Friday was our first free night of the week. We exchanged Chinese food, Mac & Cheese, roast chicken & potatoes, and pizza for a few beers. And a good dose of reflection. We put the timer on. And each took 30 minutes to put some thoughts on paper. What was sticking with each of us from Week 3 of the Burnaby Starter Project?
Just five days earlier - on Monday - we gathered at the bookstore to name the core questions we wanted to answer in Week 3. Here's what they were:
Question 1: How do we engage the people in our building who aren't attracted to the project? To ideas of community, neighborliness, isolation, and stress? What works and what doesn't as hooks, for whom?
We've met most of the folks living in our apartment complex, and have now had dinners, beers, lunches, or local tours with 13 people. About half of the folks in the building are warm to our current framing around stress & helpful help. The other half are not. >> Scroll down to read Jonas' reflections on how to hook people not attracted to these messages.
Question 2: How do we extract the most relevant insights from our time with people? What are the most revealing interactions & materials, for whom?
We've gone through 5 different iterations of our prompting materials, to try and get at 11 different constructs around how people see themselves and internalize their community, service, and system experiences. We're wanting to understand what types of interactions & connections enable people to explore, expand, and adapt their sense of self over time? Rather than keep people stuck? Why? Because our hunch is that to shift the dial on wellbeing, we can't just add relationships & connections to people's lives. We've also got to shift how people make meaning of all this stuff. >> Scroll down to read Yani's reflections on making materials for these conversations, and Sabrina's reflections on what using these materials yields.
Question 3: How can we begin to make sense of the service & system landscape? How can we start to identify the specific system interactions which shape people's sense of self? What materials do we need to make to help discover some of this?
We went along to a big meeting with a lot of system players in the Community Living sector, and arranged shadowing of front-line deliverers, mid-level manages, and policy folks. We're adapting materials we've used with folks in our apartment complex to learn about how professionals in the system see themselves. >> Scroll down to read Janey's reflections on her 'transformative' experience, and Sarah's reflections on the difficult balance of doing the work with mobilizing the system to fund the work.
"My life isn't interesting. Why do you want to know?" Jonas' Reflections
Laura and I banded together this week around a clear-cut challenge: Have a conversation with the neighbors we haven't spoken to in our building. Yet.
We want to speak to as many different people as possible. To avoid doing what too often happens: speaking to the people who are social, who have time, and who are interested in 'community'. We want to speak to the people who don't have time, who aren't interested in neighborliness, and who keep to themselves in the elevator.
So far, we've tried 5 different strategies.
- We knocked on doors with fresh home-made cookies
- We offered dog-walking, homework help, breakfast in bed, and ice-cream on bad days with our 'In House Helper' service offer
- We've promoted kid-led tours, where we 'hire' kids to take us on a local tour
- We set-up a 'Coffee on the go' stall in the parking garage from 7am
- We created a Feeling sour? stand, offering a lemonade or beer for a rant
Yesterday we tallied up our score. And we created a visual map of our apartment building - with different colors to denote the range of folks we've met. Doing this helped me realize that whilst we've spoken to all the single moms in the building and all the folks receiving assistance from disability services, we have not yet been able to reach the families with children ages 2-8.
Today, we've spent an hour brainstorming 3 new offers that could be interesting for this segment. Our goal is to engage these folks in a longer conversation about their day-to-day life.
We're going to try an offer for grandparents spending time with grandchildren (including an element of learning English words together - there are 10 different languages spoken in our building!), and the 'Little book with Big Ideas' an offer for parents around getting the most out of their limited weekend time.
Read next week to see how our new offers go.
Talking without words: Yani's Reflections
As a designer, one of my roles on the team is to develop visual prompting materials to use in people's homes. To help us dig deeper than the usual surface conversations, and get at people's tacit know-how. In design school at the University of Delft, we called these materials context mapping. One key difference, though, is the purpose of these tools. We're not just mapping someone's context so we can figure out how to make or sell a particular product or service, but so we can figure out what's a good outcome. Only then can we figure out what products or services we might actually make & test.
