Expanding to Springdale and Applications are open again!

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We’re excited to announce we’ll be moving to Springdale General this summer! We’ll be joining a community of creatives and makers, such as Center for Social Innovation, Latinitas, and the many other creative studios. We also can’t wait to get over-caffeinated at Cafe Medici’s new roasting facility which will be right across from AC4D’s new home.

With this new expanded space, we will be able to offer a few more spots in our 2018-2019 cohort! Applications are open again until July 1, 2018. Acceptances will be sent out by July 15, 2018, and classes start Aug 13, 2018. Admission details can be found here.

Be sure to browse through our curriculum, type of student projects, and what our alumni are up to after graduation. There’s an entire book about the designerly approach to wicked problems you can read online for free. Our students also post their assignments and reflections on the AC4D blog.

How do I speak to someone about the program?

  1. We have a booth at ATX Hack for Change on June 1-3, 2018. If you’re going to be there, swing by!
  2. We’ll be having a virtual info session and Q&A with the Director on June 12 at 12-1pm and June 20 at 7-8pm. Sign up here.
  3. Reach out to admissions@ac4d.com directly and schedule a chat.

Can I learn more about the experiences from alumni?
Check out this three-min video, and Q&A videos (here and here). If you prefer to read, they share their journeys pre- and post-ac4d in these interviews. You can also find all of them here and reach out directly.

What else do I need to know?
Even though the application isn’t officially due until July 1, 2018, we highly encourage anyone considering applying to reach out to admissions@ac4d.com. We want to get to know you!

Changing the Culture of Civic Life in Austin

Stand Up, Austin! exists to change the culture of civic life in Austin. It’s a bold vision and opportunity developed following six months of design research, development, prototyping, testing, iteration, and more at Austin Center for Design. As you might imagine, Maria, Josh, and I wore several different hats during the process ranging from designer, to entrepreneur, to project manager.

Background

During eight weeks of design research with Austin residents, a common theme we heard was that government is a king’s sport. The implication was that you need to have some unique skills, connections, or money to interact with government and to create social change.

Then we met a man we call Diego. He asked us to sign a petition at a community Thanksgiving dinner. He describes himself as Mexican-American who was raised by his grandparents who never spoke English. He told us that he is an underemployed artist and a leader of his neighborhood.

When he was younger, he was more interested in overthrowing the government than working with it. He was concerned about global issues and would write letters to the government expressing his concerns. He first participated with his neighborhood association after a representative knocked on his door and told him about a construction project planned for the neighborhood and most importantly directly behind Diego’s home. The first time he articulated his point of view to Austin was when he signed a petition to limit construction behind his house.

Today you’ll find Diego at the same table as developers, politicians, and members of the community working together on affordable housing. His change of perception underpins how he thinks, understands, and participates with his community.
Today you’ll find Diego at the same table as developers, politicians, and members of the community working together on affordable housing. His change of perception underpins how he thinks, understands, and participates with his community.

 

He saw an immediate benefit: the building was shorter than planned. Diego felt empowered: he was able to protect his property, and he saw how cooperating and collaborating with his neighbors produced a meaningful result. Over time, he became more involved with his neighborhood and soon after government. He came to view government as representative of the human condition. The best and the worst of humanity.

This change in context moved Diego to become a community organizer and activist in East Austin. Today you’ll find Diego at the same table as developers, city hall, and members of the East Austin community working together on affordable housing in East Austin.

His change of context and perception underpins how he thinks, understands, and participates in his community.

Context Matters
Experiences shape perception and determines behavior. How might we create new contexts and experiences of civic engagement? How might we create more knocks at the door and different types of knocks?

 

Stand Up, Austin!

Stand Up, Austin! brings artists and civic organizations together to engineer new contexts and experiences of civic life. Austin has a thriving art scene and artists make for creative partners.

Our Vision

For a pilot, initially inspired by shows like The Daily Show, we turned to comedy. Comedy is a useful communication tool and a powerful form of art. Austin has one of the most significant comedy scenes in the country.

Pilot Methodology
Comic, civic organizations, and community came together at Spider House Ballroom on April 11 to form a test of the first methodology: stand up comedy to engineer a new context of civic life.

To provide civic education in an enjoyable way, we brought five of Austin’s funniest comedians together and asked them to include civic life themes within their sets.

To provide a way to take direct action, we partnered with civic-minded organizations like League of Women Voters and also with Jay Jennings, a post-doctoral fellow at UT Austin.

