Eli MacLaren

BIF Launches Citizen Experience Lab: A ‘lively experiment’ to re-imagine the citizen experience

Real, transformational change requires that we look at problems differently. If we come at it with our existing thinking, we’ll get variations of our existing solutions. As Einstein said, “we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking that we used when we created them.”

At the Business Innovation Factory (BIF), we shift our lens by looking at the experience of people we’re trying to serve. In education, this is the student. In health care, this is the patient.

When we shift our lens, however, problems get reframed in surprising ways that challenge how the problem presented in the first place. For example, while seeking to understand how moms in Cincinnati experienced preterm births, we could see how embedded distrust — arising from a deep history of racism and poverty in communities — prevented strong bonds between doctors and patients. Or in Dallas, while exploring why families used the emergency department for primary care, we discovered how economic factors are driving health resource usage.

These findings encouraged us to pause and consider:

How might we design healthy communities centered around the needs of citizens? When we look horizontally, across sectors and silos, what opportunities emerge to tackle complex problems — like child welfare, homelessness, community development — in wholly new ways?

At BIF, we believe we can find and bring to life these opportunities through a new platform that houses ‘lively experiments’ centered around citizen experiences.

Welcome to the Citizen Experience Lab

The Citizen Experience Lab is an exercise in community-based experimentation — putting citizens, their experiences, and their needs at the center of our imaginative process:

How might elected officials, government officials, urban planners, and development agencies use the citizen experience to design services and invest resources?

How might community agencies — from child welfare to small business development — use their constituents’ voices and stories to imagine innovative, transformative offerings? Could we break down vertical silos, using diverse capabilities to truly tackle the complexity of these issues?

How might citizens practice democracy in new ways, with new networks of likeminded passionate people? How might we enable self-organizing purposeful networks of citizens to come together and collaborate in ways that contribute to the ongoing renewal of our communities and cities?

Can we shine a storytelling spotlight on experimental new models, inspiring new possibility thinking, boldness, and risk-taking nationally?

The Conditions are Right

I don’t think there has ever been a better time to launch the Citizen Experience Lab:

People are ready. On the one hand, citizen action is increasing due to injustice, fear, and anger. Recall the longevity of the Ferguson riots or the staying power of the Occupy Movement?

Simultaneously, citizen action is increasing because people are impatient for change and not waiting for permission to make a difference:

  • Networks of doers and makers are creating new entrepreneurial ecosystems in the most unlikely communities.
  • The Millennial Generation is starting enterprises for the public and private good at record rates.
  • Customers are becoming consumer advocates, demanding products and services that are better for them and better for the world.

New capabilities — from our mobile phones to our online social networks — are creating unparalleled opportunities for people to connect and organize in purposeful ways. We can quickly and easily find like-minded souls with whom to collaborate and act in service of shared interests.

“We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”

The question is how do we, as leaders, take advantage of these conditions? Do we try to control them? Or do we try to unleash them in service of healthier communities and citizens? At BIF, our mission is to help leaders get better, faster at transformative change. We see the opportunity to accelerate positive change in our communities and, therefore, we are investing in it through the Citizen Experience Lab.

I am personally excited to lead these efforts. In my career, I have been guided by a single theory of change:

I believe the world is interconnected and we all need to take responsibility for our surroundings — lovingly, thoughtfully, and strategically.

For many years, I focused on building the profession of social entrepreneurship — not because I believe that social entrepreneurs are the magical answer to every social problem, but because I wanted to support the bold people who had given themselves permission to try new, innovative things in service of better outcomes for humans and their environments.

The Citizen Experience Lab is the next evolution of this vision. Combining the collective capabilities at BIF — human centered research, participatory design, and storytelling, we have an important platform for activating the power of citizens as designers and changemakers.

Taylor Halversen is joining me in this effort as our new Citizen Experience Lab Associate. Taylor has seen the power of BIF’s capabilities at work, having been part of a partnership between Utah State University and BIF that put students at the center of re-imagining student services. Taylor later served as an intern at BIF, and had this to say at a recent TEDx event about her experience. We’ve been waiting for the right opportunity to bring her back in, and believe we found it with the launch of the Citizen Experience Lab.

Together, Taylor and I will be building our own purposeful network of leaders interested in and committed to citizen centered transformation. We will be sharing the stories and insights about what works and what doesn’t work. We will be looking for the partners and places that are ideal for real world experimentation.

Will you join us?

Originally published on BIF Speak, a Medium.com publication. 

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