People know their lives better than anyone else. We work hard to ensure that individuals and communities can play an active role in the decisions that shape their lives. When people's needs and values are at the heart of solutions intended to serve them, they're far more likely to actually work. It’s important we hear from these people early and often through the social innovation process to ensure we're recognising and meeting their needs.
Why involve people with lived experience?
1. The danger of assumptions
Too often, we speak about people but not with them. We assume we understand their needs and make important (often costly) decisions based on those assumptions. We rarely identify and test our assumptions with the people whose lives they’ll affect. The testing of assumptions is a key differentiator of the social innovation process.
"Often we don't have the conversation because we think we already know the answer." Simone Walker
Assumptions are wild, dangerous creatures. False assumptions often result in solutions that are undesirable, unusable and ultimately not viable. These solutions can fail to deliver on some or all of the outcomes intended for service users and the supporting organisation.
2. Lack of understanding
When we fail to work with the people a solution is intended to serve, we fail to understand their lives - their needs, values, expectations, beliefs and motivations. Understanding and designing with a knowledge of what people need is essential to creating human-centred solutions that actually work.
3. Lack of ownership
When we do things ‘to’ people and not ‘with them’ they’re unable to share in the journey of finding solutions and more importantly, owning and advocating for those solutions.
Key to the success of our work in social innovation is that the people who we’re designing for feel a sense of ownership, value and pride for what has been developed.
How can we ensure that individuals and communities play an active role in the decisions that shape their lives?
1. Set aside our assumptions
To recognise someone as an expert in their own life, we need to acknowledge and park our worldview, recognising the biases and assumptions we have when engaging with them. A simple brainstorming exercise can help to get all of our ‘stuff’ into the open.
2. Loosen our grip
Surrendering our own ego, need for control and desire to see our own ideas become a reality is hard but necessary if we’re to be of service to others, rather than our egos.
“The best designers are passionate about design, but dispassionate about their own designs.” Mike Monteiro
There are many methods for engaging individuals and communities in playing an active role in the decisions that shape their lives. We use participatory design mindsets and methods to encourage authentic collaboration.
“Participatory design is a 'collective bricolage' in which individuals (clients, users, designers) are able to interrogate the heterogeneity of a situation, to acknowledge their own position and then go beyond it, to open it up to new meanings, new possibilities, to 'collage their own collage onto other collages,' in order to discover a common project.” Doina Petrescu, from "Losing Control, Keeping Desire" in Architecture and Participation, 2005.
Involving people with lived experience as active partners throughout the social innovation process
To ensure the appropriateness and success of a social innovation approach, we encourage forming partnerships with people with lived experience. This can involve sharing in:
identifying and framing the problem we’ll be solving together
shaping a research approach together
facilitating interviews with whānau, friends and neighbours
generating ideas in response to the research findings
testing the ideas (prototyping)
making the ideas a reality (implementation)
During the parenting innovation process, we supported local Waitakere parents to gather insights from their peers. They identified important nuances we’d likely have missed as well as having a better sense for the way they’d need to engage with their peers, promoting comfortable, safe and meaningful participation.
Honoring our commitment to the experts
As we move through a social innovation process our assumptions can creep back in as we add more and more detail to solutions. Implementation often brings a range of challenges and constraints to which we need to respond. We may need to adapt our solution as a result.
It’s important we come back to the experts to ensure we’ve correctly recognised and accommodated their needs. While working with Curative on Steer Clear (the drug driving social marketing programme), we employed a group of creative young people who were connected to the target audience. Their involvement in product development and user testing helped to produce relevant and engaging content that offers appealing alternatives to driving after using cannabis.
People know their lives better than anyone else. With an awareness of the negative implications of not understanding these people's needs, we work hard to ensure that individuals and communities can play an active role in the decisions that shape their lives.
Solutions developed with people’s needs and values at the heart of solutions are far more likely to actually work.
After all, isn’t creating solutions that actually work the outcome we’re seeking?