Ep. 7 - Designing for Community Impact

May 3, 2023

This episode explores how the design process can be used to find innovative solutions to community challenges. Sydney Johnson and Erika Mahoney discuss co-creating solutions for community challenges such as food security. In addition, they discuss their experiences and insights on community engagement, human-centered design, and social impact. Whether you're a designer, a community member, or simply interested in the power of design to create positive change, this episode is for you. So, tune in and join us on this journey of discovery and design for community impact.

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May 3, 2023; Designing for Community Impact



Hi and welcome to this episode of Responsible Disruption. My name is Sydney Johnson and I'm joined by my fellow designer, Erika Mahoney. Today's episode will take an in-depth look at design in the social sector. In this episode, we'll be doing a bit of a case study on an existing social innovation design project that, at its core, is trying to bring dignity to food and security. A pay what you want market. Erika, thanks so much for joining us.


Hi! Thanks for having me.

00:38 SYDNEY: Cool. So for all the listeners, Erika and I work quite closely together as designers in the Lab and have been working on the project that we're going to talk about today for the last two and a half years essentially for ourselves. Although the projects been going for about three. We're also going to talk about what design means outside of this project, but before we jump into any of that, Erika, do you want to tell people a little bit about yourself?

01:04 ERIKA: Yeah, absolutely. I am a Service Designer by trade and I'm very lucky to work at J5 and out of the Social Impact Lab. So I have the privilege of working with lots of the lovely hosts on this podcast. In fact, all of them. As well as the producer and everyone else who brings all the magic to it. So I'm lucky to get to work with them in lots of contexts, and it's going to be, I think, kind of fun to be here and seeing behind the curtain of this project that you're working on that I'm not a part of, so I'm excited to be here today. I'm excited to dive in.

01:39 SYDNEY: Yeah, awesome. I'm excited to do some reminiscing with you and I'm sure as we talk. Like you'll say, something that'll unlock some latent memory in me or something like that. Before we talk about the project, though, we want to do a bit of a level set of what the design process is, what it means to design in a human centered way. What are your thoughts on that?

02:00 ERIKA: So I think of course the key to human centered design is making sure that there's people in every stage of the process. And that you're engaging and working with people in every stage of the process at a very high level. The human centered design approach follows for kind of big buckets or big stages. We start by going into a discover phase where we're really focused on understanding the root cause of a problem that often takes the form of research and talking to people, and that can happen in many different ways, but kind of following that we go into a phase of defining where we identify areas of opportunity where we can implement change focus on what those key root problems are. And then move into a phase of developing ideas and testing them through prototyping. So that's building things and trying things. And again, bringing people in to talk to them and connect with them about what their thoughts are so that we can improve and make things better.

And then finally, we go into the process of looking at how do you deliver on the things that are working. How do you keep them going and what does it look like to do things in a sustainable way and in a way that's going to work for the community and with the community, after we as designers aren't there anymore, at least for us. I think obviously that was a very quick overview of what a very long process looks like, but I think the other key part or thing that I think is important to remember about human centered design approach is that when you talk about it, it sounds very neat and linear and like one step comes immediately after the other. But it's actually quite messy and it loops around and loops back on itself and in a perfect world, you're moving from research into defining ideas and developing them and delivering them. But realistically, you research and then you define ideas. Then you go back to research and then you prototype something that doesn't work. So you kind of are looping back around in a way that definitely sometimes can keep you guessing, because at the end of the day it's always about aligning to the needs of people, and there's so many stages in the process where you can learn you're doing something wrong and you have to backtrack. So I think that's also an important part of the process. Is being aware and open to what that looks like.

04:24 SYDNEY: I guess, yeah, totally. We've already talked on this podcast a lot. I think about what it means to be in ambiguity, yeah. And so I'm glad you said that, because if you didn't, I was going to say that. Yeah, there's a lot of parts that go off the rails a little bit, but it's all a natural part of the process. Probably it's worth talking about why? Why would you want to build a project or an initiative in a human centered using a human centered design process, essentially.

04:55 ERIKA: Well, I think at the end of the day, you want to build and make things that work for people. And if you don't talk to and connect with people, you run the risk of not doing that. Which of course is.

