Deeper Everyday Connection
THE AUTHOR Matthew McStravick is a designer and social innovator. He’s the founder and former CEO of Echo, co-founder of Sharing Economy UK and a Clore Social Leadership Fellow.
ADVISORS AND COLLABORATORS
Dan Sutch Director of the Centre for the Acceleration of Social Technology
Rowan Conway Director of Innovation and Development at the RSA
Holly May Mahoney Head of Design, Design Thinkers Academy
Director, Good Lab
Tim Hobbs, PhD Director of The Dartington Service Design Lab
Sara Green Brodersen Founder & CEO, Deemly
Olivia Sibony Head of SeedTribe Crowdfunding
Deeper Everyday Connection is a paper about the ways in which the services and systems we use every day are reducing the small but meaningful interactions we have with others. It’s about the damage this is causing to wellbeing and social cohesion as well as the role it plays in re-enforcing our dominant, yet unsustainable, mindset of separation.
Richard Wilson Director of OSCA
Zahra Davidson Co-founder and Director of Enrol Yourself
Laura Williams Artist and Experience Designer
Dan Phillips Service Design, Sustainable Innovation. Visiting Tutor/ Project Manager, Royal College of Art
I’ll describe how we can change the tide on this by harnessing a quality called empathic interaction, a key component found in several highly successful sharing economy businesses. This opportunity heralds the emergence of a relational economy; one in which we recognise the user, social and economic value to be gained when we optimise systems for more humane interaction. Finally, I’ll outline the ways in which you, personally, can play a meaningful role in weaving empathic interaction into our day-to-day lives.
Roxana Bacian Physical Imagination – Designer & Facilitator
David Bent Honorary Research Associate, UCL Institute for Global Prosperity
Leticia Credidio Art Direction and brand
This work was developed as part of a Clore Social Fellowship and was funded by Friends Provident Foundation.
Source: Jo Cox Loneliness Commission
empathic interaction: /εmˈpaΘιk εntərˈakƒ(ə)n/
Relational contact that triggers empathy and oxytocin release, resulting in feelings of belonging and wellbeing
Empathic interaction, which I’ll shorten to Ei, occurs when two people connect, often fleetingly, in a way in which they acknowledge their mutual equality and humanity. It occurs during the interactions we often have with friends and family but equally, it can happen in a wave of thanks at a zebra crossing, a chat on the bus with a stranger or spontaneously helping a neighbour jump start their car. At its heart, Ei is the result of what’s known as affective empathy — a visceral nod to our shared experience of being alive and ultimately, although it may sound dramatic, our shared mortality. When we experience Ei, there is oxytocin release in the brain, which brings feelings of belonging and wellbeing.
This paper outlines the evidence for Ei as a vital contributor to both social cohesion and individual wellbeing and how we are increasingly experiencing less Ei and the role that the systems we use every day are playing in this.
A large portion of our daily interactions are mediated by systems like social media, transport, health care and retail.
