What if childcare was affordable, reliable, and high quality?

Over two consecutive weekends, OpenIDEO's Toronto Chapter hosted a 2-day design series for the Early Childhood Innovation open submission. They brought together 24 participants - a combination of designers, teachers, SME's, interested individuals - as well as a local non-profit organization, Polly Hill. The final submission was focused on securing prize funding for Polly Hill who is currently working towards developing the first Intergenerational Daycare in Ontario.

What if childcare was affordable, reliable, and high quality?

Over two consecutive weekends, OpenIDEO's Toronto Chapter hosted a 2-day design series for the Early Childhood Innovation open submission. They brought together 24 participants - a combination of designers, teachers, SME's, interested individuals - as well as a local non-profit organization, Polly Hill. The final submission was focused on securing prize funding for Polly Hill who is currently working towards developing the first Intergenerational Daycare in Ontario.

        View the final prototype here
        View a re-cap on Medium here
        View the Final Submission on OpenIDEO here
Partnering with local non-profit organization Polly Hill, our pre-assigned team of 6 was tasked with the challenge of designing a solution that illustrated how intergenerational programming could help parents with young children, juggling various challenges including job instability, finding affordable quality care, and spending quality time with their kids.  
How might we maximize every child's potential during the first three years of life?
While OpenIDEO submissions allow individuals or groups to submit to prize funding from all over the globe in various stages of the idea, the organizing chapters intention in partnering up with local non-profit Polly Hill was to help contextualize the problem space at a local level, and provide participants with a tangible outcome they could feel connected to. 
For our 2-day design series that took place over two weeks (iterations occurred remotely during the week between our sprint days), my primary role in my assigned group of 6 was the designer. I was responsible for taking our collaborated ideas, research, identified personas and transforming them into a visual piece that best represented Polly Hill's vision, and supported why OpenIDEO should consider this program for funding. The visual piece would be included with the final submission from the Polly Hill team. 

The full group from sprint Day 1 including designers, SME's, and OpenIDEO Team members at Toronto's Artscape Youngspace 

After kicking off the morning with icebreakers, the OI team provided a briefing on the early childhood innovation prize submission requirements, followed by, an overview of Polly Hill's mission and vision for intergenerational daycare. Summary of the key insights pertaining to our challenge (1 & 2 conducted by Harvard University, 3. & 4 provided in official OpenIDEO submission briefing documents)

        1. Brain Development: A great deal of brain architecture is shaped in the first three years of a child's life
        2. Responsive caregivers: Young kids can benefit significantly from relationships with other responsive caregivers in and outside their family
        3. Learning approach limitations: Many young children do not reach their full potential because current approaches to early learning and  
        development do not sufficiently address today's challenges
        4. Parental Support: In the first few years, even with technology, Parents can be overwhelmed, more support needs to be available for them to            
        ensure they can provide quality care to their children
Empathizing through Role Play:
To fully understand our problem space and empathize with the targeted end user, the OI Team provided each group of 6 one persona. One team member was assigned to getting into the role of their persona and introducing herself to the team. In my group I was selected to role play Robin, the mom of two juggling various priorities including rent, job stability, and affording/finding quality childcare. The team had an opportunity to ask me as "Robin" questions about her life. This exercise was an excellent way in further empathizing and beginning to get into the headspace of how to design for our target persona.

Rapid Ideation:
Keeping our Robin hats on, the team went into rapid ideation mode, writing out as many How Might We design questions we could.  We then selected our top HMW's, compiled them onto 6 pages, and sitting in a circle silently passed them around in our group, taking a 'yes and' attitude to build on the current ideas. 

Worst Possible Idea:
This approach was new to me, but I found it a fascinating exercise to think about ideas on the complete other end of the spectrum, and take away the positive parts of it. Splitting off into twos within our groups, we came up with outlandish terrible ideas, identified attributes to keep from it, and then flipped them to build them into potential good ideas that could be worth elaborating on. What was valuable for me coming out of the exercise was a reminder that design thinking is about much more than technology based solutions, certain problem spaces benefit from moving away from technology. 

Ideating solutions & Planning:
The afternoon was spent mapping out our solutions within our groups, and meeting with subject matter experts to better understand some of the complexities of early childhood development. With a full packed morning the afternoon was a bit of a slow down for our team we tried to build a solution that would not only address Robin's frustrations and challenges, but also be financially feasible for Polly Hill. Some of  the initial solutions we came up with:

1. Adopt a grandma: A program where Polly Hill could connect Robin to able senior citizens, that would help provide extra help with the kids a few days a week.

2. Polly Hill Prescription: A government initiative that recognized Polly Hill's intergenerational care programs for the mental health benefits it                    provided to senior citizens. This would be officially accepted to be prescribed by doctors  for seniors facing loneliness, depressions etc.

3. Social enterprise: Introduce a membership program that enables any senior living in the community to join Polly Hill programming (versus just              being limited to seniors living in the retirement home). Membership revenue is used towards offsetting the cost of daycare for individuals like                    Robin.

"I may be getting older but I still have alot to offer. I want to feel needed and part of something"
(February 2017, interview with Maria)
Following day one, our team departed with a plan for the week to prototype and iterate. The team members sent me all the copy and research on Monday and my next two days were spent designing in between other work priorities. 

