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Civic Voice

All too often people's civic needs aren't adequately met and their good ideas aren't considered when community solutions are being drafted. With this project I explore how to make sure everyone's voice is heard.

THE BASICS

Client

UX course project

Team

Just me, plus a mentor

My Role

Research, Design, Testing

Timeline

3 months

THE CHALLENGE

Living for a time in a small town in western Massachusetts, I was struck by how many people I spoke with were passionate about their community and had good ideas, but felt shut out of the civic process, with no idea how to meaningfully contribute.

Project Statement

People want a way to make their voices heard and contribute ideas when important decisions are being made that affect their community.

Project Goal

Make it easier for a broad and diverse range of residents to become formally and actively engaged in local civic decision making.

RESEARCH PLANNING

I used a combination of semi-structured interviews and existing engagement research to identify common attitudes and behaviors across a range of civic stakeholders.

Participants

I recruited and interviewed three users, each with a different stakeholder perspective: a resident, an advocate, and a former council member.

Discussion Guide

My inquiries focused on participant's recent experiences of civic participation: what successes and what frustrations they encountered.

Desk Research

I was able to gain further insight from a broader range of stakeholders from a public study carried out by a local planning group.

SEMI-STRUCTURED INTERVIEWS

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Janet & Nik

(residents)

What’s important to them? Being included, having their voices heard in local decisions; a sense of order and rigor of process.

What is the actual problem they’re facing? Lack of information about city initiatives and process; suspicious of the city’s intentions.

Janet and Nik need a way to trust the city process because they currently feel shut out.

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Paul S

(council member)

What’s important to him? Activism for causes he believes in.

What is the actual problem he’s facing? Getting good information to make hard decisions.

Paul needs a way to inform residents about important city programs because the input will help the community make good decisions.

DESK RESEARCH

PVPC Participation and Engagement Study

(advocates)

Participants do not typically get involved in their local government ...almost 84% said that they interact with local government less than quarterly.

Approximately 35.5% of people identified a lack of trust and/or faith in the government as a barrier to participation.

“All too often the funding for studies & analysis seem to be a set up to justify what's already known or project deals already dealt.”

There were...concerns that committee appointments are not transparent and based more on connections than simply expressing interest through the established process.

AFFINITY MAPPING

From my interview notes and audio transcript, I used affinity mapping to synthesize attitudes and behaviors that emerged from the data. Several common themes emerged:

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“As a parent of young children, evening meetings are a challenge

“It’s difficult to get information to residents”

Need a more personal response; show them that their input has an impact“

People stop engaging; they find (the process) oppressive”

“It feels like these decisions are made out of sight on a ‘who you know’ basis”

“Eager for more tangible ways to plug in

PERSONAS

Based on the research synthesis, I developed several personas to represent the range and citizen voices and concerns that emerged.

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PROBLEM DEFINITION

Though there were many interesting and promising problems to pursue. Given the constraints of the project, I ultimately decided to focus on making the civic participation process and opportunities more transparent and accessible.

A one-stop portal on the city's website to find information about, and apply to serve on, city boards and committees

IDEATION

I used several methods to explore potential design solutions. 

How-Might-We

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HMW make information about important local decisions universally accessible?

HMW make participating in government a social activity?

HMW make participating in government a normal daily activity (instead of a special activity)?

HMW make finding out about civic opportunities as easy as checking the weather?

HMW make finding important information easy & entertaining (instead of tedious & confusing!)?

HMW make underrepresented groups and individuals feel valued and invite them to participate?

Good Idea / Bad Idea

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DIY workshop toolkit to encourage diversity of involvement and ideas

Single (easily accessible!) source for all relevant studies and documents related to each committee decision

A two-hour meeting on a Wednesday evening o make important decisions

Printed PDFs of documents related to committee decisions

Comparative Analysis

I looked at various sources of digital civic engagement for relevant and interesting features.

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Features Matrix

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USABILITY TEST

With the desired features identified, I made a quick paper prototype and tested it on a couple people.

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Paper Prototype Test

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“Like that it automatically gives a way to filter, though I have a nagging concern that the filter isn’t going to be good and I’m going to miss something.”

“Very pleasing page, and I feel like it’s just going to tell me everything I need to know.”

Like that can search by interests and expertise… “which I think is great; don’t have to look at a long boring list

“Having (this question) here, phrased this way with no guidance... it implicitly assumes I’m the kind of person who has a graduate degree, makes a lot of money, and just participates in a highly professional discourse.”

SITE MAP

Based on the usability test, I iterated the design and arrived at a final site map

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USABILITY TEST

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Hi-Fidelity Prototype

I then made a high fidelity prototype and tested it on users.

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Content describing steps is unclear... “fills me with anxiety”... “layers of approval that raise questions for me”

Terminology is confusing... “lack of clarity” around types of committees

“Really liked the personal story part; it made me feel valued

“I’d be kind of curious to know what their criteria is whether or not they decide to accept your application.”

(scrolling): “Looking to see if one of these groups looks like it would have something to do with that”

(clicks on Learn More): “I always want to learn more

PLUS-DELTA

Following the usability test and I reviewed my notes and the audio transcripts ad reflected on what went well and what could be improved.

REFLECTIONS

Constraints

The nature of this project, as part of a 6 week UX course, was geared toward developing a digital product. The problem I set out to explore ended up being much more complex and multidimensional, suggesting a range of potential solutions and a need for deeper user engagement than I was able to perform in the context of the course.

Opportunities

If I were to approach this problem again, I would first create a stakeholder map to better understand the full scope of users and their relationships to one another, and I would recruit a wider range of interview participants to get at the unique problems each needed to solve in their community and the unique difficulties they have making their voice heard. I would add diary studies and surveys to the discovery toolkit.

I would also try to get a better picture of the barriers city administrators face in engaging with citizens stakeholders, using contextual interviews and field studies to gain insight into their side of the civic decision-making process.