The Administration for Children's Services (ACS) contracts with private nonprofit organizations to support and stabilize families at risk of a crisis through preventive services, and provides foster care services for children not able to safely remain at home.
The Community Based Strategies (CBS) team at ACS helps to develop new programs and initiatives driven by data, research, and family voice, including drop-in group therapy centers citywide.
User-researcher and facilitator
In collaboration with the Community-Based Strategies team at ACS, my team from the Service Design Studio at NYC Opportunity designed toolkits known as culture probes for inspiring trust among families.
Our guiding principle for designing a culture-probe was to give families a sense of control and stability, especially in a time of difficult transition.
Table of contents
- The Problem
- The Process
- Evaluating the process
The problem- A culture of fear and stigmA among families
We can't include families in the research process unless there's mutual trust established
As user-centered designers, it's an established best-practice to incorporate stakeholders in our research efforts. The very notion of user-centered design is to talk to and learn from... our users. Sounds like the right thing to do.
However, in the case of family prevention services, the conversations can be emotionally charged and counter-productive for the very families we're designing and advocating for.
"The challenge for us is that ACS has to come in as investigators. They go in like the police. Whatever time/day it’s on their schedule. It’s not the most relationship-building for our families."
"When ACS says 'do you want services'- it’s implied that they’re going to take their kids away, and that’s the message conveyed. I know ACS is working very hard to change that, but that’s their fear."
The data obtained from interviewing families is unreliable
Furthermore, we also learned that the responses we obtain from families during interviews can be influenced by trauma and fear, thereby yielding unreliable data.
When we get brought in- the families will say yes in front of ACS and then once ACS leaves the families say 'I really don't want services, I just wanted to get rid of that ACS rep'
The Process- Using the culture probe as a research tool
Culture probes are participatory in nature
As a qualitative research tool, a culture probe is presented to our participants as a "gift" by which they are invited to interact and perform a set of self-directed tasks in a safe environment at their convenience.
By presenting our families with culture-probes, we aim to treat our stakeholders not as research-subjects but as co-designers who are experts in their respective field. The aim is to change the traditional way of obtaining information; from that of an impersonal interview, to an immersive (and delightful) experience.
Culture probes are trauma-informed and strengths-based
Instead of inadvertently have our families re-live painful memories by asking questions such as "how did you end up in this situation?", a more optimal approach for nurturing trust and transparency would be to focus on the family member's strength as a care-taker.
Rebuild control. Find opportunities to give families a sense of control and stability, even in a time of transition
Culture probes are non-intrusive
We designed our culture probe to be a take-home "gift", so that family members can take their time and perform the set of instructions in the comfort of a safe space.
The Process- Co-designing the culture probes with acs
Facilitating the culture probes workshop
What is the goal of the project?
Who is the stakeholder you want to engage with? why?
What do you want to achieve using probes for this project?
How do we want our stakeholder to feel when engaging with the probe?
We want our family stakeholders to feel respected, safe, relieved, heard, trusted, and loved.
Planning how to deliver the probes to our families
A camera is a window into the visual world of the participants. They are often asked to capture moments in their daily lives: things which inspire, bore, evoke memories and encourages abstract connections that draws upon their unique experiences. Example question: take a photos of ‘the spiritual centre of your home’ and can be as vague as ‘something red’.
Maps encourage participants to interact withtheir environment as a way to documentwhether they feel safe, unsafe, happy,relaxed, angry, anxious in particular spaces.Map could also refer to family trees, lifehistories, meeting places, and so forth.
Postcards show open ended questions,allowing participants to reveal concernsabout their cultural environment,technology and lives in potentially differenttone of voices and settings. They are aninformal, friendly mode of communication.
Who will you give the probe to?
How long do you want your stakeholder to engage with the probe? Is it going to be passive or active?
Why did you decide to explore this medium? (camera, map, postcard, or another medium)
How will you entice your stakeholder to use the probe?
What is the probe? Write the instructions and draw the design probe of your choice.
We chose to present our family participant with the map probes. It's titled: "What's your happy place?"
lessons learned- How to improve the workshop experience
Better time management for facilitating discussions
I can't overstate enough how great it was to have design "allies" within ACS participate with the Studio in improving the way city-agencies (i.e. ACS) communicate with families in a dignified and trauma-informed way via culture-probes.
Finding a way to continue the conversation
Just because we had a great workshop doesn't mean the conversation has to end then and there.
"I liked, I wish, I wonder"
Good vibes thanks to the icebreakers
Everyone was eager and willing to learn
Everyone talked in the workshop. High participation.
Better prepped with time management (i.e. facilitator's agenda)
Shareout could be intentional with role-playing
A "solidified" end-goal deliverable as a compass
Time to test with outside groups
More time to spend with the probe