During our briefing on day one we were provided with one persona, Robin. With our unique partnership with Polly Hill we needed to develop a second persona for our senior end user. One of our team members was able to connect with Maria through the Polly Hill Network and conduct a brief phone interview with her. Based on the information provided I developed a quick lean persona so we had both sets of our end users clearly identified, and could ensure our solution empathized with the needs of our target personas. 
Prototyping & Iterations
Building out the prototype was where my primary role came in. With all the copy, I began to ideate. My approach to deciding on the piece we would build out was a blend of our teams ideas, as well as bringing in my marketing, sales and UX knowledge. 

If the OpenIDEO judges were the final audience that would need to look at this piece and understand the program, how could we best sell this? With my sales hat on, I thought a sell sheet would be a simple and effective way to clarify the the 5W's. My objective was simple: someone should be able to understand why this is an incredible idea worth funding within 2 minutes or less so they continue to read on. 

Instead of building it out like a traditional print flyer, I chose to create it in the form of 1 pager that could easily be re-purposed as marketing website with some tweaks to language and CTA's. This gave us flexibility to iterate in a short period of time. Our team had landed on ideas 2 and 3 blended together. I started by looking as inspiration from other effective membership programs such as ClassPass, and websites targeted towards parents and seniors to ensure the colours, text size, and language suited the needs of our end users.

We went through 2 rounds of revisions over email. Iterations came from team feedback and two user tests. Changes were made to include more sensitive language, visuals that were inclusive, and adding more clarity to how the program worked. Below is the final piece, for legibility I've split the one page into two sections. You can see the full page scrolled through here. 
1. Research limitations: With only so much time our research and feedback was limited to immediate family, friends and a 1-2 individuals from the Polly Hill Network that fit the demographics of the end user personas. 

2. Varied Feedback: Feedback from one of our interviews was "why would I pay for this", where as feedback from another individual in a very similar demographic was "I think this would be good for me". This illustrated to us there is a range of diversity within the seniors population and the Polly Hill product/service wouldn't be the right fit for everyone depending on their lifestyle (ie: active versus isolated). This indicated more research would be largely beneficial in better understanding the need for this program. 

3. Financial model: Feedback from target users included concerns about how much would be required to contribute and how regularly? With a Polly Hill associated team member we were reminded that part of the costing might also be covered through grants, and in the short term the program could be funded by other means. For the short term proving out that the program was viable to make a case for a long term government subsidy to expand the program to other retirement homes. 

4. Stock Photography: With no budget for developing this piece, I was limited to select from free stock photography, not all which was representative of the demographics of the end users. Understanding it was just for our prototype this would be easily solvable. 
Returning for day 2 with our prototypes in hand, the sessions were focused on coming together as a larger team, converging all our ideas, and (literally) canning them in jars to hand over to the Polly Hill team who would then decide what to include in the final submission. 

The sessions focused on listening to other teams ideas, and weaving them all in a way that made sense for end users, the prize submission criteria and illustrated thought around the programs being financially feasible. To get to the final refinements, within our teams we built out journey maps ensuring we understood at which point in our user personas journey our product would fit in. You can see the full final submission made by Polly Hill here.

Journey Map compiled by our group. After determining the journey to capture and breaking it out in stages, the team each took one section to  flush out

Participating in my first 2-day design series with OpenIDEO, and as the only designer on my team, was an incredible and fulfilling challenge for me. Coming straight out of my UX program being surrounded by only my colleagues, this experience allowed me to broaden my horizons in further understanding design thinking, re-visit principles I had learned, and connect with many incredibly talented design thinkers with diverse backgrounds from my own. In addition, applying design thinking for an established organization was a first for me and it brought a different element to the entire process. Some of my key lessons:

1. Staying focused on the facts & research
Not being remotely close to who my proto persona was in this challenge, was a good exercise for me in learning to truly remove myself from the design, and focus on the needs of our end users and the facts. From a research perspective I found myself constantly stepping back before making certain design choices, and asking 'how would this make Maria or Robin feel?'

2. Playing the visual designer
While my strengths are on the research side and for this challenge my primary role was creating a visual piece, I certainly went in feeling a bit nervous. I found that stretching myself to accomplish this task was a great opportunity to empathize with someone who receives research, insights, and copy. It helped me understand how critical it is for a researcher and designer to have strong and consistent communication. 

3. Don't overthink it
With a background in sales and client services, something I am often challenged with is overthinking. My natural tendency is to anticipate all the objections I might get on my work and iterate it until I feel confident about being able to defend it with reason and logic. I surprised myself at how quickly I could design when I had to, and still be able to produce work I'm proud of. Furthermore it forced me to learn to lean on my team members to be critical in objecting the work when it didn't make sense.
In no particular order, I'd like to extend credit to these incredible humans for making this challenge possible:

       The OpenIDEO 2018 Toronto Chapter Team
       Participants of OpenIDEO Toronto Early Childhood Innovation Challenge
       The Polly Hill Team

       My fellow team members:
       Chryssa Koulis
       Denise Pinto
       Urvashi Pal
       Alex Vargas
       Gill Wylie

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