To bring people together, we hosted the show at Spider House Ballroom and set a goal of 75 people attending. Knowing that diversity is essential to the City of Austin, we promoted the event to diverse communities across the city.

The event was an opportunity for people to enjoy community while laughing and learning about civic life.

We received several positive signals from the community about our pilot. With less than two weeks of promotion, we had 230 Twitter followers, 96 upvotes on Do512 and selected as a Top Pick, a recommendation by The Austin Chronicle, and a feature article in the leading African American community newspaper. Ultimately, we sold 102 tickets. Based on a survey after the show, we learned that we realized our diversity goals concerning age, race, and ethnicities.
We received several positive signals from the community about our pilot. With less than two weeks of promotion, we had 230 Twitter followers, 96 upvotes on Do512 and selected as a Top Pick, a recommendation by The Austin Chronicle, and a feature article in the leading African American community newspaper. Ultimately, we sold 102 tickets. Based on a survey after the show, we learned that we realized our diversity goals concerning age, race, and ethnicities.

 

Texas ranks low for people talking politics with one another. One person told us that's what they did after discussing the show with friends… This is just one example of the behavior changes that we want to inspire.
Texas ranks low for people talking politics with one another. One person told us that’s what they did after discussing the show with friends… This is just one example of the behavior changes that we want to inspire.

 

During our pilot, people had an opportunity to register to vote, to hear from comics like Chris Tellez, to learn about civic life from expert Jay Jennings, and to play civic themed games.
During our pilot, people had an opportunity to register to vote, to hear from comics like Chris Tellez, to learn about civic life from expert Jay Jennings, and to play civic themed games.

Opportunities and Next Steps

When Diego’s context was changed with a knock on the door and getting involved with his neighborhood association, it was the start of fruitful civic life. By changing the way he felt about government, it led to a change in his behavior.

That’s what we want to engineer: more and different types of knocks so more people feel like they belong, that their voices matter, and that government is not a king’s sport. This, in turn, leads to behavior change so that people participate in community life, vote, discuss politics, and are even better neighbors.

How might we create more knocks at the door?
How might we create more knocks at the door?

 

We are applying for a grant from the city’s cultural arts department to fund further events and testing for this concept. A grant will allow us to produce the shows without charging a ticket fee to residents. Biding in with our message that this concept is open to everyone in Austin.

Ultimately we will offer an open source concept and an invitation for engagement and co-design with artists and organizers.
Ultimately we will offer an open source concept and an invitation for engagement and co-design with artists and organizers.

This grant will allow us to continue testing art forms to create a cultural shift to civic participation in venues around Austin.

Austin is a cultural hub of this country with a  thriving arts community that is ranging all demographics. We’ve seen positive signals that comedy can work in shifting civic participation, and we will explore other art forms in which to shape new civic experiences.

And finally, we will offer the program as an open source concept and an invitation for engagement and co-design with artists and organizations to help in developing new civic participation platforms using the methods we’ve developed and tested in Austin.

 

We are Stand Up, Austin! and we exist to change the culture of civic life in Austin.
Stand Up, Austin! exists to bring artists and civic organizations together to engineer new contexts and experiences of civic life.

 

Entrepreneurial Opportunities for Stand Up, Austin!

We are Stand Up, Austin! And we exist to change the culture of Civic Engagement in Austin.

We’ve been given the opportunity to engineer the context and experiences in which people participate civically in order to shift the perception of civic life.

We’ve found from the readings in the Q4 Theory Class some big ideas that’ve got us thinking about what our theory is for how we are going to design things in our careers and lives. Together, Scott, Maria, and Josh have created a concept that revolves around changing the culture of civic life in Austin. We are doing this by changing the context and experiences in which people participate civically in order to shift the perception of civic activities.

Power Trumps, “Public” Policy

But why did we need to go to these lengths? Why did the city feel they needed to approach AC4D, a small design school, to help them improve civic participation?

“For example, one representative endorsed town hall meetings because they make “people feel like you’re listening.”

…Another representative suggested that stakeholder meetings are “more of a PR move,” that they “make sure people don’t complain.”” – Chris Urbina Meierling

Because our legislative system, a system created to serve the people, have developed into a system that is broken to that cause. Public Policy is no longer created by the people and for the people. It’s created by elected officials. And it is there that I want to start.

