Episode #13 Government’s Design Lessons
Dana Chisnell and Dean Logan discuss the unique challenges of bringing UX into the government sector and how some things they learned can benefit the private sector.
Jared Spool: It is my great opportunity to bring up our next guest here, Dean Logan and Dana Chisnell.
Dana Chisnell: [inaudible 00:11] .
Dean Logan: I know that was for you.
Jared: Dean is the county clerk of the LA County, which, if I'm not mistaken, the largest county in the US. Is that correct?
Dean: That's correct.
Jared: You've been doing that now for how long?
Dean: Almost nine years.
Jared: Nine years. Dana is the founder of the Center for Civic Design
Dana: They haven't fired me yet.
Jared: They haven't fired you yet. Also now, works for the United States Digital Service at LA. We need that reset. Works for the United States Digital Service at the White House.
Dana: For the White House.
Jared: For the White House.
Dana: Not in the White House.
Jared: Not in the White House. Next to the White House.
Dana: Next to the White House, yeah, that's a good way to say it.
Jared: Yes, yes. You get to see the White House frequently.
Dana: [laughs] Almost every day.
Jared: Yeah. Let's start with you. You've been doing a project for the last eight months at the Citizenship and Immigration Service team, and you had a momentous occasion a few weeks ago when you got the developers to actually just start sketching by themselves.
How did you get there?
Dana: It was a long road, actually, but it really started with observing how the process worked when I worked in the dorm, which was in October. I met the team at US Citizenship and Immigration Service, and the way they were making software...
That's what I'm working on, is software for the people who are making the decisions about who comes into the country and who gets to stay. The way they were making software is what we now affectionately call "Agile fall."
It's a group of people who work in a division that is responsible for gathering all the requirements, and they spend weeks and weeks and weeks doing this, sometimes months.
They make big flow charts out of all of that, and then they hand the flow charts off to the business analysts, who do some other magic, mostly extracting what the data elements are, and then they hand all of that off to product owners, which is actually the only Agile part of it.
The product owners work with the development teams to make user stories. The user stories then get made, basically by dumping the database into the UI, like just barfing it right into the UI.
Karen: Big database explosion.
Dana: Right. No users involved, no real design involved. Working with the development teams over a few weeks, and sitting in on the demos when they would finish stories, and basically sending them back to the drawing board, they eventually learned that if they came to me first to sketch some things out before they started working on the user story that they could avoid the embarrassment of my sending them back to the drawing board.
They started to make better acceptance criteria and things like that. Now it's become a thing that they naturally do, and they feel like they're doing better work because of it, but the first time the little front-end developer came to me...
And he's little. He looks like he's about 12 years old, and he's probably 21...came to me, and said, "Hey, can we work on this thing before I start committing code," it was like that was a huge win.
Jared: Did you buy him a cupcake?
Dana: [laughs] At the headquarters for USCIS, every day at lunchtime, is this lineup of food trucks, and one of the favorite trucks of the developers is one that has donuts and fried chicken together. He got a fried chicken sandwich as a reward.
Jared: Fried chicken sandwich made with a donut?
Dana: Yeah, they're made on a donut.
Jared: Wow, this is...
Dana: This is the food of champion developers.
Jared: Wow, I can feel my arteries hardening.
Do you have fried chicken and donuts in LA?
Dean: No, but I do like cupcakes.
Karen: Dana, what do they call you?
Dana: Because of this behavior, and my request to the chief of the office that we're working with, that the digital service is working with, I have been named the "Design Princess." The chief gave me a scepter, and everything. [laughs]
I work this, believe me.
Karen: Dean, Dana has a scepter, but I understand that you have a helicopter. You are the county clerk for...you have the largest number of registered voters in any jurisdiction in the entire United States, which apparently, as a bonus prize, you get a helicopter.
Can you talk a little bit about your role, and some things that you are proud of, in managing voting?
Dean: Sure. It's really not my helicopter, it's the sheriff's helicopter, I just get to use it on election night. But that's how we get the ballots back to our headquarters on election night.
First, just thank you for the opportunity to be here. It's been great to sit here and listen to the great stories and examples today. Definitely stuff that I'm going to take back to our team.
You asked, "Is there something that I'm proud of?" I would actually say today what I am proud of is being here. It's pretty meaningful to me, and humbling, to be able to be here and follow the people who have shared their stories.
