Have you ever been invited to participate on a community development project or be part of creating a new organizational initiative?  How about filling out a customer satisfaction survey or completed a poll about your ideal product? If you do participate, what are the key elements that ensure that you are listened to and that your ideas will be taken into consideration?

Customers, clients and users of service are increasingly being asked to participate in new initiatives, organizational transformation and new product development.  This type of engagement is an approach based on dialogue and conversations that enable a greater understanding of the perspective of the customer and often, the front line provider, the people who interact directly with the product or service.

For many years, the field of disability support services; consumer engagement has been a chosen approach.  After all, it made sense to ask the people who received support and services for their input and ideas.  “Nothing about us without us”, was the foundation and mantra for these efforts.

Nowadays, we are hearing about a method for innovation and change called, Human Centered Design (HCD), which essentially takes engagement a step further.  With HCD, participants are involved in formulating ideas and then prototyping and testing them to see if the ideas work in real time.  This can be done with new products and new services.  Adjustments and fine-tuning can be done before the final decision is made, reducing costly mistakes or oversights.

An example that comes to mind is from about twenty years ago, when I was part of a task force, put together to create a new initiative for families.  Involved, were a few of parents, service providers, government representation, and a couple of people representing the broader community.  We worked as a team for two years, devoting our time, energy and passion toward improved and enhanced supports and services

Together, we created lots of good ideas.  We were excited to see the change unfold.

Then, we were told that the government wasn’t investing any new funding into what we had created and a decision was made to tack it on to the responsibilities of an existing organization.  As a result, not much of our ideas were utilized and the new entity did not achieve the positive outcomes for families that it potentially could have provided.  We were very disappointed and felt like our time and energy had been for nothing.

There were two missing equally important elements from that experience, that is:

Authenticity and Follow-through

If you engage people to participate in a design lab or an engagement activity, it is essential to be authentic and genuine about your desire for their input and ideas.  Once ideas have been formulated, there has to be follow-through on what was created.  Even if you aren’t able to roll out solutions exactly as the concepts describe, it is critical to incorporate some aspects of them, otherwise there is a risk of decreasing trust and losing customer loyalty.

Authenticity and follow-through are the vital and strategic elements to the success of any engagement or design activity.

Looking back on my example, had we had the chance to prototype and test the ideas, we may have had the chance to provide a case for following up on our innovative ideas, rather than adding on to something that already existed.  Human Centered Design would have provided a chance to test gauge the reaction of a potential audience or recipients of service and to try to get an idea of how the process would work before actually making a final decision.

~ Lisa