Empathy in Design to Drive Social Environmental Change
What drives change? Cultural shifts, power, economics… or chaos?
People are the common denominator. From legislation and public investments to community development, it is people that drive change.
Every day, we help global organisations shape a greener world, stop animal testing and tackle toxicity in health and environments. But what happens when a big corporate entity—which may hold alternate equally legitimate and, perhaps, opposing views—comes to us for help?
We help. Because Organisations do not make decisions, people do. There are many sides to one story.
An organisation is the totality of its many decisions within an intricate, messy ecosystem of issues and networks. It is difficult to solve a single issue with densely interconnected sets of causes. Nutrition is linked to food quality, which is linked to product taxes, which in turn affects development policies and so on. Focusing only on one area may come at the detriment of another and does not advance the debate as a whole.
This is what makes my role in Product Development both exhilarating and terrifying, at the same time.
What we build (Atium) may have a direct impact on the future success of a global waste campaign, the lobbying for a public nutritional programme, or the empowerment of women in developing nations. A small faux pas in design may have dire outcomes. (Read)
Challenge 1: Improving the narrative of data to guide positive decision-making in a complex environment
The interdependent nature of the issues means there isn’t a clearly defined solution, with many scenarios, routes, and a multiplier effect of stakeholders involved. Failing to frame issues in their relevant context not only misguides decision-making, but overwhelms the decision maker.
To make our users the most informed in the room, we provide a scalable monitoring platform for media sources and social networks to ensure extensive coverage of external trends. However, we all know that big data alone can be destructive, so we need to direct attention to the relevant conversation so that users listen to and engage with the right stakeholder on the pertinent issue.
In order to do so, we funnel large volumes of data and apply Natural Language Processing (NLP) that classifies, analyses and translates noise into meaningful insights. So, by the time it gets to the user, it has been curated by both machine and mind.
It is the story that the data tells that drives users to take action.
Challenge 2: Empowering action for scalable impact
So we have their attention. Now what?
Beautifully classified data is not going to do anything; we need to make our insights actionable. We have taken years (YEARS) to understand our user’s workflows to give them a simple yet end-to-end workspace.
Complex problems like climate change are tackled on multiple—vertical and horizontal— levels: global to local, ecosystem to organisational, cross-function to departmental. Large-scale cooperation is vital when tackling these issues. However, many teams work in silos, different people may interpret the same story or opinion differently, leading to contradictory knowledge across teams.
Then along comes “Interoperability”.
Big word, simple meaning: the seamless exchange of information across people, tools, process. Global success requires efficient coordination from all three, which speak in different languages – geographical, functional and operational. We have to work closely across departments transparently, to understand workflow from login, to centralisation and sharing of data, metrics and reporting.
Challenge 3: People don’t want to change
And this highlights perhaps the biggest problem: “people don’t like change”.
Although necessary for scalable impact, digital transformation requires effort upfront!
Even when we deploy change management strategies, jumping from traditional relational management to a digital enterprise engagement strategy is daunting for some individuals.
To quote a dear colleague of mine, “even a single button is complex until they see personal benefits”.
This is where we need to match user experience on ATIUM to users’ needs and comfort level. In other words, design for our users’ mental model. We have to refine our usability design to ensure Atium works in their world, which is clouded by beliefs, motivations, and fears. This means we have to become our users.
Some of our clients dealing with external affairs, issue management & really complex problems, have done amazing things, but face no reward for success, as at most times, success only means the absence of a loss.
We want to change this! We want to help them move towards protectors of “Value at Risk” and demonstrate their massive commercial impact.
How do we advance their causes given the challenges?
With empathy. As the product, we need to have empathy to achieve the above in order to solve global problems – empathy for the user, the issues, and the cause. Together with Professional Services, Product Development continuously works day by day to amplify the voice of our users, as an advocate for them and their issues.
Back to the question, why do we help all organisations? Because if the people are the drivers of change, the first step for all of us, is empathy.