In a drive towards greater efficiency, systems require us to develop new technical behaviours, like swiping left, touching in or self-check out. These behaviours, and the innovations that sit behind them, are designed to reduce what’s known as friction: behaviours or actions that appear to be a hindrance to the smooth flow of each system. They’re effective in one sense but they replace more humane, spontaneous behaviours like smiling, eye contact, laughing and chatting; ones that are conducive to Ei. In fact, Ei tends to occur when we step out of systems behaviours in order to relate to another person. Worryingly, we tend to adopt systems behaviours swiftly and even favour them over more traditional, empathic modes of behaviour. As we’ll see, we can also begin to unlearn the neurological ability to relate to people in an empathic way, and multiple studies now indicate an overall decline in our empathic behaviours in general. One meta study focusing on college students shows a 48% decrease in empathic
concern and a 34% drop in their ability to see other people’s perspectives over 30 years. As more of our daily activity is systematised in this way, we are consequently spending less time engaged in Ei with friends, family and the other people we come into contact with. This is having a significant impact on social cohesion and individual wellbeing (loneliness in particular) whilst reinforcing the unhelpful societal mindset of having and separation. A report commissioned by the Co-op and the British Red Cross reported that over 9 million people in the UK are now always or often lonely with 10% of men experiencing loneliness and 200,000 people reporting they had not had a conversation with anyone for over one month. This has significant impact on health (comparable with smoking and obesity) and the Department of Health have long recognised the associated financial costs. Furthermore, research carried out by Cebr on behalf of the Eden Project found that “disconnected communities could be costing society a potential welfare
improvement valued at £32 billion and about £12 billion of this could be realised as a net economic gain (a boost to GDP) through improved productivity”. Carrying on with business as usual is simply not an option. The sharing economy doesn’t immediately appear to offer us solutions to this. But although the sharing economy is far from perfect, its primary innovation of disintermediation, bringing people together to trade or share directly with each other, is significant. Together with user feedback and the other mechanics that are essential to sharing economy platforms like Airbnb, disintermediation shines a light on what is possible when we put positive friction and Ei at the centre of systems and services, rehumanising them in the process. This is because, in contrast to many systems, there is high incidence of Ei within Echo, Airbnb and certain other sharing economy platforms. Put simply, when users come together around a task with equality, a high degree of attention and some autonomy, they very often experience Ei.
Crucially, this Ei leads directly to a range of operational benefits to the service itself including transaction efficiency, high quality service and high repeat user engagement. Ei is now one of the top three motivations for user engagement with Airbnb, which is a billion dollar business. This is exciting because identifying the composite elements required for Ei to occur, and the operational (very often commercial) benefits it brings, provides: a) the means to replicate it in a wide range of systems and services, scaling social impact and b) motivation for those responsible for the efficient and productive operations of those systems, to explore the benefits of weaving Ei into their processes. In Deeper Everyday Connection I’ll make the case that, by optimising all manner of systems for meaningful relational contact between users, students, passengers, staff and customers, we can improve wellbeing (delivering user value) as well as the operations of systems themselves, delivering savings and revenues (economic value). Additionally, users reported that trading within certain sharing economy platforms provided them with an experience of a different, more connected way of being with people, rather than just transacting with them. This affected the way they viewed
Source: The Cost of Disconnected Communities 2017
transacting with people outside of the platforms too. This subtle shift in mindset, away from the dominant Cartesian mode of separation and ‘having’, towards one of greater connectedness and ‘being’ is one that economists, philosophers, scientists and sustainability experts cite as necessary for a sustainable future on this planet (delivering social value). Using these insights as a springboard, and incorporating a range of other methods for optimising for Ei, I’ll describe Deepr, an approach to enhance service design processes to create Ei solutions; making systems more effective with a positive impact on our wellbeing, whilst contributing to a necessary mindset shift for a richer and more sustainable future.
Put simply, when users come together around a task with equality, a high degree of attention and some autonomy, they very often experience Ei.
level of practical utility: helping us to meet a work target, get from A to B, or sign up to a new broadband provider.
AS WE SYSTEMISE, SO WE DEHUMANISE ‘The Machine did not transmit nuances of expression. It only gave a general idea of people — an idea that was good enough for all practical purposes, Vashti thought. The imponderable bloom… was rightly ignored by the Machine, just as the imponderable bloom of the grape was ignored by the manufacturers of artificial fruit. Something “good enough” had long since been accepted’ E M Forster, The Machine Stops 1909
In digital systems, even social media, designers struggle to create environments where Ei is even possible. All the evidence now suggests that faceto-face contact with friends and family is more effective in maintaining wellbeing. A recent study demonstrated that older people were 50% less likely to develop depression if they had regular face-toface contact with loved ones than those who kept in touch online or even over the phone.
