Using Trauma-Informed Design to Support Equity in Essential Needs

Room 42 is where practitioners and academics meet to share knowledge about breaking research. In this episode, a panel from Michigan State explains how communicators can engage in trauma-informed design by fostering collaboration between UX and Content Strategy.

Airdate: December 16, 2020

Season 1 Episode 13 | 52 min

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Transcript (Expand to View)

[00:00:12.170] – Liz Fraley

Good morning everyone and welcome to Room 42. I'm Liz Fraley from Single-sourcing Solutions, I'm the moderator. This is Janice Summers our interviewer, and welcome to our panel of academics from the MSU Department of Writing Rhetoric and American Cultures. We have Ben Lauren, Stuart Blythe and Shannon Kelly and Kaitlyn comes to us from the MSU College of Arts and Letters. Ben's an Associate Professor whose recent work is focused on Institutional and Social change, Stuart is an Associate Professor who teaches a range of courses in Rhetoric and Professional and Public Writing.

[00:00:46.190] – Liz Fraley

Shannon's a Doctoral student and former assistant writing program director whose work is focused on institutional change with Trauma-Informed methods as well as teaching learners how to teach. Kaitlyn is an undergraduate studying Experience, Architecture and Researching how Design Impacts User Interaction and Response to Products. Today, they're here to help us start answering the question How Trauma-Informed Approaches to Design Practice can help Improve an Organizational Responsiveness and Support Equity in Essential Needs. Welcome, everybody.

[00:01:19.580] – Ben Lauren

Thank you.

[00:01:20.300] – Stuart Blythe

Thank you.

[00:01:21.680] – Janice Summers

Hello, everyone. So I'm a huge fan of origin stories, so I mean, this is a pretty big project, a pretty hefty project. So what inspired the beginning? Where were the seeds of this project? How did that come about?

[00:01:38.780] – Ben Lauren

That is a very good question. And so I will try to keep it brief as I answer it. Let me say hey to everybody listening, but also there's a few members of our group that aren't here, and I just want to acknowledge them. One of them is Kimberly Steed-Page, who's the director of the Student Parent Resource Center here at MSU, Reggie Noto of the provost office and then Bill Heinrich, who is recently transferred to a new job with his new title is escaping me at the moment, but I just wanted you to know that they're involved in this project too.

[00:02:13.280] – Janice Summers

Well, that's good to point out, because you're a pretty good-sized team, but it's not just this team, there's other people you have to get collaboration from so many different departments and so many different people to help lift this project, right?

[00:02:28.390] – Ben Lauren

Oh, absolutely. And we have stakeholders inside the institution that are also helping to make this happen at the provost level, including Jeff Gabriel and Mark Lajon and Vennie Gore and Thomas Jeitschko. So there's a long list of people that we should be acknowledging as helping to make this work happen. But as far as origin stories go, it happened — I can't remember the exact date and time obviously, but it was a couple of years ago I was walking across campus with a community partner from the Michigan Coalition Against Homelessness, and we were working on a different project together, and she said just sort of asking questions, do you know if MSU has an active count of how many homeless students it has? And in trying to answer that question that led me down a path of learning about essential needs, because when I started learning about homelessness and housing and security, I also started learning about food insecurity. And so once I started learning about food insecurity, I started learning about accessibility, and once I started learning about accessibility, I saw connections to physical and emotional health.

[00:03:46.010] – Ben Lauren

So I started seeing that essential needs are what some people might call basic needs, we call them essential needs, but they were all sort of connected together. So I wanted to learn more, and so I started seeking out partners and listening and assembling listening sessions to kind of just learn a little bit more across campus. And this happened over a couple of years period of time until we started this kind of community and this community started doing a bunch of work. I'm glossing over a lot of details, there were working groups, there was —

[00:04:21.060] – Janice Summers

You're talking about a project that started what?  More than a couple of years ago?

[00:04:25.040] – Ben Lauren


[00:04:25.850] – Janice Summers

This is like a long project. It's not something like I just decided to do this really quick and throw this together, yeah so.

[00:04:33.970] – Ben Lauren

Yeah, there was just no way to do it that way and, you know there was too much to learn. So I think the first thing that we had to do is we just had to go and learn what we didn't know, and so we had a lot of conversations with people before we started the phase of the project that we can talk about today. But Kim, who I talked about earlier, was kind of very important to that. Kim and I had started working on that since the very beginning of the project. And it's always sort of been focused on trying to solve problems, but also to understand the problems and to tie it to User Experience, to show what student experiences are like on college campuses around essential needs and getting access to essential needs resources. And so that's kind of been the goal of the project from the beginning. But it took us a long time to figure how to do it. You know how to take the first step if that makes sense. So does that answer your question, about origin stories?

[00:05:38.870] – Janice Summers

Yeah, yes, that does answer the question on origin story.

