When you think about the future of social impact technology, what do you most think about?
This is a timely question, as we just wrapped on an internal leadership retreat where our leaders talked in depth about the future of Echo&Co and where we’re headed as a practice. We had a few themes that come up both related to what we’ll be focusing on moving forward and how we’ll establish a practice to support that future focus.
Here’s where we’re heading and areas we encourage our partners to explore:
What does the future look like?
User experience and design thinking has application to work that expands far beyond the web. In fact, for the past few years, we’ve been most curious and excited about challenges where we’re focused on creating stronger flow-throughs between offline and online citizen engagement. This means we have to create truly cross-channel user experiences that challenge us to stitch together an individual’s experience across all touchpoints—virtual and real.
As we talked about what this means for our work during our leadership session, we agreed that in order for us to better tackle this fully cross-channel and immersive user experience work, we have to focus on a few key ingredients:
Data science and data visualization
As we move forward with our work, it’s important for us to focus on data as the foundation of our design decision-making. The way we think about data is not the more traditional business intelligence that stops at analysis and insights—it’s using those insights to predict human behaviors and to make decisions that improve their experiences based on our knowledge. This is exciting work that we’ve been doing in partnership with a data science company called Third I to look at user data across web, social, CRM, etc., and create predictive models for performance. We’ve been thrilled at the results and how they advance our user experience design work and excited to have case studies to share soon.
CXM strategy and implementation
In order for us to apply a data perspective to actual design decisions and end-user actions, we need to focus more heavily on seamlessly integrating our customer relationship management (CRM) databases with our web content management (CMS) databases, and use them in a way that creates a single view of the constituent or customer. The term we like to reference for this work is Customer Experience Management (CXM)—looking across all toolsets used to store and reference user data and leveraging a consolidated view in order to create more seamless, and sometimes automated, user experiences. This helps to improve our relationship with users while reducing the staff overhead required to provide them with service. We’ve been talking to great folks like the team over at ActionKit to figure out how this can be done.
Obviously as a part of this work, there are great implications for online privacy and security, so those are things that we’re also exploring.
I’ve been working on the web since I was first asked to start cross-publishing newspaper articles to websites in 1998. That is a long time. Nineteen years long. What that means is that websites—however mutable our approach to designing and building them may still be—have moved into young adulthood. Soon they’ll be middle-aged. There is a whole crop of technologies that are in toddlerhood that represent the next generation of our work and we’re particularly interested in developing expertise around how to apply them to our practices so that we can evolve. Here are the ones we’re particularly interested in exploring;
We’re gathering insights, developing our own points of view, and starting to experiment with these new tools of consumer and civic life so that we can be at the forefront of embedding them into social impact work. We also are encouraging all our partners to start gathering insights and developing interest and expertise in these areas, which represent the future of our work.
Social and civic technologies
We’re very conscious of the fact that many civic institutions are just starting to apply entrepreneurial and design thinking and approaches to solving major infrastructure challenges—from public transportation systems, to housing and urban development, to education and public safety. We’re interested in being on the forefront of applying user experience design and technology to strengthening civic institutions and leaders, spurring citizen engagement, building healthier communities, and making governments more effective. That has always been at the heart of our digital work at Echo&Co, and we’re keenly interested in bringing our passions and expertise to solving the most pressing challenges of modern civic life.
Personally, I got involved with Leadership Greater Washington this year in order to better understand the context of this civic innovation work in the Greater Washington region, and being a part of conversations regarding the future of regional development and how digital technology will influence it has fueled my personal passion for furthering this work.
We’ve already been doing some great work with partners like Rock the Vote and clients like ioby to create new tools for greater civic participation and engagement, so we're excited to expand this work.
So that’s where we’re headed.
Of course, we’ll continue to be focused on bringing the best of brand and content strategy, user experience design, and open source development work to our clients—that is our bread and butter and will remain at the heart of our work as we develop new expertise and case studies in these cutting-edge areas of work.
What about our creative philosophy?
I went through a lot of technologies above, but I would be remiss in not mentioning that our fundamental belief is that the future of technology is people, not just products. To that end, while we are focused on the actual tools that will advance our work, we’re also focused on designing a creative philosophy and approach that transcends the ever-changing landscape of technology.
That philosophy is simple—as a team, we’re always interested in three things that bring about rich innovation:
Developing greater thought leadership and sharing (building knowledge)
Approaching our work with a deeply relational mindset (building relationships)
Bringing playfulness and creative interplay into all of our work (building creativity)
When we think about what will make our work and partnerships successful in the future, it’s building a practice and culture that grounds our creative and technological work in rich intellect, honest emotion, and a deep capacity for human connection.
Thanks for your question. As always, if you’d like to chat about the above, you can reach out anytime to firstname.lastname@example.org.