Prototyping Engagement Workshops for the Future of Federal Data, Dashboards, and Storytelling

User-centered design is critical for employee engagement, from the front lines to C-suite.

User-centered design is critical for employee engagement—from the front lines to C-suite. We hosted a hands-on learning session to improve the way the federal workforce communicates their data to diverse stakeholders.

As digital transformation leaders in the federal government, our work reaches across every federal agency. Visualizing the impact of this foundational work can be daunting. How might we prepare our federal leaders with the tools, skills, and mindset to design more useful dashboards that tell a story? How can we use our creativity to explore new visuals to make the complex more simple? What role does storytelling and project-based learning have to usher new policy forward and facilitate change in a smart and more effective way?

A large group of participants from the Data is Coming: Prototyping Engagement Workshops for the Future of Federal Data, Dashboards, and Storytelling raise different hand-held emoji faces in an interactive engagement experience to vote on data dashboard effectiveness at the Presidential Innovation Fellowship human-centered workspace.

In July 2019, we explored these questions and prototyped solutions along with 14 federal agencies in an interactive workshop on data storytelling (see the agenda). The federal call for open data means that very soon the American public will be involved in the civic tech process in new and engaging ways. Similarly, federal agencies are eager to visualize evidence-based data in dynamic ways that tell stories and inspire both employees and external audiences.

Two side-by-side photos show participants in the Data is Coming: Prototyping Engagement Workshops for the Future of Federal Data, Dashboards, and Storytelling event in July 2019. Three people in the first photo and one person in the second photo hold different emoji faces of various designs and colors in their hands. The hand-held emojis were created for an interactive engagement experience so that participants could vote on data dashboard effectiveness at the Presidential Innovation Fellows workspace in Washington, DC.

In this two-hour workshop, our Technology Transformation Services (TTS) team collaborated to introduce new tools, skills, and mindsets that will enable the federal workforce to better harness the power of data to make decisions and communicate more clearly with citizen customers.

First, as an icebreaker—and also to socialize the industry standard practice of utilizing emojis to gather customer feedback—we invited all participants to create their own emoji rating system. These fun and interactive data tools were then used to vote during the workshop as we deconstructed the core elements of dashboard best practices.

From our best practices tutorial, we transitioned into a deeper exploration on how to quantify the value of our work beyond online surveys—and instead, mine unstructured text to understand the experience of civic technologists working across the federal government. How might we capture the story of our work? How can we connect the dots around similar projects happening in the innovation space?

As a specific example of research and development in progress, we shared learnings from a Storybank that the Presidential Innovation Fellowship Program has been prototyping together with 18F Designer, Amy Ashida. The Storybank demonstrates the value of innovation by collecting stories, designing more relevant reporting metrics, and visualizations. Each week, beginning in April 2019, Presidential Innovation Fellows, answered questions via a form in Airtable. Tracking this weekly narrative has helped our fellows capture internal learnings about their work. Similar to a weekly diary, the learnings are giving us better insight into some of the advances, blockers, and collaborations happening across 24 agencies.

A few desktop design templates and a black marker fill most of the photo. The top sheet shows a sketch of a desktop dashboard concept. Along the top of the paper, it reads, "My problem or opportunity is: ," and leaves space for someone to write in the answer. Below that are two black laptop icons. A small one on the left has a web page and mouse pointer on the screen, with two hand icons below it. On the right, is a large laptop icon that had an empty space for the screen. Below it, reads, "How might we communicate with it with data?" Two arrows point up toward the large laptop. A participant has added six sections of text and icons to the screen space: Net Promoter Score, Agency stories, Impact on community outcomes, Before and After graphs, financial Gains to date, and Team and Collaborations.

Our three core workshop takeaways include the following points:

1. Design Tools for Leadership Engagement

Federal leaders desire more tools for leadership engagement and communication strategies across agencies. User-centered design is critical for meetings from the front lines to C-suite. How might we host more hands-on learning sessions and experience exchanges to improve and customize the way the federal workforce communicates to diverse stakeholders? What do these resources look like as portable and actionable toolkits that can be shared across government?

2. Circulate More Best Practices

It’s clear that there is a need for access to contemporary data dashboard best practices. The future of data-driven communication relies on clear and accessible analytics, and out-of-the-box solutions will not suffice. How might we prepare federal teams with the right tools, skills, and mindset to make the right design decisions at the right time for the right audience. Customer feedback data is often misinterpreted as negative rather than important information that agencies can use to improve service design and delivery. How might we take a deeper look at emerging policy around data storytelling and reduce some of the fear agencies have around rich data that helps agencies improve their services?

3. Employee Engagement and Interactive Learning

We have learned that federal learning programs are more often associated with compliance. This gives learning a negative reputation where it feels like a burden rather than an opportunity. We must find a way to usher forward a fundamental mindset shift to open doors to learning experiences. How do we cultivate an environment of lifelong learning and user-centered design in the government in our goal to attract and retain the best talent to serve our citizens? How do we incorporate more inclusive and interactive methods in our workshops that focus around abstract concepts that are often difficult to understand, like IT modernization, complex customer experience data analytics, and process automation?

Building on these core takeaways, we’ll host another workshop in October 2019, where we will feature Rob Dimeo, visual facilitator and Director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Center for Neutron Research (NCNR). Check out his post on NIST’s TAking Measure blog, My Visual Crutch for Communicating Science, and sign up for the DigitalGov newsletter to be informed of the exact date. Stay tuned for a future workshop on Artificial Intelligence and Storytelling.

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