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A celebrity interview. In this special episode we’re partnering with Montgomery County, Maryland to share one of their innovation celebrity interviews, part of their open innovation events which are internal learning sessions for staff. Anna Chung, a UX Designer at Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA), talked with Michael Baskin, Chief Innovation Officer for Montgomery County, about the work of innovation and design. She shared a project she worked on with the County’s 311 team, using plain language, and her career path.
Bringing Personas and Plain Language to Government
Kirsten Wyatt 00:11
Hey everyone, this is Kirsten Wyatt the ELGL Co Founder and Executive Director. And today I’m excited to share with you a new Gov Love initiative that we’re launching with our friends from Montgomery County, Maryland. Their Office of Innovation does what they call celebrity interviews, interviewing people who are doing amazing work in local government innovation. And they’ve asked us to be their partner to share these interviews on the Gov Love podcast. So today, I am pleased to welcome Michael Baskin, who is the director of innovation from Montgomery County as our Interviewer and then Anna Chung joins us from the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority, where she is a UX designer. Today will listen in on Michael and Anna’s conversation as part of this new partnership between ELGL and Montgomery County. Enjoy.
Michael Baskin 01:04
Hello, hello. Welcome to yet another open innovation celebrity interview. And we have Anna Chung here today, who is a former rock star of Montgomery County now moving on to my favorite, oops I probably shouldn’t say this, my favorite city Boston, where she is going to get to work for the MBTA. I’m Michael, I serve as a resource and advocate for people making things better in Montgomery County, Maryland, and had the distinct pleasure of a LinkedIn message from Anna, that turned into a really amazing collaboration at least from our side of things, I think Anna had a great time. And also, she really paved the way to make more work like the work that she did possible. And she is now doing UX at the MBTA. So this is our interview. So just to sort of set the stage, the way this works is Anna and i have a bit of a conversation. As a reminder, we’re recording because we will turn this into a podcast, what we heard is over and over again, people were with ELGL, over and over again, people were asking, Hey, what’s this work that Anna did, we have a series of Cheif Innovators from LA and Seattle, I think what Boston on at some point over the course of the summer. So MontgomeryCountyMD.gov/Innovation, and sign up for the events that Anna is putting together for us. So what we’ll do here is I’ve got about 15 minutes, Anna I will just have a conversation, try to pull out some of the things that everyone is interested in, we’ll pause, we’ll do a little thing called one to four all will sort of vary that potentially based on the size of the group to reflect and react on the things that Anna has shared, and to hear like the bigger themes that all of you are interested in. Cool. And so I think without further ado, in the innovation community, we always just start with a check-in. Anna, how are you?
Anna Chung 02:59
I’m doing well. I’m currently based in DC still, you know, staying inside a lot with all the heat. And yeah, honestly ended up passing on like, I didn’t take much public transit like over the last year. But I have been taking it a lot this last month. And it’s been kind of fun to explore different parts of the city. And also like, you know, kind of just doing some competitive research now like whenever I get on a train or a bus.
Michael Baskin 03:34
Nice. So when you get stuck on the MTA in New York City, just call it competitive research. Not that anyone’s ever been stuck on the MTA shout out to our friend Josh Day there. Cool. Anna, so and I’m like, I’m tired today and feeling so energized as I generally am when we get to connect together. And so we’ve known each other, how long now? I think it was COVID time? And when you first reached out, where were you? What were you looking for? And then what happened? Like how were things that emerge different from or similar to what you were hoping for?
