From online services like Netflix and Facebook, to chatbots on our phones and in our homes like Siri and Alexa, we are beginning to interact with artificial intelligence (AI) on a near daily basis. AI is the programming or training of a computer to do tasks typically reserved for human intelligence, whether it is recommending which movie to watch next or answering technical questions. Soon, AI will permeate the ways we interact with our government, too. From small cities in the US to countries like Japan, government agencies are looking to AI to improve citizen services. This paper explores the various types of AI applications, and current and future uses of AI in government delivery of citizen services, with a focus on citizen inquiries and information. It also offers strategies for governments as they consider implementing AI. Read my report here.
We often talk about design thinking in terms of generating creative and user-centered insights and solutions. Less often do we talk about design thinking as a way to align and empower teams and individual contributors. Despite best intentions, teams can revert to hierarchies and groupthink, instead of enabling equal participation and representation of people and ideas around the table. Avoiding these traps is possible through thoughtful facilitation and setting of expectations.
Here’s three ways you can use design thinking to make your team more democratic. (more…)
Everyone can be a designer, but not everyone is a Designer. What’s the difference, and why should you care?
Design thinking is everywhere. Corporations are tripping over each other trying to adopt it; consulting firms are in a race to acquire design shops;universities are adding it to coursework; and the Facebook group I moderate that started as a few people interested in social innovation design floods my notifications with activity and join requests.
On one end of the design spectrum are the students, innovators, and entrepreneurs reading about this design race, and attending online courses, in-person bootcamps, and design sprints. They’re trying to figure out how to apply design thinking to their work, or how to get a job in it.
On the other end of the spectrum, there’s the trained Designers. They’ve dedicated long careers to visual, experience, industrial, product, and other forms of design. They have MFAs and BAs in a Design discipline. The thing everyone else is scrambling to learn more about and do, they live and breathe every day, and they don’t add “thinking” or “human-centered” to it to make it real. And no, their job is not just about making things look good. (more…)
In April, I was invited to speak on a panel for the Digital Technologies and Development event at Columbia SIPA. Below is an edited version of my remarks.
Since this panel is on “making digital technologies work for people and businesses,” I want to briefly discuss why we need to keep the human factor in mind when we think about making digital technologies work for everyone. To do this, I’ll share three examples focused on human-centered design in technology and civic innovation.(more…)
Over on Forbes, I wrote about the new civic movement of participatory budgeting, and how youth are making decisions about how to spend city budgets to improve their communities. I interviewed fellow UChicago alumna and SIPA professor Hollie Russon Gilman for the piece; she’s the author of a new book on the subject, Democracy Reinvented.
Photo by Jeff Sheldon via Unsplash.com. It’s on the resource list!
“Design thinking,” “human-centered design,” or just “design” is becoming so popular we can’t keep up. A few years ago, I had to explain why design is important; now, there’s non-stop questions about how to learn more. There’s so many great courses, toolkits, readings, and online tools for design that we decided to mobilize the collaborative power of the Internet to consolidate them into one master list. Whether you’ve just heard about this whole design thing, or you’re a design master looking for some new exercises or visual tools, this Google doc is a great place to start. And it’s open, so please add your favorite resources!
I left my California beach town vacation early to return to frozen New York for the democratic tradition and right of jury duty. For two days, I sat in a stale room with intermittent wifi with over 100 citizens from across socio-economic backgrounds. Unfortunately, what should’ve been a privileged and proud citizen experience turned out to be a futile, inefficient, and outdated process. I say this not to diminish the importance of diverse citizen juries, but to acknowledge the frustration I saw and heard from my fellow citizens in the room, and experienced myself. At the end of the second day, my peers and I cheered and sighed in relief as we heard that we are free from serving on a jury for the next several years. I was at once thrilled that I was done with what was a dreaded and annoying process, and saddened that most citizens would leave the court house with even less confidence or interest in their government.
“As a country, we haven’t invested in or changed the ways we engage with democracy; we’re interacting with 20th century institutions in the 21st century.”
A graduate student in public policy, I’ve been involved with government since high school. What struck me as I sat in the jury room is that while I’ve interacted with the government in many ways as an employee, student, and engaged citizen, for many in the room, this is one of the only times they’ll interact with the government this year, and they were left sorely disappointed in how it functions. (more…)
A few years ago, as a member of Young Professionals in Foreign Policy, I had the opportunity to meet Alec Ross, a senior advisor on innovation to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. A few days ago, he came out with a new book on the industries that will shape and drive the next economy. I interviewed Ross about the book, the challenges and opportunities individuals will face in gaining jobs in these new industries, and how governments can help us prepare for the future. You can read the interview and review of the book over on Forbes.