05:06 SYDNEY: Very elegant way of saying it. [Laughs]

05:08 ERIKA: Yeah, and a oversimplified version of that, but I think there's lots of examples of people spending a lot of time and a lot of money to create solutions that weren't solving the problem that existed, and I think one example that one of my colleagues told me was about a person or a team of people who were getting lots of complaints about their elevator being slow. And so they watched and they kind of timed the elevator. And they realized that their elevator wasn't slower than the standard for the speed elevators would come and take you to where you needed to go. And so in the process of watching and connecting with people who were waiting for the elevator, they realized that people were just bored while they were waiting for the elevator. And so they put mirrors in their lobby so that people had something to look at while they were waiting. And it made them significantly less bored. And their complaints were cut down substantially.

And so in the situation where you get complaints about an elevator, it's really easy to spend a lot of money replacing your elevator when the problem is, people want to check their teeth before they go to the party or whatever it is, or while they're waiting for the elevator, and obviously again, that's an oversimplified example, but I think the value that a human centered design approach brings is that it is constantly both de risking the process and ensuring that the things that you're building are solving the problems that people are experiencing. What are your thoughts, Sydney? I mean you work with this approach kind of in the same way I do. So I'm wondering if you have anything you want to add to that?

06:48 SYDNEY: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think you did a really good job. That's a very elegant example. I think something that is coming to my mind more and more as we get to the end stages of these projects and initiatives where we're looking at what it means for us to not be involved anymore is like working in a way that includes humans and stakeholders and people with lived experience and whomever that might be in the process. Makes it that much easier for that thing to become real when you get to the end. So in this project, we're going to talk about today and on the following episode about our pay what you want market. We are at the stage where that is becoming a thing beyond the lab and it's becoming a thing that's grown into itself. And I think those opportunities are only possible through including different people and being able to make the case to say, hey, this is this is something that's needed. And also, here's all the people that believe that too, because they were there, essentially.

So let's talk about our pay what you want project a little bit in the context of design. So just for background, for everyone listening as I said, Erika and I have been working on this project for quite a while now and we might flip back and forth between a couple names, those names being The Market and Open Market. When we were working on this initiative squarely in the Social Impact Lab, it was known to us as The Market, and now that we are collaborating with another partner, which is Fresh Routes, a social enterprise looking to improve the lives of people, through giving them food access. We have called that collaboration Open Market and so if it gets a little confusing between what we're calling which when we're referring to our collaboration with them, that's Open Market and when we are talking about kind of the project history, we might call it The Market. So with that said, Erika, can you set the scene for us? Where did we start? And help me unlock my memories like I was saying before.

09:12 ERIKA: I think that's a great call out. I'm definitely going to be using the wrong name throughout. It's hard to break a habit when you've had it for a few years. Particularly in terms of the name of a project you worked quite in depth on. So our market project that started again in the lab started as a result of different initiative that we were taking on in that lab which was called the helping Children THRIVE Initiative. And so that project was focused on reducing child poverty here in Calgary and the surrounding area. And I always like when I'm talking about the process of design. I always like to use this as an example because that's not a great place to start for a project. Of course, reducing child poverty is something that we want to do, but that's such an unwieldy, massive problem. And so our first step was to break it into smaller problems or smaller focus areas that we could try and design against. So our team and this was before my time on this project specifically, but what our team did is we broke that really big question into smaller questions, which are what are the things that we could use as leverage areas to reduce poverty. And one of the one of the leverage areas that was identified was increasing food security. There were several and there was also another one that was cultivating community and social connection, and both of those two kind of key leverage areas, I think show up in this project.

10:52 SYDNEY: But this was pre-pandemic. So we're talking about things that would only grow in terms of being a problem, right, it's food security and community connection.

11:04 ERIKA: So I think that that's actually a great segue. We know from our research that one in eight Canadian households experience food insecurity per year, which is about 4.4 million people and 1.2 million children, and that was before the COVID pandemic. And I think everyone knows that rising grocery prices and these different things they've been in the news for the last few years. And so we know that the pandemic really exacerbated this problem. It's a problem where we were seeing already pretty substantial impacts on our community and so that's one of the reasons why we decided at the time to really focus in and try and create a project that was aimed at increasing food security in our local community here in Calgary.

So going back to that design process or the design human centered design process, the first thing that we needed to do and I've already spoken to this a little bit was do some research, go through and discover what was going on with this problem, what is the current state of this problem. What things make this problem the way it is, I guess? More the problem of people struggling to access food. So we did that in multiple ways. We did that both through doing desk research. So we went on our computers and we read articles and we also contacted subject matter experts. So we connected with people who knew more about this space than we did. The last thing that we did in those initial stages was we reached out to people who had or were currently experiencing food insecurity to ask a little bit more about what that felt like, what their problems were. What better looked like again, just to get a sense of what are the root problems here.

