Designing Youth-Informed Policy in Washtenaw County

This project is the result of a partnership between MyVoice and Katherine Jones while a student at the University of Michigan Stamps School of Art & Design, Masters of Design (MDes) in Integrative Design program. I lead a co-design team for my Master level thesis project over the course of a nine month period, Sept 2018 - May 2019. 

Problem

MyVoice

Approach

Interviews

Insight One

Outcome One

Data Synthesis

Insight Two

Outcome Two

This project sought to investigate opportunities to inform adolescent health policy through the
use of MyVoice data. Can we build a community coalition regarding adolescent health through designing qualitative data which sparks negotiation and deliberation to inform policy?

 

Focused within Washtenaw County, Michigan, this project mapped the decision making process of local county officials directly involved with setting the health policy agenda.  Through identifying  key inflection points within the decision-making process, this project designed a strategic framework and one-page data summary as an intervention for the MyVoice  team to leverage data to influence youth-centered health policy within Washtenaw County.

Current State Conceptual Model of Problem Space
KNOWN PROCESS

Youth

MyVoice

Coded Data

Final Report

Policy
Maker

UNKNOWN PROCESS

MyVoice is organization which uses an interactive SMS platform that gathers the real-time opinions
and experiences of youth across America. 
The goal of MyVoice is to lift up the voices and experiences
of today's youth in ways that help local and national leaders create more youth-friendly policies
and programs.

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Diagram articulating MyVoice process. Designed by Katherine Jones

I created a new integrative design approach combining co-design with Sense-Making to explore the problem space including interviewing experts, developing generative research tools, and leveraging various design methods.

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Expert
Interviews

Secondary
Research

Primary
Interviews

Generative
Research

Data
Synthesis

Policy
Framework

One-Page
Data Summary

22 primary stakeholder interviews were conducted including those within community engagement, health policy, public health, local government, and University of Michigan leaders. Using the conceptual model as generative research tool I was able to not only explain the project, but gather deeper insight as participants began to think about points and who in the process.

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Samples of generative research tools.

When speaking with local policymakers about the barriers to connecting with youth, they stated youth are considered “vulnerable” or “at a distance”. It was viewed that the MyVoice team has an opportunity to remove said barriers through the use of the MyVoice tool, and it is by amplifying the personal accounts youth share that the MyVoice team can have the most agency in aiding decision-making.

MyVoice is helping to tell a story in a way
that leads to very different programs.
If the story is not being told the right way,
the level of funding won't be allocated right.”
- County Board Commissioner

A variety of tools including activity mapping and stakeholder mapping were conducted to investigate both the barriers and opportunities of the MyVoice tool in current practice in order to be better equipped with the knowledge required to appropriately align the MyVoice team within the current Washtenaw County political landscape.

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Stakeholder Mapping of the Washtenaw County Policy Ecosystem

With a baseline understanding of the adolescent health policy ecosystem through mapping the
county and the MyVoice team internal operations and stakeholder relationships, there was a need
to investigate the operations and decision-making process of county policymakers.

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Washtenaw County Policy Process Sketch

It was determined youth opinions would be useful throughout the entirety of a policy process. However, they have the most potential to be impactful in agenda-setting and program design. In agenda-setting, policymakers are seeking advice and information to identify the top issue areas to address. Youth opinions can bring awareness to growing health concerns among youth in order to prioritize which adolescent health policy areas are in need of immediate attention.

The MyVoice Strategic Policy Framework is designed as both an educational and strategic tool
for the MyVoice team. It is intended to support the creation of strategies to increase engagement with policymakers at varying levels of government. This framework is not exhaustive in nature regarding the policy creation process, it is intended to provide a baseline of knowledge from which the MyVoice team can begin to think critically about how knowledge is transferred, to whom, and when in public policy creation. 

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With an understanding of key stakeholders who could leverage the youth opinions within the county,
at what point in their workflow this evidence would be useful, and how it could be used; investigation moved to understanding key design attributes to design a one-page summary of youth opinions.  Essentially, how to translate the youth experience to be both informational and actionable based on
the context of county policymaker decision-making needs?

Sixty-two iterations of sketches, diagrams, and process maps. These iterations were used as tools to aid the practitioner in identifying attributes for the one-page summary as well as generative research tools to gather feedback from both the MyVoice team and the Washtenaw County policymakers in understanding how the viewer would interact with the boundary object.

3 Key Design Attributes
TO VISUALIZE QUALITATIVE DATA FOR POLICYMAKERS 
(1) depict a mental model of the major themes to visualize the issue area
(2) show a comparison of youth experiences through pairing quotes
(3) demonstrate consequences of inaction

The intended goal was to create a one-pager leveraging youth opinions that was both informational and actionable to spark negotiation and deliberation between policymakers in working towards the formation of a community coalition between the MyVoice team and Washtenaw County policymakers,

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Front

Interior

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Back

“The perfect marriage of using data [youth opinions] to inform strategies.”
-Deputy Director County Health Agency

Conclusion

Engaging in co-design with the intention of coalition building can initiate new forms of civic engagement and leveraging youth opinions can act as a mode of representation within public policy creation. As the application
of co-design within the public realm continues, there is a need for tools and processes which aid designers
in making sense of the ever-growing complex systems in which they engage.

A new partnership between MyVoice and the Washtenaw County Community Mental Health Board has been established and data sharing continues as the county seeks to address adolescent health disparities.