretical physics and process design; Adam is British and has a background in psychology, marketing and theater.

We are a small agency who uses theatrical methods to develop services, mostly for large bluechip customers. One of our basic work philosophies is the theatrical working rule of "doing, not talking" - and this fit well with the idea of the Jam.

For the Jam, we kept our agency in the background and usually appeared simply as "Markus and Adam" - we wanted the Jam to be open, and if it were branded, other agencies would have been less interested in joining. Also, this way was more fun.

What were the steps in the implementation of the GSJ?

The whole Jam was quite spontaneous and was done "between" our other work. A lot of it happened ad hoc.

We had been talking about the Jam idea for a few months, discussing it with a few people (especially EDO, the experience design organisation in Switzerland) , but had no fixed plan except some rules ideas and a vague date. In October 2010 we were at the SDN service design conference in Berlin. In the last few minutes of the Member's Day, we spontaneously wrote up a flipchart with the idea and walked around, asking people to sign up interest.

In the next month, we spoke to several designer friends in several countries who agreed to run jams if it became real. At the ServDes Nordic conference at the start of December 2010, we decided to announce it. We put together a simple website and prepared a Twitter account. We asked the organisers for 5 minutes at the end of the conference and again held up a flipchart, announcing the date and webpage. We simultaneously tweeted the first handful of Jam locations. In the next few weeks and months, Twitter was the main recruiting tool.

What are the strategic challenges of the implementation of such an event?

The Jam was not a strategic project, it was an invitation to play. This is how we usually prefer to work.

So the challenge for the jam was to make it fun, and easy to join. We emphasised the freedom of local groups to shape it as they liked, and the freedom of result formats within the jam. We tried to make it clear that it would be fun, hard work, and a little crazy.

As people joined, we tried to help them communicate their ideas with each other, and just make sure they had space to make them real.

On the practical side, though, the organisation of the upload platform proved a huge technical challenge. Several large-scale professional webhosting companies refused to host it, as they said it was too big for them. Finally, we had to build it ourselves.

Can you explain the choice of "(Super)Heroes" as the Theme for the 2011 Jam?

The theme was chosen by Markus and I after a discussion between the Global Council (five local hosts from Australia, Korea, Turkey, Brazil and USA) and the two of us.

We wanted a theme which would be inspiring to people from any background or field - if they were interested in particular areas of service design, or particular development tools. This meant the theme had to be abstract.

Of our final shortlist of 4 themes, we liked the idea of Heroes with it's overtones of overcoming obstacles, empowerment, doing good, giving, and happy endings. We felt it was important to have a positive, emotional theme for the first Jam.

Some of us were worried about militaristic overtones of "Heroes", so we added the "(Super)-" at the last minute to keep it light, but used brackets "( )" to leave the options open.

What are the strengths of the GSJ? And the weaknesses?

+ People had a lot of fun and worked very hard. We think this was because they felt the freedom, energy and playful atmosphere.

+ The Jam led to a lot of publicity for service design, and gave a lot of people the opportunity to try it out.

+ The Theme was very popular and effective.

+ The Jam gave people the opportunity to work side by side, and led to some permanent contacts - new work groups, friendships, projects. I think that the "doing, not talking" approach made this effect stronger than it would be at a conference, for example.

+ We built a great library of prototyping methods and designs, which is already the subject of academic research.

- Making the end results become real was not one of our main priorities. We were mainly interested in promoting service design, increasing contacts, sharing methods and building a library of prototyping methods. We think that putting more emphasis on end results would have "raised the stakes" and made people less likely to take part. But some participants would have liked to see more of the designs become real, and saw this as a weakness of the Jam.

- Many participants were very busy with their own projects and did not have the time or opportunity to follow the jam on a global level, or share ideas and experiences. Fewer Jammers used Twitter than we expected (this was the main channel for inter-Jam communication) so they missed out on interjam contact.

- We had some technical problems with our home-made upload platform.

How do you define a "Jam"? Why did you choose this formula?

We think of a Jam as we know it from music. In a jam session, musicians come together to practice skills, learn new ones, challenge and build on each other's ideas, meet new people, and have fun. Perhaps some of the ideas will be carried forward, but that is not the main focus. Importantly, they do not come to talk about music, they make it. They are open to working with whatever idea comes along. If it goes wrong, it doesn't matter.

This is the feeling we wanted for the Jam - an emphasis on building something together, spontaneously, fast and dirty, with a low risk.

We think jamming is useful, educational, and fun. It is a good alternative to (and expansion on) what happens at conferences.

Tell me about your other project, the Global Sustainability Jam?

The GSusJ is a sister event to the GSJ. Some GSJ Jammers felt they could have moved further towards real implementation of the projects if they could have researched and prepared before jamming.
We thought that choosing a general subject for a Jam (although not a specific theme) might give people this opportunity to prepare, without losing the spontaneous, creative atmosphere. It would also give us the opportunity to reach a new group of people - in this case the sustainability community - and introduce them to a design-based approach to creativity and problem-solving.
Out of this idea, the GSusJ was born. We chose sustainability because it is interesting, challenging, and always relevant.
We plan to have service design jams in March or April each year, and other, focussed jams in October or November. We will continue this cycle for as long as we have fun.

(Addendum: here's a presentation on the first Jam from the Service Design Network conference in San Francisco. Link. )

(Update: The Global Service Jam and Global Sustainability Jam in 2011 were followed by a Global Service Jam in 2012 with almost 100 cities taking part. A GovJam pilot organised in cooperation with the Federal Government of Australia in June 2012 focussed on public sector service innovation.  The next Jam will be the 2012 Global Sustainability Jam on the first November weekend of 2012. )


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