In this class, we’ve talked about doctors, designers, and now in this last section of readings ….civic people. What do all these three professions have in common? They all began with a purpose to serve the patients, user, and the citizen.

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One could argue, however, that because it’s human nature to be selfish that when put in a position of power these roles have transformed into professions centered around tribalism. This has caused them to shift more towards inward appeals rather than inclusion of patient, user, and citizen participation.

So if we assume for a second that this is all 100% true. That the reason for low civic engagement in Austin is because slowly our government has shifted to a point where participation from its residents are not apart of shaping policy and in some cases is unwanted.

“Often we’ve already made up of mind on what’s happening before the council meetings.” -Council Representative

What are we to do? This is why we feel that Stand Up Austin!, Key Up, Pulse of Austin, and Housing Assist are all unique and powerful ways to approach this problem. Because they are all centered around the users. The approach we’ve all been able to take, because being designers and talking to people was all new to us, we were able to separate ourselves from the process of fixing low engagement.

We defamiliarized ourselves from the environment in which civic designers  work in by removing ourselves from it to focus on talking to residents and hearing their stories. We were so focused on learning about learning the tools to do human-centered research effectively that we forgot what problems we were tasked to do from the city.

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As a result, once we came back to the prompt in ideation and prototype testing we had rich data for what problems users were actually having and because the research was framed around residents living in Austin our designs actually tied back to civic engagement very effectively.

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“This may be one reason why civic design projects and programs seem to be flourishing in diverse institutions—places where different fields, methods, and theories intermingle without the drag of tradition or discipline. The liberal arts, broadly construed, are especially significant as we engage civics. – Chris LeDantec (Civic Design)

So, then speaking more specifically about Stand Up, Austin! Given the insightful thoughts put forth by the readings in Chris LeDantec, Sandjar Kozubaev, Terry Irwin, and Marc Rettig we thought what are the possible opportunities for our vision for Stand Up, Austin!

“Civic design aims to do more than develop communications, products, and services in support of existing organizations, doing the work they’ve always done. Rather, civic design aims to contribute to new forms of living together – Chris Ledantec (Civic Design)

OPPORTUNITIES

Upon reflection of the readings, there are numerous opportunities for SUPATX’s broader vision and entrepreneurial role in reshaping civic life.

Value-Based Civics

Stacey Chang from UT Austin’s Design Institute for Health wrote about how Dell Medical School is rethinking medical student education and formation, and how value-based health care is a “transformation – happening across the industry – is opening up tons of opportunities for entrepreneurs.”

“…students of medicine and other health professions need different training. At the Dell Medical School, students transition earlier than usual from classroom learning to clinical rotations in order to clear time in their second and third year, when they are taught design skills.” – Stacey Chang, UT Austin’s Design Institute for Health

Similarly, how might SUPATX rethink how artists are exposed to civic life?

What if we expose artists to our perception framework and demonstrate how their art can create new contexts for civic engagement and lead to the reshaping of perceptions to meaningfully impact the civic health of their communities?

Just imagine the above quote saying “this transformation–happening across various forms of art–is opening up tons of opportunities for community and political organizations”?

Friction For Community

Steve Selzer in his article called “The Fiction of No Friction” tells about how they design friction in Airbnb.

“I’m here to urge us all to design it [friction] back in… I’m talking about intentionally adding the kinds of friction that lead to self-reflection, self-discovery, and personal growth.” – Steve Selzer

We know that comics can talk about taboo topics. This is an example of the opportunity to use friction when co-designing content with comics.

How might we explore friction was a methodology developed with other artists to shape new contexts and experiences to reshape perceptions of civic life?

SUPATX ANALOGS

Analogs (a person or thing seen as comparable to another) for how SUPATX might be productized and brought to market.

Transition Design

“Transition Design is an area of design research, practice and study that was conceived at the School of Design at Carnegie Mellon University….” However, it is now taking place as a conversation and “presented here as an open source concept and an invitation for engagement and co-evolution with educators, researchers and practitioners from design and related disciplines. The areas of service design and design for social innovation are now internationally recognized approaches with networks of researchers, educators and practitioners working to evolve the practice and develop accepted methodologies, tools and processes. Our proposal is to open a space in which Transition Design can evolve in a similar way and connect to other global transition initiatives.”

