In April of 2023, CT Data Collaborative introduced the Neighborhood Profile & Mapping Project to the North Hartford Ascend Pipeline (Ascend) Family Navigation System Building Work Group. The tool, designed to be widely used and accessed by family navigators, providers, and residents to improve accessibility to and utilization of programs and services, is powered by a geospatial information system (GIS). The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) defines GIS tools as “computer-based tools used to store, visualize, analyze and interpret geographic data.”  

The GIS Neighborhood Profile tool is designed to display North Hartford Ascend Pipeline providers on a street map and allows users to interactively filter information by service category, neighborhood, and developmental stage to efficiently access services for their families. The need for a tool like this was identified by both residents living in the three target neighborhoods as well as project partners. At the onset of the project, CT Data Collaborative engaged Childhood Prosperity Lab (the Lab) to help plan and integrate Human-centered Design (HCD) into their prototyping efforts to ensure the voice, needs, and preferences of the end user/s were intentionally integrated into the design of the tool.

HCD is “a qualitative research method that helps people solve problems in a way that prioritizes their needs over a system’s needs,” according to the General Services Administration. HCD enables individuals and organizations to meaningfully co-design programs, services, tools, and systems with families and communities, prioritizing their perspectives and lived experience/s in design. Recognizing the need for building trust with the community and regularly engaging them in ongoing community health and system transformation work, the Lab became certified HCD practitioners through the LUMA Institute to plan and facilitate Human-centered activities.

Sessions with The Lab

Thus far, the Lab has planned and implemented two co-design sessions to help advance the GIS tools’ development. CT Data Collaborative identified the GIS tools’ content (i.e. language, visuals, the amount of content, the type of content) and usability (i.e.. user-friendliness of the platform, accessibility, orientation of resources) as two priority areas to co-design with 1) those providing assessment, referral, and linkage services, i.e. care coordinators, family navigators, and community health workers and 2) residents in the federally designated North Hartford Promise Zone - which includes the Clay Arsenal, Northeast, and Upper Albany neighborhoods. The Lab and CT Data Collaborative recognized early on that the end-users of the tool would have different needs related to the tools’ design, which informed the decision to orchestrate two separate co-design sessions.

Four care coordination professionals/family navigators from The Village for Families and Children and Connecticut Children’s participated in the first co-design session. Participants were selected based on their experience assessing, referring, and linking families to services. To align feedback with CT Data Collaboratives’ goals, the Lab opted to use “Think aloud testing” as the methodology of the co-design session. “Think aloud testing” is a style of evaluation that asks for a “call by call’ account of an experience whereby people’s articulation of a typically unspoken thought process not only helps the team pinpoint where the success and failure points are in their current thinking or design, but it also diagnoses the causes,” according to the Luma Institute. The facilitator shared a link to the tool in the chat so that the participants could share their screen and “think aloud” with their feedback in real-time. As participants interacted with the interface and articulated their thoughts, pain points, and recommendations, the facilitator took detailed notes.

Jill Walsh, CT Data Collaborative’s GIS & Data Analyst, charged with prototyping the Neighborhood Profile tool, shared how “Think-out-loud testing was a fantastic way to get feedback on this project. We learned a lot from users' comments, questions, and ideas as they explored the tool, and learned from watching the way they interacted with the tool's interface. The insights gained from this process will definitely make our project a more effective resource.” Following this session, the CT Data Collaborative team updated the tool according to the participants’ feedback.

In partnership with CT Data Collaborative and United Way of Northeastern Connecticut, the Lab orchestrated a second co-design session engaging members from Ascend's Resident and Community Advisory Group and others from the community. The Lab leveraged “Rose, Thorn, Bud”, a methodology for analyzing the strengths, challenges, and opportunities of a data set, product, or situation. This co-design session was focused on understanding the strengths, challenges, and opportunities for the GIS tool, as defined by the community. Participants opted to “test” the tool using a laptop or a mobile device and recorded their feedback on pink (strengths), blue (challenges), and green (opportunities) sticky notes. In the group discussion that followed suit, it became clear that the tool included useful information about programs and services, but it was ultimately not user-friendly on a mobile device.

How Can The Lab Help You?

HCD is an emerging best practice in community engagement, especially for individuals and organizations working with children and families. Are you seeking guidance on:
• How to meaningfully and sustainably engage children, families, and communities in the design of programs, services, tools, and other innovations? 
• How to identify, select, and employ flexible yet structured strategies for engaging your audiences?
• How to facilitate focus groups, co-design sessions, or other engagement opportunities that authentically center dialogue and foster collaboration?
• How to generate innovative ideas that can be tangibly integrated into action?

The Lab can help you leverage Human-centered Design to achieve your goals! Fill out this form and one of our team members will contact you.