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Government

October 11, 2018

Empathy and Running a Usability and Citizen-Centered Design Workshop

Renée Mak
digital product designer / pun-maker / disaster clown

This is the last in the series on citizen-centered design. I hope you found my first two posts Human-Centered Design in Government and How to Move Toward Citizen-Centered Design in Government useful in understanding the advantages of applying this approach in a government context, and how to initiate the culture change required to implement this design.

My goal with this post is to give you some insight into running a usability and citizen-centered design workshop with a team. It might be helpful to review the two fundamental steps of manageability and empathy from my last post that are needed to move toward this method of thinking.

As a contextual aid, we will be referring to a municipal urban planning team that I led through a usability workshop, but please adjust to suit your own team.

What you’ll need to start:

  • You and your team!
  • Post-it notes
  • Something to write with - we like sharpies. If you’re using a whiteboard, remember not to use permanent markers!
  • Something to write on - we like flip-charts and whiteboards
  • Dot stickers (optional) - you can also use different coloured markers
  • Snacks and coffee are optional, but if you want to get your team away from their desks, it helps!
  • An open attitude (optional, but preferred)

If you have a large team, it might be helpful to break into smaller groups. Keep this in mind when considering supplies and snacks.

Identify your touchpoints, personas and team

First things first: identify front-line departments and all touchpoints with citizens.

To identify touchpoints, think about why and how citizens need to or choose to engage with government. Depending on your team, the touchpoints may be obvious, but try to dig deeper as you brainstorm and write them down. If you come up with a lot of touchpoints feel free to prioritize them from highest to lowest. In the interest of time, some groups may leave the lowest priority items off their list - and save them for future consideration.

I encourage you to do this exercise with the entire team as it is a great way of encouraging intra-team empathy and understanding the day-to-day challenges of your colleagues.

Once you have determined the main touchpoints, you’ll have a better understanding of the team members that could most benefit from this process. You should also have a better understanding of the citizen groups that your team engages with, and you will be well on your way to building ‘personas’.

The urban planning team that I’m using as my example works in land use and development. They shared that the primary reason citizen groups need to or choose to engage with their department is to better understand government policies regarding land use and development in their city, or to access specific policy documentation.

The citizen groups that frequently engaged with their department included colleagues, the general public, developers, NGOs, and realtors. These groups accessed information through the municipal website, in person at City Hall, and sometimes through direct contact with the department in person, by phone, or via email.

Create your personas

Once you have identified your relevant citizen groups, you can start to build out personas for each group.

In the last post, we talked about how personas are meant to be realistic representations of your target audience in order to humanize and contextualize the workflow or design. Personas are used as a sanity check for decision-making to ensure that we take a citizen-considerate approach first, rather than an organizational one.

Once you start implementing a citizen-centered project, your team may need more research to build out more accurate and fully fleshed out personas. However, building these initial personas can build empathy and understanding of some of the key needs.

So, how do you build a persona?

It’s helpful to include the following typical characteristics:

1. Base information - name, age, gender, and a photo
2. Occupation
3. Attitude
3. Lifestyle

You can then try to provide more contextual information, to try to understand why and how the person needs to engage with our systems:

5. Experience level in the area of your product/service
6. Goals and concerns about completing tasks
7. Anything else that may impact how they interact with your team

I suggest you write personas with sections written from the first person perspective, to really humanize the persona and convey their attitudes and goals.

To help illustrate, let’s look at the urban planning team’s example. After the team identified their citizen profiles (staff, general public, developers, NGOs, realtors), we asked them to think about a real-life example from one of these profiles to build a persona.

Meet Andrea Ramirez

“I’m all about efficiency, because wasted time means fewer sales.”

Andrea is a realtor in their municipality. She is 32 and has worked in the real estate industry for 5 years, specializing in commercial real estate. Andrea moves back and forth from properties to client meetings throughout the day. Even when she’s not working, she’s always on the go.

Andrea is only concerned with the city’s development and land use policies as they relate to the properties in her portfolio, and so she is able to answer her clients’ questions.

“My line of business happens person-to-person and I prefer that. It’s easier and faster.”

As we start building this persona, even without in-depth user research, we can already see some of the reasons Andrea interacts with the city. This helps us gain some perspective about the unique needs of the citizen profile that she represents (realtors), and why certain touchpoints with the department may be frustrating.

Mapping a persona’s journey

Once the team has created personas for each citizen profile, you’ll be ready to delve into journey mapping. In my last post, I described the high level objective of journey mapping to understand the day-to-day interactions that citizens have with your systems.

What is journey mapping? It is a detailed description of steps needed to complete a given task. Journey mapping is usually done with research on real user interactions, but for this introductory workshop we will make our best assumptions based on the personas. Try to put yourself in the shoes of your created persona to really understand their wants and needs.

Once you identify the touchpoints that are unique to your citizen groups, you will better understand the pain points. Touchpoints are any point of engagement that a persona has with the team, and pain points are any point of friction that the persona may experience.

Let’s begin.

Depending on the size of the group and how many personas you have created, it may be helpful to break into smaller groups to work on the journey maps and then come back together to share the results with the whole team.

For each persona, you should have a high level understanding of what their goals are, and why they need to engage with your team. From here, you can begin to identify the granular tasks that they need to complete in order to accomplish their goals. Map out the individual steps needed to complete each task. Be specific and feel free to include activities related to your persona.

