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Jul 14

Three ways Human-Centered Design Can Create Better Government Services

In 2009, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) launched Project Carrot to fight childhood obesity. The goal was to convince children to eat more fruit and vegetables. As many parents and other child caregivers realize, this is not easy. The CDC also realized the traditional method of collecting scientific information and designing the usual public health campaign was not going to work with the target audience - tweener’s.

The CDC worked with IDEO to use human-centered design to create a persuasive and non-threatening way to convince tweeners to eat their vegetables. The CDC started by interviewing children, parents, school officials, and other stakeholders in the child nutrition world. The goal was to learn how each of the stakeholders viewed the issues. From these insights, the CDC created 26 prototypes that they narrowed down to three concepts: an Internet campaign and viral video; a new way for public health officials to work with private companies; and a suite of strategic policy tools.

Project Carrot was an early example of how human-centered design (HCD) was used to design a government program. A current example of HCD in the Federal government is the GovConnect Initiative. GovConnect is a government-wide project to create a new model for the Federal workforce that is mobile, agile, and innovative. It is a radical approach to Federal employment and is being created and refined using human-centered design.

Human-centered design was also used to redesign community health worker (CHW) programs in Uganda. Thousands of children die each year from pneumonia, malaria, and diarrhea due to inconsistent medical treatment by CHWs, often who are poorly trained and supervised. Several organizations such as UNICEF, Save the Children, and USAID came together with the innovation firm to use human-centered design to revitalize CHW programs. One part of the eventual solution involved giving CHWs increased access to better and more portable diagnostic tools – Backpack Plus. CHWs were also supported by a team of experts to aid the newly-empowered CHWs.

What is human-centered design (HCD) and why is it such a powerful tool? Human-centered design starts with a thorough understanding of the user’s needs which are then used to frame the problem. A number of techniques (such as “stakeholder mapping” and “affinity diagrams”) are used to build a deeper understanding – “empathy” – of the user’s motivations for the solution. Then, various concepts are prototyped and tested by the user. The early prototypes are crude and quickly put together so that HCD team can quickly “fail forward” to a solution that most effectively solves the problem while best meeting the user’s needs.

Both the examples above demonstrate the three ways human-centered design (HCD) can help government employees develop better government services and policies:

1)      HCD gets you into the worlds of your stakeholders – many of the HCD techniques revolve around understanding who your stakeholders are and what are their needs, wants, and interests.

2)      You approach your problem from many different perspectives – HCD techniques compel you to view your problem or opportunity from several angles so that you gain a thorough understanding and generate more innovative solutions.

3)      Construct a robust solution by iteratively prototyping ideas – a significant part of HCD is building prototypes to test out observations and ideas. The concept is that it is often better to build a rough-and-ready prototype to both communicate and test ideas. Prototyping is often quicker and more insightful than yet another strategy document or project plan.

If you would like to learn more about human-centered design, start with these resources:

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