Inclusive Design with Tim Brazier.
It was great to chat with Tim Brazier, managing director of Thrive by Design, about inclusive design and much more.
- Tim Brazier
- 25 mins
Tom: Hello and welcome to Episode 22 of the Make Things Better Podcast. Today, I am joined by Tim Brazier, really pleased to have you on Tim. It has been a while that I have been wanting to have a chat with you so thanks for coming down. How are you doing today?
Tim: Yeah really good thank you. Not too bad., getting towards the weekend so that's always a good part of the week.
Tom: Yeah we tend to record these on a Friday and I feel like every one is always in a much better mood. So, yeah do you want to start off by telling us what your current role is because I know you are doing quite a few things?
Tim: Yeah so I am currently managing director of a team called Thrive by Design. We are a design and resource team, based within the NHS actually, so we are hosted by Leeds and York Partnership Foundation Trust. We have an office up in Leeds and a base up in Leeds but we work nationally.
We are commissioned by all sorts of different parts of the NHS and other funders and kind of foundations. Our role is looking at how digital and digital innovation, and digital technology can help to tackle health inequalites, whilst at the same time making sure that the very rapid digital transformation of health and care that is happening at the moment doesn't compound those existing inequalities that people are facing, because it is very easy for that to happen.
Tom: Yeah and I know you are very into inclusive design and inclusivity in general right, I was wondering what sort of piqued your interest in the whole inclusive side of things when it comes to design?
Tim: I think I have always had a real kind of draw towards making things fairer and making things equal for people. Back in previous roles when I was working much more heavily in digital. Like working in digital agencies, whether that be building digital apps, websites that sort of thing, it was only every talked about as accessibility. So making your software, your platform accessible when people are there.
It was only when I kind of took a shift away from project management that I was doing at the time, into service design as a real kind of passion of mine as that you start to broaden your understanding of people's needs when they are trying to access different things.
Whether that is accessing an app to complete a task or to access a service for information. You really start to understand that there are so many different factors that will mean that people are excluded from being able to participate or get the information that they need for the support or the benefits that are out there. Especially with digital and the internet and the things that have happened over the last couple of decades really.
So yeah it was a real interest of mine, as soon as you start to understand and hear people's stories of how they are excluded and the disadvantages that they face. I kind of really got a passion for going there is an injustice there which we can do a little bit about and we can put our energy's into the right place to do something about it.
Tom: Yeah so you mentioned about accessibility there. This may be a naive question but I don't know much about this, but what is the difference between making a site more accessible and inclusive design as a whole?
Tim: I think accessibility is really important so making sure that people can use the thing depending on their needs. So I am sat here with someone who has very few issues using technology. But, we know some of the kind of things like having a screen reader, people with screen readers being able to use them and able to navigate through a site. Making sure that things are adjustable for people, making sure that images are described. All of that kind of basic stuff which should be a real given now.
Where-as inclusivity is more about the wider need for people to access things. So it comes down to like the language used. So making things sound like it is something they should be using. Making sure there are ways of people being able to access them. So I know you have had Helen Milner from the Good Things Foundation talk about digital inclusion and the work they are doing to help people.
There are so many different factors that could stop people from using digital technology in their lives. Whether that is for enjoyment and pleasure or whether it is for actually being able to access some really critical services for them. So when we see things like Universal Credit being digital first. We could spend and I know people are spending so much time and energy making sure that platform is accessible, but there are so many barriers to people actually getting to that point where they are sat in front of a screen being able to use that system.
So yeah just really trying to understand that that inclusion is way wider than the thing that people are actually using way people are trying to complete that task.
Tom: Yeah that makes a lot of sense. So accessibility is about once that person has already taking that step to have the opportunity to use that technology, but if they don't have that opportunity in the first place but if they don't have that opportunity then...
So do you think you maybe got into all of this more from your experience working for the Good Things Foundation in a way?
Tim: Yeah so there were two real step changes in my career. So prior to being in the Good Things Foundation, I worked at Yoomee, a Sheffield based digital agency. The work we did there was really focused on using technology for social good. So, I have had the great opportunity to work with a number of charities and social enterprises where they were looking at there is a real role for technology to support people who are in certain circumstances excluded or are having particular negative experience and tough experiences.
