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Reshaping mental models – enabling innovation through service design

Josina Vink (CTF – Service Research Center, Karlstad University, Karlstad, Sweden) (Experio Lab, County Council of Värmland, Karlstad, Sweden)
Bo Edvardsson (CTF – Karlstad University, Karlstad, Sweden)
Katarina Wetter-Edman (County Council of Sörmland, Eskilstuna, Sweden) (Örebro University School of Business, Örebro, Sweden)
Bård Tronvoll (Department of Marketing, Inland Norway University of Applied Sciences, Elverum, Norway) (CTF – Service Research Center, Karlstad University, Karlstad, Sweden)

Journal of Service Management

ISSN: 1757-5818

Article publication date: 4 December 2018

Issue publication date: 14 February 2019




The purpose of this paper is to analyze how service design practices reshape mental models to enable innovation. Mental models are actors’ assumptions and beliefs that guide their behavior and interpretation of their environment.


This paper offers a conceptual framework for innovation in service ecosystems through service design that connects the macro view of innovation as changing institutional arrangements with the micro view of innovation as reshaping actors’ mental models. Furthermore, through an 18-month ethnographic study of service design practices in the context of healthcare, how service design practices reshape mental models to enable innovation is investigated.


This research highlights that service design reshapes mental models through the practices of sensing surprise, perceiving multiples and embodying alternatives. This paper delineates the enabling conditions for these practices to occur, such as coaching, diverse participation and supportive physical materials.

Research limitations/implications

This study brings forward the underappreciated role of actors’ mental models in innovation. It highlights that innovation in service ecosystems is not simply about actors making changes to their external context but also actors shifting their own assumptions and beliefs.

Practical implications

This paper offers insights for service managers and service designers interested in supporting innovation on how to catalyze shifts in actors’ mental models by creating the conditions for specific service design practices.


This paper is the first to shed light on the central role of actors’ mental models in innovation and identify the service design practices that reshape mental models.



The authors of this paper would like to thank the Experio Lab team for their involvement throughout the study. The authors would also like to express our appreciation to Mattias Arvola, Ingo Karpen, Gaby Odekerken, Jorge Grenha Teixeira and Anna-Sophie Oertzen for their helpful feedback on earlier versions of this manuscript as well as to the editor, assistant editors - especially Dominik Mahr and reviewers for their thoughtful recommendations that helped to advance this paper. This research received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Grant Agreement No. 642116. The information and views set out in this study are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of the European Union. Neither the European Union institutions and bodies nor any person acting on their behalf may be held responsible for the use which may be made of the information contained therein.


Vink, J., Edvardsson, B., Wetter-Edman, K. and Tronvoll, B. (2019), "Reshaping mental models – enabling innovation through service design", Journal of Service Management, Vol. 30 No. 1, pp. 75-104.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2018, Emerald Publishing Limited

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