For SUPATX, we can lead a conversation and be an open source concept and an invitation for engagement and co-design with artists, community organizers, and municipal employees for the development of innovative civic engagement platforms. SUPATX endeavors to develop recognized approaches to evolve the context and experience of civic life and reshapes the culture of civic engagement.

Atlanta Community Engagement Playbook 

The Atlanta Community Engagement Playbook is designed for those with a shared interest in building successful engagement processes and reaching higher levels of community engagement. Higher levels of engagement mean that residents own and take leadership over civic change, rather than just observing or even providing feedback. Strong engagement is built on dialogue with a natural push and pull. This playbook has been designed to mirror that constructive process. It is meant to help service providers and community associations lead successful and collaborative engagements.”

For SUPATX, the playbook is an obvious analog for how we might share our experience, methodology, best practices, learnings, etc. It’s a step by step guide for how to work with artists and develop new contexts and experiences for civic life.

“You never change things by changing the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”  – Buckminster Fuller

We are Stand Up, Austin! And we exist to bring artists and civic organizations together to engineer new contexts & experiences of civic life.

Screen Shot 2018-04-27 at 10.41.02 PM

KeyUp is growing up!

Since we last week’s post, team KeyUp has been developing an MVP based on our learnings from last week, continuing to build relationships, and revising our story for the final AC4D presentations next week.

  • First, we have been working on creating a library of videos of people who are currently in our highlighted careers of tech, the skilled trades, and health care. We plan to have a series of short videos in which people talk about how they came to their jobs, how they find meaning, and what it is like. We have heard over and over again from our users and their trusted advisors how important stories are. They help them make decisions about the future.

To this end, we continued developing a relationship with Capital Idea, set up appointments with professionals around the city and got to learn from the Electrician’s Union about apprenticeships.   

A classroom future electricians are trained in
A classroom future electricians are trained in
  • Second, we began developing relationships with our mentors at Impact Hub. It was awesome to feel the support of our community, continue to learn from people in different fields, and build on our experience at AC4D. We walked away feeling more confident and proud. We also had a chance to practice pitching different business models for KeyUp to various experts. Needless to say, we know we need to work on this more and continue testing our assumptions. We also loved getting a chance to connect with our cohort — it definitely feels like we will be able to collaborate and find future partners here.
Adam talking to a mentor during speed dating
Adam talking to a mentor during speed dating
Mary Hannah speaking to another mentor during speed dating
Mary Hannah speaking to another mentor during speed dating
  • Third, we have been spending time answering the questions: what is the problem we are solving and how are we solving it? We keep returning to these questions over and over again. Are we solving the right problem? Sometimes it feels like we are constantly restarting and it most certainly causes an existential crises. Of course, each time we return to the basics, the friction produces good results and we are able to move forward again. We started by remapping KeyUp, which is getting increasingly complex. We also spent time sketching to make sense of our problem and ultimately, to communicate the problem to our cohort and during our presentation.

This week, we asked: how might we communicate our vision for KeyUp?

This week, we learned all stakeholders in the workforce ecosystem have different needs and therefore, we need different pitches depending on our audience. We are trying to figure out how to triangulate between the different stakeholders to serve the most urgent need. We also learned how KeyUp may fit into the current ecosystem.

Now, we’ve got to…

  • make a beautiful pitch deck
  • revise design artifacts like concept maps, wireframes and the customer journey
  • practice our presentation!

One way you can help right now is…

  • send us anyone you know who doesn’t have a 4-year degree and wants to figure out their next career step
  • connect us to people who are in middle skill careers

 

Laughing Our Way to a Better Community: The Potential of Comedy to Change the Culture of Civic Engagement in Austin

We launched Stand Up, Austin! with a live event, A Civic Comedy Show, on Wednesday, April 11. The event was a minimum viable product (MVP), meaning that it contained just enough features to satisfy paying customers and for us to obtain feedback for future iterations and development.

Key considerations to test included market interest, ability to make a civic event fun and enjoyable, the viability of a live comedy format, and the effect of adding civic-minded organizations to the event.

Features

The MVP included the following features: live event held at an adult-entertainment venue with a bar, a stand-up comedy showcase format featuring five diverse comics and a civic engagement expert, and four civic-minded organizations offering various opportunities to get involved with the community. We designed thoughtful touch points and interactions to enhance the civic-nature of the event, such as Conversation Cards and Community Jenga.