[00:05:44.430] – Ben Lauren


[00:05:45.370] – Janice Summers

So you started out with one little question as you're walking across campus, somebody just asks an innocent question and that springboard into, you know, peeling an onion and getting various layers and realizing that this one little question touched so many different aspects so the scope expanded, right?

[00:06:05.750] – Ben Lauren


[00:06:05.750] – Janice Summers

Which –, that's when you had to start getting more people involved. It wasn't just you, you had to get more teams involved. Now, how was that recruiting people in?

[00:06:17.930] – Ben Lauren

Well, some of them are here with us, you know like I think part of doing that was about identifying — it was hard, I'm going to be honest with you. Sometimes I felt out of my depth. I knew that I wanted to help, I didn't know how I could. There were a lot of hard lessons in that and there was a lot of persistence that needed to be practiced and you know I say that intentionally, I mean that like I had to practice persistence because that was much easier to say. Well, I'm a faculty member at a university, I shouldn't care about this or I could go do something else or something along those lines —

[00:07:01.760] – Janice Summers

But you've been seeing how vast it was, just saying well, I'm only one little person, you know that's too big for me, I can't do it.

[00:07:10.700] – Ben Lauren

That's right, actually on another project that some of us in this group were on, I won't go into too much depth, but one of the lessons from that project, we were working with some folks who had formerly been homeless and it was a storytelling project and I don't want to go too far into the weeds there. But one of the things that came out of one of the stories, a lesson that I learned that stayed with me, was that one person does make a difference. And so what it meant is that for me, I had to learn what I could do, I had to intentionally understand who was doing the work across campus, build relationships with them, take my time to build relationships and understand what I didn't understand and just learn more, and so I invited in participants and colleagues to work together on this. And at times the group that was working together was probably close to 30 people.

[00:08:13.920] – Ben Lauren

And then we would shrink down and we would grow depending because we were more of a network than anything else. But when it came time for us to do some of the research that we did, we did kind of shrink down intentionally so that we could move faster because it's hard to do some of that as a networked community. And so knowing the time frame for that was delicate, and we had to make particular moves and engage in conversations with people along the way so that people knew what we were doing and why we were doing it and there's a fair amount of data sharing that we do too, as well. So but some of the people here were invited in like I invited Stuart in to help think about research, Shannon is interested in this area, so I invited Shannon in to help us think about research and design, it worked really well, Kim who I mentioned earlier, she does this work as the Director of Student Parent Resource Center on a daily basis and has connections into the community that are very valuable for us and offers a different perspective of things to us frequently.

[00:09:23.430] – Ben Lauren

And I'm trying to be expansive in explaining how people contribute, by also not diminishing what it is that they do because it's so much more than that. And then Kaitlyn, who's a part of this too, whose expertise in design and trauma-informed design, was something that we knew we needed and we knew would be a valuable addition to the group. So when we started working on this phase of the project, it was also sort of about what roles can we fulfill? And what can we do? And yeah so that's sort of it.

[00:09:56.280] – Liz Fraley

I'm glad you're talking about this — this sort of networking and political skills and inviting people in and knowing kind of ask questions and connecting with other people throughout the organization has been in the top five requested topics in the TC Dojo for the last year and a half. So any advice that — well, before we move on to the rest of it, any advice you've got for people learning how to do that well? Or how to be inviting inclusive?

[00:10:31.720] – Ben Lauren

I'm interested to hear what other folks in the group have to say, but I'm going to say, I'll say this one thing, and this is something I feel, I believe, I think sometimes we're in a rush to do things and sometimes it's about slowing down and trying to get a bigger picture and checking your assumptions and recognizing how you're positioned in all of this and having conversations with people to sort of have this self-actualization moments of that role, if that makes sense, so that you can say to yourself you know like, what am I doing? Why am I doing? How can I help? Who's doing this work? You know, and I think slowing down and entering into a series of this kind of reflective questioning is really valuable.

[00:11:20.380] – Janice Summers

And I think you bring up a really good point Ben, it's like you know when you think of music, music happens in the pauses.

[00:11:29.110] – Ben Lauren


[00:11:29.560] – Janice Summers

That's when the composition it's in the pauses and that's the same thing with drama, it's in the pauses. We have to stop for a minute because we are going so fast that we forget to pause.

[00:11:41.590] – Ben Lauren

Yeah. I think that's true, I mean that would be my advice pause, reflect, dig deeper, check your understanding, go back, take on partners, don't try to be everything to everybody. I have a saying, don't hurry into making a mistake. You know so that's my answer to that question. But I'm interested to hear what other people think. Stuart, how would you answer that question?

[00:12:10.890] – Stuart Blythe

Well, one thing I've noticed from this group is that at the moment when Ben has brought people together, that people come with their own agenda and they've not been forced to give that agenda up. On this — especially at a big university like Michigan State, people in different offices have different needs, different reasons for coming to a project and so letting those people come to the project with their own needs without saying no, we need you to play this role, I think it's been a big strength right, and if people say then you know my needs been met, I'm going to bow out, then they bow out. Which is something fortunately we can do in Higher Ed I don't know how possible that is in other places where teams may be assigned, but letting people come to this group with their own agendas and finding the overlap.