We have a long way to go in Los Angeles County, and in local government, but it's validating the sense that we, several years ago, stepped outside of our comfort zone and outside of the typical bureaucracy that we operate in, and said, "We have a huge problem to solve in Los Angeles County with regard to voting equipment."
That was the definition of the problem at the time. The market wasn't delivering a solution for us, the regulatory environment wasn't aiding us in getting to a solution. We're the largest jurisdiction in the country, and we are operating on a voting system that was, by-and-large, introduced in 1968.
We're still using it today and it's at the end of its life cycle. If we don't do something, we're going to find ourselves in a position of not being able to conduct an election. I don't want to be there, when and if that happens. <
We got to the point where we couldn't wait any longer, so we stepped out and said, let's just wipe the slate clean and say, if the market can't deliver, if the regulatory environment is that dysfunctional, both at the state and federal level -- at the time, it's gotten somewhat better since then -- then what would it look like if we just started at the grassroots level and built a voting system based on the needs of the voter, rather than the needs of the election administrator, or the needs of the elected officials, or the structure that we operate in? We don't have particularly background in this.
The interesting thing is, we didn't have funding for this. We have funding to buy new equipment, federal funding that's been sitting there collecting interest. Nothing to buy with it, but no funding to do design work or to do this grassroots effort.
We started, literally, almost through bake sales, dipping our toes into focus groups, workshops with voters, just doing data collection, asking, what do our voters like about their current experience, what do they think the voting of the future will look like, and how can we get there?
From that, we decided to really step out there and say, we're not going to limit ourselves to the current laws, we're not going to limit ourselves to the current certification standards for voting equipment. We're going to first design what we think is best for the voters in Los Angeles County, and then we're going to tackle those issues after the fact.
Dana: I'm so proud of you.
Dean: We're still going through that. A lot of it has to do with Dana, who taught me how to do some of this stuff by helping me wade into the water after dipping my toes into...
Dana: You've done well, grasshopper.
Say more about this. How does the county clerk of Los Angles become a UX designer?
Jared: I want to know about the bake sales because there's a...
It seems to me that you could've done what Donald Trump did at the Iowa state farm, give people helicopter rides.
Dean: The bank sale's an analogy, but again, that was the issue is, I knew in order to get my authorizing environment to support us in this effort, that I had to have data to show that this is the right thing to do.
We basically have leveraged a crises, the fact that there isn't anything available to buy and that the market and regulatory environment have been broken. That' show we've been able to get this forward. Frankly, I don't know that I would've got that support if those conditions hadn't been placed.
We got a small grant, and again, as a government into the...I can't receive a grant, so actually, the Cal Technology MIT voting technology project got a small grant from the Irvine Foundation. We held a symposium, we did focus groups, established from steering committees. Then I did apply for a productivity investment loan within the county structure.
To do our first engagement, we brought in IDEO to help us, to train us in human-centered design and to do some of that preliminary design work. Now, we're in a major engagement with them to design the specifications for the equipment that fits with the voting experience that we designed.
I made that comment earlier that this started out as a problem of voting equipment and we quickly realized that it wasn't about equipment. It was about the voting experience, and that the equipment can come after that, once we defined what the experience is.
We're there now. We have that definition of the experience. This is a prototype, one of the most recent prototypes of a ballot marking device. This will be a major component of the system we're looking at. IDEO helped us create this.
The key here, though, is that IDEO is...we engage them for design. They won't be the manufacturer of the system. They didn't design it for profit. They designed it for the experience that we helped create, and then we'll go out to market to have it manufactured, once we're done with the design phase.
Jared: That's a very different way than voting equipment has been built in the past.
Dean: Extremely different.
Jared: How is it different?
Dean: First of all, I don't know if the image of all the people has been up there yet. One more.
Dana: There we go.
Dean: Yeah. I included this image because I think this is really symbolic that this is just a sampling of the people that we've engaged in in the design process. These are real voters, who have real input on the voting experience in LA County, and I don't think...
First, the market for voting systems in this country is extremely small. It's about four firms. I don't think that any of them have ever engaged voters to this extent. They built those systems for the regulatory environment and for election administrators. That's not a criticism of them. That's the way it was designed. That's the way they were able to get into the market.
I watched, in my career, after the 2000 Bush v. Gore decision, and the federal infusion of many into voting systems, all that money spent on technology and equipment that was not ready for prime time.
