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Conceptualising Service Thinking – Seeking the Virtues of Human Wellbeing
Authors: Rebekah Russell-Bennett (Queensland University of Technology, Australia), Raymond Fisk (Texas State), Linda Alkire (Texas State), Josephine Previte (University of Queensland)
The primary goal of Transformative Services Research (TSR) is improving human wellbeing through service. However, many of the human wellbeing related problems are embedded in complex and interdependent service systems. Most service researchers were trained in parsimonious research tools that investigate one problem at a time with one lens – often due to research constraints and the need for specificity. It is only more recently that ecosystems frameworks emerged in the service literature (Vargo and Lusch 2010; Akaka and Vargo, 2015), and has not been addressed within TSR. To date, the research domain of TSR remains strongly focused on a very specific unit of analysis (e.g. customer, employee, etc) measuring specific variables (e.g., healthcare, finance). This somewhat myopic view prohibits TSR from achieving its true transformative potential. TSR requires new research approaches that engage and cope with complex and interdependent phenomena.
In this paper, we propose an ecosystem framework for service thinking. The concept of service thinking was first introduced in 2013 (Russell-Bennett et al. 2013). We expand the concept of service thinking by defining it as a human-centred, inclusive perspective that all people deserve just service systems. Our service thinking framework builds on the notion of a human ecosystem that is based on biological ecosystems with an emphasis on social interactions (Likens et al. 1977).
We propose that service thinking is the next stage of human social evolution based on the transmission and mutation of imitated virtues. Unlike the general transmission of ideas that become memes whether good or bad, virtues are ideas that elevate the progress of human civilization. A difference between a meme and a virtue is that virtues must be practiced. Such social virtues include dignity, tolerance, fairness, empathy, kindness, and humility.
We propose that these social virtues should be at the core of the human ecosystem. Machlis et. al. (1997) advanced the concept the human ecosystem as a coherent system of biophysical and social factors capable of adaptation and sustainability over time. The six components of a human ecosystem are natural resources, socio-economic resources, cultural resources, social institutions, social cycles and social order. These components form the structure of our service thinking framework. From the framework, a set of service standards can be outlined to demonstrate the service thinking approach.
Deepening knowledge about service thinking will guide service managers and practitioners to design and manage services that improve wellbeing, potentially across the ecosystem of actors involved in a system of change; it will also guide TSR toward achieving its full potential.