[00:13:12.240] – Janice Summers

But even if you're assigned, but you know because you're talking about you know the difference between academia and practitioners, even if you've got people who are assigned, I think it's allowing people like you say Stuart, everyone's got their own agenda. And I think if you're leading a project, you're trying to coalesce a group, understanding what their agendas are and appreciating what their agendas mean to them and not telling them you have to let go of that, right?

[00:13:43.140] – Stuart Blythe


[00:13:43.830] – Janice Summers

That's a really good point.

[00:13:48.740] – Liz Fraley

That goes back with what Ben was saying too. Your team would grow and shrink as people came and went, and that's part of the lifespan of this project, too. Needs happen at different levels and at different times and being flexible and responsive to that, that's a huge thing. Sorry Janice.

[00:14:07.190] – Janice Summers

Well, and to your point though, it's also on how you inform people, because you might have people who come in and go out, come back in and go out. Do you have like a communication method that you have as an entire project that even if someone came in and they go out for a little bit, they're going to come back in again? Are they keeping informed on progress and what's going on? Is there a way for them to tap in?

[00:14:37.240] – Ben Lauren

That's a good question. So it's not like everybody's part of a slack channel or teams channel or something like that, although now that you mentioned it, that might not be a bad thing. We tried that at one point, but you know it's hard to keep up. So part of the work is identifying okay, we were taking on this task or we're doing this thing, who needs to come back to the table? And that means spending a lot of time not just delivering as a group, but going and asking others and inviting them in. So I'll give you an example in the context of the project we're about to finish or we've just finished a milestone where we've done 20 interviews with different staff across campus and then we did 15 focus groups with what amounted to 69 students and I think 36 unique majors represented across campus. And now we are getting together to talk about what we've learned and inviting the students as stakeholders back in to help us make sense of some of this, but also some of the people that we interviewed back to help us make sense of this but also bring in administrators to also have these conversations and to invite other people who've participated in the group to say, hey, we want to think about you know, some actions that we could take as a result of what we've learned. And we would like you to be a part of that conversation. And the way we structure that is from a design sort of UX perspective. So we call them we're calling them design conversations. We're going to have conversations that design solutions and we want to do that together. So sometimes it's not 100 %. Everybody's involved every moment, but it's about saying it's time to bring everybody back in and see what they think and continue the momentum of the project that way. So that's one of the ways we've chosen to do it.

[00:16:44.470] – Stuart Blythe

We have had a couple regular sessions where we've reported out and had had conversations, I'm thinking Ben, of the meeting we had with the packed room over in one of the residence halls.

[00:17:01.440] – Ben Lauren

All right yeah.

[00:17:02.230] – Stuart Blythe

A year ago where we had people from all across campus, academic advisors, deans, police, all sorts of different groups on campus who were interested in not only hearing what we were learning at that time, but a lot of time was built to have discussion. So those kinds of regular moments.

[00:17:28.450] – Ben Lauren

Yeah, the public reporters are important. We've had those conversations strictly with students too where we've gotten together and had the same kinds of conversations, but in different ways. That's a good point Stuart I forgot about that.

[00:17:44.720] – Liz Fraley

Is that part of how the design comes to be through those conversations? Yeah?

[00:17:52.480] – Ben Lauren

I think that's a big part of it. A lot of it is deliberation and you know, not pretending we know the answers to questions but being willing to go and find the answers that we're confident about and that takes time. So sometimes you want to move something through really quickly and you're like, I have a great idea, but you're not — I think with a project like this, we've come to the conclusion that sometimes you can move fast, but most of the time you have to move slow and involve people strategically in important moments and be as transparent as possible because it improves what it is that you're trying to do. So we can't pretend we know all the answers ever, if that makes sense.

[00:18:45.360] – Ben Lauren

I'm interested in the pacing of it though, I kind of want to ask Shannon what it's like from a pacing perspective when it comes to change what you think about that Shannon like when you see — cause you've been on the project for what like 2 years now, is that right? A year or about 2 years?

[00:19:01.940] – Shannon Kelly

Yeah, about two years.

[00:19:03.440] – Ben Lauren

What does the pacing feel like for you, just out of curiosity?

[00:19:07.910] – Shannon Kelly

Yeah, I was thinking there's an idea from Adrienne Maree Brown and she defines change as, change happens at the pace of relationships. And I feel like that is really illustrative of this project, is that when we don't know something, our team has enough people from different areas, the university, that someone has an idea of who we need to go talk to, to find out what a different department or part of campus knows about something. So I think the pacing is slow, but I feel like slow has a negative connotation, and that's not what I mean at all, it just seems like actually productive or perhaps sustainable, because it's not being rushed and it's not coming top-down and expecting any one branch of campus to handle it. So that's a lot of what the Designed Day purpose is as well, to learn from different participants and constituents of campus. What kinds of change they need and how essential needs can be implemented in a way that is helpful and not just a box to check or one more thing to do,  but they're expected to do on their own.