Anna Chung 04:18
Yeah, so I reached out to Michael back in, I want to say like, February or so. I, at that point, like was working in the federal government space for a little over half a year, which I know isn’t that long, but it felt like an eternity in some ways and i think i was really just itching for Well, I think at that time like I started learning more about service design, which you know, I think of like all the kind of design like subfields as still lesser known and lesser utilized within organizations, and I really wanted the opportunity to learn more about service design in practice. But I think I also had this sense that, you know, local government could resolve, like all of the issues that I personally had with like the federal government space. And was excited, I think just about like combining those two things about like learning more about service design, and also, yeah, potentially, like looking at a career within local government. Because I think my dreams were very much broken pretty soon after I started in the federal government space. So yeah, and then I think in terms of like, expectations versus reality, like, I think my I, well, I guess, like to preface, you seem to have said that, like, there was like, absolutely, like, no kind of preparation or like readiness on your end for something like this. And from my perspective, I think I, you know, had been to like a innovation event before, I think that’s originally how I came to know you. And, you know, it seems like y’all had it together. And I think I was excited to see, you know, join that space. Especially, I think I remember, you and Suzanne both at that event that I went to a few months back and remember using like wonder me for the first time, maybe it was just like exciting that I felt like a experimental space, which I think people don’t expect from government, or local government in general. So I think I was expecting, like, you know, for sure, a lot of energy and enthusiasm, which is what I felt at that first event. And I think like, probably expected, like, you know, a level of like service design, maturity, just like based on that event, I think you’ll definitely have promoted yourself as well in that regard. And I guess, like in terms of how things actually went, like, I definitely learned a lot more about, I guess, like, to some degree, the tangled mess, that is local government. There’s a lot of different departments. So I’m trying to accomplish like the same things, and sometimes being at odds with each other, I guess, in some ways when, you know, there’s different like lines of funding, there’s different skill sets. And I think that was all like, really interesting to me. But I guess I did not realize how complex it could get, and maybe stepping into 311 as like the first foray into local government also exposed a lot of those complexities. But yeah, I think overall, like, I got more out of it than I expected. Just because, especially in comparison to federal government, I feel like within local government, there seems to be a lot more room for experimentation and, and failure. And I don’t know if this is specific to Montgomery County at this point, or if it’s more specific to local government versus federal government, but I think I really appreciated that aspect of that I think people aren’t as aware of is that there is a lot of room for experimentation within something like government.
Michael Baskin 08:51
Thanks Anna. I just want to circle so I want to play on the failure theme for a little bit. But just as a as a guiding context you came in what we eventually would call a designed by people fellowship, you brought in a team with you who worked hand in hand with Brian and Chris and the 311 team to under understand the pain points from the perspective of are the people who make calls, and then to make not recommendations, but to bring results and to make changes that would make things better. And I guess I’m interested for for those who don’t, what is service design? And how did your understanding of service design evolve through delivering a real service design project with local Gov?
Anna Chung 09:37
Yeah, I would say service design is kind of a set of tools and processes to understand how services are delivered, both from the standpoint of an organization and it’s back end processes. And from the standpoint of people receiving those services. So generally who people might refer to as like users or customers. And I think like, the unique thing about service design that I’ve noticed in comparison to something like UX design or interaction design, I think is that emphasis on those back end processes. Because I think for a long time, UX design was very much focused on users versus like the people delivering those services to, and I think, like, people delivering those services very much have like, a big impact on what the experience from the person receiving a service is as well. And I feel like a lot of organizations don’t make space for that kind of research. So yeah, that’s how I would generally describe service design. Was there was a second part question?
Michael Baskin 10:58
I’ll do better at asking one part questions, Anna. So great description. I think that’s a really, I think that’s a helpful description, service on design. And as you said, it’s like, it’s an emerging field. And it does, you mentioned literally creating space, whether it’s creating space for failure. What might we the rest of us learn about creating space from your experience working with Brian and Chris and the 311 team? Like, what does that, what does that look like? And why did it matter?
Anna Chung 11:29
Creating space for failure specifically?
Michael Baskin 11:32
Yeah, for failures for centering our constituents, those we serve customers, residents, what you might call them?
Anna Chung 11:40
Yeah, I mean, I think for sure, a large part is like, from like, leadership from folks like you to like, enable those kinds of spaces. I mean, I think like, to an extent me joining the 311 team as an outsider it to some degree, like I live in the DMV, but I’m not like an employee of Montgomery County . And so I think even like inviting space for, you know, people who aren’t formally part of organizations is still very novel, I think, and I just haven’t seen it in other spaces that I’ve been in professionally, at least. So I think that’s like, probably just the first part of that experiment is like inviting voices. And I feel like a lot of times, like for organizations, inviting more voices just means like having an event. But if you actually invite someone in to like, experiment, and like, work with your organization, like directly as almost like equal partners, and collaborators, then I think that’s like, truly what it means to like, invite someone in. And I would hope, like even, you know, in the future that that invitation could be for people who aren’t even, you know, formally designers, because I think everyone like, has a lot to contribute to the design process. And I think like, as a broader design community, like we’re still figuring out how to better do that to like, invite non designers into the conversation.
