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Human-centered policies put people’s needs first - Amorelicious
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Amorelicious / Social Policy  / Human-centered policies put people’s needs first

Human-centered policies put people’s needs first

During the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) lockdown, my daughter and I have enjoyed watching the children’s fantasy films produced by acclaimed Japanese animation company Studio Ghibli. Each film is beautifully rendered, with bucolic scenes infused with colorful flora and fauna, children frolicking and going on adventures, and music that sets our souls alight. The sad reality, however, is that Japan is facing a population crisis, with fewer children being born each year. This means that fewer people will be entering the workforce in the future, consequently affecting economic productivity, tax revenues, and the funding of social security.

 

It is important to reflect on the many compound factors that have contributed to Japan’s sizable and persistent decline in birth rate, which has been attributed to limited full-time employment prospects, provision of more low-wage jobs with unpredictable hours, pressure to overwork, and the limited supply of child care services. By taking the time to understand people’s needs and behaviors and then connect them within a wider context, policymakers can begin to address the problem and create impactful interventions.

 

The example of Japan’s population crisis is important to share as it reveals the disconnect between government ambitions and people’s realities. It used to be the case that policymakers would gather in offices, assuming, devising and debating solutions for the masses. This sometimes resulted in discordant policies and services that failed to meet people’s unspoken and nuanced needs. Over the years, however, governments have grown more empathetic or, in designer terms, human-centered.

 

A human-centered approach essentially puts people at the heart of the design process of any government intervention. One of the valuable benefits of this approach is embracing empathy and taking the time to listen to target audiences. By doing so, policymakers begin to truly understand the day-to-day, specific challenges that people face, their opinions and fears, their experiences with current government services, why they act or behave the way they do, and what their real needs are. Furthermore, it allows them to dispel any biased assumptions or irrelevant solutions and instead work together with the target audience to co-design meaningful and impactful solutions.

 

Ultimately, as a result, people will have access to services that meet their specific needs, in addition to improved customer experiences, less distress, and more trust in government. Governments adopting this approach also address the root causes of problems, design more effective policies and services, and reduce costs from otherwise inefficient and failed ideas.

 

When the Ministry of Community Development in the UAE was prompted to formulate a national policy for its senior citizens, it decided to partner with Palmwood, a design agency, to organize a brainstorming retreat between the country’s elderly population, the younger generation, and a host of experts and moderators. Its purpose was to empathize and take the time to truly understand the needs of the elderly before rushing to conclusions and solutions.

 

The policymakers were indeed surprised as the elderly audience shared their real day-to-day concerns, needs and aspirations. Examples included their desire to socially connect with their community and volunteer in their free time. Others expressed the need for public housing and transportation to use design features that are elderly-friendly, such as wheelchair ramps, non-slip flooring and handles on walls to aid movement. Some stated that, even though they were retired, they would like to continue working on personal enterprises or part-time in advisory or mentoring roles. Such insights proved to be invaluable.

 

Consequently, in October 2018, the UAE Cabinet approved the National Policy for Senior Emiratis with the aim of improving the quality of life for the elderly. The key tenets of the policy include preventative health care initiatives, health insurance that accommodates care for the aged, investment in geriatrics, active civic engagement through advisory and mentoring roles, daycare services, suitable public housing, a discount card that can be used at retail outlets, financial literacy seminars, and a law safeguarding elderly rights.

 

A human-centered approach can also help policymakers prompt favorable behavioral changes. This was clearly illustrated in the case of Madagascar, a country stricken with poverty, where 92 percent of the population lives on less than $2 a day and more than half of children aged five and under are chronically malnourished. The government has partnered with the World Bank to deliver a $200 million community-based nutrition program across the country over the coming decade. By using a human-centered design approach to understanding the beneficiaries and their behaviors, World Bank researchers were able to design impactful interventions to address the malnutrition issue.

 

One of the key insights to come out of their research, for example, was that many mothers admitted not knowing what counts as nutritious food and how to prepare it. Consequently, community workers have been trained to offer personalized counseling to women on providing affordable and nutritious meals for their children. Mothers were also trained on the benefits of early childhood stimulation and were advised on several activities and practices for improving cognitive outcomes among children.

 

By taking the time to listen to people as they share their challenges and needs, policymakers can design more effective solutions that truly create a positive and lasting impact on people’s lives.

 

Published in Arab News.

 

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