Street Team Training: Preparing to listen

In mid January, organizations from across Western and Central New York came together for street team training. A street team is a method being used by the Aging By Design team to gain insights on a given population that structured face-to-face interactions with a short set of survey questions on community, belonging, independence, and the wisdom of hindsight.

Over 15 street teams will be out in their communities over the next two weeks asking questions aimed at understanding how support networks are built and how perceptions of aging have changed. 

"What makes you feel like you are part of a community?"

"What do you think about now that you didn't think about 15-20 years ago?"

The purpose of the street team survey is to encourage organizations to have conversations with older adults where they congregate - at the store, in coffeeshops, and other community spaces. 

Organizations conducting the street team activities are asked to follow the format of the survey, but explore the stories and ideas shared by those they speak with. Street teams work in pairs, making it possible for one person to lead the conversation while the other takes notes.

With each new step of Aging by Design we hope to gain a better, more holistic understanding of our aging community as the ultimate goal of our project is to give older adults a voice in the future of services and supports for aging populations, while helping to shape it for the rest of us that will follow.

If you have further questions on the street team surveys please visit our website at

Field Trip: ‘Pulling’ Need Statements and Insights

A Field Trip to Canada

Before the holiday season, the Aging By Design project team took a field trip up north to Kitchener, Ontario. Postcards and empathy maps were starting to pour in, and the Overlap team was busy at work transcribing what everyone had collected. One of the first things we did on the visit was join Dave and Chelsea as they walked us through the process of ‘pulling’ need statements and other insights from the cards and maps.


We started by opening one of the many envelopes that came into the Health Foundation in December. So far, over 20 organizations have sent in more than 500 empathy maps and postcards. Dave chose a stack of postcards and handed us a few to transcribe into a spreadsheet they were working in. From those transcribed words, we worked together to read between the lines and articulate some of the needs we were reading about.

Some of the phrases were straightforward. “My biggest challenge is staying active and social” easily translates into a need statement of “I need to maintain my active, social lifestyle.”

Others were a bit more difficult. We interpreted “I like photography. Making a slideshow with my photos and putting music to them. I have a graphics program on my computer” as “I need a creative outlet.”

Over 600 needs statements were captured from the initial review of just over 230 empathy maps and postcards. “I need community resources to be close to me.” “I need to know I have the finances to retire.” “I need inclusive and accessible transportation.” “I need to not be called a senior.” The voices of older adults from across Western and Central New York started to jump off the page.


The Overlap team went through a process of categorizing these need statements into larger groupings.

“I need to learn and stay mentally active.”

“I need to understand my loved one’s medical issues.”

“I need to help/give back to others.”

These categories are just some of the needs statements that will be used as we move forward with Aging By Design. If the responses to postcards, empathy maps, and other data collection activities are the raw materials of human-centered design, need statements are the tools we use to form and shape initial ideas for solutions.

The remainder of the field trip was full of good memories with the Aging By Design project team. Project planning for the rest of the learning phase, a great dinner with the full team, and some great fried egg rolls at a local Vietnamese place rounded out the rest of the trip. With Kitchener only two hours away from the Health Foundation’s main offices in Buffalo, the ABD project team is likely to make another trip soon!

You can still get involved...

We’re still recruiting participants for a two-week independent journaling activity. Participants will receive a $25 Visa gift card as a thank you for supporting the project. You can register people for journalling here:


Postcards and Empathy Maps Across WNY and CNY

Since October 2016, the Aging By Design team has been working with organizations on the collection of empathy maps and postcards. We’ve had a great response from across Western and Central NY, and groups have found creative ways to collect postcards one-on-one, in group settings, and through program activities.

How are other organizations doing it?

Inter Faith Works in Syracuse facilitated an empathy mapping session with over 50 older adults as part of their Senior Companion Program, and encouraged them to take them out on their visits. They’ve also been working with refugee communities across the city to gather empathy maps from older adults that may be unfamiliar with healthcare and social systems in the United States.