[00:20:30.420] – Janice Summers

And I think Shannon you bring up an interesting point about timing and sometimes and the connotation about slow right.

[00:20:40.330] – Shannon Kelly


[00:20:41.590] – Janice Summers

When you think about it, you're working on something that you want to have legs that lasts, that's pretty resilient. You're working on something that has complexity. It's not a single shot thing, it's complex. So in that situation, slow and steady wins the race. I hate to say it but the saying is true because you have to give time for people to be involved. Now, what inspired you to get involved in this project? I mean you've been with it through a long time and you're still with it. So what inspired you to get involved?

[00:21:21.540] – Shannon Kelly

Yeah, that's a good question, and I worked with Ben on the My Homeless Voice Project, and I've worked with Stuart in some other areas as well, and so I was really interested in seeing more of their leadership and I wanted to see how a big change project like this happens. So it was fascinating to be in early rooms where like the wall is a whiteboard and we're sort of mapping out like, okay, who knows who and who do we need to talk to about these different things? What kinds of questions do we ask? I was really fascinated by that process, so that got me interested, and then the relationships with the team members are really what has kept me interested and the needs of students on campus. The focus groups were really fascinating in that regard, especially.

[00:22:12.610] – Janice Summers

And the end objective.

[00:22:14.260] – Shannon Kelly

Yeah, yeah I feel like it's such an important thing to be investing a lot of time and energy into.

[00:22:20.860] – Janice Summers


[00:22:24.290] – Ben Lauren

You know that end objective is kind of key, so there's two things that would probably be helpful for people to know, which is you know what the current phase of the project is working on, so we started trying to understand how students experienced essential needs resources on campus and we have a name for the group now we call supporting equity and essential needs, and that word equity is an important part of it, because the 50 thousand foot view of what we've learned from students is that there's a lot of essential needs, resources on campus, there's a lot of offices you can go to to get different kinds of support during different moments of your educational career but, equitable access is a problem still and it's complicated why it's a problem. And so one of the things that we're imagining now is what sort of interventions can the institution use to help make and create more equitable access to these resources and one of the things we've talked a lot about is creating a website where it acts as what we've been calling a portal. But what others have explained to me as a kind of directory, it's a part of doing this work is like lots of people have different languages of how they describe things, but conceptually they're largely the same.

[00:23:56.780] – Janice Summers


[00:23:57.350] – Ben Lauren

You're just translating across domains, but some people think of it as like a directory, like a phone book of sorts for all the different resources and what they do, and Kaitlyn has been the designer or the lead designer on putting together that portal and but doing so in a trauma-informed way, which is one of the sort of key things that we've been thinking a lot about, not only collecting data in a trauma-informed way, but also developing the website using trauma-informed methods and what does that mean?

[00:24:33.090] – Janice Summers

I just wanna ask that question like you know I hate to be the dummy in the room, but could you explain to me what trauma-informed means?

[00:24:42.000] – Ben Lauren

I don't want to go too long on it because I want to keep my eye on the time, but I will answer it broadly but I think it's probably more nuanced than the description I'm going to give you right now. So I just want to say that I want to lead with that. I also want to say the first person in the, the first practitioner that we sort of whose work we looked at was Melissa Eggleston's work, who's doing a lot of stuff on trauma-informed web design at the moment, and I think has an upcoming webinar, a meeting pretty soon. And so if other people are interested in that, they might look that up. I think it's — I found it on social media I'll be there. So that being said, what trauma-informed approach — hold on a second, I have a young child — yes, you can have a pickle. So — this is great. You guys have to appreciate this, I say to my kids, I'm going to be in a meeting and please only interrupt me if there's an emergency. The emergency was a pickle.

[00:25:44.540] – Janice Summers

It's an emergency.

[00:25:48.480] – Ben Lauren

The 50,000 foot view approach again to sort of what trauma-informed is, is there's a few principles that you can you can kind of abide by and it comes out of different traditions, and so we're coming out of social work when we think about this. And that has to do with who we're working with, and that also has to do with what our end goals are as a group, and social work has an excellent sort of approach to thinking about trauma-informed organizations, and so we're also taking a nod from another group on campus that's led by wonderful scholars, many of whom we've interfaced with in different ways, via Kim, Steed Page, who's part of the group. All that to say what trauma-informed is at this level is imagining not overwhelming people with choices, but giving them information, understanding that a lot of people have different kinds of trauma and that trauma is individually experienced and that because of that, you kind of can't predict how people are going to feel when they're accessing a thing like a Web portal. So that means you have to give them choice on how they're going to interact with the information that you put there. It means not overwhelming with too many choices, so the design has to be, you know potentially maybe a little bit more simple. Now, a lot of that stuff, you might think well that's just good design in general, and there is a lot of overlap in that, but what we have found is the multiple points of interaction is kind of key.

