The final stretch: iteration, solution, reflection

Post by Ramya Parthasarathy

After our first round of prototyping, our team discovered that many services were already in place to aid students in their transition from middle school to high school.  CollegeTrack, the YMCA, and many of the Sequoia Union high schools acknowledge the challenges of going from 8th to 9th grade and offer services to aid students from East Palo Alto.  That we discovered this quite early gave us an opportunity to revisit our initial point of view and focus on a new user group.

We realized that the key insight we had uncovered—namely, that the transition from middle school to high school to high school is particularly challenging for EPA residents—applied to parents as much as children.  EPA parents clearly had strong parental communities when their children were young.  These communities were built around their children’s schools and sports leagues; but just as the move to ninth grade fragmented students social groups, so too did it break apart parental networks.  Many parents we spoke to confessed that they did not know the parents of their children’s high school friends. Others lamented the loss of their old parent associations, or grew frustrated at the difficulty of commuting to and from such distant schools.

Adopting the asset orientation of the design project, we tried to view this period of transition as an opportunity rather than a stumbling block—an opportunity to build new networks and norms for parents.  Once we had defined a point of view statement for parents, we asked ourselves the following question: “How might we generate lasting connections among parents of the same high school cohort?”  This question motivated a productive brainstorming session, in which we tried to identify a set of shared interests or activities that might bring parents together.

The session generated a number of potential solutions, but in order to hone in on the most viable and impactful ones, we tried to reframe the question as follows: “Why aren’t parents organizing themselves right now?”  This led us to identify three potential constraints that, if true, would need to be addressed by our solution concept:

  1. Information constraints: Parents don’t know the other parents whose children attend the same high school
  2. Resource constraints: Parents don’t have the resources (materials, time, etc.) to make such a parental association effective.
  3. Motivational constraints: Parents don’t see value in a network of other parents, or parents don’t see themselves as able to lead or organize such efforts.

Given our conversation with parents in EPA, we were relatively confident that parents had an interest in getting to know one another.  We did still have a number of questions about what parents already knew about their peers, what resources they would need, and who would be willing to lead such associations.

These questions led us down two paths: (1) prototypes in the field, and (2) “expert” interviews with parent education liaisons at local high schools.   In speaking with school officials at both Menlo-Atherton and Carlmont High Schools, we learned that parental involvement among EPAers is certainly a challenge for administrators, and one that has the potential to improve student outcomes around attendance and extracurricular success.  We also learned that parents face certain barriers to becoming involved: distance to the schools, the need for translation services, or financial resources (dues for parent-teacher associations, e.g.).    These conversations gave us increasing confidence that the creation of a parental association for EPA parents would benefit parents and students alike.

We then embarked on two prototyping missions:  The first was a flyer campaign in which we sought to gauge parental interest in high school parents associations, and the second involved in-depth interviews with parents about their interest in one of four possible parent association groups.  From these interviews, we came away with two key insights: (1) parents are motivated to work with others if there is a concrete benefit or resource (after school space, transportation, etc.) for their children, and (2) it takes a special type to lead/organize such associations.

Though these interviews and prototypes could only give us a baseline level of confidence, they did provide the groundwork for our final proposal: the Shared Collectives Campaign—a service that brings parents together to collectively manage a resource.  Such a program would not only give parents and students access to much needed goods, but the collective ownership would generate trust and community among parents.

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This seed idea formed the core of last week’s presentation to City Manager Magda Gonzalez and her executive team.  After hearing about the design process and the proposed solution, our partners seemed enthusiastic about the proposal—not just about the pressing need in this area, but also regarding the feasibility of such a program.  Concerns were of course raised about the costs of such a program, how best to partner with the school district, and the identification of key community leaders.  But all seemed on board with the notion that parental associations of this sort could not only benefit students and parents, but could serve as a new way for the city to interface with its residents.

As we reflect back on the design process, we are incredibly thankful for the opportunity to get to know our neighboring city, and to hopefully contribute to its betterment.  Through our empathy work and prototyping, we tried to push beyond our preconceptions and to understand the residents of the city, to uncover their needs, their desires, and their aspirations.  By incorporating their feedback and suggestions into the final solution proposal, we hope that we have uncovered something of genuine use to the city.

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