How to prototype your service-oriented social enterprise?

How to prototype your service-oriented social enterprise?

Author: Paula Beudean, Danis Foundation (Romania)

Published on: 2022/04/18


In January and March 2022, our training course experiences have led us to meet and work with more than 50 young people interested in developing diverse social initiatives or young social entrepreneurs planning or already running service-oriented social businesses. Their entrepreneurial ideas included initiatives, such as creative or educational hubs for marginalized communities, educational apps, workshops or camps for kids, nutritional programs, art galleries, social cafes, youth clubs, social-oriented bookstores, etc.

While working with them through the design thinking process, we saw that most of our workshop participants were struggling to understand and develop the first prototypes of their social initiatives. If they had almost no problem imagining what a prototype would look like for a product-based enterprise, they could not envision how to approach this step, in the design thinking process, for a service.

Thinking that other social entrepreneurs might have a similar problem, let’s explore together how to prototype experiences with your audiences or customers!


Thoroughly understand your audience or customers

No ideation process should start before empathizing with your audience or customers. Go in the field, talk with people, organize focus groups, observe people’s behaviors, collect stories, listen to what they say, ask them what they feel and think… Do all these or even more to fully understand their needs regarding your business idea and discover meaningful insights about their life and understanding of life so that you can come up with creative solutions. Your final goal is to develop a list of “pains” they have, a list of “gains” they want to obtain, and a list of “jobs” they would like to be done by businesses like yours. Only when these three lists are ready (many post-its with a lot of information will be the sign that you might be ready), you should start brainstorming to design the service experience you want to provide to your audience or customers.


Check your ideas through the first prototypes

From the many-many ideas you would develop in the ideation process (keep in mind that the ideation is about the quantity, not the quality of the ideas), select a couple of them and go back to your customers with a first prototype. The first prototype could take the form of a business pitch, a story of a client who would access a specific service, a drawing or a plan of the space you want to create, a journey map of a customer interacting with your business, photos or music to help your customers feel the atmosphere you would like to create, professional profiles of the experts who would serve them, etc.


How to reach the MVP phase in the case of a service?

The Blue Service Print – that is the plan you should create for developing the MVP (Minimum Viable Product) for your service-oriented social enterprise. As the name says it, the Blue Service Print (BSP) is a blueprint that you should draft for each service you plan to include in your business. The BSP includes all the moments of the process that is behind the service experience you want to deliver to your customers. These moments are called “actions” that are part of the “mission” you take for your customers, from getting their attention to the purchasing moment and follow-up actions. Then, for each action, you would define the touch points: when and how the client would interact with your business in the specific moments of your “mission”. Finally, you would envision and describe all the activities you should do, visible or invisible to the customers, in order to provide them with the service experience you promise.

The BPS should be used then to develop your final prototypes – services ready for testing with customers, such as tests for specific ads you would use, samples of workshops/ camps/ training courses, pilots of specific programs, immersive experiences to your new space – explaining with videos, images, printed materials, textures, etc. how the new café or the new club or the new hub would look like, etc. All these tests of the final prototypes should help you make the last decisions before fully launching your social initiatives and services on the market.


Coming back to our short-term training courses, the social entrepreneurs had the opportunity to work on, create their first prototypes and try them out in small groups. For instance, some of them set post-its on the floor to help us imagine how their social café space will be arranged, others played some music inviting us to “taste” the atmosphere they would like to create in their art gallery, others drew the journey map of a customer accessing their educational hub, while others told us the story of a kid participating in camp designed to a build confidence and social skills.

In conclusion, when they understood that prototyping is about helping customers interact and feel their business ideas and design thinking is about creative confidence, they identified the perfect first prototype for their social initiatives and started building it.