Read about Extend-A-Family’s Journey with Human-Centred Design, and get their tips for adopting a more person-centred approach.

After Extend-A-Family Waterloo Region (EAFWR) participated in their first Human-Centered Design (HCD) sprint with the Capacity by Design program in October 2018, they knew it could have a significant impact in their organization. Soon after returning from the sprint, they identified a few people to champion HCD in their organization. The Champion group decided they wanted all 50 staff members—from payroll to reception to the community team—to receive foundational training in HCD so that everyone could be familiar with the process, have a common language, and experience the power of HCD as another tool to support organizational change.

Four people sitting around a table full of craft supplies.A Staff HCD Training Session at EAFWR

Over summer 2019, with several months of experience using HCD in their organization, EAFWR put their learning to the test by facilitating their own design sprint to further explore some complex challenges faced by the FamilyHome Program. Specifically, the problem to be explored was around findings ways to create a safety net for people in the Program during times of crisis or transition. After a challenging year, the HCD process brought the group back to a place of hope. “The first stakeholder interview was a changing point. We started to hear about the things we were doing well too and that put a spark in us.“

The team stuck clearly to the HCD approach—they kept going back to stakeholders and the needle slowly began to shift. Through the process, it was revealed that the problem wasn’t only about creating physical spaces in which people could transition—social networks were just as important. EAFWR learned that participants in the Program often have limited circles of support—they aren’t well connected to people who can support them in times of need.

“The process revealed that it was more about the village and less about creating physical spaces for people.”


Prototyping Solutions

Two working groups were formed to begin prototyping different solutions, and it was clear early on that there were common elements between the two prototypes. The design team went out and talked to stakeholders about these early prototypes and they heard that they were on the right track.

The two prototypes were merged into one model, called the PATH process, to visualize components of these ideas. This model sets out their North Star for 2022 and helps to build a timeline for working toward that goal. It outlines three separate, yet interconnected ideas including:

  • Hiring a staff member to recruit additional providers for the program as well as seeking ways to develop and enhance people’s informal networks of support;
  • Creating an on-call respite component of the program; and
  • Finding other physical space options

A two-year timeline of service improvements, drawn on brown craft paper in coloured markers.

This Paper Prototype was created in response to the question: How might we create a network of support (both formal and informal) that would address the needs of people in the FamilyHome Program during times of transition and crisis while creating long-term stability?

What’s next?

Moving forward, the EAFWR design team will be meeting with all staff to get feedback on the prototype. Future iterations of the prototype will be typed up as a working plan and presented to the Board of Directors. 

“This gives us a starting point of what we need to do. Some of it is new territory and other pieces we would be able to draw on existing skills to move forward.”

Extend-A-Family’s Words of Wisdom for organizations considering Human-Centred Design

  • Hang in there. The front end of the design cycle—especially creating needs and insights—takes a lot of energy. Invest in the time to do this well, and it will pay off later.
  • Get it out and get it up. When you get the problem on the wall with the needs and insights, it can be terrifying. Take a deep breath and remember that it is better to have the problem on the wall than in our heads. We can’t do anything about it until we can see it.
  • Trust the process. It feels weird, but it can help you have some hard conversations. You can always default to the process. Instead of making it personal, use the process as a foundation.
  • Start solo when ideating in meetings to make the most of many minds and ensure the introverts have a voice.
  • Don’t wait for the ‘big reveal.’ Rather, go back to your stakeholders early and often with low fidelity prototypes and make tweaks as you go.
  • Be intentional about looping in stakeholders—especially those in your organization—whenever possible and clearly communicate steps in the process.
  • Try to make things visual when discussing ideas day-to-day at the office. Whiteboard painting, drawing, and sticky notes can offer a common language for expressing ideas
  • Reflection creates opportunities for closure and alignment in a group. Ask: What did we do? What was exciting/scary? Where did you struggle? How do we carry this learning forward?

It about more than sticky notes and sharpies—a culture shift takes persistence, clear communication, and committed HCD champions.