5 minutes with... Dana Chisnell

By Clare Reucroft | 27/02/2019

Dana Chisnell

Meet Dana - co-director at the Center for Civic Design, who will be presenting the first keynote at Camp Digital 2019. We spoke with her about the digital transformation challenges she's faced, during her time working with Obama's U.S. government, and what she's excited about in her current projects. 

At Camp Digital, your talk is entitled “Democracy is a Design Problem”
Why is this important and what can the audience expect?

All over the world, governments are facing challenges of ensuring that constituents get the services they deserve. It’s important that designers see themselves as leaders, in developing solutions that address those problems.

In my talk, the audience can expect to hear about how the team at the Center for Civic Design works to understand the experience that American voters have — and how what we learned ties not only to other government services but to experience and service design in the private sector, as well.

You were part of the United States Digital Service during Barack Obama’s term in the White House, what was the biggest challenge you faced during this time? And your biggest achievement?

Yes, I was in the founding cohort at the U.S. Digital Service. Every single day was challenging and frustrating because there were so many fires to put out. (The Digital Services was formed in direct response to the problematic rollout of healthcare.gov in 2013. There are about 30 IT projects that look very much like healthcare.gov in the U.S. federal government.)

But my biggest challenge was the project I spent most of my time on. I was on a small, cross-functional U.S. Digital Service team at United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). We were there to help USCIS transform all of their services from all paper to all digital. There were about 100 developers, a dozen technical leads, 6 business analysts, 6 or 8 product managers, several other federal career staff, and one designer — me.

I think my biggest achievement there was planting the seeds of human-centered design, that have since taken root. The design practice has evolved quite a bit with strong leadership that I brought in to take my place. They’ve managed to get designers in all the agile teams, and it looks like USCIS will have a director of design by 2020.

But probably the most important thing I got done, was starting a program to get developers and the wider team into immigration field offices, so that they could observe how the work gets done. That kind of exposure changed how developers approached their work, as well as the quality and velocity of the work.

Can you share any other projects you're working on at the moment? 

At the Center for Civic Design, where I’m co-director with Whitney Quesenbery, we have a lot of interesting things going on. We’re doing a lot of what we call “project-based training,” where we embed with a government team for a week and coach them through user research or usability testing, or something that they’re working on. They get skills and data, at the same time.

A project I’m really excited about is around what’s happening as a voter marks and casts a ballot. In the U.S., we put a lot more offices and questions on the ballot than pretty much anywhere else on the planet. Many jurisdictions (there are over 5,000) will soon be using voting systems in polling places where a voter marks their ballot on a touchscreen device and then prints out a list of what they selected. When you have versions of “ballot” on a screen and on paper, what do voters think is happening? What is the ballot (the screen or the paper — or something else)? How do they think about privacy, security, and what makes a ballot secret?

We’re also just about to start interviewing people who have become naturalized citizens in the U.S. to learn from them what the barriers and triggers are to civic engagement.

What are you most looking forward to at Camp Digital?

I love meeting experience designers all over the world and hearing what they’re working on, what their challenges are, and how they overcome the challenges.

Dana's talk, "Democracy is a Design Problem", will be our first keynote at Camp Digital, Wednesday 12th June. For more information about Camp Digital or to book tickets, visit http://www.wearesigma.com/campdigital