Using Human-Centred Design in Youth Voices Initiative

This article is re-posted from our recent contribution to Slaw dot ca, Canada’s wonderful national online legal magazine.

The BC Family Justice Innovation Lab is focusing on improving the well-being of BC families and children experiencing separation and divorce. One of its ‘home-grown’ initiatives is called “Youth Voices” as it focuses on the experience and well-being of children whose parents experienced separation or divorce. One of the Lab’s foundational principles is that change must start with those who are the beneficiaries (or users) of the system we are trying to change. We reached out for experiences and lessons from other sectors (including business, healthcare and education) and decided on human-centred design (HCD).

The Lab developed and is testing a unique model of HCD that focuses on:
– Putting users (the family and children in this case) at the centre;
– Taking an experimental approach;
– Collaborating with others (in particular, users and those outside of the justice system)
– Taking a systemic approach i.e. exploring the problem in the context of the larger system, considering complexity science and looking for root causes rather than just symptoms

If you are interested in learning more about the Lab you may be interested in reading this article recently published by the University of Windsor’s Yearbook on Access to Justice in 2017.

In January of 2017 we held a workshop for young people (young adults who had experienced divorce as children) led by Gordon Ross of Open Road Communications (a local leader in human-centred design). It was eye-opening. The participants were courageous, insightful and enthusiastic about this topic and our process. They confirmed that the “system” looks very different from their perspective than it does from the viewpoint of those involved in serving the public within the system.

Our posts on the first workshop can be found here and here.

The next step in our design model was a “sensemaking workshop” held January 28, 2018 (events 2 and 3 on the model above). The purpose was to bring a multi-disciplinary group (young people from the first workshop, parents, social workers, lawyers, therapists) together to consider the research, expert interviews, personas and output from the first workshop to figure out what it all means and to produce some solid opportunities for change. We are enormously grateful to the ongoing coaching from Gordon Ross (Open Road Communications) and the design support from Jayme Cochrane (the newest member of our Lab team).

On January 28th we spent a lively full day filled with varied exercises (and lots of nutritious refreshments.) We will publish more details of the agenda including photos on the Lab blog. For this post I’d like to focus on two of the key lessons we learned as we designed and implemented the workshop:

1. Fortify the user perspective:

While valuable, the initial workshop with the young people was not enough to say we were “user-centred”. We have to continue to focus on their experience and perspective. In our process this meant developing three detailed personas of children which were as true as we could make them to the stories we actually heard through the first workshop and other research. All will be posted on the Lab blog. Gordon reminded us that designers need to keep asking themselves “who are you designing FOR?”. The personas and related character profiles were our answer to this question and we tried to ensure that the design work was rooted in the needs and experiences of the personas from start to finish. Note 1.

The photos on the Lab blog here describe the three personas.

Why is this important? One reason is that it helps to ward off unintentional cognitive biases, including confirmation bias, which can cause us to promote one of our own (previous) ideas to solve the problem rather than be open to new suggestions.

As stated by designer Erika Hall:

Everyone with a human brain is burdened by human biases. And there is no way to sense one’s own. We all see what best fits our existing beliefs. So, we have to refer to an external standard (including the pre-established goals and questions) and work together to check each other.
This has nothing to do with how smart or how well-informed you are. Once you accept this, and as long as you work in a team that evinces psychological safety and mutual respect, it can be a fun game to identify biases and call them out.

2. Engage a multi-disciplinary group for sensemaking (not the just design team):

System change requires seeing the system through many different lenses. For our Youth Voices initiative it was critical to involve as co-designers the young people themselves as well as others who have worked with families and their children through separation and divorce, particularly those outside of the “justice” sector.

We hoped that this approach would open minds to new things. From what we observed, that goal was accomplished!
The result was a wonderful selection of creative concepts that were clearly linked to each persona’s real needs. They were definitely new and not just a regurgitation of ideas already out there. Keep an eye on the Lab blog for more photos and information about the workshop and updates as we begin to work with these concepts and move towards the prototyping process!

Note 1: A “persona” is a fictional character created directly from stories of user experience and other research. For more: http://www.servicedesigntools.org/tools/40