In early October, the City of Pittsburgh convened a group of employers, tradeworkers, and mobility advocates in a visioning session called Mobiliti to devise and explore new ideas to help low-income employees get to their jobs.
A growing number of people, especially low-wage workers, struggle to balance family obligations and reaching their jobs on time. Some participants at Mobiliti explained how they have to begin their day as early as 3:00 AM to get their kids to day care and then to reach jobs or schooling elsewhere in the Pittsburgh region. This precisely choreographed routine is full of opportunities for something to go wrong, and one missed connection can cascade to result in arriving extremely late to work or taking an expensive last resort such as Uber/Lyft or a jitney – the local, informal version of a ridehailing service.
When it comes to accessing a job, people will go to great lengths to make ends meet, and as a result sacrifice time they could be spending with their families and communities, or resting before heading back to work. Working with this lens, the room’s designers not only focused on barebones affordability and connectivity, since people currently find a way, but on giving people time in their days to better fulfill themselves. Design thinking helps to uncover these meaningful insights to focus on
Solving for the Unknown
The Mobiliti event was a full-on design sprint: an exercise in which participants focus all of their energy in visioning a solution to a problem from articulation to creating a workable solution. Attendees took local experiences and expertise to churn out potential solutions that could realistically be piloted by the middle of 2019.
To start, design participants had to understand the problem – getting to work in a reliable and timely manner – from the target group’s perspective. Based on the perspectives of employers and the workers for whom the group hoped to focus their services, a number of themes emerged that helped to articulate problems more than “getting to work is a challenge.”
Participants explained how their situations frequently leave them stranded without access to cell phone data or credit cards, and they feel isolated from their communities because they have no time to do anything but get themselves to and from work.
These are insights that come not from looking at datasets but by listening to what potential customers say – and don’t say – about the challenges they face and digging into the underlying characteristics that influence the experience.
In addition, designing a solution that best fits a specific user requires having that exact person at the table and guiding the design – something that is shockingly uncommon in some service and product designs. The organizers made sure to curate groups to ensure contributors from many walks of life – government, private sector, nonprofits, laborers – had an equal seat and voice at each table. As such, those groups got a fuller understanding of answer the questions “what is,” “what if,” and “what wows,” the last one being where their experiences converged. The last phase, “what works,” would be the on-the-ground pilots that teams carry forward.
Following this design process led to actionable outcomes with which the target audience had a voice in developing and then reacting to how they would use the final products. In the end, each table came up with one or two unique pilot ideas that showed potential for addressing filling the gaps that workers in the Pittsburgh region face in reaching their jobs.
Designing mobility management
A common trope of conferences and meetings is that groups gather to talk about what they’re talking about, and not much more. In comparison, bringing those same actors together with on-the-ground clients in a design sprint can lead directly to tangible outcomes that just need champions to carry them forward.
Introducing design meetings to mobility management can and does lead to actual working solutions while building understanding and inclusivity for the clients that mobility managers aim to serve. This goes to show how these sprints, or longer design thinking projects, directly translate into real ideas that mobility managers can implement or submit for funding.
NCMM provides online and in-person training for mobility managers who are interested in learning more about how to apply design thinking in their communities. Please reach out to us if you’d like to know more and to implement this process in your area.
Photo used with permission from Mobiliti