5 minutes with... Dana Chisnell

Photo of Sarah Crickmore-Clarke

Delivery Manager

3 minute read

Meet Dana - co-director at the Center for Civic Design, who will be presenting the first keynote at Camp Digital 2019. We spoke with her about the digital transformation challenges she's faced, during her time working with Obama's U.S. government, and what she's excited about in her current projects.

At Camp Digital, your talk is entitled “Democracy is a Design Problem”
Why is this important and what can the audience expect?

All over the world, governments are facing challenges of ensuring that constituents get the services they deserve. It’s important that designers see themselves as leaders, in developing solutions that address those problems.

In my talk, the audience can expect to hear about how the team at the Centre for Civic Design works to understand the experience that American voters have — and how what we learned ties not only to other government services but to experience and service design in the private sector, as well.

You were part of the United States Digital Service during Barack Obama’s term in the White House, what was the biggest challenge you faced during this time? And your biggest achievement?

Yes, I was in the founding cohort at the U.S. Digital Service. Every single day was challenging and frustrating because there were so many fires to put out. (The Digital Services was formed in direct response to the problematic rollout of healthcare.gov in 2013. There are about 30 IT projects that look very much like healthcare.gov in the U.S. federal government.)

But my biggest challenge was the project I spent most of my time on. I was on a small, cross-functional U.S. Digital Service team at United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). We were there to help USCIS transform all of their services from all paper to all digital. There were about 100 developers, a dozen technical leads, 6 business analysts, 6 or 8 product managers, several other federal career staff, and one designer — me.

I think my biggest achievement there was planting the seeds of human-centred design, that have since taken root. The design practice has evolved quite a bit with strong leadership that I brought in to take my place. They’ve managed to get designers in all the agile teams, and it looks like USCIS will have a director of design by 2020.

But probably the most important thing I got done, was starting a program to get developers and the wider team into immigration field offices, so that they could observe how the work gets done. That kind of exposure changed how developers approached their work, as well as the quality and velocity of the work.

Can you share any other projects you're working on at the moment?

At the Centre for Civic Design, where I’m co-director with Whitney Quesenbery, we have a lot of interesting things going on. We’re doing a lot of what we call “project-based training,” where we embed with a government team for a week and coach them through user research or usability testing, or something that they’re working on. They get skills and data, at the same time.

A project I’m really excited about is around what’s happening as a voter marks and casts a ballot. In the U.S., we put a lot more offices and questions on the ballot than pretty much anywhere else on the planet. Many jurisdictions (there are over 5,000) will soon be using voting systems in polling places where a voter marks their ballot on a touchscreen device and then prints out a list of what they selected. When you have versions of “ballot” on a screen and on paper, what do voters think is happening? What is the ballot (the screen or the paper — or something else)? How do they think about privacy, security, and what makes a ballot secret?

We’re also just about to start interviewing people who have become naturalized citizens in the U.S. to learn from them what the barriers and triggers are to civic engagement.

What are you most looking forward to at Camp Digital?

I love meeting experience designers all over the world and hearing what they’re working on, what their challenges are, and how they overcome the challenges.

Dana's talk, "Democracy is a Design Problem", will be our first keynote at Camp Digital, Wednesday 12th June. For more information about Camp Digital or to book tickets, visit https://www.wearesigma.com/campdigital