Michael Baskin 13:22
Yeah. I mean, I think one thing that was exciting when when we were working together was I didn’t know that Chris was training to become a designer himself. So Chris, on the 311 team, and it said, it was like a powerful reminder that not only are all of us designers, but there’s so much interest and care if we think about design as a mindset of centering people in our work, that in some ways that was, yeah, not treating you as a weird outsider. But okay, like, let’s be honest, we fail really hard all the time. How do we be honest about that failures, so that and more people do in government, and now you’re part of government. So what was your transition like into government? Yeah. And and how did you go like, what was that job search process like? You making the choice to enter government? As a designer?
Anna Chung 14:12
Yeah, well, so I guess prior to joining Montgomery County , I was in the government contracting space. Essentially, I work for a company that was one of like, 20 plus government contractors for USCIS, which is a Citizenship and Immigration agency. And I kind of fell into that space initially, because I was interested just in like public interest tech and like, civic tech, and I was looking for jobs at that time, like when the pandemic cab had just started. And, you know, there there weren’t like a whole lot of opportunities I think outside of the Federal space at that time, there just weren’t that many people hiring. So I never like initially myself in the federal space, but that’s kind of how I ended up in DC is like I still wanted to do something generally around like public interest civic tech. And that was kind of like my starting point. I also like the process of working in federal government or like getting hired into, like, a federal government project is very different from local government, in part because of like, a very taxing security clearance process. Like, it’s not inclusive by any means. And I think like, that’s, like you can tangibly notice that I think like in federal government spaces, because like the barrier to actually getting hired into those spaces is so high, like, if you have like a criminal record at all, like, you’re not going to be able to work in that space. If you are not a US citizen, you can’t work in most spaces. That already eliminates, like, so much of the population of people who especially rely on the government quite a lot, especially for something like USCIS where most of the people who are interacting with them are not citizens. They’re not like a part of the process of designing, because the government has just legally made that like impossible. I could, I’m probably like falling. But, um, so that’s how I ended up in the federal space. And I think like, in the process of being in that space, I realized, like, there’s just a lot of, I think, organizational issues with like, how contracts come to be, and how many different like, companies and people with different motivations are involved all in creating the same product, which I think just inevitably leads to some inefficiency and leads to, you know, even like infighting at worst. And I, yeah, I think I was just like, looking for a different kind of, like, civic tech space. And I like so I guess, like, after working with y’all in Montgomery County , I like decided, like, Yeah, I just want to continue doing more of this. So I then applied, again, for local government jobs, specifically, I think I applied to places in San Francisco, they have a digital services team. I applied to New York’s like City Planning Department. And then Boston, the MBTA, which is Boston transit agency, they were also hiring. So it was just like, a lot of different cities, which I think is maybe like, yeah, like, there’s not a whole lot of like, design jobs within local government still. So the the pool is like, pretty small. I eventually ended up with the T, which I think just made sense for me, because I am really interested and public transit is a really like, great group of people who are all like, passionate about that, but also, people who are open to experimentation links, similar to y’all at Montgomery County and that hiring process is very different from the federal process where they do I think, have some kind of structure for equitable hiring, they, you know, can hire people who are not citizens, or perhaps like people with like criminal records, or like, you know, I think that organization is a little bit more reflective, in some ways about, you know, the general population of transit riders. So I think that was a really cool facet for me. And a nice change.
Michael Baskin 19:09
Yeah, and we should mention, because there are very Unfortunately, there’s a growing number of folks in design. So besides side fellowships, like what you had here, that Carrie Bishop’s digital team in San Francisco just opened some jobs. And Mary’s team in New York City, not their planning department, but their very famous service design studio is hiring right now as well. We’re also hiring in Montgomery County, but I had to plug others as well. And so you kept saying like, I want to do civic tech, you ended up doing what essentially was a plain language project. Can you like make that real for us in plain language? And then how did you go, you know, you came to do some cool civic tech, you did plain language. What is that? What did you do? And this will be sort of a last quick question, and then we’ll break out to hear from from everyone else here.