So that kind of started the interest and then we were building technology, building software and putting it out into the world. And then we started to have conversations about assistive technology and started to understand that there are so much wider challenges to accessing that.
So then the Good Things Foundation took a real step away from making things and starting to really understand what is it that's really stopping people from being able to take advantage. So that's when you put technology away, you move it out of the way and you try and understand what are people trying to achieve here, what are there real needs and what are the reasons why they can't just go and do it.
Like I, in a very priveleged position, am able to pick a phone out of my pocket and access some information or complete an application form or do something that I am very used to. There is so many reasons why they can't. Really understanding those, making sure those are factored in. So we are not just funding the development of technology, we are thinking about that much wider service and the support that is needed to help people gain access and take advantage of it.
Tom: Yeah definetely and I think it is quite easy, well not easy, but like we've done some user research sessions over the last few weeks. And we just go and put a post on social media and people will very kindly share that and people will find out and we can then do some user research and make a site more accessible. But, when it comes to people who are not already using digital as much and you want to include those type of people, how do you go about actually helping them and discovering what there needs are?
Tim: I think the thing you need to do is take yourself out of your environment and go to where those people are. So, a lot of things we did and we do at Thrive by Design when we're talking about health inequalities, a lot of people assume that health inequalities are understood because we are part of the NHS and people turn up to an NHS front door and we can start to understand. But, a lot of those health inequalities are actually presented in loads of different places across communities that are not getting anywhere near an NHS front door.
So for us we really need to go and spend our time within those communities, look at where they are accessing support around other things. So whether it be around welfare or about employment and things like that. So there are people, communities and organisations supporting people day in and day out.
And we've learned a lot through Good Things Foundation as well with the kind of online centers, network and when you go out and spend time in those communities you then get to understand the context in people's lives and the challenges. So for me, to understand that context you have to take yourself out of the digital world that we live in and the attention that we put on screens and then go and put yourself in some of those situations and you really experience that.
A couple of years ago, one of my favourite projects was working with a homeless community down in Hastings on the South Coast and we kind of didn't really know where to start so we just went and spent some time there. We left laptops back in the office and we spent two days in the day center. Sitting down having a meal, having a conversation, playing scrabble, like doing all these things. But, you were just kind of immersing yourself in this environment so you start to pick up on some things. So I think at the time Universal Credit was being rolled out in that area and I remember distinctly someone sat at a computer in this busy, noisy room clearly trying to access it.
And it had failed on him for whatever reason and his reaction was quite extreme. Quite angry, quite focal. He had a dog and his dog started going nuts, there was another dog in there and that dog started... and you just understand that people within that situation, there is so much more context to them accessing a web form to fill in some information to get access to some of that finance that they really need and it's really not easy.
So you have just got to think about that, there is no privacy in that situation for them, they are dealing around finances and personal information and all that sort of stuff. So yeah it's getting yourself into those situations and experiencing it, seeing it and feeling that kind of tension. That's where you really get that sort of empathy for where people are in accessing things.
Tom: Yeah that's a really great example and I think it can be easy to spend a lot of your time maybe just on the internet nowadays and just using like technology. But, until you do go out and you actually see how this stuff is really impacting people's lives on a day to day basis, like in that example, it's quite hard to become so empathetic I suppose because you can't visualize it until you've seen it. It's going to be hard to really imagine what's going on for those people right.
Tim: Yeah definetely.
Tom: So once you do get to know and understand what's really going on out there, what's the next steps in terms of providing more support and making things more inclusive?
Tim: For us, it's moving into and trying to do more co-design for one of a better phrase. I know co-design gets bandied about a lot. Co-design, co-production, co-creation are all kind of different phrases that are used for different things, but what we are trying to do is not only create things that are inclusive, the services and the products that we are trying to design, but actually make the process for creating those inclusive as well.
So, I am sure you are aware and I know Hive do some great work in workshops and things like that and traditionally a lot of our co-design and our involvement has been we will run a workshop in our offices and you invite people into your environment. Over the years we've realised you create a very false environment, you are getting people to come into your world, you are getting people to answer your questions.
Often people feel like they need to tell you what you want to hear instead of what's real and things like that. So making that process more inclusive, going out and doing that work in some of those communities, involving them in the discussions, helping them to share their stories, share their experiences, we then have to advocate for that and make sure when we're talking to the funders and the people with the power that we are able to kind of break that power balance down and bring people into that design process in a much more equitable way for them.