The big challenge in this project is we want to understand what's a good outcome for a super diverse group of people - from single moms with teenage kids to older people who don't speak English to people living with an intellectual disability. On one night, we talked to Dan, who lives with epilepsy that affects how he verbalizes words. On the other night, we talked to Eddy, who feels really anxious in new social settings and doesn't have a lot of words to describe emotions. Dan welcomed us with a big grin on his face. He seemed genuinely excited to have company. And yet he was so used to eating alone, that he instinctively grabbed a plate only for himself. It took gently asking for two additional plates, twice, for him to realize that we were really going to sit down and eat with him.
Dan has lots to say, but it takes him some time to get the words out. He told us that he needs to focus when he speaks, and he easily loses his train of thought. We created a set of labels for Dan to choose to describe himself. Dan looked at the words spread on the table. It didn’t take him long to read the words and to pick out the words he would not use to describe himself versus the ones he would. Then, he'd try and tell us why he chose them. Sometimes when telling us his stories, Dan would jump from one topic to another, and we found it hard to follow his train of thought.
We thought it would help if we wrote on a bright yellow mat we brought along. As Dan talked, we grabbed the marker and started writing down his own quotes. Turned out to be not such a good idea. The moment we started writing, Dan stopped talking. He was distracted by the movement of the marker: trying to read and talk at the same time was clearly distracting. Next time, we'd like to chunk materials in much more bite-sized amounts. And spread it out over a much longer period of time. We'd also like to try some different stimulus - sounds & smells to trigger memories, and writing rather than just talking.
We did not need to knock on the door when we arrived at Eddy’s apartment. His dog, Samy, knew immediately from our footsteps in the hallway, and barked loudly to tell his master we were there for the dinner. Eddy welcomed us in. Eddy initially took one plate down from the shelf, but then asked us if we needed one too.
Eddy loves dogs, and cars. Pictures of trucks and dogs adorned his walls. Our first conversations revolved around those two things. After dinner, we took out the stickers - our next iteration of the label cards - and a profile map. We drew Eddy’s portrait in the middle and started to place the stickers that he chose on the map. Eddy was quick. In a short amount of time, we filled the map with stickers and quotes.
When we’re done, Eddy smiled and asked whether he could get a copy of his profile map. He seemed to like the combination of things on there. We liked it too. There's a visual feedback loop - all of us can see what's being added, and it becomes a focal point for further probing. And we didn't have to scribble as much down in our notebooks, which created a much more natural interaction. We did wonder whether there was too much stimulus at once, such that Eddy was just choosing the first sticker he saw, rather than processing each sticker separately. So we'll be changing the design of our sticker book. With one sticker per page. In the act of flipping the page, we wonder if it will spark some deeper self-reflection.
Dan's Nostalgia: Sabrina's Reflections
Bespeckled, bearded, and tall, Dan is softer and more gentle than his build would suggest. He moves with slow precision, grabbing, holding and using things with a delicate hand. His soft speech is frequently broken by a guttural chuckle and a toothy smile - especially when he's being self-deprecating. Whether he's describing his "Irish" temper or difficulty managing money, he does so with a grin and a brush of his hand. He doesn't put much weight on these flaws, though others, like his support worker, admonish and remind him.
The walls and shelves in his humble apartment are adorned with photos of loved ones, trinkets and reminders of accomplishments - a track and field trophy and his forklift operator's certificate. Among the photos is a mini-shrine to a deceased former girlfriend whom he misses dearly. Like that girlfriend, many of the best things in Dan's life seem to live in his memories, in the past, before the epilepsy became a larger part of his life.
"Unless you know me...people don't know I have a disability." That's why he used to sit at the back of the bus. That was before the warehouse accident and the metal rod put in his leg and the crutches.
"I used to be in charge of 30 clients" he says with pride. Dan mentions work - former jobs, coworkers, training, bosses - as much as he mentions his family. He rubs his shin - the one with the rod - when he talks about not being able to work anymore. He tells us he sometimes runs into former coworkers and, "They don't recognize me...[they say] you've changed." Flipping through his photo albums with us, it seems Don doesn't recognize himself either.
I used to go dancing. I used to live in a house with girls and guys. I used to ride my bike. I used to take martial arts. I used to make bird houses. I used to not need massages.
Dan's story will be continued…
In writing just a few paragraphs of Dan's story, I was able to reflect more about his past-orientation and looked up nostalgia and it’s argued positive benefits—an alleged optimism for the future . How might he make the leap from good feelings to actualizing good changes in his life? How might other folks take strength from nostalgia? Of memories both good and painful?
