Immigration is a hot topic, one where opinions are clear about which is the politically correct standpoint. Integration, on the other hand, is not as well defined, and when it comes to stepping up and daring to provide solutions it’s a hot potato.

Public sector organizations tend to see societal challenges as obstacles that cost money. We argue that service design thinking provides a framework that can turn these challenges into tangible business opportunities along the entire value chain.

According to a recent study done by the Swedish morning paper Dagens Nyheter, 63 percent of Swedes consider immigration beneficial for the country, yet a majority (60 percent) believe that integrating immigrants into Swedish society doesn’t work. Another study by Statistic Sweden shows the unemployment gap between immigrants and Swedes to be the largest in Europe. After 20 years of living in the country it does shrink somewhat but is never bridged, despite the fact that historically immigrants are more highly educated than the average Swede.

So where do service design and integration meet?

There are many theories about which ingredients are necessary for successful integration; pillars of political efforts include social integration (language proficiency and somewhere to live) and economic integration (employment and education). Cultural integration (norms, attitudes, customs and traditions), on the other hand, is left to its own devices.

Design for integration

In many parts of the world, design thinking principles have proven effective in addressing challenges faced by governments and municipal institutions. Solutions often lie in embarking on a process that originates from both those who affect and those who are affected by the solutions. In the sensitive and sometimes controversial case of cultural integration, design thinking could create initiatives that originate from all involved, as opposed to a “top down” approach that has low odds for success and is often interpreted incorrectly. Both hosts and new arrivals would be included in creating solutions that cater to the core of their aspirations, needs and requirements.

Together, designers, immigrants and citizens would map out the integration experience/journey, extract its emotional highs and lows, and pinpoint vital touchpoints. We all need to understand the conflicts that reside in cultural mismatches and how they can be bridged or more smoothly work in tandem.

Design for integration

A small-scale example of cultural integration with a strong outcome is our recent project for the real estate firm Ikano Bostad, which was aimed at creating better stability, integration and satisfaction in the Rågsved neighborhood of Stockholm. Here, service design thinking turned challenges into both a better business opportunity and a safer, more attractive living environment.
Ikano began working with integration in 2010 and, unlike other players in the real estate market, applied a customer-driven approach – which we’ve had the pleasure of supporting through applied methods such as contextual inquiry and co-creation. Together with the families and individuals who live in Rågsved, Ikano and Veryday identified numerous actions that now, some time after implementation, have led to a 4 percent increase in ratings of living satisfaction, 6 percent higher ratings of perceived security and safety in the neighborhood compared to the rest of the country, and 6 percent higher ratings on tidiness of the communal area compared to the rest of the country.

As a nation, Sweden needs to start acting. Daring as it may seem but with a population that includes designers that are skilled solution seekers and creators, applying a design approach to integration is the most sensible way forward. Design employs innovation processes that originate and build upon user needs, ambitions and aspirations. The design process guarantees that solutions are formed according to what users actually aspire to, need, want and understand.