Good morning.
Let's start with a story from among the thousands of stories
that my team at the Center for Civic Design has collected over the last 15 years.
This is Bill.
When I met him, he struck me as somebody who had been through a lot.
So at first glance it was impossible to tell just how old he was.
In my head I was guessing that he was around 70
He walked with a limp and his right arm swung a little bit differently from his left.
He had a snappy brown leather blazer and he wore a big toothy smile.
He was very cheerful and he was very flirty.
This was the fall of 2013 and we were at the Berkley California public library.
We met there because Bill was in a study that my team was doing
about information, about voting and elections, that is published by California counties.
I asked Bill what questions he had about the upcoming election.
There was an election in just a couple of weeks from when we were doing the study
He said he didn't know where to start.
"I've been incarcerated, ma'am."
OK I said, trying to be cool…
you know there's an election coming up, right?
He said, "Yes ma'am" I said, "Great, let's have a look at this booklet."
I gave him instructions to mark it up and asked him if he had any questions.
"Are you ready to start?" He said, “Yes ma'am, but I have a lot of trouble reading."
"I'm only just learning."
"It takes me a lot of time." I said, "That's fine, we've got all morning,
we can go through the booklet or we can talk about whatever you want."
Bill was an adult learner in this programme at the library.
One of the first things he encountered that he liked …
… was the voters Bill of Rights.
This was a revelation to him.
Especially the part that said that HE could vote.
Even though he'd been in prison.
"Ma'am", he said to me, "is this document real?"
"Is it true that I can vote even though I have been in prison?"
He wanted to know if I had made this up for the test!
I said, "No no no, this is real. It's true."
He said, “How do I get to do that? How do I get to vote?”
I said, "You just register. It's pretty simple, we can do it online here today when we're done."
He said, "That's amazing that I can do that."
He was really energised now to look through the rest of the booklet.
Later he told me he felt empowered.
We had a really great session.
He struggled through most of the 24 page booklet.
I learned a tonne.
And he was true to his word. It did take a while.
But when Bill finished and I had asked all of my questions he wanted to know …
… could he register to vote?
I had a partner there from the League of Women Voters and she had already pulled up the website
where he could register to vote.
I said, "Come on over here, I'll help you."
And in two minutes, Bill was registered to vote.
He practically floated out of the room on his way out. He shook hands with everybody.
Later I found out that Bill was 56‑years‑old and he had been in prison for 40 years.
But now, he could vote.
This is why I do this work. For people like Bill.
So, we got him registered to vote but what's the rest of his experience likely to be like?
That was just one hurdle.
To understand the experience that Bill might have, my team started with a question …
Two … aaah …
… technology!
That'll kill your mood …
TWO actually - two questions.
Our first big question helped us find the beginning of the journey that American voters go through.
How do they think? What questions do they actually have leading up to an election?
But we also wanted to look at how election administrators think about elections.
There are 8,000 election jurisdictions in the United States. They are mostly run in counties.
So we actually started to look at the second question first and we did this in two phases.
The first was looking at 145 county election websites.
This was very deliberately chosen sample out of the 5,000 websites we could find
And it looked at different sizes of counties in terms of area and population density, race,
educational levels, things like that.
So, we literally catalogued what was on the pages.
And the second was, we invited people to come do a usability test.
We asked them as our first question, "What questions do you have leading up to the election?"
And then asked them what their most important question was to get answered
and asked them to try to find the answers on their local government websites.
And here is what we learned …
This is how election officials think about the process of voting in an election.
It starts with announcing that there is an election coming up and then goes to registering to vote.
Ends with marking the ballot and checking the results.
This is largely chronological based on LOTS of federal and state deadlines that they are given.
It outlines the chronological process.
But … when we talked to voters - when we asked THEM what THEIR questions were about how elections worked
and what was going on in their heads,
this is what we heard:
"What's on the ballot?", was the number one question.
This was the driver for everything that happened afterwards.
That's actually several steps into the chronological process - about number eight out of ten.
So, this finding was a big deal.
It rocked the world of elections administration!
And when we went out talking about the questions the voters have,
and how they are, and are not, being answered on websites that are coming out of election offices,