Anna Chung 19:56
Yeah, so with the 311 team, and I think, again, this speaks to like how service design specifically, I think can enable non technical solutions in a way that UX design often does not. I think we were all on the same page about having a goal of making, you know, 311 service delivery better for residents, like making that a better experience, but also keeping in mind, you know, trying to do something tangible and quickly. And we worked together for like three months, which is a very short time. And it’s the exact timeframe, I think that most design projects end up just producing artifacts for, which often die afterwards. So we also, you know, created artifacts, like we created those personas, we created journey maps, but those were kind of like, in addition to like, you know, the tangible like output that we deliver to, which was like, plain language, I think 311 government services, like the example that we kept giving was like, within, you know, the county, they don’t call recycling bins, recycling bins, they call them. I can’t even remember. An 11 gallon bin? 22 gallon?
Michael Baskin 19:59
22 Gallons. You gotta get yourself a 20, honey, and we’re out of 22 gallon bins.
Anna Chung 21:26
Right, so it’s just like one, I think small, but like, significant example, because everyone like basically has a recycling bin, or a trash bin. And, you know, these specific, this specific jargon that’s used, I think, you know, people who work in the county, like they get very used to that. And I think it’s hard to kind of step outside that. And also, it just always feels like you’re adding more friction if you’re trying to like change anything. But I think like the research that we specifically did with residents, and also importantly, the research we did with the 311 call operators who are like the most kind of direct connection to residents, in my opinion within the county, I think, you know, we were able to kind of advocate more for the power in that, like, we listened in to a lot of the 311 calls, and nobody was calling about a 22 gallon bin. If it would have been great if people even said recycling bin, there’s like a lot of I think like roundabout ways, and just like, you know, plain natural conversation that people might be expressing their needs. And I think the more that 311 and the county can can match residents where they’re at, I think would be a better experience. So we ended up basically, plain language-izing, I keep using that as a verb, because I think it’s the best way to describe it. plain language-izing, like 15 or so service requests to start. So like if somebody wants like a recycling bin, or if somebody wants to look up property tax information, we basically, you know, took a standardized format for leading with like an action like, what is it that they want to do? Do they want to request? Or do they want to view? Do they want to look up? And then, you know, with whatever service that they’re looking for, just making sure to translate that from government jargon into just everyday language.
Michael Baskin 23:37
I think there was a really powerful moment when you’re presenting to everyone I thought. So one, like your artifact of the journey map, before had started with someone calls 311. And you said, it actually doesn’t start there. It starts when someone says, Hey, honey, we need a recycling bin. And that was like this radical shift to the perspective of the people we’re trying to serve. And then, you know, you talked about how you coming in as an outsider was powerful. But I just remember this moment during the presentation, when you stepped back, and Brian stepped back and you let the voice of someone you interviewed shine through. And that person said, like, I’ve been working for IBM for a gazillion years. I go to Google and I searched this, I don’t go to the Department of Environmental Protection or through the 311 queue, I search this when I search this, I don’t want to call 311. And when I searched this, I couldn’t find it. Like I know what I’m doing with computers. And I couldn’t find this information. So I called. And there’s so many ways like, can we add more call staffers, can we change our technology, all of these things, they said like UX. It’s like wow you do some great UX research. But then if you don’t have the skills to then rebuild the website, or whatever it is. It’s kind of like sad, right? And you just you built such support by changing the perspective by showing that new story in the artifact, having that person’s voice shine through which was so much more powerful than you saying, or me saying that anyone else, and then you went ahead and made the change and showed the results. Not just here’s a recommendation for 50 big changes we can do all at once. But let’s we found one real problem. We’re going to fix that. I think that’s sort of a key lesson for just about anyone for how do you walk away, we talked about this, walking away feeling satisfied, like you make a difference, because it’s not satisfying to send in a report and let it sit on the shelf.