Does it really counteract anxiety? Depression? Boredom? When I’ve found myself being particularly nostalgic, it’s often been followed by a kind of guilt for spending too much mental and emotional time in the past.
When does nostalgia meet optimism and meet a moment of change in the present? How might you use nostalgia to propel you into action?
From Team Manager to Dinner Partner: Janey's Reflections
I used the word 'transformative' at the beginning of the week to describe the ‘process’ that I feel I have undertaken. Three weeks ago, I was leading a team at PosAbilities. This week, I've been eating dinner with people like Mark. For me, Mark's apartment, his story, and his boredom cemented what we had been trying to explore. The ideas of loneliness and isolation. But it doesn’t just stop there. Mark has all these people and connections, but still feels really alone. What has happened on this path of service delivery? I think it goes beyond that.
If I have learned anything this week is that we need to look at everyone as complete people. We need to stop categorizing their ‘behaviour' and funneling them through service streams. George, with his wonderful laugh. The kind that makes you want to laugh too. There are a lot of people in George's life, and yet he is another one who feels so lonely. He is desperate to find a partner. Then there's Kaitlin, who lives down the hall and who sorts recycling every day. She's got such a strong work ethic - getting up at 6am to catch the bus to get to work. Her apartment is filled with electronic gadgets, and she has helped her neighbour with his TV several times. She likes to figure things out and is up for the challenge. Why is Kaitlin stuck in a job she finds boring? Why isn't she enabled to pursue her true passion: music? How is the Community Living system she is a part of driving her identity? From the point of diagnosis to the designation given in school to the service stream she entered in adulthood? Doing all of the dinners has reminded me why I went into this field in the first place: to impact change and to believe that things can be different.
In my experience, service providers and funders latch onto an idea and think because there have been some "positive outcomes" for some people, that it will be the solution for everyone. We went to a presentation on Friday with lots of colleagues in the Community Living system. People made sweeping statements about the value of employment for people like Kaitlin. Statements like, "Bob has gotten a job and now his whole life has changed." Without looking at the kind of job, or the kind of life. There was no discussion of what is a positive outcome. I'm left with the question: How can anything change when we are unwilling to question the assumed truths?
Feeling Torn: Sarah's Reflections
George checks the door knob three times before we jump in the car and head out. For chicken chow-mien and chicken rice. And a night where Janey and I laughed so hard it hurt. That was Wednesday. By Friday, I was in an air-conditioned hotel room with 40 professionals from the Community Living System.
I love getting to know people like George, and seeing the disconnects with the system. It's where my creative energy comes from.
But, how do I balance the doing of the on-the-ground work with curating the team to take over the on-the-ground work and mobilizing the organizations to fund the work?
Not an unusual conundrum. But unusual to step out of the usual response: role differentiation. Where you have managers doing all the external facing stuff, and staff doing all the ground-level stuff. In the innovation field, the divide is all to recognizable. The charismatic leader who says all the right words - and paints a beautiful vision - without any attentiveness to the day-to-day realities of the team, or the rigor of the methods used.
It's this divide I wanted so desperately to get away from @ InWithForward.
How do we arrange ourselves in a way where I can remain firmly rooted on the ground? But where I also have the space to share what we're learning externally, build the market for what we do, and ultimately get full-scale prototyping projects happening?
I felt very torn this week. Last Friday, we held the first session for our Advisory Team. A group of academics and key stakeholders from government and non-profits who will help us strategize about what's next. On Tuesday, we held the first session for our Debriefing Team. A group of stakeholders from the community and the community living system who will challenge our research methods and thinking. I needed to do follow-up, and to start developing communication materials for these different audiences. And I also very much wanted to capture our internal team learning for public consumption so people could see our steps forward (and back).
But, all of that work just didn't feel as pressing as having dinner with George, and Kaitlin, and Eddy. And working with the team to re-shape the materials - and most importantly the theoretical frameworks underpinning our ethnographic dinners. I felt that unless we could extract great stuff from our dinners, we'd have nothing meaningful to share with external stakeholders. But my standards of what 'great stuff' is can be so high that there is little time or energy left for all the other activities.
Can I cede a bit more control to the team, and strike a better balance this next week?