And making sure, you know there's a real issue there with power. You know if you're creating an environment where they are coming to you, there is a real issues there. So at the moment we are trying to break down those challenges and barriers of making the process much more inclusive than just getting their thoughts and opinions when you want and them answering your questions. There is much more power in understanding and helping them understand what you are trying to do, what you are trying to achieve, what you believe is the right kind of thing and the direction you want to go in and then bringing them into that conversation and help them kind of guide it.
And be really open to the fact that your ideas will probably be wrong and probably not what people need, but we're driven by our experiences, we're driven by the possibilities of technology and we think 'Ah wouldn't it be amazing if an app would solve this problem'. But it might solve a problem for 10% of people who have the access and availability kind of thing but how else could we solve that problem and often there are many different ways you have to think about that and many different solutions, not just one.
Tom: Yeah so you have to go into that process with a very very open-mind with no pre-conveived notion of how things will turn out. And on a practical level, how do you set an environment that is more set up for co-design where there is no levels in power with someone coming to you. Like how do you actually go about going to talk to people on a practical level, like do you go into certain centers or how does that work?
Tim: Yeah I think it is really difficult. One of the things we always look for is trust. What I mean by that is where do people feel they already have trust. Where do people feel comfortable. And we work with the people and the organisations and the places that they've already got that trusting relationship with. Because it will be in their time, in their space and in their comfort. So that is one of the things we always try and do. So, for example, we were talking about the homeless community in Hastings. We were able to work with an amazing organisation called Seaview where people would come and spend their days, they'd get a hot meal, they'd get support, they'd get an ability to shower and all of that stuff.
So it was a trusted environment with trusted people and it was very much, we wouldn't go into that environment all smart, dressed up with a lanyard around our neck because there is a lack of trust with services and formality within that setting. So it was very much about us going down and us not trying to impose our agenda in some of those situations and literally going to start a conversation, listening to that person's story, understand what matters to them first, before we start to put our angle on it and start to ask about technology and all of that kind of stuff.
So understanding what really matters to you, what challenges you are facing right now and so spotting those trusted relationships, those places is really key to being able to take the first step. But as I say, it is a really difficult, complex thing to do because you can go into those environments and be quickly shut out as well.
Tom: And in your career, how have you been able to approach such situations with that neutrality, such an open-mind where you just go to talk to a person as a person?
Tim: Yeah that's a great question really. I don't think I have a specific answer really, but over time I have been lucky to be exposed to those kind of situations and put myself in situations which are really uncomfortable to me and I've been able to do that with some brilliant colleagues who have been really supportive in that situation. And I think I have a real keen interest in understanding what is happening, why things are happening and why things are working or not working in the way they are, so I am way more interested in that.
And I have learned and kind of got a knack over the years, because going into that situation with a really holistic view of the world of people's challenges and stuff like that, but you are being funded at the other end of that situation by someone who probably has a very specific view of what they are trying to achieve. So, I think you go into those situations and try and be as impartial as possible, be really honest, be really open, try not to talk too much.
Try and listen. Don't try and always relate to what people are saying as well, because I think it is really easy. I am really terrible for this, but it is very easy to go 'Oh yeah I know someone like that, or I have had an experience...' And I am alawys looking to build some rapport with people. But, there is no way that I have experienced the things that they have experienced. No matter how much I think. So there is a real kind of need to listen more than talk in those sort of situations.
And then as professionals, we then have to do a bit of that translation bit where we go well we are trying to achieve this, we've got funding that's set up in this way, they've got this goal, they've got this outcome they are trying to achieve. How do we advocate for what we have just heard and make sure that that is factored in? So that is our role and our responsibility to make sure we don't do anything to compound some of those situations and make things worse or anything like that.
And working in the NHS is great because one of the founding principles around the NHS is first thing is do not harm. So it is something we can kind of anchor ourselves to in that sort of context as well which is great.
Tom: Yeah that sounds really great and obviously the NHS is such a good organisation to work with as well, but do you ever find difficulties where someone is funding you and they have like a pre-conceived notion of what they want to do next but then you go out and have a totally different conversation with the users. So is there ever any difficulty where you have to then go back to the person who is funding you with a different answer to what they may have expected?
