The following are some key learnings that may benefit other nonprofits looking to develop technology tools for their constituencies:
Think Deeply About Who You Are Designing For – It’s Not Just the End User(s)!
As philanthropists, we always want to achieve the greatest impact with the interventions we create. In doing so, we must ensure that before we start building a product, or even go too deep into the design process, we ask a key question – who are we designing this for? Not JUST the end user, but how might this integrate into a specific system? It’s essential that we think of who might distribute whatever intervention we might create. Many nonprofits build amazing products with a mentality of, “If we build it, they will come.” Unfortunately, that is not always the case – it’s much easier to get your product into the hands of users if you have a distribution channel in place. Designing for the system as much as you design for the end user is essential.
We encouraged the Ounce to identify a distribution channel early on and include them in the human-centered-design process along with the parent end-users. They decided to focus on the Head Start program and included Head Start administrators and educators in the design of the tool.
Don’t Assume You Have to Build From Scratch.
Many nonprofits or philanthropies new to the technology space may automatically assume that you have to build your tech intervention from the ground up. Not so! In fact, you can save time, energy, and money by white labeling or customizing existing technologies already in the market that are available for licensing. In fact, especially if you’re working in the healthcare space, you may want to work with a company that specializes in HIPAA-compliant technologies and if you’re working with children under 14, you want to make sure your tech is COPPA-compliant, as well. Companies that work in this space on a regular basis will generally have that infrastructure and expertise already set up and should make the process go much more smoothly for you. Use that leg-work to your advantage, and consider tech partners who have already worked through many of these issues for other clients.
Picking the Right Design Firm – Interview Several to Refine Your Thinking and Approach.
Choosing the right design team is no small task. This is the team that will walk alongside you on this journey of design and development. They will essentially be ON your team for a significant part of your journey — many months or even longer. You want to have a great relationship with them. It’s important they understand your mission, your vision for the product, your team dynamics, the timelines, and the ultimate goal of what you are trying to achieve. You also want them to be able to challenge and improve upon your thinking — making you stretch to find the best solution possible for your users. If all of these things are not in alignment, the process could go off course quickly.
Interviewing and talking about your project with several design firms will greatly improve your thinking and give you a much better understanding of how different teams work with their clients. This activity can also serve as an alignment activity for the internal core team. The interview exercise challenges the team to articulate what’s most important about the work, what measures are most critical, and exposes assumptions that individuals may hold. Use these insights as an opportunity to learn more about the human-centered design process and to help shape your ideas and approach. Although this can take time, it can result in a big pay-off for your team in the long run.
The Hopelab team and the Ounce created a list of several different potential vendors/partners, and together, we brainstormed and developed a variety of questions to ask during the interview process. Ultimately, the team interviewed seven different firms before selecting Daylight Design, a team that Hopelab has worked with on several projects.
Examine Your Pathway to Impact.
In order to develop great products that actually affect behaviors and mindsets that can ultimately improve health outcomes, you need to start with a clear impact pathway. What are the ultimate outcomes you are after? What behaviors or beliefs affects those outcomes? What are the psychological drivers that affect those behaviors and beliefs? How might your solution affect psychology? By reverse engineering what you are driving toward, you can better test hypotheses and figure out what is most important to measure.
As an organization steeped in early childhood education research, the Ounce had already thought deeply about its ultimate outcomes and how a self-reflection tool might help both parents and early childhood providers. Hopelab encouraged the Ounce to refine its impact pathway and consider the best ways to assess impact across stakeholders (e.g., parents, children, caregivers) as the tool was being designed and developed.
Over the course of eight weeks, Hopelab helped the Ounce focus the scope of its project and increase its potential for adoption and impact in the early childhood space. We look forward to seeing what they ultimately create and how focusing their design efforts on the larger system of Head Start will impact the lives of parents and their young children.