I live and work in a county that's surrounded by counties that spent that federal money on those systems. Now, they're paying public money to store it in public storage facilities because it was decertified by the regulatory environment and they don't have any money left and there's nothing new in the market, but they're still marketing the same equipment.
That's what led us in this direction.
Jared: What this shows here is that you've had to be really innovative to change the dynamic of the marketplace. This is not something we normally think of when we think of how governments work both at the federal level and at the state and local level.
Innovation is something that politicians talk about, but when they get into office you rarely see it very often. This voting system and the fact that it's not a politically created thing. You're not a politically appointed, are you?
Dean: I'm an appointed official, but I'm not...
Jared: This is really just a turn where government is saying, "We need to make sure that we're delivering citizens the right experience." I'm curious if this type of innovation is seen as too radical or if, in fact, it's being embraced at the local level for you, Dean, and Dana, for you at the federal level.
Dean: I want to believe that it's being embraced. I will say it started out again based on necessity. We had a crisis and there wasn't a clear solution in place. I think we were able to really leverage that.
Frankly, to be able leverage the fact that we're Los Angeles County. At a smaller jurisdiction, I don't know that we could leverage that.
We also made a commitment at the beginning of this to do it in a way that could be model, not just for other jurisdictions looking at modernizing voting systems, but also as a new model for design and big difficult complex systems acquisition problems in the public sector.
I hope that in that way we're influencing it. I see that in small ways within LA County and just with in other parts of the work that we do, but there's a large gap. A lot of room for growth in that area.
Dana: Some of it comes from it's not just innovation. It's also evolution that in 2000 Bush v. Gore, and all those old systems that everybody had, all of the election officials in the country were basically beholding to their vendors. It didn't occur to anybody that there were other options.
Tech shifted over the 15 years to make a lot more options available. When the light went on in the community that there was a whole bunch of consumer off the shelf stuff and that you could build a modular system and have the modules talk to one another or talk to existing systems, first of all, the vendors freaked out. Second, that just presented a whole lot of other opportunities.
We're seeing this inside federal agencies too that there are some urgency because of crisis like healthcare.gov to clean up a whole lot of disaster that could be happening imminently. There's something like 28 projects on the government accountability offices, list of high risk IT projects.
All of those have anciently old legacy systems. They have not been touched mainly because the way that the federal government does things is the way that the federal government has done things since they started building battleships and tanks.
Looking at the opportunities in the consumer market and also with agile processes and faster, easier and continuous deployment as well as including community groups as you have done in hackathons and other exercises like that, this has opened up a whole bunch of doors that were never opened before.
Dean: I would say that not only has tech changed in that timeframe, but I think maybe more importantly voter behavior in the semi world. Voter behavior has changed too. That's what the market and the regulatory environment had never responded to.
We were still designing processes, whether it'd be the equipment or the actual set up of a polling place around this concept that people are going to vote on a random Tuesday, between 7:00 AM and 8:00 PM and that we're going to go to one place that was located in their neighborhood and that that the only place it could go to get the correct ballot which doesn't match with anything else in the way that we function today.
It certainly doesn't match with the next generation of voters that are coming forward. We have this crisis of participation in the country. We know statistically that the lowest performing demographic are voters between the ages of 18 and 29.
We also know that it's a myth that that means that they're just complaisant because we know that they're volunteering and doing other forms of civic activity at a higher rate than previous generations.
That's just the world that we live in. In the government sectors, innovation has always been behind. The most innovative thing in elections in this country in the last 10 years has been the advancement of Vote by Mail which has been great on the West Coast, in particular.
I always use my son as an example. My son is a very civic-minded person, graduated from college, votes in every election. He could not tell you the cost of a postage stamp or his mailing address because they're not ways in which he interacts on a day-to-day basis.
Hanging all of our hats on an innovation of voting by mail is not going to get us to a level of participation that we need to sustain effective elections.
Dana: We see this parallels in the federal government and state governments too where all these processes for getting benefits from government are on paper. Most human beings in the United States, adults don't operate on paper. They operate largely in the digital world.
For people who are not on a smartphone or a computer, there is still a lot of opportunity for access to the digital space to make that experience happen for them too.
Jared: Just walk us through a little bit the innovations that you're putting into this new equipment and, Dana, the stuff you're doing at CIS that are sort of game changers from the old way that we did things that people have the senses to how good this can be.