The MVP was held at Spider House Ballroom, a well-known Austin institution for live events.
The MVP was held at Spider House Ballroom, a well-known Austin institution for live events.
Attendees registered to vote and learned about upcoming elections from League of Women Voters.
Attendees registered to vote and learned about upcoming elections from League of Women Voters.
Before and after the comedic showcase attendees had an opportunity to enjoy community (and a cocktail or beer).
Before and after the comedic showcase attendees had an opportunity to enjoy community (and a cocktail or beer).
The showcase featured five comics, including Ky Krebs. “If Austin is so bike friendly then why am I always mad when they're in front of me?”
The showcase featured five comics, including Ky Krebs. “If Austin is so bike friendly then why am I always mad when they’re in front of me?”
An unexpected addition to a comedic showcase included Jay Jennings, postdoctoral research fellow for the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life and the Center for Media Engagement at the University of Texas Austin. "It’s not great that Texas ranks 50th in talking about politics, but it is solvable.”
An unexpected addition to a comedic showcase included Jay Jennings, postdoctoral research fellow for the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life and the Center for Media Engagement at the University of Texas Austin. “It’s not great that Texas ranks 50th in talking about politics, but it is solvable.”
The laughs came easily and quickly for the audience.
The laughs came easily and quickly for the audience thanks to our gifted comic partners.
Vickie O'Dell with Open Austin talked with attendees about volunteer opportunities related to open data, open government, and civic apps in Austin.
Vickie O’Dell with Open Austin talked with attendees about volunteer opportunities related to open data, open government, and civic apps in Austin.
AC4D student Adam Chasen performed qualitative research throughout the shadowing a couple and then interviewing them about their experience.
AC4D student Adam Chasen performed qualitative research throughout the MVP shadowing a couple and then interviewing them about their experience.

Results

MVP key learnings:

  • People will take decisive civic action when given the opportunity (for example, nine people registered to vote);
  • there is a market for local civic comedy (over 100 people bought tickets for $5-7 after 10-days of promotion which consisted primarily of social media and free event calendars);
  • a civic comedy show can be funny and informative (more than 90% of surveyed attendees rated the show as such);
  • and comics want to be part of a show that intersects with civic engagement (almost half of the comedic portion of the show was on topic with civic engagement even though we did not have creative control of the content).
Attendees had various civic opportunities presented by Pulse of Austin, League of Women Voters, Functional Democracy, and Open Austin. The MPV netted 45 individual tangible steps toward an improved civic life.
Attendees had various civic opportunities presented by Pulse of Austin, League of Women Voters, Functional Democracy, and Open Austin. The MPV netted 45 individual tangible steps toward an improved civic life.
The showcase is illustrated graphically as a sparkline. This helps to see the contrast in content by visualizing its contour. The line moves up and down between comedy and civic comedy. Engagement level was tracked by audience applause and laughter.

What’s Next

We are iterating our concept and preparing for AC4D’s Community Showcase and Party on Thursday, April 26. Please join us to learn more about Stand Up, Austin! 

 

The End of the Beginning

Several months ago, before our research began, Nicole and I had very little understand of what civic engagement in Austin even meant. We knew the system wasn’t perfect, what government system is? But we didn’t realize how excluded and marginalized so many people felt every single day.

Our capstone project, The Pulse of Austin, was born out many, many conversations and iterations on a simple premise: Government should be collaborative. 

Decisions and policies that govern a whole body of people, shouldn’t be made to benefit only those that speak the loudest and hold the most power.

Yet that’s often the way it works.

How can we expect the government to shape policy to meet the needs of its residents if it doesn’t hear from them? And how can we expect residents to chime in, if they never see the benefits of doing so?

PulsePeople

We believe that cities can be shaped collaboratively. But it’s not easy. Collaboration requires both residents and stakeholders to come to the table and interact.

What we are pushing for is a cultural and behavioral shift. We must make working towards a shared vision of Austin a more common practice. And that means people must speak up regularly, and not just the same voices that have always existed in city hall. And we must make city council accustomed to hearing from its constituents. 

There is a very little intimacy between the city and it’s people. The disconnect is startling. Yet we are all affected by policy every single day.

There is clearly a space for The Pulse of Austin to live and bridge this divide.  I believe both the personalization and guidance the mobile app provides are significant differentiators that can push towards our vision of collaboration.

A system as large as civic engagement, was never going to be redesigned in the course of a school year. We have much more work to do.