[00:27:30.360] – Ben Lauren

So like one of our findings for instance is that there's what we call a cute basic needs issues where somebody is having a problem that it happens as a result of an event and say it might be financial, and so if they had some financial help, it would solve that problem. But the difficult issues are the more chronic ones that are ones that are invisible to people, thus the name seen where people feel like the essential needs issues that they're facing aren't seen by the institution or even necessarily by their peers. And so when somebody has a chronic basic need issue and they're coming to the portal, I think our hope there is that they will see that there's multiple ways for them to interact. They can get the kinds of information that they are interested in getting and that they need before having to go and talk to anybody and tell them their story. Telling people your story can be very hard, so the kind of intervention that we're trying to perform with the portal is by giving people choice and information before they take the next step so that way they're not ending up in somebody's office sort of saying, here's what's happening, I need help and that person might be saying I don't know how to help or let me reach out to somebody else and then that person gets kind of moved from office to office as they try to find it.

[00:29:02.700] – Janice Summers

 And keep getting more traumatized because they have to keep telling their story over and over again.

[00:29:08.030] – Ben Lauren

So to kind of sum up that, I talked my way through it, it's partially in the design and it's partially in the intervention, if that makes sense, the portal itself has an intervention. Would you all say, I got that right?

[00:29:21.330] – Stuart Blythe


[00:29:22.180] – Shannon Kelly


[00:29:24.270] – Ben Lauren

So Kaitlyn's been taking the lead on some of this stuff, so Kaitlyn as you've been doing some of the design I'd love to know a little bit more about how trauma-informed approaches have impacted how you've been thinking about the design? If you want to talk about that.

[00:29:40.390] – Kaitlyn Nguyen

Yeah, so I know we've talked before as a team, but the general concept of kind of what Ben talked about earlier is like undoing an institution that kind of has a sense of exclusion in order to make like students and people going to this portal or directory feel more included, and kind of like what Ben said earlier, more often than not, it seems like some students and I know I find myself in this situation as well, when you're trying to reach out, it's kind of seems like you have to know someone of someone to get the proper resources you need, and so I think what those essential needs portal or directory as Ben said, it's for the community to design for users with the past that informs the way they think and act as a step in the right direction for this trauma-informed design that we're doing.

[00:30:30.420] – Kaitlyn Nguyen

And so our team specifically works with the trauma-informed design principles in order to figure out how to undo this sense of institution of exclusion, to make users feel more included and find the proper resources they need in the design. And as a website or portal or directory, the website can't 100% be trauma-informed, but we're working on trying to ensure the design is responsive to this input and create an atmosphere where the users can openly speak about their concerns, just getting input and then implementing it in a way that takes our service and makes it more trauma-informed as we go forward.

[00:31:23.870] – Ben Lauren

That's really great Kaitlyn, thank you. It's fun to hear you talk about it Kaitlyn, I have to admit I appreciated that.

[00:31:34.410] – Janice Summers

Were there surprises for you along the way?

[00:31:39.370] – Kaitlyn Nguyen

I think, yeah it's been really interesting finding different perspectives as an undergraduate student, I don't really often see perspectives of like faculty members and stakeholders. So it's been interesting I've also worked with another student designer, Trayvon Smith, who since graduated. But it's just interesting excuse me, seeing the different perspectives that a user could be using this portal in

[00:32:10.360] – Janice Summers

And those perspectives have helped you to make design choices.

[00:32:14.980] – Kaitlyn Nguyen

Yes, exactly.

[00:32:20.090] – Janice Summers

I like the fact that you said you know it's not perfect, it's as close as we can get and we're looking for improvements along the way because it's never, ever really finished, right?

[00:32:32.930] – Kaitlyn Nguyen

Yeah, it's always thinking about how the users are changing and how to make them feel safe using a resource such as this.

[00:32:41.510] – Janice Summers

Right, right.

[00:32:45.890] – Ben Lauren

Kaitlyn brings up a good point here, cause safety is one of the things that we think about, how does this website communicate safety to the people who use it? So we have a series of heuristics that we have developed safety is one of them, trustworthiness is another, so how do we communicate that in the design? How do we give people choice? What does collaboration mean in this environment? How do we empower through design? How do we communicate and practice inclusively and design? And so these series of moves are heuristics that we're using as we're designing the site. So there's actions that come as a result of it, so if you come to the site and you're looking for information on financial resources available on campus, you could click on an area of the site that says financial, and it brings you to the part of the portal that talks about these things. We arrange them by questions, so it reads more as like an FAQ than it does as a directory of names and that was a piece of feedback that we got during one of the design iterations. But if you're coming to the portal and that kinds of information overwhelms you, you could also click on another part of the site that says talk to a specialist. And it allows that person to sort of fill out a form, describe what they would like about what's happening, categorize it, how they would like to, and then send it off so that a human who's trained in these and working with students in this way could reach back out.

