How We Bounce

More movement. Less blah-blah-blah.

That’s my take-away from our second week. Thanks to a surprising Friday afternoon encounter at one of our favorite cafes.

Jonas and I were crowded around a small table, with our pens and colored paper, sketching diagram after diagram. We were trying to visually explain how we work.

As a shorthand, we often describe our approach as a blend between policy and design. With community organizing and political debate methods thrown into the mix.

From design, we take a focus on people (end users) and on prototyping interactions that work for them. From policy, we take a focus on agenda setting, coalition building, and influencing systems. And yet there’s some important differences between these two approaches and ours:

> We have a different starting point to design. We start by understanding people’s life outcomes, not just their service experiences. Our goal isn’t to deliver a new product or service at one point in time, but to shape and shift life outcomes over time. 19-year old single-mom Liz only leaves the house on Fridays, when she checks-in with the local welfare office. You could improve her service experience by moving the check-in experience online. But doing so would increase Liz’s isolation, and actually prevent opportunities for shaping what she does the other six days of the week.

> We work in a different sequence to policy. We prototype before formulating policies. We don’t think you know what to put in a policy until you understand what the policy should enable. Through prototyping, we might learn that what prompts change for Liz is connecting 1:1 with other single moms in her area. And that the connections can be easily facilitated by welfare officers. With that evidence, we can then craft new privacy policies that let moms opt-in and share contact details, and new job descriptions for welfare officers.

> We have a different ending point to design + policy. We’ve tried to blend design and policy approaches before. From 2009 to 2012, I co-developed something called the Working Backwards approach. It’s the approach behind Family by Family, a network of families helping families that’s now scaling across Australia. That approach ended with a blueprint for a new social service, and with a business case to facilitate its scale. Our current approach ends with multiple interventions for multiple user groups, and with embedded teams to take forward the interventions and build momentum.

Given these contrast points, we looked for some fresh visual inspiration. We liked how:

> Evolutionary biology diagrams communicated transitions over time: new species emerging, as well as species no longer-fit-for-purpose dying out. That’s what we see our approach yielding: lots of new interventions, along with an end to stuff getting in the way.

> Double loop learning diagrams communicated evaluation over time. Too often, single loop learning is the basis for assessing new policies, services, and products. Results are measured against their initial intent. But beliefs and assumptions underlying the intent aren’t made visible or questioned. Critical questioning underpins the whole of our approach.

But, when we tried to combine these different concepts & diagrams, we were left with something rather abstract. A collection of methods & steps, but without a sense of what it all added up to.

And that’s when we met Aleksandar. A dancer trained in psychology. Who was having a Friday afternoon cup of coffee. He asked what we were doing. We tried to explain.

“Aren’t you talking about a change process? About getting people to move? To push through the pain and discomfort of doing something differently, and activate their muscles?”

Yes! That’s what we wanted to be talking about. What if our entire approach was about changing behaviors? If it wasn’t just the interventions we prototyped that shifted behaviors. But the whole of our working process?

We googled behavior change processes, and landed on a diagram for neurolinguistic programming. It was pretty spot-on. Our approach was fundamentally about shifting values, beliefs, and actions – and then reinforcing & building on those changes in the face of resistance. And not only the values, beliefs, and actions of the people on-the-ground, but of the professionals and policymakers too.

This helped us to articulate that:

Our first phase of work is all about enabling decision-makers & community leaders to identify the need for change. We do this by gathering stories, assembling groups, and testing the appetite for longer-term investment. Out of this phase, we want folks saying: “I see why I need to change.”

Our second phase of work is all about surfacing and shaping values, assumptions, and desired outcomes. We do this by spending time with people in their homes & neighborhoods, and with professionals and policymakers in-systems. We also put a mirror to ourselves. Out of this phase, we want folks saying: “I know and I want…”

Our third phase of work is all about trying out new patterns of interaction and un-learning old patterns. We do this by prototyping new kinds of experiences, roles, and tools. With and for people, professionals, and policymakers. That means we’re making interventions with multiple user groups. Out of this phase, we want folks saying: “I can change. And it’s worthwhile.”

Our fourth phase of work is all about reinforcing change, getting over resistance, and constructing support systems. We do this by setting-up embedded teams, inside and outside of systems, and inviting more people to get involved. Out of this phase, we want an increasing number of folks saying, “I’m joining in. Change is feasible.”

When we put all of this together, we got a diagram that looked like a little like this! We’re still working on how to visually convey it all.

Stay tuned for our next iteration.

So thank you, Aleksandar, for teaching us that there at least nine ways to bounce.