Nicole and I are building partnerships with city stakeholders and learning from experts steeped in the field of civics, while keeping our feet on the side of the residents. It’s their voices we want to make clear, and this is the balancing game of a true human-centered designer.

Our time at AC4D is ending, but we aren’t done yet.

Our next move is to apply for a fellowship with Code for America with the hope to get funding so we can keep the lights on as we continue to build.

code for america

How We Arrived At Comedy As A Concept

Understanding Civic Engagement

It is our understanding that voting, volunteering and being a sustainable member within neighborhoods and communities are all ways that residents can give their voice back, find resources for aid, and lean on their community for help in trying times. By focusing on how residents currently participate civically, or if they even do so at all, we can begin to find what problems, if any, residents are experiencing in this area. To do so, my team and I collaborated with the City of Austin Innovation office with the goal of understanding how low income residents articulate their viewpoints towards government and uncover more inclusive ways to enable civic engagement and representation.

We conducted research by speaking with residents in their homes, and in places like libraries and community events that presented opportunities to participate civically. During these immersive activities we heard stories from people like Diego who said, “The government is a kings sport. You need to be wealthy to play.” and people like Ellen who had this to say about interacting with government officials, ”It’s irritating. [people parking on the street] That was one of my concerns I told the councilman but he was like oh yeah I’ll get to it but he never has.”

Ellen@3x

Our team found that residents were hesitant to articulate viewpoints to government, and more than that, they were fencing themselves off from participating civically all together. After speaking in-depth with participant we saw that most residents carried distrust towards, not only government, but other members of their community.

“This is the most convenient spot that the whites let the blacks hold for a while, until they wanted it back.”  -Hancock, long time resident living in East Austin.

 

Absorbing Behavioral Patterns  

We noticed patterns between the stories and observations gathered from our participants, and as we went into synthesis we began to see unfold how the seeds of distrust and barrier to participation were planted.

Diego, who said himself that resident’s needed to be wealthy to participated in government, didn’t actually believe that himself; as he was an activist and has lobbied for and against  issues he cared about with much success. We asked ourselves how was it that this man, a person of low income for many years, managed to break these barriers that we were seeing. When it seemed at first that a resident’s lower economic status had a direct effect on whether they were able to engage.

Our team surmised that, in fact, it wasn’t resident’s lower economic status that was causing them to see no results from participation but the very idea that they perceived that because they were poor they wouldn’t have a voice. When, in fact, in Austin this is largely untrue because large majority of government funding goes to funding programs specifically created to perform outreach towards the lower income communities. However, these programs are struggling to perform outreach because lower income individuals have put up barriers to participating due to their previously stated negative perceptions.

The problem is that lower income residents don’t feel that participating civically is worth their effort because Austin does not value lower income residents as much as they do the wealthy residents. These negative perceptions towards government and community are damaging to the current system because they actually create self perpetuated realities due to lack of representation within the city. Put simply, because residents feel they don’t get equal representation they don’t  participate; and because theydon’t participate they don’t get equal representation.

After understanding that we couldn’t shape the way residents think and behave right off we asked ourselves how might we change the ways in which members of the community participate so that negative feelings towards interacting within local civics shifts towards greater connection and sociability.

Artboard 11@3x

What are ways we can change the way people participate? How do we shift the negative feelings about civic engagement into become feelings of belonging and sociability?

 

Using Humor To Shift Perceptions

We asked ourselves are their organizations and designs already doing this? Are their things happening right now that we can replicate or gain insights from? Yes, and many use humor as a way to communicate political and communal messages in a positive manner.

A big thing we are seeing in the world is the emergence of political comedy. (The Daily Show; Last Week Tonight With John Oliver; The Colbert Report) Our culture is more open to the idea of mixing politics and comedy than ever before. The idea that we can shift how we view a certain topic by the form it’s communicate lead our team to ask: What participating civically and getting involved was fun? What if it was something people did because they enjoyed it and not because of necessity or moral obligation.

Comedy can have a powerful effect on how people absorb and evaluate contrary or new information, and nowadays is often used as a communication tool to inform and engage without adhering to the same negative perception of the current system of political and communal topics.

civic night@3x

We began testing a concept that involved a weekly event at neighborhood bars consisting of information and entertainment based on civic affairs and political topics. The idea was that by gathering people in casual bar setting for a night of local political trivia, topical comedy, and civically centered conversation people could engage civically while having fun with neighbors and other members of the community. Our assumption was that by offering an alternative to typical forms of getting involved residents would be far more willing for discussions with their community and local officials.

