Common Ground is a platform that unites cooperative business members around shared goals through commitment, connection, and contribution.
MICROSOFT Design Expo 2019, 15 weeks
Carlie Guilfoile, Saloni Sabnis, Khushi Shah
Design Research, Concept Development, Prototyping, Interaction Design, Visual Design
Sketch, Principle, After Effects
Empathy at Scale
Through technology, we can watch natural disasters unfold, witness social and political revolutions, and can observe injustices as they happen. However, most people may never actually 'feel the pain' of those who are having those first-hand experiences. Without each individual's active participation based on empathy, super-wicked problems are impossible to deal with.
“Empathy conjures up active engagement — the willingness of an observer to become part of another’s experience, to share the feeling of that experience.”
- Jeremy Rifkin, the author of The Empathic Civilization
Future of business is shared. We build community-driven businesses.
In order to mitigate socio-economic inequality and build a more inclusive and sustainable society, it is important to renovate the structure of the businesses. However, this change could not occur at once right away. Thus, to begin with, we propose Common Ground that supports cooperatives, jointly-owned and democratically controlled enterprises.
Common Ground is a digital platform that builds a community around the business. It aims to blur the line between employees and consumers and strengthens solidarity based on empathy— helping all ‘members’ along a journey to commit, connect and contribute around the community’s shared goals.
Our mission is to renew our collective role in business by supporting inclusive, community-owned organizational practices that deliver equity across diverse communities.
Research and Problem Framing
We began our design process with an expert interview and secondary research on global issues related to socio-economic inequality, automation, and unsustainable economic growth.
Through this process, we realized that these issues present the biggest challenge to the most vulnerable in our workforce, low-income service employees.
Public and workers aligning together can gain extraordinary power to influence businesses
- The Guardian
"..workers launched a campaign to hold a public referendum on a $15 wage– not expecting to win, but… the city’s residents– by a slim margin of 77 votes– passed the country’s highest minimum wage."
To better understand the landscape of this problem, we spoke to 3 key stakeholders: 4 managers, 13 consumers, and 17 workers in low-income service roles. We’ve been designing with our stakeholders by involving them in our research process, from exploratory to evaluative stages.
Appreciation & Break up Letter
Our research yielded 4 insights as such;
Because of the difference in hierarchy and power structure, it is difficult to generate empathy between stakeholders in the current business system.
"Honestly, I don't understand why we should make a close relationship with workers. Our relationship is functional - and getting to know more about each other is difficult - no time and motivation." (consumer interviewee)
A number of affinities lay between management and service employees, such as wanting to make the business better or making consumers happy. But most conflicts also lay between them, such as pressure and indifference.
Service workers are just as concerned about the quality of relationships with other stakeholders they are with wages.
We thought that wages were going to be the biggest stress for workers, but surprisingly we learned that service workers are equally concerned about the poor quality of relationships at work, particularly with management. There was a clear opportunity to create a place for workers to connect on a more personal level with management as well as co-workers.
"..if you’re working with someone that’s miserable, you’re miserable” (employee interviewee)
Service employees placed more collaboration, teamwork related images for their motivation. Also, most of them agreed that money is important but not the most priority.
Service employees do much for their community but they feel that the community does not do enough for them.
Consumers want to support socially responsible businesses and communities, but unaware of how to do that proactively.
While functional needs currently influence consumers' choices more, we learned that they want to support businesses that are responsible and fair to employees and the community. However, they don’t feel like they know enough to proactively change their behavior. The opportunity here was to help them commit to services that reflect their beliefs by providing access to unbiased information on company values.
"I think it’s worthwhile, to better understand the world they come from and their perspective on things… But I don’t know how those conversations can occur, at least in this environment– I mean we’re all so busy..." (consumer interviewee)
"To be honest, I cannot know much about what’s going on in the business. So what I can care about is what benefits I could get if I buy a product or support business." (consumer interviewee)
Consumers showed their desire to support others. They are willing to do something for their community and help neighbors, such as providing financial support and resources, listen to them, and volunteer for child care.
Service workers feel undervalued and excluded from decision-making in the workplace.
We learned that workers are excluded from decision-making at the workplace and don’t feel valued for the work they do. However, service workers are the ones that directly interface with customers, and have a lot of knowledge about the day-to-day business and how it runs. We identified an opportunity to leverage this on-the-ground knowledge to contribute to business decisions.
Customers picked HAPPY and SUPPORTIVE, different from workers who picked EQUAL and UNITED. Especially, the EQUAL card picked multiple times.
"The uncertainty of low-wage work has more to do with management decisions. They just can’t blame us. They affect people’s lives just because of how they’re running things." (service employee)
"They laid off full-time union employees and weren’t considering their family and health. I wish they would have considered us as a whole and respected our contract." (service employee)
With our design challenge in mind, we enumerated objectives for our intervention. These objectives served as the basis for our concept ideation and will serve as guiding factors for evaluation upon implementation.
Help people easily move from tapping into their extrinsic to intrinsic motivation and show users the efficacy of even small actions of solidarity.
Give access to information that can help consumers commit to services that reflect their values.
Create an opportunity for employees to share commonalities and build a personal relationship with co-workers and consumers.
Facilitate a greater sense of agency in the workplace and leverage worker's on-the-ground knowledge to help contribute to business decisions.
Rose, Bud, and Thorn
A Digital Platform for Co-op Business
Design & Iterations
Prototyping & Evaluation
Final Wireframe & UI Design
Enable transitioning from extrinsic to intrinsic motivation & rewards.
Common Ground helps members manage their memberships and benefits. Also, their contribution ties to the contribution level which is shown on the membership cards as a medal.
Help people discover & join community-owned businesses.
In order to help members commit to more co-ops, we helped them find all easily organized in one place. Members can discover coops based on place, values or distance. In the co-op page, videos are shown. The videos are an opportunity to learn about the culture of the co-op and the stories of the members.
Encourage online & offline solidarity and collaboration.
On this platform, not only do members find values that they share in common, but they can also find co-op and event recommendations that help them connect offline and online with others from the co-op. This helps them support people and activities that align with their values.
Help consensus-building for a vibrant democratic community. Creates opportunities for appreciation and safe spaces for discussion.
Each new discussion is endorsed by members intelligently selected by the platform, that ensures the contribution is relevant and enriching for the community. This check and balance also reduce the likelihood of excessive posts by over-zealous members, which was much appreciated in our evaluative research. Also, showing appreciation can be an important way for the community’s members to provide affirmations to each other’s work.
Translate community conversation into actionable data aligned with goals.
Management is usually responsible for decision making in co-ops. Thus, we used all of these conversations between members to become actionable data that aligns with the co-op’s goals and helps management make decisions on behalf of the community.
How It Tackles Problem
Why Co-ops, not other forms of business?
A cooperative is a values-based business, owned by and operated for the benefit of the people at the heart of the organization, not outside investors.
Through the research, we realized that building empathy in the current hierarchical business structure is nearly impossible. Thus, we decided to focus on promoting and scaling a co-operative business model, one that currently employs 10% of the workforce worldwide. A cooperative is a value-based business, owned and operated for the benefit of its members, not outside investors. Co-ops gave us an opportunity to tackle empathy at 3 levels.
Our design might intervene to create a preferable future, one that is proactive, and one that benefits all our stakeholders and generates solidarity through the gates of the service workplace. In the preferable future, people will be connected and collaborate around shared values. Passive consumerism will be replaced by empowerment and solidarity around community goals. Co-ops will be a dominant ownership structure enable social, political, and financial inclusion.
Copyright 2019 Jaeyeon Huh. All rights reserved.