On the roads, we drive on the left, stop at red and go on green. On public transport we swipe a card, stand on the right and avoid eye contact. We’re surrounded by the ‘ding’ of phone, microwave, Fitbit and email. Each requiring something specific from us: an action, a certain behaviour. These are systems, saving us time, increasing productivity. It doesn’t end there. We take the kids to school, take Dad to the doctors, take ourselves to work and take Nan to bingo. We go to the shops. We pay our taxes. All these systems are governed, in turn, by the underlying, structural systems we live by — time and money. And all require specific behaviours from us for them to work efficiently. It‘s pretty amazing when you think about it. We couldn’t live without them. However, very often, the new systems behaviours that we need to adopt preclude us from experiencing empathic interactions with others. Any interaction or activity that appears unnecessary to the fulfilment of a system’s purpose is known as ‘friction’. Seemingly valueless friction is therefore designed out of the process and discouraged in users. The result is that our daily interactions seldom rise above a superficial
In a similar study, the Oxford anthropologist, Professor Robin Dunbar notes ‘Friendship and community are probably the two most important factors influencing our health and wellbeing. Making and maintaining friendships, however, is something that has to be done face-to-face. The digital world is simply no substitute.’ It seems that a vital ingredient of Ei, what E M Forster called ‘the imponderable bloom’, is lost when mediated by digital. Dr. Marco Iacoboni, a neuroscientist at the University of California, studies mirror neurons, often cited as the neurological evidence for empathy. It’s an interesting field and Iacoboni is clear that “Mirror neurons work best in real life, when people are face to face. Virtual reality and videos are shadowy substitutes.” As virtual and augmented reality begin to find a place in our daily lives it’s vital that we find ways to weave Ei into any interaction they facilitate. Related but separate to this is the concern that by increasingly meeting and keeping in touch with people digitally, we might be unlearning the ability to form empathic interactions
with others — both inside and outside of systems. Using GPS mapping as the focus of her research Julia Frankenstein, of the University of Freiburg, suggests that deferring to that particular system can lead us to lose the ability to navigate without it. Similarly, making friends at the click of a mouse and finding a date with the swipe of a touchscreen are having long-term consequences to our ability to form and maintain offline relationships — potentially disastrous in a future-of-work scenario where relational capabilities will be in high demand. Research now suggests that people, especially digital natives, are less empathic in conversation with friends if they have a smartphone on the table or even hidden in a bag. Indeed, it appears that when we engage with systems, we tend to defer to the rules and behaviours of those systems above and beyond our more humane or empathic behaviours, which is amplified within systems that are gamefied or developed to be addictive. We see the unintended consequences of systems in trolling, where people engage in abusive activity within an emergent culture online that, for many, has a different set of permissible behaviours than offline. We see them in road rage where invariably, people come to blows over a perceived infringement of the rules of the road system.
The more technical and systematised an interaction is, the less we revert to and rely on our more humane and empathic natures. 9
By definition, the more technical and systematised an interaction is, the less we revert to and rely on our more humane and empathic natures. We are spending an increasing amount of our time engaged in systems, both on and offline, and are consequently spending less time engaged in empathic interactions with other people. To pick one of many reports on social media that all reach a similar conclusion, this international study “found that real life social interaction was negatively associated with excessive use of Twitter and this relationship was mediated by loneliness.” So, it’s not that strangers don’t ever smile when passing on the street, or that friendships aren’t forged at work, simply that Ei occurs in spite of the systems we’re engaged in and that it’s becoming rarer and harder to achieve, especially with the exponential growth of digital. As we engineer machines to become more like people, we are engineering people to become more like machines, neglecting a vital element of our nature and our needs. In what is sometimes referred to as the ‘age of connectivity’, we’re actually more connected to systems than we are to each other and it shows. This comes at a cost to our wellbeing, community cohesion, to our productivity and to the efficacy of the systems themselves.
EI IN THE SHARING ECONOMY
As we engineer machines to become more like people, we are engineering people to become more like machines, neglecting a vital element of our nature and our needs. Interestingly, Ei isn’t always regarded as unhelpful friction. Though their goals are often fiercely commercial, many sharing economy models recognise that there is value in rehumanising systems and, as a result, are disrupting one industry after another. By positioning themselves as agents who connect the providers and consumers of value directly, they disintermediate the incumbent ‘middle men’ and often make a feature of more positive social, or friendly friction between users. Indeed, there is now strong evidence to suggest that a range of operational and commercial benefits are to be had from optimising for Ei, making this an attractive proposal for those seeking efficiencies in existing businesses and public services, as well as start-ups looking to disrupt existing industries.
