Last week we sat down with a group of app users in DC to show them our latest software designs-in-progress and get their feedback. The idea of user-centric design and developing prototypes with feedback from actual users is well established in the technology world, and you can read about it being adopted in government.

Don't assume you know the answer

In the article, the government website team relied on professionals’ opinions of user-citizen needs. Some of those ideas were wrong. So often that’s the approach taken in criminal justice reform, to ask the professionals but not the justice-involved. There may be many reasons, but people’s experience of their own situation is valid, and needs to be considered, whether a professional speaking about their own needs, or a citizen about theirs. So often social services agencies claim to be “person-centric” but the one person who doesn’t know what’s going on, and doesn’t have access to their records, is the person themselves.

In our feedback sessions, we listened both to people who have successfully made it out of the justice system to be fathers and leaders in their community, and to individuals not three months out of federal prison. It was encouraging to see men trying to download the app there and then, and better still to hear their concerns so we can adjust our designs. I have to wonder, how often have these men had their opinion solicited, and really been listened to?

How often have these men really been listened to?

There are many organizations around the country with formerly incarcerated citizens in leadership. The District of Columbia is leading the way. The Mayors Office of Returning Citizen Affairs is lead by Charles Thornton, a returned citizen. His story is credible to men leaving the federal system, making him a role model of success. Mission Launch has formerly incarcerated people in leadership. The District attorney general has returned citizens on his team. Elsewhere, Georgia’s founding GOTSR reentry team included a formerly incarcerated person, which not only lead to better plans, but to more trust within the community. JustLeadershipUSA trains formerly incarcerated people for civic leadership. The Women in Prison Project provides leadership training focused on women in New York. All these organizations empower people to take control over their own lives. They are person-centric.

Next time you use the term “person-centric” ask yourself, “Would the person I’m talking about also consider this approach to be “person-centric?”