 

Testing Interest In The Concept   

It was our assumption that people would be interested in this concept as a possible solution, and would be willing to participate in pilot type event at some point. Our first experiment consisted of creating a website landing page with informative content about our concept and measuring how many email subscribers we could get within a seven day period. We surmised that in order for the experiment to be successful we needed to get greater than 25 email sign ups on our website landing page. Within twelve hours 25 people provided an email address and at the conclusion of the seven day period we had received over 77 subscriptions.

Webiste Civic Night

Testing Concept Format and Expectations

Before we went to prototyping the concept for a pilot test we still needed to understand what format people felt was best suited for this type of concept. A big thing that we found is people equated it towards daily show and last week tonight, both shows that mix humor and politics that don’t require much active participation from the users. So, our next step was to test to see if people would actually attend a live event. We looked for signals from user centered participatory activities that suggested our participants preferred the concept to come in the form of a live event.

In this experiment, we hoped to understand what people found attractive about Civic Night with the hopes of co-creating our pilot with them. We explored what they expect the night to feel like with regards to the place, the atmosphere, and the content. We wanted to know what residents hope to achieve by participating, what format they wanted it to be in, how much they wanted to participate, and what they hoped to gain through participating in this event.

We spoke with 27 people to test the format of the concept and their expectations based on four separate variations of the concept with scenario hero flows played out in each format. We focused the experiment on speaking to people who were middle or lower income.

drea@3x

We held an in-depth interview with one individual. She performed an act of placing thoughtful image stimuli into categories of topics to be covered, format, environment, style and personality, type of participation, sentiment, and what she hoped to achieve by participating. We then did ad hoc participatory interviews, wherein customers reviewed the formats (comedy show, salon,  trivia, radio show) and were asked to think out loud as they went through the scenario flows.

Josh, Maria, Scott Presentation_ Civic Night (3)

The experiment indicated that a majority prefered a live show over other formats, and having it be delivered in a comedy show format with an interactive component that sparks community engagement. The only measure that wasn’t conclusive was the type of venue for this event. We inferred through behavioral patterns that most didn’t want it to be in a bar, but many felt they would expect it in a community center, brewery, or typical comedy venue.

 

Designing The Minimal Viable Product

We felt that after this last round of experiments our team had enough positive feedback to start prototyping a minimal viable product for testing. To do that we first needed to see if we could actually mix comedy and local civics and still have them be funny and effective at informing. Several comedians in the Austin area agreed to take part in co-creation sessions with us to see what was possible in their eyes as far as crafting this material. Through these sessions we concluded that crafting these jokes would take a great amount of time and effort on their part which meant more compensation. This lead our team to compromise our creative control for the pilot testing which in turn made us rethink what our minimal viable product could be.

The fact that we couldn’t pay comedians to write original material, combining local civics and humor, was something we didn’t account for. In order for our concept to work it needed to address the question, “how might we change the ways we participate so that perceptions towards articulating viewpoints and interacting within community shifts towards greater connection and sociability.”

We needed to find new ways in which we could have our event mix comedy and local civics without relying solely on our comedians.

After weeks of synthesis activities and ideations we used service design tools to map out a service blueprint and customer journey map to understand how to design for each touchpoint within the night. We prototyped interactive concepts like conversation cards, community games, informative stickers and artifacts, and we brought on outside civic organizations like The League of Women Voters and Open austin to provide actionable engagement activities (registering people to vote, signing up people to volunteer) during the event. The comedians were still apart of our pilot, however, we understood that by not having creative control over what their jokes were the success of our pilot needed to be on how the event itself mixed humor and civics.

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Testing With People

We devise ways to test our pilot and each touch point within the event through a contextual survey, tally sheets for each booth to measure conversion rates from approaching the booth to actively engaging, a sparkline sheet, and qualitative contextual research done during the event with two seperate participants.

Feedback

At this point we have yet to completely process our data from the pilot, however from an initial debrief our team has surmised that from our tally sheets from each civic booth that we were able to create actionable civic engagement from our participants.