Because again, even food security or cultivating food security in itself is a really big problem because there's lots of reasons why people might experience food insecurity. One of the things that we learned very early on is not everyone can even define food security or identify when they see food security or experiencing it themselves. So maybe for just for the people listening, food security in this context is when people are struggling to afford or access groceries in terms of quality or quantity that meet the needs of their household.

13:29 SYDNEY: Yeah, food insecurity, I think, is what...

13:30 ERIKA: That's what I think you meant to say. That's OK, because I think we all know what you're talking about.

13:36 ERIKA: Yeah, thanks for the correction. I think that looks different for different people and when you think about it in that context, a lot of people would say, Oh well, I had that in university or I had that at this point where I'm experiencing that right now and maybe wouldn't have previously identified that they were necessarily a person who had or was currently experiencing food insecurity.

14:02 SYDNEY: That reminds me of just kind of that point that something else we learned in this process, which is that you don't know the people around you that might be impacted by this. It's often, food is a very flexible expense in your household. And so whereas like your rent is going to be your rent or your electricity bill is going to be your electricity bill, the food can kind of stretch and shrink. And so it's often something that's first to go, which means that sometimes we think of food insecurity as being very visible. When in actual fact it is that sometimes, but it can also be very invisible and it can be your neighbors or your kids friend or your family and you just may not know and that's I feel like another founding kind of insight from this work. I remember the day that we took all the insights from the different conversations we had and drew it up on like probably 12 feet of whiteboard to make it really visual and inform the next stages of the project.

15:07 ERIKA: Yeah, and I think there is nothing that can replace in the early stages of a project, talking to people. And also observing people but going out and getting some of that lived experience can really inform a project or shape a project in a way that is irreplaceable, especially in the early stages when you're kind of getting your footing in terms of where a project might go. We know from our research or we learned in that research phase that for every one food insecure household that access supports, such as the Food Bank or other currently existing, kind of emergency food supports, there were four households that didn't, who were also experiencing food insecurity. So to your point, not only were there many different types of people experiencing the problem, there were many types of people experiencing the problem who weren't getting any help.

16:01 SYDNEY: Yeah, yeah, exactly. Where my mind was going as well. I think everyone knows that some people face food insecurity and what people may not know is the limitations of some of the supports that are there, which are important and we're glad we have them, but that it may not be the end of the story because there was a reason that so many families are not accessing those supports, and that's really the kernel of the problem that we were trying to solve or we're trying to chip away at.

16:34 ERIKA: Right, exactly. And when we spoke to people, we heard very loud and clear that the hardest part of accessing those supports was it felt bad. It didn't feel good to go to the Food Bank, and that was well supported with the desk research and other research we were doing. But, I remember speaking to one person who told me, “I have to go to the food bank sometimes and when I go, I just hope nobody sees me. I hope I can get in and out and I can get back to my car and I can drive home and I can pretend like I was never there and no one will ever know.”

I had another person tell me that when they went, it was hard because they didn't get any choice in terms of what products they were taking home with them. And so when they were explaining to their children why they had to eat different foods, they... “Well, it's because it's what I need so you get to eat it,” but at the same time in their mind they're going, “it's because it's just all I was given and it's going to go bad tomorrow.” So I think that there's these pieces of these different existing supports, which again are so valuable and we need them because they're an emergency response and they can be immediate, but they don't feel good necessarily to use or to access, which is why our desk research also showed that in many places or many times, people are more likely to take out additional loans or ask friends for friends or family members for additional money or sacrifice on food themselves rather than accessing the food bank because it really is a strategy of last resort, even for the most severely food insecure Canadians.

18:14 SYDNEY: And as we all know, children are really good at eating whatever is put in front of them, right? [Laughs]

18:21 ERIKA: So again, I think in this initial research phase, we learned so much and I think we developed a really deep empathy for people who are experiencing this problem and also an understanding that again, it's not a one-size-fits-all problem.  d we out of that developed some kind of core principles that we wanted to take forward in the project, which were the principles of dignity, access and choice, so we wanted whatever we designed or whatever we built kind of moving forward to, to feel good for people who are using it. We wanted them to feel like it was for them but it was for everyone. We wanted people to have access to food that made them feel good and the ability to choose the products that would work best for their household and their needs. And that sounds maybe very intuitive. I'm not sure. I think sometimes when you lay out those insights. They sound obvious after the fact, but they weren't at the beginning and I think that's the value of the research. The initial research phase is kind of getting a sense of what's going to work now and for the people who are experiencing the problem before you even start.

