Big Ideas

Designing for Dignity


"People didn't die of hunger. They died of shame from asking." 

Masbia is a soup kitchen in New York that treats its customers like they are visiting a restaurant. Guests are greeted at the door by a friendly host/hostess and seated at their tables where they are served hot nutritious meals in a cafe style setting.

This approach and how the space is arranged communicates something profoundly different from the experience most people have when they go to a "soup kitchen." 

The physical environment in which we provide services can have a profound impact on the people in those spaces--both customers and staff. Yet we often don't pay attention to how our space communicates expectations to people. Nor do we think about how those expectations can reinforce feelings of inadequacy and shame to people who are accessing our services. 

When our spaces are bureaucratic and drab, they communicate to people that they are coming into another social service agency and it can activate a lot of negative expectations and feelings. But if we re-think our space, as Masbia has done, we will engage with people differently and get different outcomes as a result. 

Masbia restaurant

There's an art and science to creating spaces that feel inviting to human beings, welcoming customers into an environment where caring and support is being communicated. Architects have known this for years and have a phrase for it--"pattern language"--which refers to the universal patterns that make buildings convey certain qualities to people. Some are meant to be imposing and to inspire awe, while other buildings are designed to feel cozy and inviting, inspiring people to sit and chat for awhile. 

Part of creating welcoming space is the attention that we pay to physical layout and what is included in the space. Part of it is also about how we engage with people in that space, as at Masbia where they great customers at the door and invite them take a seat, as in a restaurant. 

The Group Pattern Language Project has developed a series of patterns to use in group gatherings and meetings. These patterns can create some easy opportunities for us to re-think how we engage and support our customers in group settings. 

There's much we could do to redesign our American Job Centers/One Stops. How could we emulate other organizations in our communities (like Masbia has done in emulating restaurants) to provide more welcoming spaces to our customers? 

Learning From Business: What's Your Business Model?

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One of the first things a new business needs to do is figure out its business model--how it creates, delivers and captures value.  If you get the model right, then your business is likely to be successful. If you don't, then it's likely to go under. 

So how could business model thinking benefit the public workforce system? It would force us to really think through the ways we are creating, delivering and capturing our value.

It would also get us thinking differently about our customers, activities, cost structures, revenue streams and other aspects of how we conduct our work

To some extent, our business models are dictated to us. We have been set up to administer certain grant funded sources and who we can serve, what we can provide, etc. are proscribed in many ways. 

But we still have some flexibility and some opportunities for innovation that could come to us if we looked more closely at our models. 

One fantastic resource for this kind of work is Business Model Generation: A Handbook for Visionaries, Game Changers and Challengers. It walks you through various business models and helps you to create your own "Business Model Canvas" looking at things like:

  • Key Partners
  • Key Activities
  • Key Resources
  • Value Propositions
  • Customer Segments and Relationships
  • Your Cost Structure
  • Revenue Streams
  • Delivery Channels

It also provides you with an easy way to explore how changes in each of these components could change your model and provide you with new opportunities to bring value. You can download a free Business Model Canvas worksheet here

Try working through the Canvas describing your current Business Model and then see where you might identify some new opportunities to make changes to your model. It's also a valuable way to think through your value propositions so you can do a better job of marketing to customers. 

What's your current business model? How do you think you need to change your model to create more value for customers or to bring in additional revenues? 

From Business as a Customer to Business as a Teacher


One of our ongoing issues in the public workforce system is how to remain relevant and innovative in a rapidly changing world. We've become aware of the fact that we can't just assume that legislation and government funding will continue to support the work that we do and that we have to make a better business case for why we should continue to exist. 

Although we've spent a lot of time looking at how to work with businesses as our customer, I would argue that we also have to look to business as a teacher.

How can we take what's happening in the business world in terms of engaging with customers and providing services and apply those lessons to our own workforce system? 

Yes, we are bound by regulations in many cases, but that shouldn't stop us from innovating and improving where we can. Our system could benefit greatly from looking beyond our siloes of government and nonprofit thinking to learn more about how changing business models and trends in things like "big data" could be applied to our own system. 

There's a lot going on in the wider world that could help us improve our work. We need to stop thinking of business as just being a customer and start looking at how they can be our teacher too. 

The "Flipped Workshop" And How it Could Improve Your Services to Job Seekers


Most American Job Centers/One Stops offer an array of workshops to job seekers designed to make them more proficient in various aspects of the job search. We offer resume writing, interviewing skills, navigating online job boards, etc. 

In these workshops, job seekers usually are listening to lectures and/or watching a "sage on the stage" as he/she navigates through a website. Job seekers are then sent off to apply what they've learned by writing a resume or going on an interview. 

But what if we flipped things, so that job seekers spent time outside of the workshop learning the content through online video lessons and then used the "classroom time" to practice skills and/or get feedback on work products? This is the idea behind "Flipped Learning." 

Flipped classroom

Flipping The Workshop

Research on the Flipped Classroom approach in education has shown that students experience significant learning gains when they learn this way. Rather than spending valuable face-to-face time on simply listening to a lecture, they are able to actually improve their performance by using classroom time for practice and to receive feedback from instructors and their peers. 

In a One Stop, this approach could  ensure that people had actually mastered the skills and were able to implement them in their job search. We can't assume that because a person listened to a presentation on filling out an online application that they actually know how to do it. And how many times has someone sat through a workshop on interviewing, yet still gone on to interview poorly? 

The flipped approach would also help us make more effective use of staff. Does it make sense to have a staff person spending their time repeating the same lecture over and over, when they could be putting that same valuable time into coaching and supporting job seekers in actually implementing their new skills? 

The Flipped Workshop in Practice

So how might this look in practice? 

A "flipped" resume writing workshop might look like this:

  • Job seekers review online videos that walk them through the process of creating a resume.
  • As part of each video lesson, there's a "homework assignment"--for example, to write a "Summary of Qualifications." Lessons could also include links to worksheets and additional resources as necessary. 
  • Face-to-face time in the workshop would be spent doing peer reviews of resumes or the workshop instructor could put each person's resume on a screen to review together as a group, offering guidance on how to improve it which could also lead to new learning for other participants. 

Or in a "flipped" interview workshop, job seekers would review online lessons on how to respond to interview questions and then class time would be spent practicing responses and receiving feedback

In a future post we'll talk about some of the nuts and bolts of flipping a workshop, but for now, I want to plant the seed . . . how could you get more of the "content" stuff online and then spend face-to-face, group time on practicing job search skills and getting feedback to improve those skills