Anna Chung 25:16
And yeah, I kind of just want to have this interview like asking you questions at this point, because now I’m so curious, like, yeah, like, how you feel about like, the last year in terms of like, going from like, just you to like now like for service designers, how you’re kind of handling that growth, because I feel like it’s like, as nice as it is to, like, have more capacity, like it must be a lot to figure out how to, like, enable the best and all of that too.
Michael Baskin 25:52
Someone described [unintelligable] on a run talking to my buddies, like, Oh, yeah, like the first two weeks of a team is like a DOS attack and I was like, that’s great, right? Like it just, everything’s coming at you. And you’re like, Oh, my God, like, right, like ordering a mouse. Is it, is it sand? Or is it a big rock? And like, it’s definitely sand, right? But like, the sand turns into the glass that creates the container, and you can’t put big rocks in the container until they make the container. And so you’re like, I guess I’m gonna spend my week trying to get through a procurement process, so that my team has the basic tool for doing the work. And I’d rather be wise, and norms, and deeply rooted in stories around our values, etc. And I think we’re really trying to purposefully and intentionally, like, I didn’t want to design a team for them, right? Because that would be designed for, and I didn’t really want to design the team with them, because that would be designed with. And so if we want to do design, if I want them to be doing designed by then like, I have to let that go, which has been really interesting. And none of us know what that actually means. Right? And like, how do we explore TL practices, like we use while in the constructs, right, just like we use the advice process, which is like a lovely TL practice. But no one can spend $1 without four layers of approval. Or our remote work policy, right? Like, it’s just like, really fascinating to figure out how do you create space? And is it possible? Like, can you hold space for a team to work in these ways that will allow them to really work not with clients, they’re so thoughtful, not with clients, but with partners in a construct of a government that is really hierarchical, and is really rules based. And we’re kind of figuring it out together. So and it, I mean, I think an interesting thing you talked about, like a small team a second ago, right? You were one designer with two teammates, working part time in an 8000 person organization. And so part of your job was delivering and the other part was advocating, or champion. What’s the role of designers, aspiring designers, people who like, whatever, they don’t have the formal title of designers, but it is the mindset and tools they embrace. To to be an advocate for centering humans, in our work in government.
Anna Chung 28:16
The role of non designers as?
Michael Baskin 28:18
I’m gonna get away, let’s go, people who are not, don’t formally have design in their title. I think I’m moving away from the idea of non designers.
Anna Chung 28:25
Yeah, you’re right.
Michael Baskin 28:27
For those of us weird humans in government, who care about centering humans, who are excited or interested in these tools that do that. What’s the role of, yeah, how do we advocate effectively? And what’s that sort of role for designers as advocates inside?
Anna Chung 28:46
Right. I know Suzanne is in this group. And I’m like, I feel like Suzanne is a great example of non design in title. And like, Yeah, one of the first conversations we had, I feel like we did talk about like plain language. And that was before like that was even going to be the deliverable with the 311 team. I think like-
Michael Baskin 29:16
Can we while, while you finish your answer, Suzanne, we’re going to break a wall after Anna finishes her answer, like give us two bullet points, Suzanne, on you’ve been doing this work without the formal design title for a long time in government. What works for like sustaining your own soul and creating space for others to design as well? Anna, you got a minute.
Anna Chung 29:41
I always think that like advocacy is about like doing it in sneaky, like low lying ways that like other people aren’t going to notice. Like I think like a lot of times like people associate like advocacy with something that’s like very loud and like, you know, like Formal in some ways, like having like an event or like having a campaign, I think like a lot of like, advocacy, as you probably know, is about like, just, like more intimate conversations, because I think this is true of like politics and stuff too, like, you’re not going to be able to, like, convince people that you don’t have a relationship with, like, I feel like you need to have like, a personal like relationship a lot of times to be able to sway people. And a lot of times, like, I think formal designers like might not have, like, you know, those relationships with people that are critical to like decision making or like, might not have like a relationship with users or customers that they’re serving directly, which is a problem, I think, so that I think that’s where, you know, non like, capital D, like designers are, like, really important to this process. Because, you know, does that, formal designers are not going to be connected to everyone. So I think a lot of advocacy is about like, harnessing like personal relationships, and doing it in like sneaky ways sometimes.