Yeah, I think that also calls back to kind of that other part of the design process is sometimes you look back on it. And like you said, it looks obvious or it looks easy, or it looks like. Well, why did you have to do research to come to that conclusion? But there's something that happens to the people on the project by going through that research that influences the rest of the stages. I'm thinking particularly of the ideation and coming up with different pieces that will make its way into the solution and gaining that insight for how you'll bring those folks in again to do the testing that's really intangible, but is actually really hard to sit down and write down things like ohh dignity, access and choice before you've actually had those conversations.

20:18 ERIKA: 100%. And I think that that's a really great kind of segue or natural segue into the next phase of the design process, which is about defining opportunity areas and understanding where we can really have impact. So I think that highlighting those insights or really identifying the things we learned in the research is really the first step in that process of defining where the opportunity is and coming up with some ideas to move forward with that and so maybe I feel like I've been talking a lot and I know we were on this project together and so I'm really curious, maybe Syd, if you want to share a little bit about what that process of defining those opportunity areas once we had the core values, we wanted to take forward looks like from your perspective.

21:06 SYDNEY: Yeah, absolutely. So I will say I think it was a little bit different in this particular project. Normally in the design process what you would do is you would gather up everything you learned from speaking to people or observing them and speaking to experts. And you would create themes from that. You would turn those themes into insights to figure out what is the new information that's discovered here. And then you would turn those insights into opportunity areas that could be ideated on. Ideation is also just like a fancy word for brainstorming in case that isn't clear, but in this project specifically we had another initiative going at the same time, which was that we were holding a Disrupt-athon on kind of based on the name of Responsible Disruption or maybe Responsible Disruption is based on the name of the Disrupt-athon. I'm not actually sure. But it's the Social Impact Labs version of a hackathon, which we were doing in community at the time on the topic of food insecurity and two of our other colleagues had entered that Disrupt-athon as a team and came up with a response to the prompt that was...OK, let's create a pay what you want grocery store or a pay what you want market which was based on understanding the problem a little bit from being on the team and connected to the research that had been done and would continue to be done.

But also knowing that the pay what you want model has been tried elsewhere. It's not a completely new idea, but it was new to this community in this city and that's where we said, hey, let's start to develop that and bring that idea forward. It wasn't the idea that won the hackathon, that was a different team that went on to do something else, but it was the spark of an idea that, like, turned into a flame that is now a raging fire in a good way. It's a good raging fire. So yeah, that was my best recollection of it. I remember coming in and there's some people think that with the design process, it's like, OK, you got the idea. It's a pay what you want market and now you can just go build that thing. No, no, no, no, my friend. No, we had to then design every single part of what a pay what you want market looks like. And so we really wanted to create a space that where everyone could be. The pay what you want model in case you haven't heard of it before, is one where there is a suggested total of goods or services and people can come in and pay that suggested total. They can pay less or nothing if that's what they need to do to access those services or products. Or they can also pay more to support those who need to pay less or nothing. And so it's a really direct way for people to support their community and be supported by their community.

So we had to figure out what does it look like and pay what you want space for everyone to be welcome and for every one of those different customer types to feel like this is a grocery store like any other store or a farmers market like any other market. It's not actually different, it just has a different payment model. And oh yeah, there's some pretty cool things you can do there by supporting or being supported by your community. So we didn't want it to feel like people were going somewhere to get food support, even though that might be the action they're taking there because we knew that that dignity piece was so important to us. And again, back to your story, Erika, of the person who said, oh, they didn't want to be seen. We were like, well, what if it was a space where you did want to be seen where you ran into your neighbor and that was OK. And so we had to think of what does it look like to have signage, what does it look like to have like a basket at the front or like the cashier, what's the checkout process look like? And so what we did next was we built it out of cardboard and that takes us to prototyping.

25:23 ERIKA: Yeah, that's an awesome segue into what the next piece looks like for us. I think the thing that's important to remember about the design process too is. You're trying to test and learn about multiple things all at the same time, so the key to human centric design of course, like I feel like we keep saying is that you're connecting with people the whole time, but you're also connecting with people with the goal of understanding your solution through three lenses.

