The Power of Post-its

After four weeks of meeting with veterans and understanding the VA appeals process, we started the next phase of our journey in the Kennedy School’s new Tech and Innovation course: turning our research into user insights.

Kate Krontiris, an all-star user research expert from the U.S. Digital Service, kicked off this part of our project with a guest lecture. Walking us through her own work helping streamline immigration, Kate showed us how to turn interview notes into actionable user insights. She gave us one piece of particularly prudent advice: use Post-Its.

After Kate’s talk, our team gathered at the Harvard Innovation Lab (iLab) on a Sunday night for a marathon session. Following Kate’s directions, each member of our team chose a specific interview and walked the room through a veteran’s appeals experience.

Jane told us about a veteran who gave up on his appeal because he needed to go to grad school. Rohan described a veteran who only used the internet on his smart phone and couldn’t access his personal information because the VA’s eBenefits system wasn’t yet mobile-friendly. Chetan quoted a veteran going through an appeal: “I want the VA to look me in the eye and deny me, and tell me my airborne operations, or carrying a 70-pound ruck, are not service-connected to my lower back issues”.

As each of us detailed a veteran’s timeline, key quotations, and interview themes, the others in the room wrote down the pain points we heard using a design researcher’s favorite tool: Post-Its. These consisted of brief comments like “Needs more personalized communication” and “Only found information from word-of-mouth.” Once we finished walking through the interviews, we shared what we wrote and identified emerging opportunity areas.

First, we created five distinct clusters on the iLab’s expansive white-board, one for each veteran. Within each cluster, we combined similar pain points into separate columns. It was great to get each team member’s unique insights and takeaways.

We then clustered our Post-Its once again—this time by theme—making sure not to lose any of our ideas along the way. Organizing these interconnected pain points served as the most challenging part of our exercise.

Finally, we labeled each cluster with a distinct theme. Debating succinct terms and phrases to describe each collection of Post-Its, we worked hard to reach a consensus for each heading.

By the end of our session, we found trends across all of our interviews. While the veterans came from different branches of the military and told us different stories, they faced many of the same problems. The process confirmed much of our intuition, but it also revealed issues we had yet to consider.

Through Kate’s Post-It exercise, we learned that design research is equal parts art and science, requiring both creativity and algorithmic thinking. Next stop: turning our insights into a prototype.

Chetan Jhaveri, Jane Labanowski, Paris Martin, Rohan Pavuluri, Joshua Welle