those folks - those election administrators - they were shocked.
They really hadn't thought about it this way.
But now they knew why they were experiencing some of the pain that they had endured in trying to support voters.
So, it turns out that this is not exclusive to websites,
this problem of the mismatch of mental models, as we tested voter information and education,
and lots of different channels including print.
We read the same thing …
Voters start by asking, "What is important enough for me to be involved in this election?"
"For me to invest in this effort?"
Now, this is a kind of a thing in the United States because we ask a lot of our voters, direct democracy …
… means a lot of work.
And so voting in elections in the US is kind of different.
I want to give you some examples.
So, this may look familiar.
This is the Brexit question. One question, two choices.
The Catalonia referendum from 2017. Stay in or go out.
Of course this is the UK ballot from 2017, where you were choosing a party that you wanted to run the country.
I've collected lots of examples of lots of ballots - I'm not going to show them all to you today!
But let's have a look how things work in the US.
In 2016, the world was pretty much aware that there was a presidential election going on in the US.
But in San Francisco, California, for example, where this is from,
there were also elections for US senator, Congress person, State Senator, State Assembly person,
a judge, Board of Education, College Board,
Director of the Bay Area Rapid Transit - I don't know why they are elected …
and the Board of Supervisors.
Only half of them, I think there were 11 so it was only 5 or 6 that year.
But wait. There's more.
There were also more than 40 questions on the ballot.
And this is just a check-list. This is not the actual ballot.
This is what ballots look like in the United States.
This is a typical ballot design for a system where you fill in a bubble and push the paper through a scanner
to tally the votes.
This one from San Luis Obispo, California is relatively short.
Each paper can be between 28 and 48cm long.
Printed on both sides.
So, now you can see that this is actually a pretty complex problem.
There are a lot of elements, a lot of stakeholders, a lot of constraints.
But this is exactly the kind of beautiful, wicked challenge that my team has been working on for a long time
with election officials as our partners.
So, we mapped this experience out.
There are going to be two views.
One for privileged voters and one for burdened voters.
So, here is what voting in America looks like for privileged voters.
Across the top is that institutional process,
the one that election administrators think everybody goes through.
And those of us who are kind of geeky about elections see as the process.
Below that I'm going to show you the voter’s actual path.
Like I said: Across all of our research the common question people start with is:
"What is on the ballot?"
So, great! I decide - as a voter - I'm in, there are things I care enough about to invest in this process.
But what are my options for taking part?
The privileged voter gets a voter guide mailed to him. It includes a ballot to mark.
He could drop it in a mail box, he could drop it in a drop box, he could take it to a polling place.
But he actually loves the idea of voting in a polling place.
He's been voting there for decades. It has been the same location all that time.
It's close to home, it's easy for him to find.
He basically just zooms through steps 2 and 3.
Next is, "How do I mark the ballot?"
Now, the voting system - for better or worse - in his town has not changed for 15 years
and he is an avid voter, so he feels confident that he knows how to mark his ballot
and the voter guide reminded him what to do and how to do it.
It's typically about here where voters start to wonder whether their voter registration is up-to-date.
Our privileged voter was automatically registered.
So, he didn't have to think about a thing.
Now we're up to step 5. Because he got his ballot in the mail,
with his voter guide, he was able to mark at it at home in his own time using the internet to do homework.
But this guy made himself a checklist, and took himself to the polling place,
marked up his ballot, and boom he's done!
At step 6 he goes online to his county website which is excellent
and he gets to watch the results come in.
This is about as frictionless as it gets in the United States,
even though there are lots of steps, but this is not the experience that most voters have
in the US.
Most voters in the US experience voting as a test - we hear this over, and over, and over again -
both in terms of what they have to know about what the issues are,
who's running,
can you say 24 presidential candidates for the Democratic Party?
and just to get through the gauntlet to get a ballot in their hands
Some of the steps are very well-intentioned.
They want to make sure only people who are legal and eligible get to vote.
And giving lots of options for taking part makes a lot of sense too.
And how hard could it possibly be to mark up a ballot?
But what I'm about to show you is much closer to how most people experience voting in the United States.
And if you're a designer in a large organisation
you may recognise bits of this process in your own design, in your own services,
even if you don't work for Government.