Michael Baskin 31:11
You talk about like, both, I think we’ve talked about this, right. But both of us come from a community organizing background. And at some point, you’re real, I think one thing that you did that was so beautiful, was like you would go, “oh come on, you can make a difference,” where Chris and Brian are like, yeah, we can keep doing this. And I think that was really beautiful. It is all like, that’s how we scale changes is relationally. And I also this idea of like, you do the work. And then you say, do you want more of this? So I keep getting requests now of what can we get more of that Anna? And it’s like, no. But also Yes, right? Like they might, it’s really, I think there’s an instinct designers to be like, you didn’t really get personas, like it comes from this research, you don’t really understand. And like that just turns people off with that level of expertise. And it’s like, how do you start small and just reach people where they are and say, Oh, awesome, like, you went from a 22 gallon bin to a blue bin, step in the right direction. Hey, let’s not talk about what happened before that, which was talking to Raymond, the guy who was calling for the blue bin. And I’m looking at Ashley right now who has a bunch of sticky notes behind her. And I was thinking, as you were mentioning, sort of like sneaking things, I was like thinking like, Oh, yeah, like if I was in a zoom call with Ashley, just being primed by seeing sticky notes in a row behind her makes me think, Oh, wait, maybe there’s another way to do this meaning or to plan this out, besides having this conversation. And it’s just like this light priming effect that Ashley has done, I think sort of speaks to your sneaky, Suzanne, you’re back in. How do you advocate for design and sustain yourself in government, if you don’t have design in your title?
I’ll take that in the reverse. So how I sustain myself is I create and find the community. So there are, there’s a lovely state and local government group that where there’s folks doing similar work, there’s some awesome federal communities. That’s the nice thing about feeling comfortable in online spaces is you just use them. And then you create community in person to because there’s just so much energy that happens in in that in person interaction. So wherever there’s a kindred spirit, I seek them out. And, and, and try to cultivate that relationship in the most positive way. Because you know, the more we give to it, the more we get back. So that is the sustainability part. I think another thing that it sustains me is when I do something, and it works, that then fuels the fire to do it again, or do it in another way. And so how to do it when it’s not in your title is you just do the thing. So you don’t call it plain language, you just say, you know, thanks for the text. Here’s an alternate version that you might consider. And often because it is plain language, it is more successful, and it’s accepted. Like I would say, more often than not, it’s accepted. And so the daring thing is to just try it. And I feel like sometimes, you know, I do take a deep breath before I hit send. And sometimes I feel like I’m gonna be on somebody’s last nerve if I do this again. But it’s in service to the people that we are working with, right? So it’s not about the project. It’s not about the person that I’m writing to necessarily. It’s not about my email that I’m sending. It’s about improving the product. And so whether that is called plain language, or whether that’s called, whatever type of design, it doesn’t really matter, because you’re just, you’re doing the thing. And so that’s my charge to all of you. Keep doing the work.
Michael Baskin 34:52
It’s been I mean, we have Derek on the call here who, I mean, so Anna, there’s a question here about buy in and you know that we don’t believe in buy in, so we’re going to skip it. But the question is, how do you do build support for making changes to internal systems? What did you learn from working with Montgomery County about that? Right, you’re doing? Yeah. Great question, Samantha.
Anna Chung 35:19
I think I think Brian, who’s the Director of 311 actually did a really good job here. And that he didn’t throw us into the deep end of trying to talk to people who weren’t already kind of inclined to be excited about service design, or like, who already kind of got it, you know, like, Brian, pretty much got it. And we kind of started, you know, by having conversations with him even and not even Chris or Katherine, who are other members of the 311 team. And then slowly kind of pulling in and Chris and Katherine, who ended up like being, you know, really incredible, like collaborators, Chris, in part, because yeah, we found out he was like, basically a service designer in training. And then like pulling in other folks who managed the the knowledge base articles. We only really talked to them, like in the last few weeks. And I think like, from the perspective of like, my experience of working, that was probably like, a really great move on Brian’s part. Because I think, if we tried to, like talk to everyone, like on the first day, or like, the first week that we were working with them, like, we probably it probably would have taken longer to build trust, actually, which is interesting, because like, you maybe instinctually, like, you feel like just, you know, talking to everyone from the beginning will get everyone on the same page. And I feel like that’s often not the case. Like I think you have to build relationships and proceed slowly when it comes to that. But I think like going quickly, when it comes to like experimenting, and, and trying different things. Like I feel like relationship building never happens fast. So that’s just something that you need time for.