Pulse of Austin: 24 Interactions; 14 Beta User Sign Up; 58% conversion

League of Women Voters: 12 interactions; 9 registered to vote – 75% conversion

Open Austin: 20 interactions: 10 signed up to volunteers – 50% conversion

A Functional Democracy: 15 interactions; 10 signed up for book – 67% conversion

Our team continues to process feedback from our pilot and going forward we plan on following up with participants to perform qualitative research so we can better improve the service design and experience of the event. We cannot, at this time, say whether this pilot test was a success or not. However, it is the feeling of our team that this concept has weight and merit given that we were able to bring over 90 people into this unique experience. It was purposefully not an ideal state. We feel that going forward we cannot iterate on many of the concepts and begin finding new ways to minimize the risk of creating original content for the comedians.

 

Going Forward

In conclusion, our shortcomings came from not thinking forward on crafting these original jokes, however we found new ways to combine local civics and humor that proved effective on a smaller scale. Next step  are finding new ways to measure and test future events, designing better interactions for follow up testing, and ways to reduce time and effort of planning entire events.

A Mobile Bank App Adaptation

It’s been fun to pass from the designer hat to the product management hat for the past three quarters.

So far, I’ve learned how to break down, define and prioritize the necessary capabilities in a mobile application, I have drawn up scenarios inspired in real life situations and potential users in order to match them to these capabilities. I have also created low fidelity and high fidelity wireframes in Sketch, and have made them interactive for usability testing purposes which is also a method that I used in order to get feedback from real users.

Then, my product manager self went and talked to a developer in order to get an estimate of how long it would take to build the screens that were designed – which, by this time, were annotated to differentiate features from controls. This taught me what to expect from a conversation with a developer: the questions I should know to ask and the tools I should have whenever I engage in a conversation with them. After my conversation with the developer, I did a rough cut: this helped me prioritize which elements of the application I should prioritize to get built for a minimum viable product.

After defining our MVP, I created a roadmap – the visualization I will use to communicate to both the executive and development team about the latest progress.

Finally, I created a Strategy and Feature Brief (see full brief here), the purpose of this reading deck is to be shared throughout my hypothetical organization in order to share the vision of the product.

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Earning stakeholder buy-in on my product vision

Building onto the product vision with a feature brief

Jumping into the final product management assignment, I had already sized my application with a developer and created a product roadmap for the trimmed down version of my wireframes. Now, it was time to bring that roadmap into a compelling vision for the user and for the company.

With my product manager hat on, I revisited the guiding research for my banking application, refined behavioral insights, and outlined how these findings could serve as the foundation for the app’s prioritized features.

Crafting a narrative from a rocky foundation

The big snag here was…we didn’t exactly conduct ethnographic research for our banking app. I had, however, spent a couple hours on the phone with Amela, a woman who came to the US as a refugee from Bosnia when she was 14 years old. She also works at one of nine resettlement agencies in the US, so she provided wonderful color on the transition from both a personal and tactical side.

Inspired once again by the idea of addressing the US’ refugee population, I dove into my old research and extracted three key insights:

insights

From these insights, I identified three design pillars to guide the creation of my app.

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Takeaway: Justifying the development process without user research feels unnatural. Ethnographic research adds so much more depth to the product decisions.

Takeaway: Grounding design pillars in research redirected my focuses for the roadmap activity.

My pillars were previously inclusivity, security, and simplicity. While the two sets share some commonalities, my roadmap no longer felt like it fit my objectives as well as it had before. Its overall priorities were in line, but the granular elements of each section are where I may want to rethink my feature ordering.

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Takeaway: Keep a consistent vision throughout the product creation process.

Working the refugee angle at this point felt too late – I couldn’t properly do it justice. In some respects, this brief would have been more successful had I stuck to the vision that drove last week’s artifact.

Nevertheless, the design pillars and high-level roadmap still work together nicely, mapping to each other throughout the build.

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Showcasing Unique Value

The final section of the feature brief is reserved for showcasing the important elements that will set my bank apart. Particularly important for my design pillars are internationalization, profile alerts, sending money with Zelle, and the Fortune future payment analysis. In the feature brief,  these features all have their core components and value drivers listed next to them.

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These will be  effective for helping stakeholders  see my vision as something more concrete. It starts to ground the insights and diagrams into an imaginable reality.

The full PDF of the feature brief lives here, if you would like to read it from end-to-end.

What’s Next

Next, I would love to challenge and refine my research about refugees. I know there is SO much more for me to learn from them.

More research could potentially push a meaningful shift in my product roadmap, which would feel intimidating, but may ultimately yield a new, much more effective approach for my vision.