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Let’s jam! Designing to reduce inequality

Our innovation lead reviews the service design sessions that took place last month and how mixed-experienced groups came up with great solutions to help disadvantaged groups to keep active.

4th April 2024

by Nicki Russell
Innovation lead, Sport England

What can a team of strangers achieve in 11 hours?

Every year the Innovation Unit partners with the Royal College of Art to host a ‘service design jam’ to address a different pressing social challenge.

This year we sponsored the jam and provided the brief for the session to explore new and novel ways to ensure that disabled people from a diverse range of backgrounds can be more active.

OK… but what exactly is a service design jam, I can hear you ask.

A service design jam is a two-day, high-paced, high-energy design sprint, where participants split into teams to design a service that addresses a real-world problem.

The aim is to apply user-centred design methods to complex systems, creating practical and innovative services or products to improve user experiences.

A group of women seat around a table on their computers discussing ideas to reduce inequality.

At the end of the second day ideas are presented to a panel and prizes are awarded to the winning design.

It is a great platform for collaborative problem-solving, a chance to develop new solutions and a way to grow design capabilities.

What was the brief?

Through Uniting the Movement we are committed to focussing our investment and energy on the people and communities who face the biggest barriers to being active.

We know that disabled people experience some of the biggest challenges and the more characteristics related to inequality a person has, the less likely they are to be active.

So we asked teams to choose between two disabled communities to focus on either disabled young people from culturally diverse communities or LGBTQ+ disabled adults.

The process

We introduced our brief and then teams were formed. The groups included Sport England staff, partners and students from the Innovation Unit Design Academy and Royal College of Art’s service design course.

Teams followed the double diamond structure – discover, define, develop and deliver.

Through Uniting the Movement we are committed to focussing our investment and energy on the people and communities who face the biggest barriers to being active.

Day one was about ensuring teams ‘design the right thing’ through the proper research and framing of the challenge.

Teams conducted desktop research and interviews with their target audience and users were placed at the front and centre of the design process.

Specialists from partner organisations Disability Rights UK, Mermaids, Activity Alliance, Street Games, Sport England colleagues and individuals with lived experience provided support, guidance and feedback to the teams (either online or in person).

Teams also took to the streets of London to speak to members of the public: from faith leaders at local mosques, to parents waiting for the school pick-up or at the park.

Day two was all about ensuring teams designed ‘the thing right’, generating ideas and creating prototypes to put the stakeholders to test, learn and adapt.

One team spoke to two PE teachers who were so impressed with the concept, they asked for it to be pitched to their headteacher!

Theories of change, user journeys and pitches were created ready to wow the judging panel.

The ideas

The jam culminated in presentations from all six teams hoping to hit the criteria the judges were looking for: beauty, brains, heart, magic, mastery and bravery; plus Sport England’s values of being innovative, collaborative, inclusive and ambitious.

A whole range of tools including Lego, Canva documents and even pipe cleaners were used to bring ideas to life, always with the user in mind.


It is hard to capture the energy, creativity and power of design-thinking that I witnessed over the two days, but my biggest takeaways are:

  • Collaboration is key. It was brilliant to see the dynamics of the teams, with students working alongside professionals and service design experts, as well as individuals new to the subject, and all bringing a diverse range of lived experiences. It was this variety of backgrounds, working collaboratively on a shared brief, that created truly innovative magic.
  • The power of partnerships. The insights that teams gathered from our partners, in person and online, made a huge difference to really grounding the concepts to build upon.
  • The importance of freedom. From live user research, ideation, testing prototypes and forming presentations, it was truly remarkable what the teams achieved in just two days to tackle such complex system challenges when seeing barriers to innovation disappear.

What’s next?

These are truly exciting times!

We will be sharing more information and some of the brilliant ideas and concepts that came from the jam over the next few months, so keep an eye on our channels.

Thank you to all our partners and those who joined our efforts during the jam.

If you want to keep learning about innovation, we’d love to hear from you.

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