Adult learning, Emotion, Friend learning

3 Thoughts on Human-Centered Design

Human-centered design has taken center stage. It is the theme for this year’s Washington State Nonprofit Conference. It comes up regularly now in conversation about human service program design and how to engage previously not reached populations in our programs. It has jumped from designing products to delivering programs. A movement is underfoot, and I am just catching up.

What is human-centered design? What have I been missing?

“Human-centered design … starts with the people you’re designing for and ends with new solutions that are tailor made to suit their needs. Human-centered design is all about building a deep empathy with the people you’re designing for; generating tons of ideas; building a bunch of prototypes; sharing what you’ve made with the people you’re designing for; and eventually putting your innovative new solution out in the world.”

It sounds like good teaching.

Human-centered design sounds like what teachers have known for a long time—that educating students is most effective when the content is delivered in a shape and form that most resonates with the learner. Kids who feel ownership of the process are more likely to invest in their own success. People working in international development have experienced that the only way to solve hard social problems is for the people living within the problem to be a fundamental driver in moving forward a solution. We can take lessons from education and global poverty alleviation to better understand human-centered design.

Teams help us to get there.

A human-centered design expert explained that the secret sauce is the team of people at the table. That team blends a mix of talent that cuts across all of the elements of the work: content experts, social workers, data managers, educators, etc. We experienced the power of such a team in creating two tools for nonprofit board learning (Finance Unlocked and Boards in Gear). In both, a content expert, communication expert, and adult educator developed resources that reflect must-know content paired equally with effective language and delivery. Our understanding of local culture, social realities, predominant emotions and other “human-centered” topics provided the foundation to our solution.

Empathy makes human-centered design inevitable.

Lastly, I am struck by the reference to “deep empathy.” “Deep empathy” lies at the heart of why we press for global education in which our children build a deep and personal connection to communities living lives very different from ours. It is what challenges us in building authentic relationships with neighbors down the street. “Deep empathy” has the potential to drive powerful change as we shape solutions that place at the center the people we have accompanied, admired, become challenged by, and otherwise created a personal connection with. If we can invest in ways to drill down into the kind of empathy that stewards compassionate, respectful, and inclusive action, society will be better for it.

Friend learning

Learning is more fun with a buddy

Learning Buddy Card

Our workshop participants won’t learn most of what they need to know from us. Hard to imagine, but it is true. The prevailing wisdom of 70/20/10 — 70% is learned on the job, 20% in interactions with others, and 10% in classrooms– rings true as I check back with people who were fired up to change their practice just one month ago. As one wrote yesterday, “Thank you for keeping us on track… so sorry I seemed to have dropped the ball.”

How do we help them hold on to the ball? How do we grab some of that 20% of learning that comes from peer engagement? One thought is to create learning buddies when we have them. Give them a way to exchange contact information with someone in the room and commit to meeting within 30 days. What will they talk about?  How about:

  • What is your goal?
  • What progress have you made?
  • What more do you need to do, get, or find to achieve your goal?

I set up learning buddies at a training on October 29. I asked them tell me who the matches were so that I could give them a 30 day reminder. That’s how I know this person dropped the ball.  And that is how I was able to find out what they needed to make Saturday’s board retreat go well, which I promptly sent with instructions. Does that mean I got into the 70% of learning that happens when we are faced with a real situation?  I’m not sure, but I was able to help one board get to action, which was my ultimate goal anyway.