Healthy Public Project Part 3: How Expert Mentorship Is Key For Civic Innovators
Last week, we discussed how even a small amount of funding can be enough to allow a team to take risks and innovate. But money is only one resource that can cultivate innovation. One of the most important lessons coming out of these sessions is that while money is important, expert mentoring is also a key element that supports smart experimentation and the synthesis of lessons in order for breakthrough models to emerge. Why? The process of iterating and testing ideas can lead innovators to multiple dead ends. Guidance from experts with decades of experience in community health and civic technology can help challenge assumptions, summarize insights, and provide direction when stalling.
From the beginning, we wanted to have a clear advising structure for each team. Advisors were given three HPP projects and had six hour-long sessions with each project every month during the grant period. One our participants groups, Reported PD, had this to say about the role of mentorship in their project:
“The opportunity to regularly share our latest findings and status with an expert mentor was more valuable than if we just had the money, since we probably wouldn’t have pursued the community relationships as strongly.”
The two-person team with backgrounds in criminal justice had an idea for an app that would allow people to report negative interactions with police officers in a simple, quick, and secure way.
The current process for reporting police misconduct in NYC has several problems. While you can file a report online through the CCRB’s (Civilian Complaint Review Board) website, during initial conversations Reported PD learned from the CCRB that they rarely get enough information to corroborate a claim against a police officer. Part of this was because of the questionnaire format, but the other part was that people didn’t immediately file after an event, which meant that they simply didn’t remember some of the most important details of the encounter or know that this accountability pathway exists.
This meant that Reported PD’s app would have to:
- Create a better, more user-friendly interface in order to gather all the information the CCRB needed to corroborate a claim.
- Be simple to use and accessible in the immediate aftermath of a negative police encounter.
Building With a Community, Not For
After being partnered with their mentor, they were given processes on how to best reach populations that had the highest interaction with police officers in order to start getting feedback on what affected communities would like included in the app. Through this process they learned something that they had taken for granted: people wanted to be heard.
They first thought that simply submitting an allegation against police misconduct would satisfy this need. As it turned out, people were less interested in this as a feature. Instead, many wanted to share their stores and see other people’s experiences.
During this same time period, they discovered another problem: they realized that their app could perpetuate negative relationships between police departments and over-policed populations. Through coaching sessions with Dr. Mindy Fullilove, they explored how the app’s focus on reporting only negative interactions with police officers left no room to commend and reinforce positive police interactions. If NYPD’s motto is Courtesy Professionalism Respect, Dr. Fullilove believed that the team should provide the NYPD examples of what that should look like so that the officers could receive guidance on how to uphold those values. Reported PD iterated the idea to allow users to provide officer commendations for when someone had a particularly good encounter with law enforcement. They then began conducting user interviews to also discuss positive interactions with police.
Creating Better Police Interaction Outcomes
One of the most interesting lessons was that when the team was advised by Dr. Fullilove to speak with more potential young users, they indicated that they were like to have the opportunity to give the officers feedback on their behavior. Rather than simply discussing what a cop did wrong, they wanted the ability to share how it could have been handled differently. Reported PD ran with the idea and created a “preferred resolution” option — which encouraged people to do just that.
Through expert coaching and the use of human centered design, the app was improved from the initial version in two important ways:
- The addition of commendations, as well as the “preferred resolution” option, strengthened the ability to reinforce the police behavior constituents wanted to see, and gave constructive criticism for improving on negative encounters. This new balance provides a more complete picture to create more accountable policing in NYC.
- These features increased the number of potential users of the app. This is doubly important because of the hope that data put into the app can eventually be utilized to find positive and negative trends in policing, which could then be relied on to craft better overall policy that improves community/police relations.
These features transformed the scope and role of the project, and made the app more applicable to a wider audience — those with both positive and/or negative experiences with law enforcement. Due to Dr.Fullilove’s excellent mentorship, as well as the adherence to human-centered design, the app is a much stronger product compared to when they were gestating the idea. In their exit narrative, they said:
“Had we just been given the money directly, I don’t think we would have the same outcome in the short amount of time. It was because of our mentor that we included the commendations section of our app and while that surfaced in our interviews, she suggested we put it directly in. The advising process also provided tremendous value because we had to regularly check in and it helped us to stay focused and execute consistently, knowing that our meetings were coming up. The opportunity to regularly share our latest findings and status with an expert mentor was more valuable than if we just had the money, since we probably wouldn’t have pursued the community relationships as strongly.”
Their app is available for download, and ready to be tested across the City of New York.