As the founder and CEO of Echo, an online marketplace for professional skills and services, I’d noticed that alongside a variety of commercial gains, our users were reporting rapidly developing trust relationships within the community, leading to feelings of belonging and improved wellbeing. They were experiencing high levels of Ei through their trading activity on the platform and reported that, on meeting other users, they regarded them as akin to ‘friends of friends’, what anthropologists call weak bond relationships.
There is good reason for this. Unlike other platforms, Echo users trade with its own currency, the Echo, rather than pounds and pence. Every Echo is valued at one hour’s service delivered. So if it’s two hours’ graphic design, legal advice, book-keeping or yoga tuition, it’s paid with two Echoes. Close research showed that the novelty of this approach resulted in users bringing full attention to each trade; what the psychologist Daniel Kahneman describes as the system two (S2) function of the brain. S2 is a way of describing the manual function of the prefrontal cortex that we use when we have to figure out something new. Echo users had to bring far more S2 attention to an Echo trade than they would to one using pounds and pence, which is to a large extent automatic, as it utilises system one (S1) attention, the part of the brain that is more concerned with reflexive, seemingly instinctive responses and actions. 11
Brain Systems 1 and 2
of a sharing economy business by disrupting the hotel industry; providing the framework for people to come together directly to rent a spare room out, or find a place to stay overnight. They then go further by designing into their process the structured encouragement of personalised communication between users as equals, which requires S2 attention. As with other platforms, positive user feedback is valuable to both parties, unlike a more traditional ‘the customer is always right’ model.
Alongside this, the hard-wired equality of the currency resulted in users’ implicit acknowledgement of each other as equals, or true peers, within the platform. Through a combination of (and a continual feedback loop between) heightened S2 attention and the mutually acknowledged equality, Echo users were experiencing ongoing Ei. Under these circumstances we found people tend to carry out tasks to a high standard with ongoing consideration for the experience of others, which leads to higher efficiencies, greater user satisfaction and higher repeat engagement.
The hard-wired equality of the currency resulted in users’ implicit acknowledgement of each other as equals.
Later, as co-founder of Sharing Economy UK with Airbnb, I saw something similar in the experience of Airbnb users, who spoke of wellbeing outcomes as important to them alongside the practical and financial value they gained from using the service. Though less concentrated when compared to Echo, a similar combination of S2 attention and equality was leading to Ei and consequent operational benefits.
This, alongside the intimate nature of sharing or renting someone’s home, helps to generate what’s known as an emotional and personalised offer from an Airbnb host which, in turn, leads to a greater emotional and personalised experience for the guest and the host. It is designed to foster bonds between users and this is identified as one of three key drivers for users to choose Airbnb over other models of accommodation and is also true of various other sharing economy start-ups that create similar outcomes for users. For example, ride sharing platform Blablacar, enables and encourages Ei amongst its three million users during journeys and has, as part of its user feedback and profile a measurement of each user’s chattiness, for others using the platform to see.
Airbnb fulfils the typical criteria 12
WHY SHARING ECONOMY BUSINESSES ENCOURAGE EI The primary reason sharing economy start-ups leverage peer interaction and Ei is because it is commercially valuable. The benefits include: 1. TRANSACTION EFFICIENCY users are likely to have a more positive experience and are more likely to overlook any small problems they’ve had if they have experienced Ei as part of the process. Relationships formed around Ei are less rigidly contractual and users are more likely to accept change. 2. HIGH SERVICE QUALITY users tend to have a high regard for the experience of the other, delivering a high level of care, improving the overall level of service, compared with non Ei models. 3. RETENTION providing for users’ emotional needs in addition to their practical needs is a powerful motivation for them to return. This is a largely untapped revenue driver, in and outside of the sharing economy. 4. LOWER MARGINAL COSTS let’s not forget this. Sharing economy platforms position themselves as agents, connecting the producer and consumer of value directly, thus reducing staffing and other costs.
