Facilitator: Tris LumleyApril 14, 2017

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At FBL LabStorms, we often focus on building and strengthening feedback loops in direct service. These loops often involve constituents and the organizations they with whom they interface on a daily basis. But we know that to truly begin changing norms, it’s important to focus on other aspects of the constituent ecosystem. What if philanthropy, in addition to direct service, work was driven by user experience? What vehicles must be created to make it easy for philanthropists and foundations to harness a user-centred approach?

New Philanthropy Capital’s emerging thinking lies in flipping the typical funding equation on its head: before making a grant funds, start by listening to the people you ultimately exist to serve. This requires a deep understanding of the complexity of real people’s lives. Those lives – and the development programs intended to serve them – are indeed complicated. They are part of a system where each component – from gathering information on constituents’ needs, to identifying a service, providing advice, finding a solution, and establishing ongoing support – cannot be taken in isolation.

Tris Lumley, Director of Innovation and Development at NPC, is thinking deeply about these issues. In launching a fund to improve the lives of women and girls through education, he realized that many of these components are funded in isolation, even when they had overlapping constituencies. Redundancies caused inefficiency, and constituents fell through the cracks. The solution? Develop pooled grant funds to invest in mobile technology that can help a young woman through each step of the education process. After all, an app that tells you where the closest school is but doesn’t help you figure out how to get the required vaccinations before enrollment is limited in its use.

NPC is exploring how funders can help create a system that analyzes a constituent’s needs, and helps them access a system of products and services in a streamlined way.

Many people who participate in one kind of service often need, or could benefit from, complementary products and services- but these are rarely coordinated, and there’s almost never an easy way for constituents to build an efficient pathway through the system for themselves.

This is further complicated by that fact that there’s not one-size-fits all solution that will work for every individual. There’s no single type of education a young woman could want, and there’s no reason to believe that each young woman will want to achieve her goals through the same pathway. So, we return to the challenge (and opportunity!) of real people’s lives. Technology will play a role in mapping the multitude of pathways a user – in this case a woman seeking an education – could take. But more importantly, that user needs to be at the center of designing a tool that is intended to make a significant impact on her life.

What does it look like to drive funding decisions with user-centered design? How might NPC engage users in the design of these pooled grants, and the technology they will create? The LabStorm participants offered three key insights for NPC to take into their next iteration.

  1. The lives of your users are already complicated, make the ask simple. Putting users at the center of a design is exciting and challenging. We are eager to ask “what is your problem that I can solve?” But often times those questions in of themselves are too complicated, especially when you’re not use to being asked “what do you want?” Instead, start by creating a relationship. Other members of the Feedback Labs community have had success by providing value to participants before ever asking to get value in return. Establishing that two-way conversation from the beginning ensures that the conversation is beneficial to all parties and keeps the service provider grounded in the needs of the people they’re intending to serve.
  2. Strike a balance between an individual service and the greater system it’s in. LabStorm attendees identified three main steps in utilizing technology as a way to create a pathway for users to navigate their journey from education to employment. 1) Find the isolated products and services that already deliver positive outcomes. 2) Create a platform that connects these individual pieces into a joined pathway. 3) Hand over control of that technology to the women themselves. The pieces of the system already exist, the goal here is to create a smoother flow through the system. The woman using this service should be able to ask – is this working for me? If one individual service is not, by being part of this greater pathway she can retrace her steps and find a different service that will fit her needs.
  3. Feed forward, not back. By seeking input from the ultimate constituents during this early design stage, NPC is walking the talk of user-centered design in every step of the process. This is about listening to people’s lived experience to create something new. NPC is seeking to learn from their users: what do they need? In turn, they will align those needs to the individual services within the greater pathway of education to employment. Right now, the end product will enable women and girls to access digital products and skills they previously didn’t know they could. But that’s the beautiful thing about user-centered design – when we feed forward, we have to hear from the constituents before the next iteration.

Ultimately, NPC is creating a system where women and girls can share their needs and have the ability to access the services to address them in the way they see fit.

They’re creating a market of one: putting power directly in the hands of individuals who are seeking services to empower themselves through education. We are excited to learn more from NPC as they iterate on user-centered design as a way to drive funding decisions. Want to stay involved? Reach out to us at info@feedbacklabs.org if you’d like to learn more from Tris and his team at NPC, contribute your thoughts below and check back here, on the Feedback Labs Blog, for updates on how we help drive this momentum forward.


tris lumey

Tris leads NPC’s work on innovation, researching and developing innovative approaches, new models and new ventures to create significant, long-term contributions to the capability and capacity of the social sector. He also leads on developing NPC’s relationships with core funders—philanthropists, foundations and businesses who have a shared commitment to transforming the social sector to achieve its full potential.


LabStorms are collaborative brainstorm sessions designed to help an organization wrestle with a challenge related to feedback loops, with the goal of providing actionable suggestions. LabStorms are facilitated by FBL members and friends who have a prototype, project idea, or ongoing experiment on which they would like feedback. Here, we provide report-outs from LabStorms. If you would like to participate in an upcoming LabStorm (either in person or by videoconference), please drop Sarah a note at sarah@feedbacklabs.org.

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