Photo by Derick McKinney on Unsplash

No Better Time for Human-Centered Design

The first six months of 2020 have been, in so many ways, unprecedented. As a society we’ve been called to actions, large and small, to preserve the well-being of those around us and across the globe. Whether simply deciding to wear a mask as we go about our daily lives, to joining others marching in the streets to collectively bring about a future where racial disparities become thing of the past — no one has been unaffected.

As designers, we see these “wicked problems” as challenges to be addressed. We’re aware that the context we bring to these challenges falls short, given our backgrounds as white Midwesterners; that we need to begin first by listening to others with the least amount of agency, then co-designing with those who will be most impacted by the solutions we develop together. Lived experience is deep expertise, deserves respect and is foundational to building societal change.

Our readers may think it naive for us to assert this, that it takes a lot of hubris to even believe that we can begin to solve these problems. But as we read the news and interact with others in our society, we have to believe that change is possible — and that the first steps can’t be taken without listening.

In our work, we use Human Centered Design process to build solutions alongside our clients that increase connections with the people they serve. Our current work includes an ongoing effort to end child sexual abuse, working with experts in youth homelessness and Child Welfare, Behavioral Health and the Juvenile Justice system to reduce the incidence of homelessness for young people leaving foster care, and proposing an inclusive process to build the cultural foundation for virtual Patient Family Advisory Groups. Over the course of this pandemic, we’ve updated our website to demonstrate the many ways we’ve applied this process. But of course it’s not unique to us; anyone can use it, and it’s even offered online as a Design Kit by IDEO.

Human behavior is inextricably linked to personal identity. The strength in this process is the fact that it does not presume solutions at the outset.

Rather, it’s a means to ask better questions in an effort to help improve systems that impact everyone:

What is your go-to identity? American or member of the global community? Person of faith or agnostic? Black, Latinx, Asian, First Nation, or white? LGBTQIA? Male, female, or gender-queer? Republican or Democrat? Baby Boomer or Millennial? Traditionalist or proud smasher of all things binary? How does your identity shape your worldview? How does your identity reflect what is important to you?

Starting with questions such as these respects the context of the individual in the conversations that ensue.

Along with the projects outlined above, we are proud participating members of the Beryl Institute. They’ve just released their expansive report titled Human Experience 2030, a vision for the future of healthcare. While it was started prior to the end of 2019, it has been shaped by more recent history. We encourage you to download the document and use it as a reference in your work, whether or not you serve in a healthcare setting; given COVID-19 and advice from public health experts, we have a new appreciation for how our health is interconnected with that of others.

This report is a clear and urgent call for the application of Human-Centered design:

When we started this process, I don’t think we’d have ever dreamed we would find ourselves where we are today in healthcare, where we are as a global community in terms of what we’re trying to accomplish for healthcare overall, what we’re facing in terms of a health crisis and what we are now tackling to break the hold of health disparities and the systemic racism in healthcare and beyond that this moment in history has unleashed in a bold call for understanding and action.

What you will see in this bridging of ideas with the diversity of voices committed to this cause is a clear, concise and intentional commitment to a future we all will contribute to building and aspire to achieving. The Future of Human Experience 2030 is not a model to be copied; it is a collectively framed trajectory for an essential journey. It is now up to all of us to begin laying the path forward together.

— Introduction to Human Experience 2030, a Vision for the Future of Healthcare

In recent conversations with colleagues in healthcare, we’ve discussed the rapid emergence of Telehealth as one potential way to shape the future. This allows caregivers to contribute their knowledge and expertise without being physically present at a patient’s bedside. It’s not a new technology, but regulations have slowed its wider adoption by hospitals and health systems.

That’s changing fast, in no small part because Telehealth use among Medicare beneficiaries is up by more than 11,000% over the past couple of months. Plainly speaking, patients welcome the convenience and expanded reach that Telehealth allows. But its rapid adoption has led to questions about its efficacy for all patient populations. As one PX expert asserted, “we made decisions based on available technology just to get it up and running; now we need to circle back with patients and see how it needs to be changed to better serve them.”

This is just one small example of an existing technology, infrequently used in a pre-COVID world, that has become more widely adopted mainly because it contributes to the health, safety and convenience of patients. The assumptions that caregivers and patients once made in how care would be provided and received has changed drastically. Human-centered design can help to assure that these rapid changes are adopted by healthcare cultures and end users alike, to the benefit of all.

Garrison Keillor, in his weekly writings, quoted Ralph Waldo Emerson as he commented on the need to engage in this work together:

We desperately need his optimism. “Trust thyself,” he said. “Accept the place the divine providence has found for you, the society of your contemporaries. Let us not be invalids in a protected corner, not cowards fleeing before a revolution, but guides, redeemers, and benefactors, advancing on Chaos and the Dark.”

This year, we’ve seen the worst. Good. Now we know what it is. Now we can rise above it and join forces and work for what should be, equality, justice, prosperity, and good sense.

“Bad times have a scientific value,” he said. “These are occasions a good learner would not miss. This time, like all times, is a very good one if we but know what to do with it.”

Opening our aperture to accept new mindsets is imperative for the success of our collective future. There is truly no time like the present to engage in conversations using this design methodology; working together, we can boldly begin to bring about the changes we wish to see in our world.

Originally posted on www.connect-cx.com on July 6, 2020

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Mark VanderKlipp

Mark VanderKlipp

Partner at Connect_CX, The Adjacency; speaker, facilitator, systems thinker, healthcare experience designer: www.connect-cx.com