Other platforms outside of the strict sharing economy domain, such as Etsy, seem to leverage Ei via the personalised and emotional experience around the purchase of artisanal products for sale directly from the maker. It appears that, as the sun’s energy becomes locked into fossil fuels for millennia, a degree of Ei can be locked into artisanal products. This provides the consumer with the provenance that brings them closer to the act of human creation and experience, accessing a sense of affective empathy and, through that, belonging.
HOW IT WORKS When two people interact directly with some autonomy around a mutually beneficial task that requires both system 2 attention and acknowledged mutual equality, they take great care of the experience of the other, perform the task to a high standard and are more relaxed regarding changes to their expected outcomes. They experience the wellbeing benefits of Ei and are likely to repeat the activity. 14
Ei is already apparent in a small number of public sector systems solutions. Neighbourhood nursing agency, Buurtzorg, affords nurses with both significant rights and controls within the organisation alongside greater autonomy around the care they provide and the time they take to do so. Under these conditions nurses have been shown to provide high levels of personalised care with wellbeing benefits for both patients and nurses, alongside significant cost savings. In another example, traffic planners in Amsterdam chose to turn off traffic lights at a busy intersection. Relying on eye contact, hand gestures and smiles, the car drivers, cyclists and pedestrians navigated through the junction with greater efficiency and reported tiny but significant wellbeing benefits from doing so. This approach builds on the work of the late traffic engineer and innovator Hans Monderman who found that ‘traffic efficiency and safety improved when the street and surrounding public space was redesigned to encourage each person to negotiate their movement directly with others.’
every single case, the central element of value staff pinpointed was the moment in their processes where people connect as equals around a task, which leads to mutual psychological and practical benefits. It’s clear that Ei is beneficial to wellbeing, to social cohesion and comes with practical benefits. And Airbnb is a billion dollar business, leveraging Ei for commercial benefit.
Identifying the composite elements required for Ei to occur, and the operational benefits it brings, provides: a) the means to replicate it in a wide range of systems and services, and
If a system has staff, customers, users, passengers, residents, patients or clients, it seems likely that Ei can improve the operations of that system whilst improving the wellbeing of those involved (which in turn improves the operations of the system). Airbnb provides a high-profile example of this in action and, if we’re able to demonstrate this through a specific service and systems design approach, there will be an opportunity to create positive social change at a huge scale. And it’s closer than we might think. As we move towards a future economy based around automation and artificial intelligence, relational capabilities and those engaged in emotional labour will be in far higher demand (and held in greater esteem) as we move from a knowledge primacy towards a relational one. Ei is likely to grow in line with Ai as the main human need that Ai is unable to satisfy. As we explore this way of working across multiple systems and services, we may also experience a subtle shift in the way we view ourselves, each other and the world around us.
The central element of value staff pinpointed was the moment in their processes where people connect as equals around a task, which leads to mutual psychological and practical benefits
b) motivation for those responsible for the efficient and productive operations of those systems, to explore the benefits of weaving Ei into their processes. This is key to creating impact at scale.
In order to research Ei specifically within the social sector, I held workshops with organisations that work by enabling peers to come together around a shared goal, be they Scandinavian folk schools, learning marathons (like Enrol Yourself) or youth radio stations. In
When our social need for Ei is not being met, we tend to compensate elsewhere — very often within systems themselves, be that consuming (retail therapy), social media (‘likes’ and ‘follows’) or even working — with all its built-in systemic rewards. We can grow to prefer spending our time with these systems as an ersatz substitute for social nourishment — despite not receiving the same wellbeing rewards. This is not only bad for us as individuals. It has wider implications for society at the largest scale in that it reinforces the dominant mode of living; one of separation and having; one that leading climate and systems change experts tell us is incompatible with a sustainable future for us on planet earth.