The first lens being desirability, do people want this? Is this useful? Is it solving the problem? But there are two other elements that we also kind of imagine and look at, when we're going through, particularly once we have a solution, we're going through the process of testing and developing those ideas which are viability and feasibility. So of course it's important that it matters and it works for people. It's also important that it's something that we can do and it's something that will work and is sustainable. And so I think those are a few of the other things that we were looking at or thinking about as we went into this next phase.

And so, Sydney was talking a little bit about the fact that we wanted it to be a space where people felt like they could run into their neighbor. And then as we started developing the idea, we realized, it might have to be a space where people feel like they can run into their neighbor, because community is both important because of how it makes people feel and in terms of cultivating a desirable solution. But it's also important in terms of making sure people feel connected enough to want to support the initiative and make sure that it's viable going forward. So that was also something that we were starting to learn and understand as we were starting to develop the idea so to Sydney’s point, kind of going back, I know I went a little bit off on a tangent.

27:16 SYDNEY: Oh, it was a great tangent. I liked your tangent.

27:20 ERIKA: I think the first thing that we did is we built these cardboard grocery stores, which is so hard I think, to give you a sense of what that looks like by just talking about it. We didn't spend a ton of time or a ton of money and we were able to set something up that made people understand what we meant. So I think that there's a really kind of key step here where you go from having an idea to building an idea. And so maybe I'll pass it back to you, Sydney, if you want to talk a little bit about maybe some of the things that we got wrong in our first kind of crack or kick at the can.

27:56 SYDNEY: Just to add to like the idea of why you built it out as well. But it's also like, people are kind of bad at saying what their behavior will be, so you can say like, what would you do in a pay which you went grocery store and people might say, well of course I would pay more, but it's different actually having people go through the experience and then going up to a cash point and being like having seeing the price and seeing the goods and then making a decision. Sometimes it's the same. Of course there are people who will behave as they think they will, but there's a lot of people that will behave differently than they think they will on anything. And so what we try to do with testing as well is to make it a real life situation where we can understand the behavior of people in the space without necessarily having to put them in that space.

But to your point, Erika and to your question, what went wrong? Lots of things. Which is the point. We want things to go wrong because then that means we're learning and that we can change things so that they can be right when we actually build the thing. One of my sort of go to anecdotes about this was that point of sale. Initially we had someone who would be in the space playing a cashier role and they would be at a till and we had sort of hypothesized that people wouldn't want to be observed with the decision that we're making around what they were going to pay. So if they had a suggested total for $20, particularly if they were going to pay under that, or if they were going to pay nothing, that they would not want someone to know that necessarily in the moment and that turned out to be very correct.

We drew that conclusion from our research. But what we didn't realize was that even though we had set up an experience in our cardboard store where the cashier would take them through a payment process but wouldn't be able to see what they were paying, was that people would still feel observed and still feel discomfort even though the cashier couldn't see what they're paying and they knew that. Just the fact that they were having to make that decision with someone else around was really uncomfortable for them, and also a barrier for them in terms of asking questions about is it OK if I pay nothing or like what do I do?

The other flip side of that is we had some people. Who, in our in our initial stores, who are like, if you're not paying anything, you can just take things and leave, and a lot of folks who tested that space with us were like, well, but I need to check in with someone. I need to make sure it's OK. And am I going to stand in line and a cashier just to tell them that I'm not going to pay? And that feels kind of weird, too. And I don't know what I'm supposed to do. So what we added, which was something that took us through all the next stages of the process was a greater role and we had someone at the front who would explain The Market. Who you could ask questions to, and even though, like they were both market staff or volunteers or whatever you want to call it, actors in this prototype case, there was a fundamental difference in asking questions from someone who was taking your money. And someone who was just standing there to help. And that role is something that later down the road, when we were doing this with real people, some of whom were facing insecurity, became an advocate and a tour guide for people in the space who felt like they didn't know how to be there.

We have a few examples of folks who would go to the greeter and say, hey, I can't pay anything, but I don't want to tell anyone and I don't know how to move through this space and then that greeter would actually move through with them. And so we never would have gotten to the place where we were putting a greeter at the front if we hadn't done that testing and found and people were reporting to us that like, oh, actually this moment of testing felt uncomfortable, even though it was play money at that point, and they weren't actually buying any food, so that's just really the power of what prototyping can do.