Dean: Let me start by saying that I think we learned a lot from the data gathering about things that people may want to desire that realistically we probably can't deliver right now. Not surprisingly, I'm sure everybody's first question is, "I have this iPhone, why can't I just vote on my iPhone or why can't I vote online?"
Why aren't we designing an Internet voting system? There's lots of complications with that. Single, most importantly, it's the secret ballot. If we don't have a secret ballot, we could solve that issue today, but we value a secret ballot.
What we try to do is to not just dismiss that, which I think is what's happened in the past was to say, "OK. If we can't do that, what is it about that that's appealing?" What are the elements of the voting process where people could interact using their phone or their mobile device or from home? How can they customize their voting experience?
What you see in the prototype are a couple of things. One, it uses familiar devices that the touchscreen is going to be familiar that it's going to look like some foreign object when you go up to vote on it. We're designing what we call an interactive sample ballot which is sort of inspired by the way in which we deal with boarding passes when we travel.
It will allow voters at their option who want to pre-mark their sample ballot electronically, take it with them to a vote center. Again, it would be a vote center where you could go to any location in the county over a period of several days.
Jared: ...you're in work instead of the one you're at home.
Dean: Exactly. Presumably, over a period of several days, if you've already got your ballot the way you want it, your sample ballot the way you want it, you could walk in there, scan it, verify that it's as you intended. Hit the button, print it, and that would expedite your voting experience.
You could do that electronically or you could print out just like a boarding pass. Some of us like to print out the boarding pass. Some of us like to take it on our phone. You could just walk in and start the process at the vote center.
The idea is to enable voters within the realm of possibility to vote when, where and how they want to, and to recognize that all voters are the same.
The reason I like this graphic is we have always designed thinking everybody is the same. Then we take the outliers and say, "OK, we'll create one piece of voting equipment to assist voters with disabilities and we'll put over in the corner. If somebody needs that they can go over and use it."
This actually recognizes that voters are different, but the equipment doesn't have to be different. That the same piece of equipment can provide a customized experience that will allow everybody to vote independently and privately.
Dana: One of the greatest innovations in this voting system that you're building is actually based on some work that I did. [laughs] I don't know if I gave a picture of this, but worked on a thing that we called the Anywhere Ballot.
It's a digital user interface that we tested with people with low literacy and mild cognitive disabilities. Never have I done usability testing that was so eye-opening. If I could only test with people with low lit from now on, forever, I would absolutely do that because...
Jared: Why is that?
Dana: One of the things that we learned was not only do they have low literacy, but they also are not on computers very much. While some of them have smartphones, most of them didn't have smartphones. The conventions that we all have been creating for interaction design don't work for people who haven't had this exposure.
Also, some of the things that we've been doing for decades in user interfaces, like how we write information messages and error messages, is just wrong for people who don't read very much. We're way too wordy and not action-oriented enough. Pairing that down to iterative design to get to just the right five words to get people to do the right thing at the right time was really challenging and really, really fun.
Karen: Is the answer is that we need more designers in government? Like the work that's being done with the USDS and 18AP, is that like as many people here are thinking about building their own in-house design teams, is it a matter of now bringing in design teams for government?
Dana: We're from design and we're here to help.
Karen: Like the design paramedics.
Dana: The design paramedics, I like that. Yes and no. Having an infusion of designers at the federal level is going to give a ton of permission to a whole lot of people to deliver better experiences, better services across the board.
My experience in working with county and state governments for the last 15 years has shown me that there are actually, even though there's nobody who comes from Scott or [inaudible 21:56] , there are designers all over government. There's design happening.
Karen: You are making design decisions.
Dana: Absolutely. One of my favorite examples is I have worked with different state governments on and off. One day, there I was minding my own business and working on something else.
Trying to make a deadline and I got an email from a guy who was the Deputy Secretary of State in Ohio saying that the legislature just passed a new law about provisional balance and he had to create this new form that would be used in the polling place.
Here, he sent me a copy of the form which is basically the text of the legislation baffled on to the form and could I give him some help in improving this. I really didn't have time at the time to do it. It felt like a big deadline for him.
I sent him to a couple of templates. Basically, some example forms that were similar to what he wanted to do and some other ones that were not similar but might have features that he could use, and directed him to the field guards to ensure voter intent that I had developed with Whitney Quesenbery and Drew Davies and said, "Go look at these things and come back to me."
