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Lower barriers for businesses to hire people with lived experience of homelessness

For MANCHESTER HOMELESSNESS PARTNERSHIP | Various clients from both the public and private sectors | UK | 2018


Manchester Homelessness Partnership gathers various stakeholders from both the public and private sector around the mission to end homelessness in Manchester. Noisy Cricket, a social change consultancy, coordinated the challenge and defined the brief.


Within 10 days, create a prototype of a solution that can improve the system, cultural and personal process to enable those people looking for gainful employment to find their success story.


Within a multi-disciplinary team of 5 people from different backgrounds at Hyper Island, we applied a human-centred approach and followed the 4 stages of the Double Diamond model. My role within the team was Design Research Lead and I collaborated on the concept development.


Based on our insights, we imagined a festival concept aiming to fight stigma, help people with lived experience of homelessness into work, and lower the barriers for businesses to hire them.



Beforehand, the team began this collaborative journey by creating a "Team Canvas", a strategic framework aiming to help team members align on a shared vision, including goals, values, roles and rules. Setting the canvas was a meaningful starter activity that enabled team members to learn about each other, though the usefulness of this activity has dropped down very fast the next days as team members didn't remember the content when related discussion arose. It seems that a physical "living" tool placed in evidence in the workplace environment, that can continuously be discussed and adjusted if necessary, could better support the team through the whole project.


Double Diamond model by the Design Council


During the discovery phase, primary and secondary research allowed the team to gain an empathic understanding of the problem and the people involved in it, who are they, what are their needs and the barriers they face. Desk research was used to identify existing organizations already fighting the issue while interviews with an ex-homeless person and professionals in homelessness employment initiatives, from both the business and charity sides, helped question assumptions and uncover underlying issues. However, it was not until an interview with businesses willing to get involved and an immersive field trip at a homeless day care center that a deeper personal understanding of the issues involved emerged.

The ‘discover’ phase built the foundation for the whole project as it helped the team to empathize with each stakeholder and gain valuable insights at a systematic, cultural and personal level. Though questioning everything gave the team the deeper understanding needed to pursue the process, the practice raised some ethical dilemmas such as misrepresentation and reservations about the businesses’ motives. Besides, given the scope and limited time of the project, this stage was daunting for the team at times regarding the difficulty to evaluate if enough information had been collected in order to make an informed decision in the next stages. It is important to note that the team continued to pursue the research during the whole duration of the project, which was a crucial element in the decision making process.


In order to organize, interpret and make sense of all the data gathered, the team used a tool called “Download your Learnings” which allowed team members to transfer their own findings into post-its and share them orally with the group before clustering them on the wall. Other tools such as “empathy map”, “personas” and “stakeholder map” were applied, which contributed to connect the dots and develop new and deeper insights.


Research board

For instance, businesses who would like to do good just do not know where to start; and only a part of people with lived experience of homelessness is work ready (“Alex” is the term that will be used for the rest of the paper when referring to them). The lack of jobs and the need for appropriate support for new hires for both businesses and Alex were also insightful information. From the analysis, the definition of a problem statement was formulated and flipped into a human-centred, meaningful, and actionable question, aiming to bring clarity and focus to the design space: How might we use the existing knowledge and successful employment programmes to make it easy and attractive for businesses to hire Alex?

Setting a physical research board giving everyone the same level of knowledge, was highly beneficial for the team, as the first step of the ‘Define’ stage. However, it is important to note that quality in visual communication is essential to enable information to be easily reviewed at a later stage. Albeit applying a human-centred approach to a social problem seems particularly appropriate for the nature of the brief, putting the user at the center of the design process was challenging, as four main stakeholder groups had to be considered as “users”, making the approach itself confusing, especially when applying tools like the stakeholder map, as it rose the question of who should be in the center. Besides, even though Design Thinking is not a linear process, I would argue that inside the ‘Define’ stage, some tools need to be used in a specific order to yield a meaningful outcome at the end.

Empathy Map


Hacked version of Crazy 8

When starting ideation, the group took time to find the brainstorming activities that can generate the more ideas possible while trying to suit each other working styles. The team chose to articulate the session in two steps. First, the “Negative Brainstorming” and a hacked version of “Crazy 8”, were used as ice-breaking exercises that enable participants to lose their inhibitions and stimulate free thinking in order to generate more unusual ideas. Secondly, a bespoke “Silent Brainstorming”, where participants build on the pool of ideas generated previously, prevented further potential ego problems when deciding on a solution. From there, the team was able to converge on one main idea including the best part of other ideas, using storyboarding as a medium. The chosen concept was a festival for Alex by Alex uniting the public, Alex, businesses, and charities – all in one place.


The ‘Develop’ stage is the peak moment of the process when extraordinary unorthodox design solutions can happen if the culture in place allows it. However, the inclusive nature of Design Thinking of bringing people from different background together is more challenged during this stage of the process, as sketching can make non-designer uncomfortable with the activity even if trying to create a safe space. Moreover, certain tools work for some people but rarely for everybody in the team. In the other hand, the application of democratic principles such as giving an equal voice to each team member when sharing their ideas plays a crucial role in the process. Therefore, to balance the high expectations of this stage and the pressure on team members to be creative at this particular moment, tools and rules need to be carefully chosen to yield satisfying results without compromising the team cohesion. Furthermore, a participatory approach, as bringing stakeholders into the ideation process, could have benefited the solution’s accuracy and later adoption, while removing some of the pressure on the team.


To communicate our idea within the team and later on to the clients for the pitch, the team developed a series of rapid prototypes. The first attempt was to create an opportunity card using the “why, what, how” approach to clarify the vision. It turned out that team members had very different interpretations of the concept because of the broadness of activities and goals behind them. It was not until mapping out the idea in a “customer journey” that a common understanding of what the festival was about and how it could take place emerged. After agreed on the concept’s key features, some ethical debates arose: could it harm some Alex more than helping them if they don’t get a job after the festival? Is it worth it if we help 70%? 50%? 30% of them? Are we more helping companies to show they are doing good?

Future customer journey

The ‘Deliver’ stage is the more experimental part of the process when ideas come to life in order to be shown to users, though it is not until the pitch day that the team could collect feedbacks. Prototyping played an essential role in helping the team visualize the solution, and get a more informed perspective of the constraints and how real users would behave, think, and feel when interacting with it. However, some ideas such as a festival might be difficult, if not impossible, to prototype and test. This joins Rittel’s definition of a “wicked” problem as “there is no immediate test of a solution to a wicked problem and, every solution to a wicked problem is a “one-shot operation”; because there is no opportunity to learn by trial-and-error, every attempt counts significantly” (Rittel, 1973). Therefore, Design Thinking and wicked problems seem to be at odds with each other as one core principle of the discipline is about testing the idea with real users and learning from it. This suggests that the Design Thinking method need to be tweaked when solving a wicked problem. But is it ethical to do so in the context of social innovation?



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