32:10 SYDNEY: We also put a bunch of instructions and signage that said like here's the way the model works. And it had so many words, and I think the first 15 people who went through this space didn't read it at all. And we were like, hey, these signs aren't really going to work. So we need to find a way to condense this message down. And make it really clear so people know. And that was also the reason why we had the greeter because they came in and even though there was signage, people could ask more questions.

32:42 ERIKA: Yeah, I think those are all great kind of points or examples of how we learned through that testing process. I think with the example of trying to figure out what it looks like for people who are paying nothing, I think that's another perfect example. I know there was one point where... not sure who on the team said it, but someone said, “Well, we can put the till at the back of the store and so you have to go out of your way to go to the till. And so if you're paying nothing, you just go through and exit like you normally would instead of going out of your way to go to the till.” And I remember at the time thinking, Oh my gosh, you've cracked it. That's exactly what's going to work well. That's the perfect solution for why people feel uncomfortable exiting. But it wasn't solving the real problem, which is that people wanted to check in with someone, so I think, again, to your point, we went through many iterations or tries in order to get there, but again, that's the point of doing that initial low fidelity testing or in this case the cardboard testing and then coming out of that cardboard testing. We were really excited about the idea of doing some live testing with actual food and some different things.

Because, again to Sydney's point earlier we weren't selling real products and we weren't using real money. There was no exchange of real goods or money and everybody likes the idea of supporting food security in the city, and so I think we wanted to see how people would behave in a much more real environment again and even more immersive experience. So we were really excited about kind of moving through into a higher fidelity prototype. But the world had other plans for us. Is probably the most accurate way to describe that, and as a result of the contemporary at or at the time the public health and safety requirements that were in place, we didn't feel like we could do that in a way that was responsible and safe for the people who were bringing into the space.

And so we decided to do some additional testing virtually where we created kind of an online checkout process that's similar to what you might see if you were doing virtual shopping at a superstore or something like that. So that we could get a sense of peoples’ buying behavior in a little bit of a different way. So we went through again, another low fidelity example where there was no exchange of money or goods before we were able to move into the next phase, which was the real exchange of money and goods, a few months later, when things were safer to do so. Is there anything else that you wanted to say about kind of that virtual testing before we move on, Sydney?

35:25 SYDNEY: No, I think it's just again, like an example of putting people in different situations to see if the behavior changes like we had a test that was less observed in terms of, we would be on the computer watching people go through this virtual shopping experience. But because we couldn't see their faces and they couldn't see our faces again, the behavior changes because you don't feel as observed as you do in, like a physical space with someone standing in front of you. So we didn't have that cashier effect, which is going to be my technical term for it. But what Erika is referring to when she talks about using the real money is really at the tail end of 2021 and 2022 through which we ran three pilot markets, pay what you want markets and what we did was realize that we don't have any food and don't know anything about getting food, and so we embarked on a journey of trying to convince people who had food to participate with us in terms of yeople who were market vendors. Who sold their food at other markets and we hoped that they would be a part of this process with us and thankfully some of them were crazy enough to try.

We also managed to figure out how to purchase some food wholesale. We had some partners and vendors who didn't participate in that they sold things themselves. That they would donate fresh food to us. It was really important that the food that was in the space was just the same as you would get in a grocery store. Very fresh and healthy and lots of options because again, we're trying to make this like as any other store. And so we ran our first pilot in December of 2021 and then March of 2022 and the final one in June of 2022. All in different locations. You want to talk a little bit about the locations that we did it in?

37:27 ERIKA: Yeah, I would love to. But first I just want to kind of build on one thing that you were saying, which is that at this point, Syd has kind of already started alluding to this. We are starting to see some of the complexities and we're starting to test again against those three big things. So it's the desirability, the viability and the feasibility. And as soon as you move it into a more real life setting, you understand it's maybe more complicated than it looks like in the 1st place. So it's not just is this desirable for the person purchasing the food. It's is it desirable for the vendor selling the food? We spoke about what does it even mean to run a market? You don't know what you don’t know. So all of a sudden, we're also testing is it possible for our team to even build and run and do this And what does it look like?