Basically, in about 24 hours, he and his co-deputy had turned out a beautiful form based on the templates. In Word, by the way. Not in design. Not Photoshop or something like that. A really beautiful serviceable, publishable form that they were going to go then do some hallway testing on to make sure that they got it right.
I was so delighted. I was like, "My job is done here." He's a lawyer and took it on and did a really beautiful job. I see examples like this all the time.
Dean: That's the key point. There's room for more designers in government, but I think more importantly we need everybody in government to recognize that they're designers and to teach design thinking because we have people every day creating forms, form letters, signs, all of those things.
Again, this is by watching Dana. It can be overwhelming to try and break out of that old mold in government. This is goes to what you talked about earlier this morning, Karen, about facing the fears, realizing it doesn't have to happen all at once. You can start small.
One of the things that Dana and Whitney helped me to see is I work in an eight-story building that has 1,200 to 1,400 members of the public in and out of it every day that represent the full spectrum and diversity of Los Angeles County.
Now if we have a new form or a new process, we can randomly poke people out of line and have them give us feedback. They're there every day. We had never done that.
Dana: They're standing in line on...
Dean: They came and asked us, "Can we come and hang out at your building?" I'm like, "Why don't we do that?"
Dana: That was really fun when you set aside a room for that. Like people get marriage licenses at his building. We intercepted entire families to do usability studies.
Jared: While they were waiting in line to get their marriage license.
Dana: Like the parents would be there. The in-laws would be there.
Jared: They bring the whole family to get marriage license?
Dana: Yeah, because they're going to get married right there and then. They're waiting for the bride and groom. The grandparents and they're all hanging out.
Jared: I barely remembered to bring my bride.
Dana: Good point.
Karen: What advice would you have for other government entities, agencies that are recognizing they have a problem with the citizen experience? What would you tell them to do?
Dana: The most success that I have seen has been to make small changes over time. One of the great examples about elections is that there are way more elections than you realize, first of all. They're not just every two years, but there are practically all the time, especially if you live in California.
These are places where you can make a tiny change, watch the effect and then assess that. Small changes iterated over time really is the best way I think to mitigate the fear and to mitigate the risk. You can also track this over time through the examples.
You can see immediately on all measures like are you getting fewer calls at the call center. It's exactly the same thing as the private sector. You make a change in a UI or a form, are there fewer calls that come into the call center? Are there fewer issues when your sales ops people are out in the field? That kind of stuff.
Dean: I would say the same thing and I would add two things to that. You have to build a base of support in the public sector in order to do this in that you're not just out there on your own. Building stakeholder advisory committees that represent the users that you're trying to address and that can help you find the right combination of users to do the user testing, and to start small.
I love the conversation earlier about small failures instead of going to the large one because I lived through some large ones and don't want to do that again. Also, I think finding some really good stories to tell because this is still a real new concept, especially at the local and state government.
I don't know if the federal government has gone a little further with this. I think finding some good stories to tell.
What I have been talking about recently is the difference between compliance on paper with the regulation that when you look at this and you say, "OK, we worked really hard to be sure that the height and the width of these ballot marking devices met the requirements for the ADA, for a voter who was coming in a wheelchair?"
We worked really hard on designing some pretty cool text to us in that that touchscreen couldn't be seen if somebody's looking over your shoulder to provide the regulatory requirement for privacy.
What we learned in user testing which we would never learn through a simple compliance testing is that none of that matters if you don't set the units up in a certain way in the room. That that film on the screen doesn't matter if you still feel there's three people behind you. You still don't feel you're having a private voting experience.
If you're in a wheelchair and you don't feel there's a clear path to where that device or it's not welcoming to you as a voter who has limitations or restrictions, then that's all been wasted resources.
Jared: Listening to you, it seems very much to me that the stuff that you guys are now dealing with, these thoughts about thinking about that entire experience and working with these new sort of innovative processes and making small changes are, are exactly what lots of organizations that are not government.
Businesses and the private sector, which are traditionally seen as being light-years ahead of what's happening in government. You guys are not just catching up. In some cases, you are surpassing the capabilities of those organizations, whether you know it or not.
The path that you're on and it's very likely that people will get an opportunity to learn from what you're doing. I know at the federal level, there's been a lot of work done to sort of open source and be transparent in terms of the US Digital Service has their playbook which they've open sourced and made very transparent.