Upper NY Older Adult Ministries has been working with Methodist communities across rural Southern Erie County, collecting postcards and empathy maps from older adults and their caregivers. One of the priorities of Aging By Design is to better understand how older adults in rural areas of NYS would improve their quality of life. Although transportation is a primary concern, the diversity of perspectives coming from rural areas has been eye-opening for the project team.

The Pride Center of WNY has been using its regularly-scheduled activities for older adults - coffee hours, tea time, healthy lunches - to share information about the project and collect postcards from a population that undergone extensive change in the past few decades. Older LGBT populations still face many challenges, and Aging By Design is helping to open conversations about the services and supports lacking in their communities.

The Parkway Center in Utica has taken postcard selection a step further by making an effort to understand what they heard from the older adults they work with. Several staff took the answers that older adults wrote and summarized each challenge on a sticky note.

The Parkway team then took each sticky note and worked collaboratively to categorize them on a white board. Health and Wellness (physical activity, balance, etc), transportation, home maintenance, socialization, caregiving, and education emerged as top themes for their clients.

Understanding the landscape of aging in WNY and CNY

There was one statement that was more difficult to categorize: “Being perceived differently because of age.” Perception by others, interaction with the rest of society, and the words we use to describe older adults have been common challenges across WNY and CNY. While many older adults grapple with the day-to-day challenges that accompany aging, many others are facing barriers that come with communities that were built by and for younger populations.

If you haven’t started collecting empathy maps or postcards, it’s not too late! Aging By Design is collecting postcards and empathy maps* until January 6th, 2017. Please mail them directly to the Health Foundation of Western and Central New York (726 Exchange Street, Suite 518, Buffalo, NY 14210).

We’re also still recruiting participants for a two-week independent journaling activity. Participants will receive a $25 Visa gift card as a thank you for supporting the project. You can register people for journalling here:

*Request more empathy maps and/or postcards by emailing

Journaling Webinar Wrap-up

Why should we use journals as research tools?

Journals are great research tools as they give us a window into peoples lives. By prompting individuals to reflect on their day-to-day experiences and record them, we can gain an in-depth perspective of the participant’s life. By doing this, little things that really matter to people can be uncovered that other forms of engagement may not reveal.

To begin creating a research journal you’ll need to know what you are trying to learn from your participants. Have your team brainstorm questions that will get you useful qualitative data. Remember not to prime the respondent with questions that will elicit responses that you expect or want to hear.

How should the journal look and feel?

Journal respondents want to know that their input will really matter, and a carefully designed journal can inspire confidence in the respondent. Your journal design should inspire the participant to respond to the questions and prompts. Think beyond “Dear Journal” and ask questions on specific topics and changes to their overall experience. It’s even a good idea to just provide empty pages for the participant to use as they wish.

By personalizing the journal for your participants, you are illustrating that their particular experience is important to you and your research. This is important as journaling is time consuming and can unearth some deep seeded emotions. 


Journals don’t have to be physical books! They can also be digital experiences such as private blogs or Google Docs. You could even offer a series of prompts to take photos or other forms of creative expression. The goal is to gain insights into daily lives of the participants and how small events can impact them.

How do I support my participants?

The best way to support your participants is to personally deliver the journal and walk them through the journaling experience. However, the instructions should be written in the first couple of pages to ensure they can review them when you’re not available.


We also suggest arranging check-ins with your journal participants throughout the journal distribution timeframe. This will allow them to ask questions or for you to remind them to regularly make journal entries. Your participants may worry that they are doing the journaling incorrectly but assure them that there is no incorrect way to complete a research journal.
Often journals will touch on emotional or difficult topics, so it is important to think about additional supports you can offer. We often place a telephone crisis hotline on the inside cover of the journal.

You may also support participants who are unable to write by asking them the questions and recording their answers. Your role here is to listen to what they say and write it down without editing their response. They may respond with information that you believe is incorrect but your role is not to correct or defend but to record their response verbatim.