If you work for a bank or an insurance company, for example, or biotech company, whatever,
are you doing these kinds of things to your customers?
Think about that.
So, again, the Government's chronological process across the top, with the voter path below,
this time we're gonna look at the burdened voter.
Let's say this is Bill!
We got him registered to vote.
What's the rest of the experience like?
He again - even though he is super psyched to vote
- makes a decision about whether to vote based on what's on the ballot.
Now Bill, in addition to his other life experience, doesn't get a voter guide.
He doesn't live in a place where one comes to him.
A voter guide would be in plain language and it would include all the information about
everything that's on the ballot, the candidates and questions,
along with how to carry out his franchise.
That would be helpful.
But, as of about 2014 when we last looked at this data, only 9% of the 5,000 voting jurisdictions,
that we could find,
sent out information directly to voters ahead of elections.
And, trust-worthy information is really hard to find online
outside of the election website.
So, what's on the ballot? Now deciding how to take part is tough,
because no information is coming to him about early voting or voting by mail.
And he missed all the deadlines to get to do that.
He's just moved to this town. He has never voted at his polling place;
it's far from where he works
He goes to where he thinks it might be,
but it's not clear that that's where he should end up.
Now, Bill also needs voter ID, which he has
BUT, that was a process
even though,
by law, the card itself is free, getting it is not.
He had to take time off work to go to the Department of Motor Vehicles.
He had to wait for hours.
He had to take transit to get there.
In Texas, on average, the closest DMV - Department of Motor Vehicles, where you can get these IDs - is 25 miles away.
This is a whole day expedition. So … not free.
Note that we are, just now, at step 5 in the place where election officials think you should be when you start this process.
Our voter had registered to vote, but he had moved,
so he had to update his voter registration to his new address in a new county.
Now, he can't do this online.
He has to go to a website, download a PDF.
Print it, fill it out, sign it, fold it up, put it in an envelope, buy the stamp, put the stamp on it
and mail it in.
Any one of those steps are steps that could mean somebody drops out.
Now, he's had no chance to do any homework because it's just hard to find reliable information
He doesn't know who is already in office.
He doesn't know what's going to be on the ballot
and when he gets to the voting booth
all of this will be a mystery.
So he skips these steps of learning what is on the ballot and learning how to mark it
because he's just run out of time and run out of resources.
Finally, he gets to the polling place on election day and he is gobsmacked by what's on the ballot.
Tonnes of things that he didn't know anything about before.
There are contests and candidates that he hadn't heard anything about until this moment.
And he's super confused about how to mark the ballot
because he's never seen a system or a ballot like this one before.
He leaves, hoping he's got it right.
Honestly, I know people with Masters degrees in Political Science who are unsure that they got it right.
And he hopes that it was all worth the work.
He's really interested in knowing the results, but his county doesn't actually have a very good website, so …
he doesn't know any other source to get them. There's no local newspaper anymore.
So, I have to ask:
In the spirit of making some things easier, are we actually making other things hard?
If you take the example of early voting,
this seems like a really great idea but you have to learn where it is,
what days it's open, what hours it's available.
It's not at the usual polling place and it's not always at the town clerk's office.
It's not simple and straightforward to do that.
So it's behavioural economics playing out at every step.
This is, by the way, what is happening in everything we design.
People are making decisions about whether to move on, take the next step, or drop out
and try to do something else.
Add to this the kind of buzz of the information ecosystem
in an overall electoral system, where our presidential campaign goes on for about two years
and the whole thing can feel pretty overwhelming and just be exhausting.
And so, this is the kind of context that I want you to know about.
Because, there is this notion that people who don't vote don't care and that they're apathetic.
But the thing that we have come to realise through our research is that,
there might not be such a thing as voter apathy.
We believe that Americans really do care about voting.
Almost all of them are really, really excited about it.
But for some it's harder and for some the trade-offs at each step mean
dealing with the problems of the now.
"Do I have to take time off work?"
"Do I have to make sure I get my kids out of day care?"
At the expense of weighing in about an unknowable future.
Now, my team NEVER asked the question about whether people care about voting.
We asked, "What obstacles do people face in casting a vote the way they intend?"
And what we learned is that people try really, really, really hard to vote.
In fact, there is so much shame attached to not voting that people lie about it.