Philosophers, theologians and even scientists have argued for many years that there are two distinct modes of living. They choose different terms to describe these modes, but generally they outline one mode, the having or separation mode, in which we regard ourselves as separate from others and the world we live in. In this mode we seek fulfilment through having; ownership and the status that ownership brings us. This ownership includes material wealth but extends into the realm of knowledge and power. Erich Fromm, the German born psychologist and philosopher, gives the example of a student in the mode of having; one who meticulously takes note of everything the teacher says during the lesson, in order to reproduce it later in an essay asserting that knowledge as their own, gaining advantage and prestige in the process. This mode reflects the dominant western Cartesian philosophy that everything
We can grow to prefer spending our time with these systems as an ersatz substitute for social nourishment, which has wider implications for society at the largest scale. It reinforces the dominant mode of living; one of separation and having.
external to each of us as an individual is available to us to further our own happiness. It is one that leads to a small number of people controlling the majority of the world’s wealth, one that sees global corporations owning the sole rights to the distribution of vital drugs or grains and it is one that has led to the climate disaster and the seeming inertia of those in power to take the necessary action needed to avert its consequences. It sits well within the current capitalist paradigm and is, by all reasonable accounts, unsustainable. In contrast, an alternative mode of living is often described as the being or connectedness mode. In this mode, we recognise our deep connection with each other and the world around us, finding fulfilment in the respectful mutuality of our relationships to both. We see this in theologian Martin Buber’s I and Thou and theoretical physicist David Bohm describes it in relation to quantum theory in his text Wholeness and the Implicate Order. Returning to his example of the student, Fromm describes a student in the being mode as listening, engaging and responding creatively to the ideas being presented by the teacher, rather than recording and storing information for later use. These ideas are gaining traction, and practises such as mindfulness are being suggested as ways we can begin to access this mode, primarily for sustainability purposes rather than for individual wellbeing. This is helpfully outlined by Bank of England economist, Dan Nixon, here.
Without Ei, systems enable us to have without connection to each other or the world. And as our experience of life is increasingly mediated by technical systems, this further reinforces the notion of our separation. By extension though, if we were to rehumanise our systems we could see a mindset of greater being and connectedness being promoted. As part of a year-long impact analysis, Echo users reported that trading using our platform was changing the way that they viewed trading using pounds and pence. It provided an experiential window into a different, more connected way of being with people, rather than just transacting with them. Once again, Airbnb users often speak in similar terms of their experience, as do users of certain other sharing economy platforms.
Problematically though, the having mode of living is promoted by the growing systematisation of our lives.
if we were to substitute ‘trading’ for education, food delivery, public transport, local government or health services, we would be talking about change in the way we all approach those systems and each other; one more in line with a mindset of connectedness. As we begin to rehumanise our systems we must include a suitable measure to establish more clearly where and how this shift is best facilitated.
Echo trading provided an experiential window into a different, more connected way of being with people, rather than just transacting with them This is interesting in itself. However,
Echo trading provided an experiential window into a different, more connected way of being with people, rather than just transacting with them
Problematically though, the having mode of living is promoted by the growing systematisation of our lives. 21
Having identified the problems that systems currently present us with, the benefits that Ei can bring, and some of its key components (attention, equality, autonomy etc.), we have an opportunity to transform the way our systems operate, the way we interact with services and with each other. This transformation may lead us to experiences of a deeper and more connected way of living our day-today lives that are more in line with a sustainable future on this planet. In order to unpack the subject further and the possible methods we might use to develop an Ei enhanced approach to service and systems design, I have researched and trained in a wide range of traditional practices, therapeutic approaches, behavioural science techniques and service design methods that encourage and facilitate Ei.
OPTIMISING SYSTEMS FOR EI 22
In conjunction with the sharing economy methods described above, there are a range of other activities that promote Ei and the resulting oxytocin release. For example, we know that dancing and singing (especially in harmony) rapidly fosters Ei between strangers. There may be little possibility of engineering this on public transport or online. However, the root anthropological evidence for this type of Ei is far more broad than dancing and singing. In fact, it refers to any synchronous activity between people. This opens up many options to test. We might test advanced haptic, or touch, technology to enable people take part in synchronous activity, such as tapping a simple rhythm together with strangers across the web, or on the tube.