Michael Baskin 37:16
Yeah, I guess it’s interesting, right? Because on the one hand, you did this trusted messenger, right? So first you reached out to me, I wasn’t ready to connect you with Brian until you put together this incredible description of what your work might be. And I said, that’s a better scope of work than I could pull together, I share it with Brian and he’s like, yeah, I’m in. You built trust by doing work like a core value for Montgomery County Innovation that said, Alright, I’m going to trust you with my relationship with Brian. And then I didn’t really talk to Brian for those months that you’re doing that work. You talked to Brian. And so there’s that trusted messenger. On the other hand, like we say, oh, relationships take a long time. But you only worked with a county for three to four months. And I’m thinking to our first session, where Yes, relationships can take a long time if you sit around drinking beer, talking about the weather. But you all did some stuff early on that really rapidly build trust. What was this first session that you did with Katherine and yeah, and then like the last session, you did what, like brought tears to my eyes? Because the like, the love between people is really beautiful. Do you remember this sessions?
Anna Chung 38:23
Yeah, totally. I would say that, like, you know, even though the overall timeline of three to four months doesn’t sound that long, like we did, I think spend quite a bit of time to get like, there are some people like in my current organization that I see less than I saw, like Brian, Chris, and Katherine on a weekly basis, like we had set aside like an hour and a half every week to work on things. And oftentimes that like, went to like two hours, like two and a half hour. So it was quite a bit of time, I think to be spending together. But yeah, the first session, it was really fun to reflect on that at the end, the first session, we basically just went around, like stating our why’s like our motivations for doing this work. But also like, Yeah, what, like what’s in it for all of us, basically. And then also talking about, like, our shared, like, values that we want to, like, you know, stick to throughout the collaboration. I think we got maybe kind of lucky in that first session, because everyone seemed to be on the same page somehow, about both like similar motivations in a lot of ways, at least from that 311 end in like that, they were all like really just interested and eager to learn about service design. But then like, also in terms of the values of like, I think it was very much like non hierarchical, even though like Brian is the 311 director like he really let like Chris and Katherine, I think drive a lot of the conversations, which I think was hopefully empowering for them, but is like empowering for me to see like, on my end, too.
Michael Baskin 40:04
I remember in that conversation, Chris sharing, like, I want to learn about service design. And then in our coaching calls Anna, we then changed how we did the work, because we wanted to expose Chris to tools that otherwise we would have just done in the background and had them not see. And you kind of said, like, I want to learn how local government works. So 311 is a good project. And also like, I want to be treated like a consultant, like, don’t tell me to go do something, I’ll come back to you like, I want to do this with you. And just being honest about that, I think set some really beautiful, it was some aha moments for me that I think changed the way I coached. And I’m also reflecting about like the importance of like, as you said, that Brian didn’t just throw you into it, that like building those partnerships with departments who are ready to do the work. So we get a lot of, you know, we use an impact effort matrix to decide which projects we’re going to work on as a design team in Montgomery County . And when we talk about effort we talk about is the team ready to work with us? Because it might be that a COVID vaccine messaging project is seems like it’s gonna have a huge amount of impact. And like, we’re just going to tweak some really simple nudge messaging, and plain language-ize them, right? And like, super low effort. But if the team is doing COVID Vax messaging is tired and burned out, and isn’t ready for that work. Right? Then that’s actually gonna be 15, grumpifying angry meetings, it’s gonna get nowhere. And so that actually falls on really high effort. Whereas Brian, like, Oh, geez, recycling bins, like, Who cares? But they were, like, ready to go and learn. And I think that was a, it’s been, it’s been guiding us a lot recently, and speaks to portfolios. And someone has a question here about the role of your portfolio. And what this is one of the your why’s is you wanted a portfolio project. So you could get a job with, you know, with the T. Now at the T, but you ended up there. Any advice or lessons learned in that journey about, you know, you were purposefully thinking I got to get out of contracting for the federal government, I want to go into local Gov maybe. you had an explore track, and then you had a portfolio build track. How do you approach that? How did that impact things as you were going in applying for jobs? Advice, or lessons learned in that journey for folks getting those rare design government jobs?