I had to do a crash course on different point of sale machines. I knew nothing about point of sale machines. And so I think there's lots of things that you're testing when you move into the higher fidelity testing phases, it is desirability. But it's desirability across sometimes multiple stakeholder groups or multiple different types of people. It's testing whether your team can do things, it's testing what it looks like for your team to do things. And like how taxing it is for your team to do things. And I think our team got better as we went on through the different pilots. But it took us a long time to get the first pilot ready to roll. And I think that just learning the things that are required in order to make things real is also a very important part of the prototyping process is just getting a sense of, well, how would we even do this too? So yeah, the locations were pretty carefully chosen. Our first location, which was for the December market, which was hosted in 2021, was in a community that was just outside of downtown Calgary, so it was accessible via bus and we had identified that it was a very demographically mixed community.

We felt like there were people who would be able to, or potentially have the flexibility to pay more, and people who might need to or want to pay less in order to meet the needs of their household. In hindsight, it was a bit of a challenge since it wasn't fully accessible via public transit, and it was December so there wasn't a lot of people walking by. But we were anticipating that we would see lots of different people because it was in a Community Center that already kind of existed in the space.

The second market that we did partially because we know that different communities have different cultures and different ways of showing up and we wanted to test it in again in different environments and see what happened. And so we again tried to pick a community that was fairly demographically mixed. And where we ended up choosing was actually right downtown in the downtown core on Stephen Avenue, so we had people who were both in the middle of their business day or walking by or there because they had driven into the city to do weekend activities depending on the day. But there's also a fairly significant transient population in the area or unhoused population that's kind of moving through those same spaces. So there was a pretty wide spread of people coming through that area or just walking by and it was also spring so there were people walking by.

And then the last location, again, we wanted to see what happened in a little bit of a different environment. And so our last location, which was in June of 2022 for our pilot was in a community that we had identified as being lower income and having significant risk factors for food insecurity. And it was also a food desert, so it was an area that people didn't have easy access to grocery stores. So you had to drive or take public transit. There wasn't really any within walking distance or from for many people biking distance either. And so we wanted to see what happened when we kind of socialized this idea in an area where we didn't know if there would be, necessarily the same proportion of people who could potentially play that supportive role, and how that might impact the sustainability of The Market as well.

41:39 SYDNEY: Yeah, absolutely. I think that's a great summary of the way that we chose different locations just so it's clear to everyone, even though we've launched in community and we're running pilots, we are still testing and changing things from day-to-day in the different markets, but also from market to market. So our first market looked different from our second, looked different from our third and by the time we had our third, we had really honed the experience because we've had so many people through this space. I think we had over 1000 people come through and test these pilots with us over the course of the three different markets, which is some really strong testing I'm going to say. I also think it's worth mentioning that this was made possible by a donor family who believed in this vision and this idea of the pay what you want market and gave us the money to be able to run these pilots and try to use a different way to tackle food insecurity in our city. And so I think it's worth mentioning them because we couldn't have done this work without them. But running those pilots has led to so many different things.

On the episode following this, I'm going to be talking with some of the folks from Fresh Routes who were doing our collaboration on the Open Market with which is the next iteration of this project and going to be in community starting in April. Very exciting. But Erika, I think I want to ask you, what has it meant to you to be on this project and working in this space and going through all those different markets or what's something you want to share about that?

43:22 ERIKA: I mean I think well, firstly, what a privilege it's been to work on such a big problem and one that I feel very passionate about and what a privilege to work with such an amazing team to get there. We have connected with or have the opportunity to connect with so many people who've impacted and shaped this work. We've gotten support and help from so many people and I think we've seen impact in so many different ways that we're both what we hope for and in many ways also maybe more than we expected on a personal level. This project also happened at a time that was just hard for the world. I think that the pandemic took a toll on people and it took a toll on people in ways that maybe we didn't always expect, and this project was something I was working on through that. And when we had the opportunity to run our pilots and see people using this service and actually benefiting from it. My heart was so full. I think it was just this, this moment where things had felt for me like It was just a challenging time to be alive.