The design firm that runs out of the General Services Administration, 18F, has been very open. They've been putting stuff in GitHub and sorts of things.
This goal of being open, are you thinking at all about the fact that you guys are learning that businesses can learn from at this point? Are you still just dealing with what you're dealing with that it's like, "Well, whatever they do is fine, but we have to make government work first?"
Dean: Honestly, the project has been so big and so daunting that I haven't spent a lot of time thinking about that. On the other hand, I think went into this knowing that the private companies that built the existing systems haven't done this.
It's interesting to look at it and say, "Why didn't they do this or what prevented them from doing this?" Part of that leads you right back to the public sector in terms of "We need to look at the regulatory environment differently. It needs to be modernized just like the equipment. The regulations have to be modernized. We have to incentivize this type of work."
Again, I think what I was able to leverage is these neighboring counties and say, "They spent all this money and now they've [inaudible 30:30] this equipment." We don't want to be in that same situation because that's what was missing. The design is what was missing in that equipment. The concept was good, but they weren't ready.
I think a lot of it is also going back and working to the legislative process. What's still scary about the process that we're going through is we feel pretty confident that our design has been validated. We feel pretty confident that we can have this built.
We have a funding source, but this is still going to take changes in law in order to implement. We still have to get over that regulatory barrier as well.
Jared: We're going to take some questions here. Where is Rusty Holliday? Where are you? Back there. Then after that, Miki Van Cleave, we'll go to you. Rusty.
Rusty Holliday: I asked two questions on Slack. I'm not sure which one made the cut or whatever. I'll just ask both.
Jared: Go for it.
Rusty: You guys answered some of them. I wanted to know that the challenge is both political and technical in dealing with the incoming technologies like you talked about. You're replacing existing systems. Sometimes, those systems were there because they were the best systems. Sometimes, they there for other reasons.
Dean: Because they're the only system.
Rusty: Some of the challenges on that. I also wondered how is experience in working with IDEO, how did that change? Maybe the way you were thinking or approaching in designing or solving problems. Maybe what were some of the ideas that didn't made the cut?
Dean: Let's start with the beginning. I think that, again, we're in a unique situation in Los Angeles in that we literally are using the only system that's available, and it's going to die, so we have to replace it. That's not true in all jurisdictions around the country.
We're unique because of the number of voters we have, the number of languages we need to support, a lot of things. That's also been one of the challenges in the market, because the market, we're pretty high risk.
If they can make the money on the mid-sized and small-sized counties, they're not going to come to LA county.
Dana: That being said, though, a lot of the systems that were bought with all that money at the beginning of the 2000s are dying.
Dean: Absolutely. And there's no more money.
Dana: And there's no more money. They're going to have to be replaced. Everyone's watching what Dean is doing.
Dean: And the vendors are watching what we are doing. Again, one of the signs of validation for me is that because we've done this in a very open and transparent manner, one of the vendors has recently put out a new system on the market that's very similar to what we've designed.
The difference is it's proprietary. I think that design that we're on the right path.
Working with IDEO, for me, has been transformative. It's an incredible organization. They have taken the time to work with our team and our stakeholder community to train us in design thinking, and to spend the time and the resources doing that.
They've been willing to step out of their comfort zone to deal with a government procurement process and deadlines and deliverables that is very much outside of their typical model. I can't say enough about what a great working relationship that's been.
It's also, for me personally and for my team, just very valuable, beyond this project. Taking staff to their environment and being in their design studios, we have adopted things.
We came back and...seemed like little things, but maybe this audience will appreciate it. We now have collaborative spaces where people can get together. We've painted walls that are now entire walls of whiteboards.
Our conference rooms have Sharpies and sticky notes all over them, now. I keep sticky notes and Sharpies in my glove compartment in my car.
We created an idea board in our executive office. From the very first visit to IDEO, just painted idea chalkboard, and it's just been phenomenal the amount of creativity and idea generation that comes from that.
It's been very, very useful.
Dana: I swear, so many problems in there that would be solved if there were just whiteboards and markers in every conference room. Really.
Dean: You do have to be careful about the Sharpies in play.
Dana: Yeah, yeah. People confuse those at first.
Jared: Where's Miki? There we are.
Miki Van Cleave: I love what you said about thinking you knew where the problem was, and finding out that wasn't really the problem you had.