practices, Non-violent communication and self-compassion training etc. that engender attention and equality, a new approach will involve synthesising or simply learning from these to create simple Ei tools. For example, we might test a mandatory ‘no shoe’ policy in a corporate environment as an equality/attention tool. Tapping rhythms barefoot with strangers might be something you’ve not considered doing lately, and these raw practices do seem unlikely activities we’d choose to take part in, but when refined and woven into existing systems functions, with suitable confidence and motivation, they would become acceptable. A useful example of this is Champions of the Shenga, an online game that teaches children mindfulness breathing techniques as a ‘bi-product’ of playing – regulating your breathing is simply something you have to do to defeat your enemy. Tapping in time with other people as we swipe through on the tube might not be as unlikely as it first seems and perhaps counter-intuitively, this kind of activity can aid the efficiency flow of a system. Equally there is plenty we can utilise from less radical approaches e.g. coaching language, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and deep listening. We can use these and other existing methods to great effect when we know that the goal is Ei.
Similarly, understanding the active ingredients in gift economies, equine assisted learning, gazing meditation
CHALLENGES IN OPTIMISING FOR EI In doing this work, it’s crucial that we do not simply sharify systems, creating an Uber for healthcare or a TaskRabbit for roads maintenance. Rather, we’ll build on peer methodologies in recognition of the distinct triple value (user, economic and social) to be had by optimising for Ei. Not all sharing economy models do this, by any means. For example, user support of mobile network GiffGaff, is now largely delivered to customers by customers, in return for small rewards. Peer models are famously championed by Lego who crowdsource new product design from their existing customer base. However exciting and interesting, these practices only fulfil some of the criteria for Ei and so fail to achieve the triple outcomes described. It’s also true that in some examples of Ei in systems we find that overt equality is less, whilst attention is leveraged more. In others, less attention and equality is leveraged with more emotional connection to the activity taking place. In addition, there are other ingredients in each example that contribute to each approach’s success. The differing quantities of each ingredient inevitably change the nature of outcomes; some systems with higher commercial benefit, others with higher wellbeing. Being aware of the different ingredients and their functions enables us to understand how they might be replicated elsewhere to good effect, according to the particular requirements of each system.
This view is supported by Dr Greg Davies, founder of the behaviour insights start-up Centapse and the behavioural insights team at Barclays. He suggests that in systems as diverse as financial technologies and social care, we should constantly be looking to achieve optimal friction, whereby we balance traditional measures of efficiency with methods that encourage Ei, to achieve an interconnected balance of wellbeing and operational benefits.
PRIMED FOR EI
KEEPING IT FRESH
Our systems behaviours become second nature quickly and we have become reluctant to talk to strangers (though we almost always report wellbeing benefits when we do). In many cases priming activity needs to take place before Ei is possible.
In order to retain S2 attention, we need any activity users engage in to be fresh, novel, requiring some calculation and absolutely not automatic. This might mean changing prompts and actions within systems regularly or keeping them on long rotation.
For example, on public transport a priming activity might take the form of an initial research piece with passengers informing an ad campaign with statements such as “92% of people in this carriage will help you if you’re feeling ill”, or “72% of people on this bus are looking forward to Eastenders”. This type of priming work helps us to relate differently to strangers we’re at close quarters to, rehumanising them in our minds.
Despite these challenges and more, it’s clear that a new approach to service and systems design focusing on Ei will improve services, boost our wellbeing and play a meaningful role in creating the necessary mindset shift we all need for a flourishing future.
EXTRA WORK Ei isn’t easily engendered within systems where users are passive recipients or participants. We need to be given tasks in order to unlock our innate behaviours that have been subjugated in favour of systems behaviours. We are likely to resist ‘extra work’ for ourselves where possible and some of this process will involve redefining the roles of service provider and service user to a more equal balance. This is a challenge but by adopting the COM-B Behaviour Change model, including providing clear motivation for a task (defining a powerful offer of what’s in it for them), all the evidence suggests that people tend to carry out tasks particularly diligently and gain significant wellbeing benefits from doing so.