We know this from survey results.
So, what we did see is that a system,
in trying to make things more convenient and easier for voters,
actually it can make it harder.
Because there are a lot more decisions to make.
And this kind of thing is true across government.
In my experience, whether you are trying to vote, or applying for food assistance, or buying health insurance, or using the health system,
paying your taxes, or just trying to get a business licence.
If you think about the private sector,
let's just look at how hard it is to get the phone company or the cable company to do what you want when you need them to do it.
There are many more steps to these processes for users than you think.
As a product team or a team delivering a service,
there are usually more steps than you ever realise.
So how the organisation thinks about the process and the activities is waaay different
from how the people going through it experience it.
This is true of your products and services, too.
Users make rational trade-offs at every single step.
So, the team at the Center for Civic Design
- where I work -
probably could not have laid out a research plan to reach this point.
Now the map that I showed you
- the journey map I showed you -
it's just an artefact, it's not the product.
We don't do this work in the service of making things like that.
We use the artefact to track where we are and how to understand the problem space.
We did the research to begin to understand the larger system.
This is what the main research agenda looked like.
Not only did we hear about a thousand stories in five or six years, it took a lot of people to collect those stories.
Design is a team sport after all.
The first one we did needed 30 researchers and 40 participants.
The next one took about 100 interviews by my Co‑Director, Whitney Quesenbery, and I,
that we did on the street in various cities.
The next one gave us more than 35 voters with low literacy
then worked with hundreds of poll workers and their bosses across the country
and in 2016 my team tested messaging with about 40 participants
and then did a diary study with another 50 people.
Then they worked with a couple of dozen county election officials
to implement some of the things that we had learned
to field test in pilot testings.
In 2018 we repeated parts of these studies
to further our understanding: had things changed, had voters changed?
Had voters changed how they think and behave and how they inform themselves.
What new burdens were they encountering, or were they the same.
So we didn't do this alone, we couldn't possibly have done this alone.
We had a lot of partners, a bunch of volunteers here and there,
some grad students
a lot of help.
And we evolved a bunch of different methods to do that.
Because it turns out that our problems are hard!
And this is why I love working in civic design: there's plenty of work to do.
In UX generally design is getting a lot harder
and way more nuanced than it was when I started doing this work a long time ago.
It's beyond what any of us has had to think about
in terms of a UI just for a "digital experience"
but now we have to think about culture and context
that things are being used in the security and privacy perimeters and the business and political constraints.
So we had that first question,
"What questions do voters actually have about elections?"
and you know that if you do research finding answers to questions leads to more questions
and as you peel away the relatively easy problems,
you reveal subtler issues and harder problems and deeper complexities
and we came away from doing all of that
with what we think of as pretty major insights along the way.
First, while our findings are about voting in elections,
they're about civic engagement generally, I think,
and I think link back to whatever you are all are working.
People want to know what's actually happening
in the election and how it will affect their lives.
This is the deciding point - how it will affect their lives.
They want to know whether this activity is worth investing in,
what will be different because these people got elected or that law gets passed.
People want to vote but if they can't relate to what the outcomes are going to be,
how their daily lives or the lives of people who they are close to are going to change,
they're not going to show up.
And if they don't know what to do, they're not going to show up.
We talk a lot about getting people to the polling place,
a lot of people don't know what happens after that.
So, people who are new to a process don't even know where to start asking questions.
It feels like an exclusive club and they're not part of it.
They'll have to take a test to get in.
Again, we hear this over and over.
Think about somebody learning about investing for the first time as a parallel
or somebody who's just been diagnosed with some serious health issue.
Those people have to become instant experts and that is what we are asking of voters as well.
Even on apparently simple questions.
People drop out because every obstacle is cumulative,
it is not as if you get through one gate and all of the burden of that is removed,
what happens is you carry some of that to the next,
and then the next, and the next.
It diminishes the investment that people are willing to make. It's exhausting.
And the burden is great.