Keep your persona at the forefront of the conversation. Consider the occupation, wants, needs, and perspective of your persona. This is not how you would complete the task - this is how your persona would complete the task. Personally, I like to use flipchart paper for each task and then write the individual steps in the journey on post-it notes.

Once you have completed the journey map for each task, you can return to the first journey map and identify the touchpoints and the pain points. I use red dot stickers to identify my pain points, and another colour to identify the touchpoints. Continue to do this for every journey map that your team has created.

The next step is to sit back and take a look at your journey maps. How many pain points are there? Are there any common pain points across the different journey maps? Although we’re referring to these points of friction as pain points, they can also be considered opportunities to better serve our citizen groups.

Here’s an example of this exercise...

(We have written this example using the urban planning team and their persona, Andrea, in the first person to put ourselves in Andrea’s shoes.)

Persona: Andrea Ramirez

Context: I am selling a parcel of land in a business park. One of the potential buyers is a custom automotive detailing company. I need to know whether business use is permitted and, if it’s not, what can be done to get it permitted.

Task 1: I need to know the zoning of this land assembly.

Journey

1. I wake up at 7am and head to the office to do some work before heading to sites and client meetings
2. I get stuck in traffic on the way to work
3. I arrive to the office later than expected so I’m only able to pick up some files
4. I head to my first client meeting
5. I want to review the zoning policy for the property before the meeting
6. I use Siri to dial 311 and then I call the city
7. I am connected and I ask for the planning department
8. I am connected to the planning department administrator and I tell them what I need
9. I get put through to a planner, but I get their voicemail so I leave a message
10. I arrive at the property site
11. I google “X city zoning”
12. I go to the zoning and development website and search for a zoning map
13. I find the interactive zoning map but it’s slow and it doesn’t display well on my phone
14. I go back to the zoning and development website and look for a pdf map
15. I can’t find a pdf map so I return to the interactive map and navigate my way to enter the property address
16. I wait a long time for it to load
17. I finally see the results as C-1
18. I can’t remember the specifics of C-1, but I have to meet the client now and I’m running late
19. I meet the client

We have mapped out the steps for Andrea to complete the task. Now we need to review and look for:

Touchpoints (blue)
Pain points (red)

6. I use Siri to dial 311, and then I call the city
7. I am connected and I ask for the planning department
8. I am connected to the planning department administrator and I tell them what I need

This is Andrea’s first point of engagement with the city. She dials 311 because she is driving and not able to pull up the information on her phone. She ran into heavy traffic this morning and was running late, so she wasn’t able to look up the information at the office. 311 was able to put her through to the right department and she didn’t have to wait long on the line.

9. I get put through to a planner, but I get their voicemail so I leave a message

At this point Andrea is getting frustrated because she’s running late and she needs the information for the client meeting. She has been put through to two different people only to reach the planner’s voicemail. Andrea knows that they won’t be able to get back to her in time for the meeting.  

11. I google “X city zoning”
12. I go to the zoning and development website and search for a zoning map

Andrea searches using Google instead of going directly to the city’s website. This might be because she has had trouble finding the information through the website in the past and she knows that it will be faster to find the page using Google.

13. I find the interactive zoning map but it’s slow and it doesn’t display well on my phone
14. I go back to the zoning and development website and look for a pdf map
15. I can’t find a pdf map so I return to the interactive map and navigate my way to put in the property address
16. I wait a long time for it to load
17. I finally see the results as C-1
18. I can’t remember the specifics of C-1, but I have to meet the client now and I’m running late

By this point, Andrea is annoyed. The interactive map doesn’t work well on her phone, so she looks for a pdf that will load faster. Unfortunately there are so many pdf files on the zoning and development bylaw page that she can’t find the one she needs. Andrea has to wait for the interactive map to load and then try to navigate a page designed for use on a desktop computer. It takes several minutes to get the answer, and by the time she gets what she’s looking for, she’s late and doesn’t have time to check the specifics of C-1 zoning.

Andrea is frustrated because she knows that she could have got the information she needed from the planner.

So why do we do this?

Journey mapping may seem like a tedious exercise, but it is really useful for understanding the persona’s perspective, and have the opportunity to make interactions with these groups more positive.

Before we did the persona exercise with the urban planning team, we found there were some preconceived and negative notions of the citizen groups that the team interacted with. For instance, one of the team members shared that realtors were regularly calling to ask questions, when the answers were readily available on the website.

After we took the team through the journey mapping exercise, they began to understand why realtors called the planning department instead of using the website and why they preferred to talk directly to a planning expert. Realtors generally work out of the office and, because the resources online weren’t designed for the mobile experience, they weren’t able to find the information they needed. Greater understanding = greater empathy.

Now what?

Hopefully you and your team have a deeper understanding of the citizen groups that you engage with, and some of their potential pain points. Empathy is the cornerstone to human-centered design. By building empathy, we are able to better see through the lens of our citizen groups. This allows us to design better systems that are human- and citizen-centered.

As we go through these exercises, the gaps in our systems become more apparent. It can be overwhelming to think about everything that needs fixing in our systems, so my suggestion is to take it slow and start small. Think about the projects at hand and find the best immediate solution to better serve your citizens, and then work toward your end goal.

For the urban planning team, even before starting on a longer-term digital transformation strategy to better serve their customers in the future, this first meant creating an interactive pdf with the land use and development policies, with well-organized information, bookmarks, and simplified language. The original pain point became an opportunity to better serve their citizens; thereby achieving the primary goal of citizen-centered design.

Technology. People. Purpose.

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