Episode One Hundred and Seventy One: Empathy, Continued 

by danhon

0.0 Sitrep

2:15pm, at least 10,000 feet in the air, and flying blind if by “blind” I can mean “without internet connectivity”. It’s not like I need internet connectivity to do stuff, apart from *all the stuff I have to do that needs internet connectivity*.

1.0 Empathy, Continued

“You’re hyperventilating. Look into my eyes. Breathe through your nose,” – the emergency dentist who was fitting my new crown, the one I got after I fell off my back porch and concussed myself.

The last few days have felt, at times, like standing barefoot on a ledge, toes gripping the side and trying desperately to not look down despite knowing that you’re very, very high up. I would joke that the good thing about joining Code for America is that there are lots of problems to fix, and the question is more about choosing where to start rather than finding the right one. At some point, all problems are problems and just making progress is progress.

The summit was a little bit being pushed off that ledge at times. Some of the better case studies were exercises in what you might call an aggressive humanisation process. It’s not a mistake that some of the most successful factual TV shows in the UK like Back to the  Floor and Secret Millionaire involve taking people who are typically insulated from people on the front line and essentially forcing them to spend contact hours. Almost like a sort of an inverse training process that one might go through when preparing for war: when instead of going through a psychological process of dehumanizing the enemy so that soldiers are able to do terrible things, you go through a process of meeting people and undergoing a procedure of catastrophic empathy re-integration.

The general impression I’ve had is that when you take a bunch of smart policy wonks and make them part of multidisciplinary teams focussed on delivering service, they actually quite like it. And then you stick everyone – not just some people – through a regular, no-holds-barred, mandatory process of user contact. And then you repeat it. Again, and again, and again.

This is, what I think, is powerful about some of the Code for America rhetoric of the For the People, By the People stuff. It does two things:

– reminds people working in government where their mandate comes from; and
– acts as a sort of ring-zero, unassailable reason to do user research

The irony of this being delivered by a British citizen is not lost on me.

A lot of the examples given over the last few days were where the users of government services were disrespected and the interactions themselves at their worst stripped people of their dignity. These are *indifferent* services – the kinds that are abstracted away and where the idea of a service is delivered without the understanding that the service is to be delivered to a living breathing person. I would hesitate to call the examples that came up again and again – mainly, waiting and standing in line – cliches because at this stage there are far too common and they’re all real.

8:48pm, with one of those days that is just fragmented with travel and airports and cars and email. Nothing in my brain.