What if new approaches could build trust between vulnerable populations and the government, support tribal sovereignty, and deliver excellent digital services?

Equity-Centered Design for American Indians and Alaskan Natives (AI/AN)

10x is exploring opportunities to take user-centered design one step further: equity-centered design, which is an approach that is getting more traction in the private sector. The basic idea is that in traditional user research practices, the power is ultimately with the designers rather than those who use or are impacted by the product of the design. Despite best intentions, sometimes the result is services that are human-centered, but not particularly equitable in delivery. Equity-centered design prioritizes the expertise of communities on which problems they want solved rather than simple input on product usability. This approach posits that in addition to  producing better products and services, it can also play a role in addressing historical grievances and low trust between government and certain vulnerable populations. For our first equity-centered design project, we’ve decided to focus on designing with the American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) community.

Why this matters

There are 574 federally recognized tribes throughout the United States. However, federal agencies’ work with tribes is not always conducted consistently, or even within individual agencies. This leads to products and services that don’t meet tribes’ needs. It’s time to work collaboratively and equitably tribal communities should have a say regarding services that are built for them. 

This work is also important because there is renewed interest in government specifically on better ways to engage with tribal communities, and we believe this work can inform those efforts.

Lastly, this work matters because it speaks to ongoing conversations we as a society are having around reckoning with racial justice, and can support priorities in pursuit of this goal identified by the highest levels of government.

What we're doing

So far, we’ve validated the problem proposed in the initial pitch: that incorporating the expertise of vulnerable communities into government service design has the potential to do good and further administration-level priorities around racial justice. We validated that there is interest amongst government designers to experiment with this new approach, and we’ve made the case that, more than simply delivering better services, this project can set the foundation for using technology and design to build trust and right historical wrongdoings.

How we're doing it

In the first two phases of this project, our teams focused on learning from American Indians and Alaskan Natives directly about their experiences with digital services provided by the government that are meant to serve them. We found that there is room for improvement, and we found an appetite for incorporating the members of this population directly into the design of products and services at various levels of government and within these communities. We’ve also done desk research about the historical context of the relationship between the government and these communities, we interviewed representatives of tribal governments, and we interviewed government designers who have delivered services meant to serve American Indians and Alaska Natives.

Where we are today

We are currently underway with Phase 3 of the project. Instead of focusing on a technical prototype, we are looking to pilot an equity-centered design approach with at least one federal agency and members of tribal communities. This collaboration will power a co-design process to establish a framework for other federal agencies to use when engaging with tribal communities in projects.

Next steps

We are looking for members of tribal communities to work with us in co-creating a framework that can support federal employees to better serve tribal nations in the future. An equity-centered design approach will ensure that expertise from tribal communities is prioritized not only on this project but future federal government projects as well, and that the results of those efforts are what tribal communities want.