Just three weeks ago, Jeff, William and I began the design research process as students of AC4D by developing a plan focused on learning about what addiction can do to a family. We began by putting our assumptions and ideas about addiction up on a white board and talked through having the experts (not us) teach us what this wicked problem is all about. As new design researchers, it was natural for us to approach this subject with a beginner’s mind.
We reached out to participants identified in our initial research plan including an addict, an addict’s family member, law enforcement and support. We secured the participants for our interviews a few different ways. Some were through personal connections. Others, like treatment and support, were scheduled through email, phone and in-person outreach. We were surprised by how willing people were to share their expertise with us.
Our first interview was with a 19 year old heroin addict. We prepared for this interview by developing questions and building them into a discussion guide. The discussion guide was created with the intent of shaping the conversation and asking questions that we felt would help us better understand addiction. Even after having done this and roleplaying the interview with each other, nothing could really prepare us for what our first participant shared. Hearing about some of the darkest details of his addiction, his attempts at recovery and the overwhelming love he had for his family exposed us to how complex addiction really is.
As design researchers, we came away from this interview with several learnings about engaging with people and moderating the conversation. We felt that having the discussion guide present during the interview was distracting to both our participant and our moderator. Listening back to the interview recording later revealed that our focus on the discussion guide questions prevented us from allowing the participant’s stories to cue the next question. Going into our second interview with the addict’s father, we decided to take a more conversational approach. From this interview, we learned that addiction affects every member of their family and that each person must decide for themselves what their relationship with the addict can be.
The more interviews we conducted, the more confidence we gained in asking for access. We got better at being the apprentice. In our third interview with the executive director of a support program for teens, he walked us through what it was like to have an initial conversation with a teen and their family that has come to seek their help and services. He showed us the assessment tools that the program uses to gain baseline information about a teen’s substance usage.
Our participants were experts on the topic of addiction and it was a humbling experience for all of us to hear their stories and learn from them.
Creating a safe space for our participants has revealed itself to be as helpful to them as it is to us. People don’t usually have the chance to share their lives without fear of being judged. While we did not come away from this research with answers to the complexities of addiction, we are excited to continue seeing where this will lead us next. Click here to see the presentation of our learnings.