Some of best things I read in 2015 covered life and how we live, tell, and write about it. A few covered the things we don’t often think about, and the rest filled the potpourri of my various interests. I hope you’ll enjoy them as much as I have.
A note on how I read: I swear by Pocket for saving, categorizing, reading, and sharing everything that doesn’t come in book form.
Innovation is hard work–much harder than the headlines will admit, and much more complicated than the colored post-its let on. While researching government innovation, I’ve had the opportunity to interview several leaders of innovation teams in cities across the country–and the conclusion from all their stories is clear: innovation is not sexy work.
Innovation is at its best when it’s supported by data, research, and lots of outputs. It doesn’t happen overnight–it takes patience. While many exciting new start-ups disappoint, the companies and cities doing real innovation that leave us pleased as consumers and citizens are putting in the time and effort to build lasting innovations, sometimes in unnoticeable incremental changes. Sometimes the output is a great new app; other times, it’s changes to a boring process that makes a big difference.
That’s not to say that innovation is not also exhilarating. But I’d argue that the best innovation isn’t sexy–it’s not a fun and quick creative brainstorming session followed by a perfect product that solves a problem. (more…)
Voluntourism is when individuals take trips abroad for the purpose of “seeing how others live” and “giving back.” The problem is, these trips can create simplistic, self-serving narratives. Voluntourism can be harmful to local communities, while primarily benefiting the voluntourists — maybe even providing them with the perfectprofile picture. On the other hand, good intentions exist, and exposure to alternate realities can be valuable. The question is, how do we create a better volunteer model?
We need a new framework for volunteering abroad that is empathy-driven rather than sympathy-driven: the Leadership Growth Experience (LGE). Voluntourism falls on the sympathy-driven end of a spectrum, implying pity and exoticism of foreign communities. LGE is on the empathy-driven end of the spectrum, focusing on dignity and understanding. During an LGE, volunteers seek to engage with and learn from the community they are interacting with. The focus is on fostering empathy, humility, mutual multi-cultural understanding, and experience working with constrained resources. (more…)
“The best way to predict the future is to design it.” – Buckminster Fuller
There is a future for wearable technology beyond the Apple Watch, and it can be for social good. On March 31, 2015, nearly 40 participants came together for Technology Salon New York City where we discussed the future of wearables in international development.
Here are my two summaries of the thought-provoking discussion:
As we wrote, “The rapid evolution of technology urges us to think about how technology affects our relationships with our body, family, community, and society. What do we want those relationships to look like in the future? We have an opportunity, as consumers, makers and planners of wearables for the international context to view ourselves as stakeholders in building the future opportunities of this space. Wearables today are where the Internet was during its first five mainstream years. Now is the perfect time to put our stake in the ground and create the future we wish to exist in.”
On a recent trip to Morocco, we stopped by the Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakesh. The mosque stands next to ruins of its previous iteration. The mosque was originally built with a slight mistake in the orientation for prayer. The decision was made to rebuild the new mosque, identical to the original but with the correct orientation, right next to the original, which has since deteriorated.
What I love about this story is that nobody tried to hide the mistake. Instead, the mistake is proudly displayed next to the success. It reminded me of the Celebrating Failure series I worked on in India, which asked social entrepreneurs to share their lessons from failure.
What if start-ups, businesses, individuals, shared their failures right next to their successes? The logo that wasn’t chosen next to the one everyone knows. The original app template that tested horribly with users accessible via the new one everyone loves. The original business plan that never worked shared along with the current successful one. The wrong answers on my economics homework compared side-by-side with the right answers. Why do we hide our failures, when we and others can learn from them? In the case of the mosque in Marrakesh, it remains a memorable visual lesson for all of us.
The social impact story you tell in your CauseVox crowdfunding video is critical–both for success in raising the most funds, but also in the message you are sending about your cause.
An unfortunate trend in social impact storytelling is something known as “poverty porn.” You know it when you see it–the sad music, dehumanizing photos, simplification of issues, and an infomercial-style plea to “make a difference.” And you’ve seen it in campaigns like KONY 2012.
The problem with social impact storytelling, especially when it comes to photos and videos, is that even if your cause will really make a positive change, the way you tell your story impacts the perception of your organization, and it could portray the people you’re working with as victims, or your work as ill-fitting for the cause.
Luckily, below are two great examples of videos and tactics to tell your social impact story in a way that keeps human dignity and the integrity of your work and cause intact. (more…)
The latest issue of The Journal of Culture, Language and International Security includes an article by me on Cultivating Empathy and Internal Awareness for International Security Actors. As Robert Jervis said, “The ability to see the world and oneself as others do is never easy and failures of empathy explain a number of foreign policy disasters.”