Blog I – Pilot project for Personal budgeting and Mobility Services

Illustration by Ruta Jumite from Group 1B

These blog posts report on work-in-progress within the DfG course! The posts are written by groups dealing with the brief on ‘Pilot project for Personal Budgeting Model’, provided by the Ministry of Social Affairs, Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL), and the Social Insurance Institution of Finland (Kela) in collaboration with the ORSI project.

Group 1A: Senni Alho, Katriina Kenttamies and Naiquan Gu from the Creative Sustainability program, and Ondřej Zajíc from the Collaborative and Industrial Design program.

Personal budgeting is complex but it’s ok to not understand the problem completely yet!

For the second week now, our group is exploring the brief of personal budgeting models for people with disabilities and finding out about some of the involved parties – Kela, THL, the Ministry of Social Affairs and the local municipalities. It was great to meet representatives of each party in a virtual roundtable on a video call on Monday 8th of March; this discussion enabled us to start to grasp what our project will be about and prepare better for our interviews with more people related to the project.

The first learning of the two first weeks was that the project is extremely complex. For example, there are many kinds of disabilities and each person with a disability has different needs. The benefits and services are provided by many different organizations and we were struggling to understand how the current system works, as an outsider. This complexity was overwhelming for us at first, making it hard to understand the whole problem space. Gradually we learned though, that it is ok not to understand everything in the beginning. This also gave us a good lecture that it’s better to ask stupid questions than to miss out on important information.

The project is complex, and we felt like the brief is quite ambiguous. We were not sure if our project is about designing ways how involved parties could collaborate to create a suitable personal budgeting model or about creating the actual personal budgeting model. Thus, it was tempting for us to start narrowing down the scope to make it easier. However, we learned that in this course it is ok to first explore the problem space and redefine our brief, i.e., narrow down the scope only after the research, five weeks into the project. This gives us time to get a deep understanding of the problem space first.

Secondary research with notes and highlights in our Miro collaboration board / Screenshot by Ondrej Zajic

Finally, from the first interviews, we learned about one of the biggest issues of the current system. When a person becomes disabled it is very challenging for that person to learn what benefits and services he or she is entitled to. The doctors who give diagnosis don’t often have enough information they could provide. Next, the application process for the benefits and services is extremely complicated, takes a lot of time and doesn’t always grant the needed benefits and services. This made us question whether these underlying issues of the current system are more crucial to resolve than creating a new personal budgeting model.

To conclude, the first two weeks in the course were a wild ride with discovering how complicated the topic is and realizing there are multiple areas our project could focus on. We learned to be comfortable with the uncertainty of where this project will go and what problem exactly we will solve. All while realizing the value of collaboration and keeping the conversation with other groups. If you’re interested, you can learn more about the project on the THL website (Finnish only).

Group 1B: Helena Eharand from International Design Business Management (BIZ) program, Lucia Llerena from International Design Business Management (ARTS) program, Matleena Inget from the Creative Sustainability (BIZ) program, and Ruta Jumite from Creative Sustainability (ARTS) program.

Understanding the “Person” in the Personal Budgeting Model

The beginning of March marked the official launch of DfG course 2021. Our student team got the opportunity to work with a brief focusing on the development of a personal budgeting model, which is aiming to provide a more inclusive and flexible service offering for persons with disabilities. For the first two weeks, our student group has been immersed in the discovery phase, to ensure we thoroughly understand the problem at hand. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we have not been able to conduct any field research but instead, we have been exploring the topic through desktop research, remote interviews, and a roundtable discussion with representatives from THL, Kela, Espoo City, ORSI project, and Aalto University.

The Current World (including Finland) is not Designed for Everybody

According to the World Health Organization (WHO, n.d.), over one billion people in the world live with some kind of disability, and almost everyone will be either temporarily or permanently impaired at some point in their life. However, despite the magnitude, disability still remains a human rights issue, as disabled people often experience inequalities – ranging from access to health care and education to increased risk of poverty (WHO, 2011).

In Finland, disability policy has been developed to ensure the equality, participation, and support of people with disabilities (Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, n.d.). In practice, this means that people with disabilities get social assistance from the Finnish social security institution Kela through a social allowance, together with the services provided by municipalities (Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, n.d.). However, research suggests that while the Finnish social security system is appreciated, it also often does not meet the actual needs of people with disabilities (Luetjens, 2016).

The complex system of benefits and services for people with disabilities is hard to understand, which indicates that users have not been involved in designing the current solution. In the roundtable discussion, it was acknowledged that people with disabilities or their family members can end up in unenviable situations, where they need to figure out what kind of benefits they need, and how and when to apply for them. Furthermore, as the “types of disabilities” as well as people with disabilities are very diverse, their needs vary greatly and the current allowance system limits their freedom of choice as well as the control they have over their life (WHO, 2011). Thus, even though Finland has a strong social security system, it is clear that the inclusiveness of Finnish society needs to be developed. For this, we aim to include persons with disabilities in the development of the current personal budgeting model, starting with having personal interviews with them to further understand their actual needs.