[00:34:23.780] – Ben Lauren

And so these are part of the ways that we're thinking about it right, we've got these heuristics then we're thinking about different kinds of actions that we can take depending on what the student needs might be. But we also see this is also extending to faculty and staff and being useful for everybody in the sense that sometimes when you're a faculty member, we've heard from faculty, you want to help, but you don't know how. So if somebody comes to you and they're experiencing an issue around essential needs and you're like, oh I didn't know you were sleeping on your friend's couch, I didn't know that was something that was happening, boy I wish I knew what I could do to help you. The portal could exist in that moment and say, well here's this portal, we can look it up and I can share it with you and you could look through it and let me know if I can connect you to somebody because the portal makes that more possible.

[00:35:20.390] – Ben Lauren

And so that's part of how something could be trauma-informed is that now the student doesn't have to go to multiple people to say that in order to get help, that one person already knows where they can say, oh there's this place that we can start looking and we'll help you gather more information.

[00:35:37.750] – Janice Summers

I kind of want to back up for just one second, she touched on something a little bit ago, and I just want to see if I've got this right. So you have a couple of different ways that people can approach, because you never know where people are going to come from into this site. It's not just one place you know it's sort of like you had an area that was more like instead of like an FAQ so it has a lot more information, right so I don't know if it's like a list and you can read the questions and answers or you have a way where they can go they don't want to read all that information. They just want to go and fill out a form and ask for help so a person can self-select you can have the — Liz has a phrase for this, and it's escaping me right now, but it's like that shortcut fast path. So you get a fast path to help or they can look through a more lengthier information, did I get that right?

[00:36:37.520] – Ben Lauren


[00:36:38.360] – Janice Summers

Yeah, I think that's cool because some people like to read a lot and some people really don't.

[00:36:46.170] – Stuart Blythe

I think an interesting part of the design that's happening too, is that it's deciding on a fast path, it's not just that the portal is an intervention, which it is, but a student can fill out or a staff or faculty. Someone fills out a form saying I need information, we need structures in the universities, that someone's going to respond to that. So it's you know, this is leading to some discussions now about, how do we structure the university so that it can respond to these issues? Who's going to answer the messages? So it's not just a portal design now, it's discussions with provosts about, are there some tweaks to the structure of the university so that it can be more responsive when this happens?

[00:37:46.590] – Liz Fraley

So you'll see — and all of these relationships are certainly helping that process that we talked about before you've built relationships all over campus.

[00:37:58.680] – Ben Lauren

Yeah, this is a moment now that we're asking that question to expose where we go back to the people we've built relationships with and say, you know about the portal we've been talking about that, but it could make some fundamental changes to the structures based on your experience helping students and supporting them. What should those structures look like? And so it's a chance to kind of you know, do it together, if that makes sense, do that work together.

[00:38:31.830] – Janice Summers

And it's like pulling in the next phase right, you've gotten into this part, but now you need people whose questions that are coming in that you need that human interaction. Who's going to do that? That's not your team, that's someone else with an organization, the campus that needs to back that, but they've had buy along the way right, you've negotiated that from the beginning.

[00:39:01.600] – Liz Fraley


[00:39:03.170] – Janice Summers

I think that's kind of one of the key things in projects is you know, knowing who stakeholders are or envisioning who those stakeholders are and getting them involved from the beginning.

[00:39:17.390] – Liz Fraley

Really building those relationships opened the door not just to this project, but to a lot of other changes and that's a huge success.

[00:39:28.330] – Stuart Blythe

Yeah, we're certainly at a point where you can't say well we've decided that this group of people on campus are going to answer the emails or the requests and tell them, guess what you're doing now. This is not a time for a top down decision on, you know, this people with this function in the university will take on this extra duty. So it's time to listen and hear where might it fit? Who could take this on? How do we reward them for taking it on?

[00:40:05.100] – Liz Fraley

Yeah. Because we remember all those individual agendas from before.

[00:40:11.020] – Stuart Blythe


[00:40:12.040] – Liz Fraley

Right, right wow awesome work you guys.

[00:40:18.030] – Janice Summers

And they were probably involved in some of those early on focus groups, right?

[00:40:25.230] – Ben Lauren

Yeah, I mean, really early on we were a working group where we would meet monthly and we would talk over things and people would tell stories and talk about, you know, the different kinds of ways that they were supporting students and one of the things that came out of that, for instance, was regulations and how federal and state regulations influence how you can support. And so just talking about that and having conversations across campus, across offices and units, which are very siloed, because for those of us who — I study, Organization Design right, and so MSU is a distributed organization, and so what happens in an English department I probably know very little about being in a Writing department or what happens in Engineering, I know very little about being in the day to day work that I do and as a writing professor, and so, getting people to work across those distributed silos was like the first thing that we started doing a couple of years ago, and that's how the relationships were built and that's how we started to learn that there were a lot of commonalities across our experiences. If that make sense you know, like we were realizing, wow, there's — everybody's telling a similar version of the same story.

