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Designing energy solutions: a comparison of two participatory design approaches for service innovation

Taylor Jade Willmott (Adelaide Business School, The University of Adelaide, Adelaide, Australia)
Erin Hurley (Social Marketing @ Griffith, Griffith Business School, Griffith University, Brisbane, Australia)
Sharyn Rundle-Thiele (Social Marketing @ Griffith, Griffith Business School, Griffith University, Brisbane, Australia)

Journal of Service Theory and Practice

ISSN: 2055-6225

Article publication date: 17 March 2022

Issue publication date: 19 April 2022




Participatory design involves users and other key stakeholders in processes that aim to ensure solutions generated meet their needs. This paper compares the processes and outcomes of two participatory design approaches (design thinking and co-design) to examine their utility in co-creating innovative service solutions for reducing household energy demand.


Design thinking and co-design were implemented in two independent convenience samples of household energy users in Queensland, Australia. Workshops were conducted online using Zoom and Padlet technology. Informed by the capability-practice-ability (CPA) portfolio, a critical analysis based on the research team's experiences with implementing the two participatory design approaches is presented.


The key distinguishing features that set design thinking apart from co-design is extent of user involvement, solution diversity and resource requirements. With a shorter duration and less intensive user involvement, co-design offers a more resource efficient means of solution generation. In contrast, design thinking expands the solution space by allowing for human-centred problem framing and in so doing gives rise to greater diversity in solutions generated.

Research limitations/implications

Mapping the six constellations of service design outlined in the CPA portfolio to the research team's experiences implementing two different participatory design approaches within the same context reconciles theoretical understanding of how capabilities, practices and abilities may differ or converge in an applied setting.

Practical implications

Understanding the benefits and expected outcomes across the two participatory design approaches will guide practitioners and funding agencies in the selection of an appropriate method to achieve desired outcomes.


This paper compares two forms of participatory design (design thinking and co-design) for service innovation in the context of household energy demand offering theoretical and practical insights into the utility of each as categorised within the CPA portfolio.



The authors would like to acknowledge Griffith Business School and Social Marketing @ Griffith for their financial and in-kind support of this paper.

Research funding: The larger project from which this study originates partnered with a local energy provider (Energy Queensland) to better understand how customers are adapting to technological shifts. The authors confirm that no significant financial support was received for this study that could have influenced its outcomes. The funders played no role in the preparation of this manuscript, or in the decision to publish.

Conflict of interest: The authors confirm there are no known conflicts of interest associated with this work.


Willmott, T.J., Hurley, E. and Rundle-Thiele, S. (2022), "Designing energy solutions: a comparison of two participatory design approaches for service innovation", Journal of Service Theory and Practice, Vol. 32 No. 3, pp. 353-377.



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