Before looking more deeply, we often do not notice the inequalities around us. Photo by Joey Banks on Unsplash

All Voices Need to be Heard

Unfortunately, having gaps between the services governments deliver and what citizens actually need is relatively common in policymaking (Luetjens, 2016). However, governments have begun to realize that implementing design-thinking practices and having a heightened human-perspective in policymaking can enhance public value (Luetjens, 2016). From our conversations with the representatives from the governmental organizations as well as from the desktop research, it became evident that figuring out ways to include everyone in the policymaking is both needed and desired in the public sector. However, since those skills are often lacking in the public sector, our input could become of great value to the project. In our roundtable discussions, the representative from THL, Iiro Toikka acknowledged that:

“The central task for us now would be to design a model or a process, where disabled people, together with municipalities and service providers, could co-create new sorts of services and models of help and support that they would need, and that are not at the moment existing.”  (I. Toikka, personal communication, March 8, 2021)

Project stakeholders and DfG students discussing the project brief during a roundtable. Screenshot: Helena Eharand

Co-creating from the Early Stages

Co-creation, or in other words, co-designing is a process where research, problem definition, and then possible solutions are created together with end-users, in our case, people with disabilities. The process enables more voices to be heard, defining problems more precisely, and creating and testing solutions that could effectively address the end-users problems and meet their real needs. Thus, co-creation can be extremely beneficial for creating a personal budgeting system that guides, supports, and understands the client while keeping it flexible to allow the autonomy of persons with disabilities. However, for this, all the relevant stakeholders need to be included in the process early on. Therefore, in our project, we aim to have interviews with a wide range of relevant stakeholder groups such as Kela, an NGO representing people with disabilities, people with disabilities themselves, their family members, caretakers, and social workers.

The process of making sense of all the stakeholders can be confusing. Illustration by Ruta Jumite.

All in all, after the first weeks of research, translating Finnish pages, long online meetings, interacting with stakeholders, and organizing thoughts on a Miro board, we have the initial insight into the problem at hand, making us understand the complexity of it. Over the next weeks, our focus will be on discovering the problem on the systemic level.

References:

Luetjens, J. (2016) Design Thinking in Policymaking Processes: Opportunities and Challenges. Australian Journal of Public Administration, vol. 75, no. 3, pp. 391–402

Ministry of Social Affairs and Health. (n.d.) Services and support for people with disabilities. Retrieved from https://stm.fi/en/disability-services

World Health Organization. (n.d.). Disability. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/health-topics/disability#tab=tab_1

World Health Organization. (2011). World report on disability 2011. World Health Organization.

Group 1C: Eve Nieminen and Diana Becares Mas from the Creative Sustainability program,  Esko-Matti Helin from Collaborative and Industrial Design program, and Faye from Human Computer Interaction Design program.

Accessible future transportation in the making

Group 1C was commissioned to work with the Ministry of Social Affairs pilot on personal budgeting and mobility services, which aims to improve the transportation services used by persons with disabilities. The focus of group 1C is to look into the needs of different user groups and to map out possible future service paths. Our group works in collaboration with Espoo, the city that leads the mobility pilot starting in Länsi-Uusimaa during Spring 2021.

The first two weeks of the course has given our group a lot to think about, and we have had our hands full with collecting background material and arranging interviews with different stakeholders to gain a more in-depth understanding of the current mobility service system. Our group is especially excited to have reached several people from the mobility pilot test group because the core goal of the project is to make the mobility support services as convenient as possible for the users.

A big challenge for the project will be to find ways how environmental sustainability and social sustainability can be combined in mobility support services. Currently, the users of these services take the majority of their trips by taxis, partly because the public transportation system doesn’t support accessible travel. Additionally, more remote locations like the suburbs of Lohja might lack public transportation altogether. Also, for some users, travel on public transport is not a viable option. However, one of the project’s aims is to increase the use of public transportation with the multimodal journey -model, where the idea is that the user would take the suitable parts of their journey by train or bus. Our group is intrigued to find out about the users’ thoughts and feelings regarding these multimodal journeys, and how they might best fit the users’ personal needs and goals.

Along with getting on board with the project brief, our group has tried to get to know each other better. In times like these, it hasn’t been possible to go for lunch or grab an after-work drink together, and it takes a bit more effort to make teamwork fun. Luckily the Spring weather should be just around the corner and taking a coffee break outside in the sun should be safe and sound. Remote or on-site, our group looks forward to the following weeks of research and the mid-term presentation, where we get to present our findings on mobility support services.

The DfG course runs for 14 weeks each spring – the 2021 course has now started and runs from 01 Mar to 24 May. It’s an advanced studio course in which students work in multidisciplinary teams to address project briefs commissioned by governmental ministries in Finland. The course proceeds through the spring as a series of teaching modules in which various research and design methods are applied to addressing the project briefs. Blog posts are written by student groups, in which they share news, experiences and insights from within the course activities and their project development. More information here about the DfG 2021 project briefs. Hold the date for the public online finale online 09:00-12:00 AM (EEST) on Monday 24 May!

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