In the US, and this is true in Canada and the UK as well,
nearly half of adults read at or below grade 6 level.
This is often paired with low digital literacy.
So, we learned to always include people with low literacy in our studies,
in fact in some cases we ONLY have participants who have low literacy.
This was a monster revelation to me, personally. I've been working for decades
writing what I thought was plain language, for example, and we got people into a usability study situation
and they just kicked our butts.
Learned a tonne.
Voters are frustrated in their attempts to separate the signal from the noise.
2016 showed us this in ways that we hadn't heard or seen before.
There was more noise than ever and it's not going to get easier,
it's only going to get harder and this set of issues in social media
and regular broadcast media is going to continue.
This erodes trust in elections, it erodes trust in government generally
and if users, if voters, can't tell what's important,
if they can't understand the messages they're getting,
they are just going to opt out.
They will stop trusting the system.
They will exhaust their willingness to invest in the greater good
and they're going to trade that off for what they can control right now
for a future that they can't predict.
So …
I think that sounds like a lot of the questions that we've dealt with
not just in the US,
but in the UK and elsewhere over the last few years.
So, everything that we put out there has to be useful and usable, accessible,
clear, plain, and relatable.
And I think that's the hard part.
So, taken together I think those tell quite a story.
All along the way though, all the stories of the users,
of the voters, show just how hard it is for people to vote.
There are actually dozens of hurdles.
One of the things that we've learned is that there is still a lot that we don't know.
These are just the ones that we do know about.
There are others for people in the military or citizens who live abroad,
there are more for people who live in under‑served areas,
there are more for people who have limited English proficiency.
And imagine if you have a combination of those issues and you have disabilities.
So now we have a research agenda for the next 10 years!
So I'm going to tie this up altogether.
People want to know whether the activity is worth their investment in time and energy,
this is true not only for voting,
not only for civic engagement, but anything that we put out in the world.
They worry that they don't know enough to make a really good decision.
The burden adds up across the experience.
And it's difficult
if not impossible in some cases, to connect campaign promises
- this sounds like advertising and marketing too -
to real‑life and how my life will be different, how my life will be better
because there's a trade deal or a trade war.
So, there are things that you can actually do
and I encourage you to do them.
If you want to change how things work for people here are steps that you can take.
First, register to vote. Make sure your voter registration is up‑to‑date
and help somebody else get registered to vote.
Second, sign up to be a returning officer, there are never enough of them and it's amazing field research!
If you cant do the long days and the training for being a returning officer
sign up to be an official observer.
There are instructions on websites, it's not hard to do.
When there are important issues or confusing events going on among candidates
- say you have ten candidates running for a party -
you can hold a neighbourhood meet‑up to have a discussion about who the candidates are,
what their issues are and where they stand on them.
One of the things that we have heard about in places that have all vote by mail,
like Washington, and Oregon,
is that people hold voting parties.
Now, these are not parties for voting and there apparently is no coercion going on,
but when you get a ballot like the San Francisco one that I showed,
people split up the assignments across the questions and issues
and then they come back together at a dinner party a week or two later
to share what they've learned.
Next, probably most important,
is make a plan for yourself to get to the polling place and cast a ballot.
And if you can help somebody else make a plan and get them to the polling place,
that will make a huge difference.
Finally - at least in the US - we know from anecdotal evidence
from stories that we hear from participants in our studies
that the most engaged folks were taken to the polling place as children by an adult.
So, take a kid with you to the polling place. Rent one if you have to!
If you want to change how the system works, how government works,
how the company you work for changes and works,
you have to be present.
Decisions get made by the people who show up.
Thank you.
What do you think, Shaun?
SHAUN: Lots and lots of parallels, I think, with our own voting system
Lots of learning points I think that are very, very applicable for our own models.
Lots of insight there for me at least.
So, I'm sure you have some questions for Dana.
Who would like to ask a question?
GAVIN: Hi Dana, thanks very much, that was really interesting.
My name's Gavin Neate and I have a company called Neatebox, and we're looking into some of these solutions,
but one of the biggest challenges we've found in the UK
is the knowledge of the returning officer knowing about