[00:41:52.030] – Janice Summers

Right, right, we get to that human side and there's a lot of similarities. But you know they make sense that you don't know all the intricacies until you get them involved and have conversations just sit back and listen. I think, Ben you mentioned that early on in this conversation is that —

[00:42:09.930] – Liz Fraley

Listening skills.

[00:42:11.730] – Janice Summers

Listen, like let someone share their information and listen so, I think —

[00:42:19.190] – Ben Lauren

Believe them when they tell you what's happening, believe them yeah.

[00:42:23.190] – Liz Fraley


[00:42:24.080] – Janice Summers


[00:42:28.220] – Liz Fraley

I could still do a whole another 15 minutes asking Kaitlyn the questions that I would love to ask, but really kind of inside like how what colors are safe? Like what kind of strategic pieces are you doing in UX? We'll save that for part two. We are going to have her back to discuss all of that, because that's a big topic also for the type of communicators who are trying to understand how to better provide User Experience and we look to people like you to bring that in.

[00:43:00.960] – Janice Summers

So where do things stand right now with the project? Are you are at a launch place, what's going on now? What's the current?

[00:43:14.760] – Ben Lauren

We're negotiating the next phase of the project now, which basically means that we are trying to understand, if you launch a portal, how that– what sort of infrastructure change needs to happen at the institution. It's though we're developing a model, and we're developing a model based on the data that we've collected so far, and then we're going to bring that in January hopefully to some of the people that we've been working with across the institution where we have these relationships to get their feedback on this model and iterate it so that we can go back to some of the administrative stakeholders and say, so we — not only we have a portal, we have a model, here's how we think it could work. Each one of those conversations we have is a series of sort of aha moments like epiphanies mixed with new constraints. And so we are living through a global pandemic and it's impacting institutional structures and university budgets in particular ways. And so we have to be sensitive to that in our work. So we have to dream big things, but then we also have to be aware that there are constraints. And so right now we're trying to dream big things in the context of the constraints and we're reaching out to others to help us do that.

[00:44:46.060] – Ben Lauren

I think kind of key to this again is, the people we have in our small group, we — you've heard from Kaitlyn and Shannon today, you've heard from faculty we have staff. We're intentionally a group of people across the campus and so that is we're doing some of this work we're thinking across different kinds of roles and experiences and getting feedback and giving feedback to each other. So I think that's sort of partially part of our process too is to think across, not just think from one point of view, but to try to challenge ourselves to think in different ways. So that's what the next step is all about, is we have this idea, does this idea work for everybody else? Would they rip it up and throw it away? Would they say, no, just do it this way? Or no, that's a good idea so that we're not just creating a new silo or doing stuff on our own. So that's the next step is to explore what that intervention can look like and how it changes the institution's structure. It's a big step.

[00:45:54.390] – Liz Fraley

It is.

[00:45:54.390] – Ben Lauren

Yeah, it's scary stuff. There's a lot of responsibility —

[00:45:59.420] – Liz Fraley

There is a lot of different papers.

[00:46:01.140] – Ben Lauren

Well, there's a lot of responsibility you know, and I think the weight of this project is something that we talk about a lot as a group, is that there's a lot of responsibility when people tell you their stories to do something about it, not just to sit on it, but to say we're going to try to be part of the change process. And that's a lot to take on.

[00:46:21.210] – Janice Summers

Well, doesn't that also give you a feeling of urgency?

[00:46:30.550] – Shannon Kelly

Yeah, that's when slow can be particularly frustrating when you know that students are dealing with a lot of difficulties and we're like navigating slow bureaucracy. So, yeah, it is balancing that urgency with change that we can hopefully maintain too.

[00:46:50.800] – Janice Summers

Right, yeah because too the point again, the need to go slow is to create something that's stable, that has legs that will live beyond, right and you want a good solid foundation. I mean, the Grand Canyon is impressive, but it happened slowly right, and it's withstood the test of time. So it's the same thing with your project. You want something because especially the audience that you're serving there are already traumatized so you want to make sure that you've done things to work out as many kinks as possible so that things are as smooth as possible and that somebody is there to answer those forms that are filled in and someone's there to keep the site up and running and to adjust the dynamics as things change right?

[00:47:49.630] – Ben Lauren


[00:47:53.240] – Liz Fraley

We look forward to seeing what happens and how it goes, you have to keep an eye on the portal page that you guys are setting up.

[00:48:04.220] – Janice Summers

Yeah, we would love to have you guys back again as you're entering that next phase and again to talk about the user design too, and the choices along the user design, is there something that people can look at right now to see where things are at?

[00:48:23.510] – Ben Lauren

Kaitlyn has a whole — the whole site specked out in XD is that right Kaitlyn?

[00:48:30.020] – Kaitlyn Nguyen

Yes. I sent it in the chat earlier, I can send it again as well.

[00:48:35.780] – Janice Summers

It's in the beginning of the chat, isn't it?