Remember to close the journaling experience with a debrief interview.

After you’ve had the journal returned, it’s a great idea to schedule a debrief interview. Before conducting the interview read through the participant’s responses and compile follow-up questions. Going through the responses together can add detail to their stories and helps you interpret their responses. Through asking key questions you can better understand why things happened or why they wrote what they did.

We hope that you are now more confident in the journal research practice and are excited to start creating your own. Once you have your completed journals returned and debriefed you can then use the methods explored in the needs and insights webinar to start extracting information.
You can view the embedded webinar video below and download the PDF of the slide deck with notes and without notes.

Know someone who is interested? Register them online.

If you know someone who is interested in being a journaling participant, you can register them online. Fill out a brief online survey to tell us a bit about the participant so that we can make sure journaling is a good fit. Registration will close on December 2, 2016.

Needs and Insights Webinar Wrap-up

What are need statements and why are they valuable?

A need statement is a short and often simple sentence describing what the end-user of a service has identified as a requirement. As part of the design process, needs are developed by analyzing single ideas from often complex user engagement. These single ideas can be combined with others needs to understand the collective end-user experience.

Need statements are valuable because they offer simple direct stories of what people actually need, rather than what they want. By breaking down complex scenarios into simple statements, we can challenge our assumptions and inspire empathy for those we are designing services for.

How do I write needs statements?

Begin by reviewing your engagement material and notes, first looking for explicit needs that have been expressed.

Explicit needs may already be written as “I need…” or “I want…” statements, which are great to pull out of your data from the beginning. Implicit needs can take a bit more work to tease out. Remember to make smart leaps: the key to not to insert yourself or your opinions when finding these implicit needs.


Try to write out as many needs as possible in a simple and direct way. This can often help you uncover needs that are not always visible on the surface. The more need statements you have the more confident you can be that they address a wide range of experiences. We find it easiest to write each individual need on a Sticky Note, so that they are moveable and ready to share.

How do I turn needs statements into themes and insights?

To begin understanding your needs and turning them into themes and insights, you’ll need to start clustering your individual needs statements by similarities. It may seem intuitive to predefine your buckets that you are clustering into but avoid this at all costs. By allowing the themes to emerge on their own, a conversation with the end users and service providers will emerge naturally.

Once you have created your clusters you’ll need to give them a name. Remember to use clear titles that are descriptive of the content in the clusters. It may seem natural to use metaphors or other jargon-y words but try to resist the temptation! The point of the cluster title is to help anyone who picks up the cluster easily understand its contents.

Depending on the amount of engagement generated, these clusters can become quite large. At Overlap we often clear the boardroom and spread the need statement clusters across the floor. We also frequently cluster the clusters to have higher level insights with layers of needs stacked below.

How do I turn themes and insights into actionable questions or areas for improving my service?

To begin creating actionable questions or areas for improvement we use one simple innovation starter: “How Might We” (HMW). This frames the question as being open-ended one rather than forcing a single answer. We combine the HMW question with a need statement to create a starting point for solutions. Use the following 4 steps to create your HMW question:

  1. Identify a need, theme or insight that you want to act on
  2. Decide what you want to do (improve, increase, built-on, decrease, etc.)
  3. For whom
  4. Write it into a question that begins with “How Might We” (HMW)

You can view the embedded webinar video below and download the PDF of the slide deck here.

We hope that you are now feeling a bit more confident in the Design Thinking approach to qualitative needs and insights. The easiest way to get confidence in working with needs and insights it to just try it. You can use this method with photocopied empathy maps and postcards you have already collected; saving the originals to be sent to the Health Foundation after Thanksgiving.

It might be fun to have your team each grab and cluster their own needs and insights from the same completed design artifact (empathy map or postcard). See how each of you gather the same or different need statements, ideas and clusters. You may consider having a facilitated discussion about the similarities and differences in your statements and clusters.

To see how needs and insights are used to inform the service design process, please visit for examples used during the webinar.

Remember to have fun!