how to interact with the person who is coming through the door
and the consistency of that knowledge across all of the returning officers across an entire country
is a real challenge with just a booklet, because it's also people's life experience as well.
Have you done anything in the study of how you educate your returning officers?
DANA: Yeah, we actually do a lot of work around who
- we call them poll workers in the United States -
who poll workers are, where they come from, what kind of experience they bring with them
and how to train them well.
So yes, and in election jurisdictions that we work with the most
it's just an enormous problem when you ask a bunch of volunteers,
who work for one or two days,
to come do a job that is maybe the most important job in democracy, right?
Like, they're on the frontlines!
And most of them take their jobs really seriously
but yes, the training can be very uneven,
so we work with our election official partners
to do things like
help them implement scenario based, and experiential training
because that's how adults learn.
So instead of sitting in a classroom watching somebody do a powerpoint presentation for hours
- which would bore anybody -
actually role-playing out specific situations that happen in the polling place.
And practising doing whatever steps you need to do to register people and check them in,
make sure that they get the right ballot
- which is a thing in the US, probably not here -
and then assisting people who need it in a legal and useful way.
So that's a big thing, actually about practising and role playing that out.
SHAUN: We can ask questions, we've got mics on the upper levels as well.
DANA: Did I really answer all your questions?
Here we are
Hi Dana, my name is Nabiha
How do you define and measure success in all that you've just talked about?
DANA: How do we define and measure success?
Nabiha: Yes.
DANA: SO, we struggled with this for a while, honestly.
About a half of our funding is from grants, from foundations and the other half is project-specific
often, with the state or with a county.
And the measure that everybody wants is about turnout, you know,
by our work, can we get more people to show up to vote
and there's no way that we can actually connect those things in any reasonable way.
There are way too many variables.
So, we look more at focusing on developing design capacity inside government.
That's really what we are laser focused on.
So, those 5,000 voting jurisdictions where there is a town or a county clerk,
they don't have designers.
They are doing all this stuff themselves.
The states, they don't have designers on their staffs either.
So, we measure our success by the growing maturity
of the jurisdictions that we work with.
So, for example, we worked with the state of California
for about five years and we could see the 52 counties there,
gradually improving by things like, how they were designing forms and voter information guides
And how the questions that they were asking us changed from,
"Oh my God, how do we get started on this form?!"
to, "There are 35 candidates in the open primary for this presidential primary election"
- actually it was a Senate election -
"our ballot system, our voting system is not designed for 35 candidates,"
"what the hell do we do?"
And we said, "Oh, go try a couple of different designs and do a usability test."
And they went and did the usability testing
and came back with an informed decision about what to do.
This is a vast difference from when Whitney and I started working in this space,
- Whitney's my co-director -
around 2000, 2001, when we were inspired by the 2000 presidential election,
where usability testing was just not a thing that happened in elections.
So, that's where we're looking for measuring success.
SHAUN: Other questions for Dana?
DANA: There's one… that one… oh good!
DANA: This is, like, the question section.
Hello, I'm Ness
I'm at an operational level, house-keeping level,
when you're managing so many researchers working on one project,
how do you logistically analyse the data
and bring all of that together
when it's across the country and multiple different areas
and groups of different skills.
You said you had researchers and volunteers and all of that,
how do you manage that?
DANA: Yeah, mostly we do it one project at a time,
and we start to see trends across the those different projects.
So, the slide where I showed all those projects
and all those people who were involved?
Like that happened over five or six years.
But, that makes it sound like we actually do look at this stuff
across them and in a very deliberate and specific way
and this is a thing that we struggle with.
First of all, a lot of that work was done by people who were helpers and not on staff.
Right now we are five people.
And we have now tonnes of data from all of those studies
and we are constantly trying to figure out,
"How do we go back to that and make sure that we are using all of the data that we collected"
"in useful ways?"
"And, are we actually seeing differences in trends over time?"
So, if anybody has any ideas about that I would love to hear them.
What we do right now is, we spend a few hours every month,
you know,
each person spends a couple of hours
trying to pull from research that we have done recently,
and look back historically, and see what the stories are?
Do they match up?