I work with bankers. Telling somebody with 30 years thinking experience that they're maybe not solving the right problem, I'm sure it's hard, but not quite as hard as telling politicians that. I appreciate your experience there.
But I was curious, you said when you realized you had a voting experience problem, where does the voting experience start? How early do you do that?
I love the designs of the voting machine, but I'm assuming it starts way before that.
Dean: That's a great question. That evolved over time. It was about realizing that it's not just about finding a piece of equipment, it's figuring out where that equipment is going to reside, and what impact that has on voters.
It's a fine balance, because I also don't think the bureaucracy of elections in of itself is not going to change voter participation. I think we know that.
If voters are motivated, they'll overcome time, place and equipment. If, on the other hand, we can make the time, place and equipment better, and they have a good experience from the first time they vote, then the chance of them coming back and voting again in the future is going to be critical.
We started by talking with existing voters, and then we just expanded that. We've really run the whole gamut. We've done the literacy, language minorities, voters with disabilities, and we've also gone to non-voters, people who are registered but don't vote, to find out what they don't vote, and how that relates to this.
People who are eligible to vote, but aren't registered, and then we've gone to high school and college students who are either first-time voters or the next generation of voters to get their perspective. And they're very willing to give their perspective.
That's what led to this. There's nothing fancy in these pictures that would make you think, "Wow, this is a transformation of the process." It's more about how we can use that, and how we can design something that will be adaptive over time.
What you can't see in those images is that underneath those there's this premise, "Do we recognize technology and voter behavior are changing at a pace that we've never seen before? If we're going to invest public money in the new system, we need a system that can adapt with those changes, too."
That's again been a regulatory problem. Where it used to be voting systems had to be locked down end to end, and if there was a new screen protector available next week, we couldn't purchase it without starting over and going through complete recertification again.
Those are the things that we're trying to shift away from. Your question on, "When does the voting experience start," is a really good one. I think a lot of people are trying to figure that out, not just in the election administration, but just at the advocacy areas, as well.
Dana: Yeah, and the president also formed the Presidential Commission on Election Administration a couple of years ago specifically to address the problem of long lines in the 2012 election. A lot of people at a lot of different levels are looking at what that experience is like.
One of the things that we've learned since then, partly because of the commission and a whole bunch of other research that has been done since, is that there's been so much media coverage about how long the lines were that voters on the low end of engagement, or people who are eligible to vote but not registered.
One of the reasons that they're not registering is because they hear those stories and they assume that the experience is going to be just as bad when they get inside the elementary school gym where the voting actually happens as the standing in line part.
That is a huge part of the experience, as well.
Jared: One of the things that Dana didn't mention is that there were UX people as advisers to the presidential commission, election administration, which I believe there were the two of you, and others.
One last question which is, tomorrow we're going to talk a bit about compliance and regulation. You've talked about this multiple times here. Do you have, in your superpowers, the ability to involve the policymakers and the regulatory folks early on, so that you can get their help in actually getting the right experience without bumping into some of these regulatory issues?
Dean: Yes. That's an important thing to do. There's an art to that, because there's an attention span issue there. We've started this, and we've been very careful not to rush through it.
One of the things we've run into is engaging legislators and elected officials and then showing pictures like this and then they're thinking they're going to see that at the next election. It's a timing issue, but I think you have to do that.
You have to get them involved. You have to get them updated on a regular basis, otherwise they can derail this, because it's too easy, at least in the environment I work in. One person can come in and pull the plug on this overnight.
You have to bring them along. They have to be part of the process. That's what I talked about earlier about, "That's where you have to build that foundation of stakeholder support so you're not out there on their own."
Jared: What about folks who are involved in interpreting policy and regulation? Do you involve them in a special way so you potentially could get those policies reinterpreted for what you need, once they see what you're trying to do?
Dean: In very specific cases. Who that is is going to depend on which policy you're trying to address, though.
Dana: One of the biggest lessons I've had since working with Citizenship and Immigration Servive while at the digital services has been, "Bring the lawyers in as soon as possible, because they're the 'no' people."
I don't want to get well into a design to have a compliance review, a legal review, say, "Yeah, no. You can't do that. You have to do it this way," because I want to be Agile. And I want a ship.
Jared: We'll talk about this more tomorrow. Thank you guys so much. This has been fantastic.