8 Deepr can be used to address all manner of systems challenges, always doing so by leveraging Ei and delivering wellbeing outcomes. 26
GOINGÂ DEEPR I have built upon sharing economy peer methodologies and identified a range of methods for achieving Ei, with the support of key advisors and collaborators: wellbeing academics, behavioural scientists, systems changers, tech entrepreneurs and service designers. The result is a first-stage design process, called Deepr, that will help organisations to begin to apply Ei solutions to their businesses and services. And, although Echo and Airbnb are strong examples of organisations for whom Ei is a central part of the offer and user experience, itâ€™s not necessary for businesses or services to adopt a wholesale approach to Ei. The process begins by working with a client to identify a hierarchy of outcomes (operational, wellbeing or mindset benefits). Next, shadowing staff, carrying out user interviews and ethnographic research, we identify current instances where people come together in way that can be subtly adjusted to foster Ei, or current automated processes that could be performed by people.Â We then enter a human-centred, agile design process as we break down potential solutions into their composite parts and test them. We gradually work these up into a Ei product embedded with the organisation, checking against triple value (user, economic and social) measures. For instance, we might use the Deepr approach to work with a school to streamline lunchtime canteen operations whilst generating wellbeing though Ei and cohesion between different aged students. The school may be more interested in the wellbeing outcomes than improvements to their operations. A public transport provider may have a priority to make efficiencies and increase customer comfort specifically. Carrying out the right priming activities may well be sufficient to achieve this. Equally, we might work with a retailer to leverage Ei between staff and customers, aiming to increase customer referrals. Deepr can be used to address all manner of systems challenges, always doing so by leveraging Ei and delivering wellbeing outcomes.
In researching Deeper Everyday Connection, it became clear to me that I don’t want to be part of a future of frictionless lives, in which our role is to nudge and be nudged by the various systems we engage with: food, health, education, care — with ever more shallow interactions with others. I want to contribute to a more deeply connected future; one of greater self-efficacy, where we take more responsibility for ourselves and for each other, playing equitable and enriching roles in the day-to-day systems we use. If you would like to join the group of people playing a meaningful part in this work, there are several ways you can do so.
1. SHARE THIS PAPER and talk about the ideas within it (perhaps on the bus with stranger). 2. CHALLENGE THE IDEAS
If you believe there’s an issue with the systems we live by and that our mindset needs to change, and if you agree that Ei is part of the solution, let’s put a flag in the ground in our desired future and chart our course accordingly. Everything we achieve along the way will be worthwhile.
and give us your insights and your reservations. 3. BECOME PART OF THE DEEPR COMMUNITY We work together as peers. If you have an interest in this, we have an interest in you — drop us a line. We’d especially like to work with you if you are an exceptional service or product designer or have extensive experience in commercial start-ups. If you are part of an organisation and would like support in bringing Deepr thinking to the way you work, get in touch. Lastly, we’d like to work with you if you would like to play a strategic role in developing Deepr. You can drop us an email to email@example.com or just give us a call on +44 (0)7751 310 793 Ask yourself, seriously, what could go right?
“This is a genuinely brilliant piece of work,” Dan Sutch, Director of The Centre for the Acceleration of Social Technology
“The ideas underpinning Deepr represent a fundamental challenge to many efficiency-driven approaches to service design or system reform.” Tim Hobbs PhD, Director of the Dartington Service Design Lab 28
This work has been informed and supported by a growing group of social, public and private sector thinkers and doers, entrepreneurs, sustainability and digital experts, designers and innovators including Louise Drake, Danielle Walker Palmour, Rowan Conway, Shaks Gosh, Dan Sutch, Athol HallĂ¨, Eleanor Ford, James Alexander, Patrick Harris, David Bent, Olivia Sibony, Tim Hobbs, Holly May Mahoney, Amy Hamilton Fleming, Jamie Ellul, Katie Cadwallader, Roxana Bacian, Richard Wilson, Eve Poole, Greg Davies, Dan Phillips, Leticia Credidio, Ann Don Bosco, Zahra Davidson and Jane Murray. For listening, for contributing and most of all for the empathic interaction, I am sincerely grateful to them all.