Are we seeing specific trends that show us any sort of differences,
in how people are behaving and what they think,
and that's not nearly enough.
Like, I would like to spend a year just looking at all the data that we have
but until we get a funder who will pay us like $1 million
I'm not going to get to do that, so... [laughs]
SHAUN: Any other questions?
SHAUN: I have one while you're on the move there, Andrew.
I wonder what you think of the role of online voting and
app-based voting that's happening in places like Estonia at the moment?
Obviously some challenges but some opportunities around that. I wonder, what's your view?
DANA: Anybody here from Estonia?
OK, good.
Estonia is a little bit smug about all of its online things
and they have good reason to be for a lot of how they run government.
Their experiments with online voting have been successful, to a large degree.
for them, it means lots of engagement, excellent turnout,
but two important things about that.
One is, it is that on a closed network. It is not on the public internet.
Two, it has been hacked!
So, as far as I know there's no online voting system in the world
that hasn't been hacked, at least once.
So …
SHAUN: Is it going to happen? Is it part of the future? Surely it must be, right.
DANA: Is the internet that we are on a safe and secure place yet?
SHAUN: No, but it probably it never will be, right?
DANA: No, it probably never will be
and so unless somebody else who is the equivalent of
Tim Berners-Lee invents a -- come along to make one that IS safe and secure
probably are not going to be voting online.
Now, having said that, in the US at least, the near future of voting looks,
instead of, like, getting a piece of paper like this
and marking a bubble and putting it through a scanner,
more like, also in the US, in polling places,
those systems are not accessible.
You know, if you're blind, it's really hard to mark a ballot that way.
There has to be one accessible - what's called ballot-marking device -
in every polling place.
So, right now, Los Angeles county is about to roll out
a brand-new voting system leading up to the 2020 presidential election
that they've been working on for about six or seven years now
they've been doing it with IDEO and they did it exactly how we would all have done it
it's really cool.
They started with tonnes of user research,
they looked at the entire service design across elections,
not just the voting system itself.
And, so, what LA county voters will get to do is
download an app onto their own device
from the county, get their ballot, mark it on their phone
- or whatever -
and at the end of that process get a QR code or some other encrypted … thing.
Then they can take it to any vote centre in Los Angeles county,
which is about the size of Great Britain!
So, that's a real advantage.
Not having to go to a precinct-based polling place
and you can then walk up to a little voting booth,
that looks like a beautiful kiosk
and you scan your phone, the QR code,
it brings up your ballot on a beautiful state-of-the-art,
off the shelf tablet that's totally accessible.
So, you can change the settings for colour and contrast, type-size,
there's also jacks for audio and for assistive technology.
so you can do everything there, everyone gets to use the same voting system
which makes me so happy
and you can verify your ballot there, cast it
It prints out a record of what you voted and that also gets tallied.
So now you have a system where you can double check everything.
So, NOT online but...
SHAUN: Progress
DANA: Yeah
SHAUN:There was one more question I think, wasn't there
I thought the description of burdened and privileged
users or voters was really striking.
I wondered if you had an idea as to the proportion of voters
that fitted into each category
and proportion of each of those categories that voted?
DANA: I have an idea but I don't have good data
and you can see this sort of regionally in the US,
through our research one of the things that we observe
is that there are different election cultures in different areas of the country.
So, the West Coast is super progressive, like,
Oregon was the first to go to all-vote-by-mail
which means everybody the gets sent a ballot in the mail,
30 days ahead of election day,
and you can mark that on your own and send it in
or drop it off at a drop box or whatever.
Like, LOTS of good stuff there.
Oregon, Washington, Colorado, and Utah are all vote by mail.
California is about to go that direction in the next few years.
And voters love this because there is so much stuff on the ballot
that gives you plenty of time to do the homework.
Also, the infrastructure is very supportive
like, all of those states require the counties and the state
to make available authoritative, neutral, objective information
about all the candidates and the questions.
Contrast that with the South East of the United States,
where places like Alabama and Mississippi close polling places
in black neighbourhoods
because they are saying that they are underused
and now you have this vicious circle in a place like that,
where if it's not available people can't show up,
and so you have to start asking - how are those decisions being made?
And so, the United States is a place of contrasts!
[laughs] That's where I'll leave that.
SHAUN: All right. Please give it up for Dana Chisnell.
[Applause] DANA:Thanks everybody!