Tim: Yeah always. It is really challenging. We are experiencing that at the moment. We know things we want to change. Having some of those open conversations really early on, before funding is agreed and things like that. And being really clear on what our strengths are as a team. The fact that we will look to go and do that and explore and uncover things that are perhaps not in alignment with their thinking and try and understand the appetite for that. But, ultimately, we are commissioned to go and do these things so there is a balance to be struck and sometimes, when you are thinking about app development and things like that, it might be that we go out and discover than app is not going to solve this problem.
We genuinely believe from the evidence that it's not. But, an app could be a really great vehicle for us to go and understand that in more detail because you are putting something tangible out there. So you can go and release this app and then work with this cohort of people or this audience and we are going to try and engage with them, but we are going into it with we are going to learn loads more through doing that then saying that's the solution.
So I think there is a real balance for us to go, we will support you to get to that point as well. But a really key note is creating an environment around it where that is a learning opportunity not a 'We're done, we've solved it kind of thing'.
Tom: Yeah so sometimes is it more about the process than the actual solution because through that process and learnings you can then go and help people more in the future?
Tim: Yeah and I think a fundamental thing that we need to kind of move and shift is the focus on, when we talk about solution. I think that really clouds people's judgement and thoughts because a solution is a finite end to something. You go right we have solved that problem. But, when we talk about making things inclusive to people, that's impossible. Nothing has ever been created in this world that is truly inclusive and accessible to everyone. It is almost an impossible task and we will continue to fight for that.
But I think the shift in mindset to everything we do should be improving things, making things better, should be focused on okay this is going to help us understand loads more. And it will be a great solution for a certain amount of people, but we can't assume that's job done. Because if we really want to make the impact and the change the outcomes for people, we need to really go into that open-eyed and go 'Great this is going to do a job, but let's take the opportunity to put that out there and then look at what the impact is then and then look at all those people who are still unable to hit their outcomes and get done what they are trying to achieve and why is that?'.
Because then we can continue to iterate and design processes is an amazing way to do that. But, it is really difficult because all of this is funded. You can't just keep on doing this sort of thing. So there is this artificial end to projects really or to trying solve problems which comes with funding. And the NHS is typical of that because so much is done in the financial year, funded in that cycle. So you get to the year and it's like the funding is done for that now. There might be more funding next year or there might not, it may be focused elsewhere. So yeah it's a real challenge.
Tom: Yeah that's really interesting. And something I have taken away from that is that in general people have a mindset that people have an answer, a solution. Where-as you could shift that to there just being continuous improvement, always learning, always developing as an iterative process as you said. So my final question for you Tim is what can people do to Make Things Better and you can interpret this however you like.
Tim: That's interesting. For me, fundamentally with that it's understanding what you are trying to make better and who you are trying to make it better for and you need to go and spend time with those people. Bring those voices into what you are trying to do.
If you try and do it yourself, you're just going to make assumptions and you are more than likely going to make things worse for people because you have no idea of the nuances around people's experiences, the challenges, the barriers that they have.
So, fundamentally if you want to make something better understand who you are trying to make it better for and then go and spend as much time with those people as possible. And bring them into that process and involve them as much as you can.
Tom: Yeah absolutely, that is an excellent answer. So where can people find you on social media?
The lucky position we are in is that because we are part of the NHS, that we don't really have any commercial IP to a lot of our work. We do creative commons stuff. Everything we do and learn we try and put out to the world and share so we are trying to do a lot of that on the website at the moment so we are promoting and sharingt the insights and lessons we are learning and the work we are doing, so yeah there is quite a bit on there at the moment.
A lucky position we are in is that because we are part of the NHS, that we don't really have any commercial IP to a lot of our work. We do creative commons stuff. Everything we do and learn we try and put out to the world and share so we are trying to do a lot of that on the website at the moment so we are promoting and sharingt the insights and lessons we are learning and the work we are doing, so yeah there is quite a bit on there at the moment.
Tom: Yeah amazing, go and follow @tweetsbythrive is it?
Tim: That's the one.
Tom: Alright brilliant, thanks so much for coming on. I've really enjoyed chatting with you. Thanks a lot for watching or listening and we hope you have an amazing rest of your day.
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