Anna Chung 42:14
Yeah, um, I will say that like, in terms of the actual like, how I like incorporated the Montgomery County work into my portfolio. I think that happened in like, basically, one week, the bulk I think of like, what I got from working with you all was, like, learning how to talk about like, these experiences, like even right now. Like, I think if I try to have this conversation with you, like, before, I worked with the 311 team, I would have very little to say, and now like, after working with them, and I think, you know, also like we had that team retrospective at the end. But I think we also like built in more moments of like reflection along the way, like both in the conversations that we had one on one, like, I think those were kind of like, reflection opportunities for myself. But also like, with like the 311 team and checking in, but yeah, like I think this is part of like the pitfall of both a lot of portfolio projects. And also with just like short term design consulting a lot of times is that you basically go in like with like an idea of the artifact that you want to produce. And like, I don’t think anyone is impressed by that anymore. for the better, I think and that, like, people like really, especially when it comes to hiring, I think want to hear about the process. And as you as someone who has hired several designers and more to come like I’m guessing that’s also what you’re very interested in, too is the process and not necessarily the deliverable. And if there is a deliverable, like how, well can you justify why you chose to do that? And for us, like, I think we, we talk about, like the plain language deliverable a lot, even though it’s not necessarily like, impressive on paper, I think like, when you hear about the process, it it’s like, it makes a lot of sense. I think like deliverables, like have to make sense and a lot of times like, especially when it comes to shorter term projects or portfolios, like people are just pressed, and they have, I think, like, this kind of illusion of like, urgency, that like they have to like, do something. And I think, yeah, just like when it comes to like talking about this kind of work, then when it comes to like hiring Yeah, just making sure that you have a lot to talk about the process and like have, like, really good justifications for, for why you made different decisions. And also like, talking about failure like I Like that comes up all the time in like hiring interviews is like, What’s something that didn’t work out? And how did you like bounce back from that? or What did you learn from that? So failure is kind of good for hiring or for interviewing.
Michael Baskin 45:16
Yeah, we will admit that we ask questions about failures for which you are responsible. when things went awry. It’s part of like every interview. And then yeah, we definitely want us to do who have done the work. So like, I produce some recommendations, even if they’re beautiful. I don’t care right like that. I want to know, did you actually make a difference for the people that we serve? Because that matters. And that might mean that you know, you have 50 years of experience or one year of experience, but if experience is action plus reflection, the question is, did you make a difference and, and, Anna you are someone who made a huge difference for Montgomery County and helped us set the stage by doing the work for more design work in Montgomery County that has, hopefully it’s beginning to spread more and more around the country. And you build real partnerships with Brian and Chris and Katherine and the 311 team to launch them moving forward. Anna, parting words of wisdom?
Anna Chung 46:12
I think, well, from my work specifically, the hope is happier bus and train operators. Which definitely makes a difference in like the experience for riders for sure. But I think like maybe like on the more interesting note for folks who take the T is that they are going to phase out Charlie cards in the next few years. I think it’s a good thing. Unfortunately, I know there’s a lot of nostalgia related to Charlie cards like items.
Michael Baskin 46:46
I’m still confused that they got rid of the tokens. So don’t design, it’s a good reminder not to design for the designers but design for the people who are being served. On that note, you are welcome to continue to connect with the other people in this space. But Anna, thank you so much for the work that you did for joining us for a Montgomery County, Maryland open innovation celebrity interview event. We will have more of these at MontgomeryCountyMD.gov/Innovation.
Kirsten Wyatt 47:13
This ends our episode for today. Thank you for listening and let us know what you think about this new podcast format in partnership with Montgomery County. As a reminder, Gov Love is produced by a rotating cast of ELGL volunteers. ELGL is the Engaging Local Government Leaders network. You can reach us at ELGL.org/GovLove or on Twitter @GovLovePodcast. Thank you for listening. This has been Gov Love, a podcast about local government.