[00:48:37.790] – Kaitlyn Nguyen


[00:48:38.690] – Janice Summers

Okay, good.

[00:48:39.650] – Liz Fraley

So we can send it to everybody there you go.

[00:48:42.140] – Janice Summers


[00:48:42.570] – Ben Lauren

Yeah, so you can click on that and you can click around and you can see some of the interactions that we're imagining, it's not fully filled out because part of the issue of doing something like this, and this isn't Kaitlyn's fault, but I just want to point this out, getting access to all the different resources that are available on campus is hard, there's a lot of reasons for that. But we've put enough in that we can say here's kind of how this would look like and here's kind of how it would function but there would probably be a little bit more under the resources once we have finished the collecting of all of them into a single place, if that makes sense.

[00:49:20.960] – Janice Summers

Yeah, absolutely.

[00:49:22.520] – Ben Lauren

So Kaitlyn's done pretty well with what we've been able to get access to I would say excellent pretty well is an understatement.

[00:49:32.770] – Janice Summers

Yeah, I think I think we got a peek — I'm not looking at it right now, but I think we got a peek at it when we first talked and it is very impressive and I'm very excited for your project. I've been trying to keep really calm during this interview, but I am truly excited and I truly would love to have you guys back again as you get further into your next phase and I hope I hope I hope somebody is documenting the whole process that is going to write a paper or a book or something to help others, because I think that what you're doing can impact, you know, on a more global scale.

[00:50:14.590] – Janice Summers

And I think it could serve as a good model for people to use in other projects that are beyond MSU. So I hope somebody is writing something I mean, I'm talking —

[00:50:28.330] – Shannon Kelly

We've got a lot of writers on the team.

[00:50:29.650] – Janice Summers

I'm talking of writers. I'm like assuming yeah?

[00:50:33.670] – Ben Lauren

We are yeah, absolutely.

[00:50:37.510] – Janice Summers

Which is another thing that would be really important to share with the world, right. So please, I really do honestly would love to have you guys back again to talk and share in the next phase.

[00:50:52.450] – Ben Lauren

We should have an update March-April.

[00:50:55.180] – Janice Summers


[00:50:55.720] – Ben Lauren

Somewhere around then. So if you wanted to try it toward the end of next semester, we would have a pretty solid update.

[00:51:01.600] – Janice Summers

OK, we'll see what we can get booked and then we can talk more on the user interface choices, so Kaitlyn, you're going to be on the hot seat.

[00:51:24.350] – Liz Fraley

Awesome well, thanks for sharing and for telling your stories and sharing everyone the others. I will follow up on a couple of things that you all mentioned so that everybody has direct links and I get my spelling correct, but that's never good, and we're so grateful that you could share and help every one learn more about how to give better experience to everyone, really. It's wonderful.

[00:51:52.800] – Shannon Kelly

Thanks for having us.

[00:51:53.970] – Ben Lauren

Yeah, thanks for having us.

[00:51:55.080] – Stuart Blythe

Thank you.

[00:51:56.040] – Janice Summers

Thanks, guys. I look forward to seeing you again soon.

[00:51:59.010] – Ben Lauren

All right. Sounds good.

[00:52:00.630] – Janice Summers

All right.

[00:52:01.500] – Kaitlyn Nguyen

Bye, thank you.

In this episode

Ben Lauren is a songwriter, scholar, and Associate Professor at Michigan State University in the Department of Writing, Rhetoric, and American Cultures. Most recently his work has focused on institutional and social change. His first book Communicating Project Management was published by Routledge’s ATTW series.

Stuart Blythe is an Associate Professor in the Department of Writing, Rhetoric, and American Cultures at Michigan State University. He teaches a range of courses in the undergraduate program in professional and public writing as well as the graduate program in rhetoric and writing.

Shannon Kelly is a doctoral student at Michigan State University in the Department of Writing, Rhetoric, and American Cultures. Most recently, her work is focused on institutional change with trauma-informed methods and relationality. As a former assistant writing-program-director, she is also excited about curriculum design and the role of mentorship in how learners learn to teach.

Kaitlyn Nguyen is an undergraduate studying Experience Architecture at Michigan State University. Kaitlyn works as a Design Researcher for the MSU Essential Needs portal and a User Interface/User Experience Intern for the MSU Content Studio. She is currently researching how design impacts user interaction and response to products.

When professional and technical writing scholars join together with scholars from user experience design, they develop projects like the SEEN (Supporting Equity in Essential Needs) project at Michigan State University. SEEN is an institutional and organizational change project designed to improve the university's responsiveness to students’ essential needs.

Join this interdisciplinary group of academics from MSU — Ben Lauren, Stuart Blythe, Shannon Kelly, and Kaitlyn Nguyen — who have developed trauma-informed approaches to research and design practice. Learn how practitioners in the field can benefit from working within trauma-informed frameworks.


Ben Lauren: | |

Stuart Blythe 

Shannon Kelly

Kaitlyn Nguyen

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