Putting the Public First – Part 2

Categories: Empathy, Innovation, User Centred

This is Part 2 in our series on what it means to be “public-centred”.  It is an outline of my presentation to the Winkler Institute’s 2016 Justice Design Project group in August 2016.

After exploring why it was important to put the public first, the next question was HOW to put the public first.

At first, we thought it was all about “engagement” and “participation”.  The Lab now describes the “how” more as:

  • Empathy building
  • Co-design
  • User feedback (ongoing during prototyping and implementation phases)

It is not enough to have a token user in “our” room.  Instead, we need to start with the users before the problem is diagnosed and then throughout.  We believe that if we involve users as actors in multi-disciplinary teams then the magic will happen.

Still, we expect resistance to this approach.  This pushback could take many forms including:

  • “We know best” (read: “they don’t know enough about our system”)
  • It takes too long to bring users up to speed
  • Users don’t know what they want
  • We value expertise (and they don’t have it)
  • The legal culture is part of our identity
  • We are not comfortable with ambiguity

With respect to the “users don’t know what they want” comment, it is true that they may not, off the top of their heads, be able to design THE elegant solution.  However, it is only the users that can help us to dig to find the underlying needs and desires that are crying to be met by the justice system.  This reminds us of the iceberg analogy.  Only 10% of the iceberg appears above the waterline (the obvious pieces).  However, it is the 90% below the waterline that needs exploration since that is where the underlying “root causes” are hiding and fueling the situation.

This led to our third AHA! moment:  we need to know more about human behavior!  This leads to the need to consult and involve those with knowledge and experience in psychology, sociology, mental health, economics, business/marketing/organizational behavior etc.  There is an entire field of research called “behavioral insights” that is rich with helpful information about human behavior.

Our Lab is still building on this insight.  We already have a social worker, a psychologist and a designer on our team.  We have already experienced the enormous value that they bring to this effort and we need more like them.  We are also working closely with OpenRoad Communications, a local (Vancouver-based) design firm with considerable experience working with government and private organizations, to design and implement our Youth Voices Initiative, starting with a narrative workshop for young people whose families separated or divorced.  We are learning as much as we can from this very skilled team and hope to build capacity within our Lab and within the justice system to use design thinking.

We are continually seeking and experimenting with tools and processes for meaningful dialogue and engagement including Open Space, circle processes, the Art of Hosting.

Our exciting exploration of the “how” continues.  Your comments would be appreciated.

Thank you

Kari Boyle, Coordinator, BC Family Justice Innovation Lab