How might human-centered design help create a better experience for grant-makers and grantees alike?
The Tote Board Enabling Lives Initiative (TB-ELI) Grant is a new grant that aims to create meaningful social impact for persons with disabilities and their caregivers. The grant is open to Voluntary Welfare Organizations (VWOs), non-profit organizations, social enterprises, and private corporations with a social mission. Besides pilot projects, the grant will also fund existing programmes that need resources to scale up.
With an all-new grant, the SG Enable TB-ELI Programme Office had the exciting opportunity to envision a new way of grant-making. SG Enable approached Outsprint to tap on human-centred design to explore new areas for redesign of the end-to-end experience of the entire grant process. The team felt duty-bound to challenge the status quo, but only if the status quo was a worse-off future than our vision for the grant experience. We asked what do we want the grantees to feel at the end of their grant?
What if a grant wasn’t just about the money? How might we create a holistic experience around the grant, that supports and excites an entire sector?
What’s the current relationship like between grant applicants and fund administrators? How does collaboration happen? What does the sector need most and how would the grant add unique value? How do we create new ways of solving old problems? It was in the spirit of these big questions that we started a design sprint project to learn more and design better.
A five-day design sprint might be short but certainly not any less useful. Field-tested on over 100 startups by Google Ventures, design sprints are a fast and focused way to quickly innovate in any problem space, even for social issues. It can point out new questions to ask about the issue, and these questions can help point the team towards a better grant process and experience. Evolved from the startup world of bootstrapping on tight resource constraints, design sprints are therefore suited for the funding constraints that organisations often face in the public and social impact sector. This approach also plays to the time and manpower constraints of the SG Enable TB-ELI Programme Office and also contain costs.
We walked in the shoes of a hypothetical social enterprise researching through real websites of existing grant makers in Singapore to look for suitable grants for its new tech product for persons with disabilities. This allowed the team to develop empathy and understanding of the painpoints and needs of grant applicants.
We would spend an hour or so to chat with people face-to-face, and at a venue most convenient and comfortable for them, be it their home or a café. Rather than a stiff and boring survey interview, the session is more like a casual friendly chat. This helps us develop rapport and gives them time to open up, and for us to explore deeper questions and truly ‘get under their skin’. Photo prompt cards and journey map sketches also help us achieve that.
When we meet people to have in-depth conversations, we try to meet them in the context of their environment. A guided tour through their work space adds important experiential data to the verbal information they say, helps us ask better questions and allows us to better understand what they are saying.
After all the in-depth conversations, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the amount of information collected. During sense-making, we jot down on sticky notes the key quotes and comments that were surprising, insightful or useful for the project topic, organize them into themes and push the analysis beyond the face value of the words into deeper motivations and unarticulated needs. This helps the team filter and synthesize all the rich learnings into something more manageable to ideate around at the next stage.
Looking in the same places often leads to the same answers. Getting the team to venture out of the social sector into foreign but parallel settings in other industries helps spur creative leaps when thinking about solutions. Being able to see other examples of innovation in action also helps us get a tangible feel of how we can apply it in our own setting by borrowing elements of the experience or product. In our case, we visited local incubator space The Hub and learned how they bring in diverse skillsets and mentors to help startups grow.
The team brainstormed ideas around 7 key themes that came up after sense-making. Colleagues from other departments were invited to help the team generate many wild and useful ideas. This was also an opportune time to engage and update colleagues who might be directly or indirectly involved at later stages of implementation. Following the brainstorm, we prioritized the ideas into 3 groups – mission-critical for launch, important but not mission-critical, good but optional ideas – and proceeded to work on the mission-critical ideas.
Storyboard & prototype
Storyboarding is a useful way to organize the many ideas generated during ideation. Creating a story of an ideal experience that a grant applicant goes through from start to end, is a more concise way to share many different ideas. Prototyping ideas by creating rough paper mock-ups of what parts of the service might eventually look like, allows people to see, touch and feel the ideas in a tangible way and thus help them give better feedback on our ideas.
Testing our concepts
We invited 6 people outside of SG Enable to come hear our pitch for the new grant experience and to openly give feedback on what works and what doesn’t. It’s also a great opportunity to bring stakeholders from different parts of the ecosystem together in the same room to hear one another’s concerns and develop mutual understanding.
Reflecting on next steps
The team spent the last hour of the design sprint reflecting on the new tools and techniques they learnt, as well as planning the next steps and design iterations to follow up on.