I remember after the first pilot right at the end of the last day. There was a person who came right as we were closing everything down and she didn't understand the posters, didn't realize that it had closed. And so she came in, and she was the last customer. And she purchased some goods. And I remember she came in and she just said I just want you to know, I only have $50. That's all I have. I can't spend anymore. And I said, oh, that's fine. Of course, come on in. That's the whole point of The Market. And that's totally OK. And I walked with her and she did her shopping, and I asked her if she wanted to see a recommended total for what her goods would cost. And she said yes. It was maybe $60.00 a little bit over $60.00 and she said was so relieved and she just said. Well, I don't even have to feel that guilty then and she gave me her $50.00 and I said, do you want change? She laughed out loud. She said no, I don't. I don't want change. Of course I don't want change. And I helped her take her groceries to the car and she had purchased a significant amount of produce. She bought a lot of apples and she said to me that she had two teenage sons that ate at her home, right? And that they had loved fruit and they loved vegetables and she wanted to be able to give them healthy food options. But they were just so expensive, and every time she purchased any fruits or veggies they were gone in a couple of days and her kids always wanted more. And she said, I'm gonna go home and tell my kids they can shower in apples if they want to and it's gonna be the best Christmas ever. And I was the last, Like I said, the last customer on the last day and I kept it together, but I cried and cried and cried when I got home because I think there's just kind of this moment where this thing that we had been working on became real.

It was really amazing to see the impact that it had on people and how it was able to cultivate community. And yeah, I always come back to the same thing, which is just what a privilege. How lucky am I get to work on things that I feel like matter and that I think other people feel like matter too. What about you?

46:42 SYDNEY: Of course, I feel completely the same way, and I remember that woman and that story very well. And I also think this project for me was like a big reflection of why we do approach problems the way we do in terms of showing it to people and testing it, and continuously refining and striving to make things better. Even though we could have said, oh, it's good enough, we've got this idea. It's good enough. We'll put a pay what you want market out there and check box and done. But we were like no, the experience matters. It's actually what is going to make this model work, because if you don't have all the elements of the community feeling in your space then actually you are opening that model up to  abuse essentially, and people not using it in in ethical ways. And so we get that question a lot, right. Is well, how do you prevent people from just like taking food? Because we've designed the experience so that it's community based. And people only use the support mechanism if they need to and they come back when they are able to support others and do that. So it's just been a project that for me as a designer has reminded me how important design is in terms of creating these types of solutions.

Another example of that is, we went through a lot of iterations as I kind of talked about with our signage where it was confusing. We added the greeter and then we tried a bunch of different messages from the 1st and 2nd market and we had a list of suggested prices and we tried to use different price stickers and we tried to display it in front of the food and we tried to display it on a poster behind and then it wasn't until the third market, the last pilot that we had where we added the word or the half a word “ish” to our price tags and so something might be $1.00-ish, and actually that three letters like almost eliminated the need for the rest of the signage in the space, which is hilarious when you think of how many different iterations of signs we have made. It's a lot if you can imagine over like two and a half years. And when people say that they understand, Ohh yeah, a dollar-ish. I can pay more, I can pay less, I can pay a dollar. It's all fine. So there's been an impact for me. I think I'm a better designer from working on this project. Of course I have the vision and the view of so many different people who came into our space.

And I'm just so grateful to them to be there and be with us and kind of listen to us explain what it is and one of the other designers on the project, Pamela Downey, wrote a quote that I am going to read because I think it encapsulates what I'm thinking in a better way than I can say it. And she wrote this and we've used it many times and the quote is, “This project has opened the eyes of many to illustrate how a little can go a long way. How simple kindness can mean the world, and how paying what you want has the capacity to transform the charitable food sector and how reduce food insecurity in our community and around the world.”

And when you think of that sentence, it's like, wow. I have the best job in the world, first of all, but what a cool thing to be able to do.

50:32 ERIKA: What a great way to wrap up this conversation.

50:36 SYDNEY: Thanks Erika so much for joining me on Responsible Disruption today. I really appreciate all the heartfelt work that has gone into this project from the team, from United Way, from our donors, from our vendors, from our partners. From our volunteers. Everyone that has had a hand in making The Market, what would then become Open Market. Thank you so much. You are the reason why we can tell this story and thanks to our listeners for choosing to spend this time with us, keep an eye out for that next episode as I mentioned, where we're going to be talking to some folks from Fresh Routes and getting into the details of what comes next.

And send your design questions our way. I'm happy to chat through what it means to apply this design process to a problem that you see in the world. So thanks and have a great day.

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That's all for today's episode of Responsible Disruption. Thank you for tuning in and we hope you found the conversation valuable. If you did, don't forget to follow, rate, and share wherever you get your podcasts. To stay up to date on future episodes and show notes, visit our website at the Social Impact Lab dot com or follow us on social media and until next time, keep on designing a better world.