Behavior Change Case Study: Greenfield Labs

by Jul 29, 2019Behavior Change Blog Series

Kate O'Brien, Senior Writer for Meeting of the Minds

Kate O'Brien is a consultant and writer for Meeting of the Minds. A collaborative consultant focused on facilitation, coaching, and capacity building, Kate supports an array of change agents and their transformative work in communities across the United States.

Who will you meet?

Cities are innovating, companies are pivoting, and start-ups are growing. Like you, every urban practitioner has a remarkable story of insight and challenge from the past year.

Meet these peers and discuss the future of cities in the new Meeting of the Minds Executive Cohort Program. Replace boring virtual summits with facilitated, online, small-group discussions where you can make real connections with extraordinary, like-minded people.


How can everyday people influence the most commonly used space in the public realm—the street—to encourage harmonious coexistence among a variety of travelers, whether pedestrian, motorized passenger, or cyclist? This is a question that Greenfield Labs, an IDEO-inspired innovation team recently embedded within Ford Motor Company, has sought to answer by exploring the future of mobility through human centered design.

Greenfield Labs was initiated three years ago by Jim Hackett, now CEO of Ford Motor Company. At the time of the Labs’ inception, Hackett was an advisor to the company’s fledgling mobility pursuits. Before Ford, he’d led Steelcase, a forward-thinking office furniture company that embraced and found success in its application of human-centered design solutions. “He brings that same innovative sensibility to Ford,” says Ryan Westrom, Mobility Partnerships Lead at Greenfield Labs. “The point of Greenfield Labs is to bring human-centered ideation to Ford. It offers us an opportunity to revise, hone, and tweak our existing products while also shaping Ford’s broader mobility pursuits.”

Ryan says the company initiated Greenfield Labs “because reshaping the streets is both part of Ford’s future, and a foundational part of Ford’s history—for good and for bad. He cites the advent of jaywalking as an example. “Before the mid-1920s, any individual could step into any street at any time,” he explains. That era was a turning point for the public realm as campaigns, fueled by automakers like Ford, sought successfully to criminalize an act that had been second nature to people. “Up until the advent of jaywalking laws, streets had been a place for pedestrians, pushcart vendors, horse-drawn vehicles, streetcars, and children at play,” Ryan explains. “These new laws paved the way for American streets to become car-dominated.”

In acknowledgement of the historic influence Ford had on use of public streets, and the responsibility it holds in terms of correcting it, Ford supported an inaugural collaboration between its Greenfield Labs innovation team and a team from Gehl, an internationally renowned urban design firm. “Ford envisions itself a co-creator of streets as inclusive public space over the next 100 years. To get there, we need to reestablish a vision of public streets for all, and then engage diverse audiences to ensure that vision catches on,” says Ryan. Toward that end, this Ford-fueled collaboration led to co-development of the National Street Service (NSS), a public realm change accelerator organization featured in this April 2019 behavior change blog post.

“Greenfield Labs is as much an innovation lab as it is a product delivery organization. Our model is open-source. If we develop something successful, the way we did with NSS; we grow it and hand it off. We are ideators who work at the very front edge,” Ryan says. “Now that NSS has moved into its implementation phase in many cities, we are working to integrate the program’s ongoing oversight and management into Ford’s DNA.” The NSS project was an early real-life experiment led by Greenfield Labs that helped Ford explore a human-centered approach to problem solving. “It’s been a two-way street. Yes, NSS is something Ford invested in; while we want it to create positive impact out in the real world, the learning that has come from it has also enriched our company,” explains Ryan.

Drilling down into how his team approaches a project, Ryan asserts that human-centered design work is generally open-ended and iterative. He says the Greenfield Labs team’s work is no different. “We start by defining the problem, or naming the question the team needs to answer. In the team’s pursuit of answering that question, a strong vision for how to solve the problem can emerge.” Rarely is this process or its timeline predictable. “It’s pretty difficult to quantitatively define the point at which we say ‘we’re finished.’ We do develop a project plan, a strategy we anticipate working through to answer that question. But it’s just that: a plan. Sometimes you follow it, and sometimes in the course of the work, you encounter a major change in perspective that shifts how you approach the problem,” Ryan says.

From that initial question, Ryan’s team does some initial design research to gain insight into possible conceptual solutions. Then they prototype those ideas, and show them to people. “We facilitate their review and processing of the prototypes, which helps us glean new insights that might refine our strategy. Or, we might not get any new insights, which means we need to prototype again,” Ryan explains. “A lot of times it feels like you’re spinning your wheels again and again. You have to sit in that uncomfortable phase, ruminating to get to the deeper underlying insights. Sometimes we arrive at an ‘a-ha’ moment,” he says, but more often his team winnows down to a few key questions. “And if we can answer them, then we can get somewhere,” Ryan says.

Within Ford, Greenfield Labs is the “human centered design piece of the organization, established to help spread this kind of thinking throughout the company,” says Ryan. At any given time, his team is running multiple “design sprint projects” that last anywhere from six weeks to six months. “Our ideation is centered on a given department’s pain points. We’re often pushing quickly toward a new point of view, and then, just as quickly, we’re re-shuffling onto a new client,” says Ryan. Before moving on, however, Ryan and his team make sure the outcomes of their work have a home. “Things we work on must have a ‘business owner’—a point person with whom we’re working directly. We make sure the project will enjoy a natural landing place after we create it.”

This episodic nature of Greenfield Labs’ work isn’t for everyone, however. “Once in a while, someone on a client’s team will join our team. We’ve had several engagements whose teams have expressed a desire for a deeper, longer-standing engagement, even integration of our team into a particular department,” Ryan says. But Greenfield Labs sits outside Ford’s organizational chart, and, Ryan says “being a floating team gives us nimbleness and an agility to do what we do, all over the company.”

How his team generates its assignments comes “through firsthand exposure to the work,” Ryan says. “We show by doing, not by telling. There are still plenty of parts of the company that are less familiar with our work, simply because they haven’t yet seen it.” In spite of this minimalist approach to marketing, Ryan and his team recently determined that there’s more demand for what they do than the team can actually meet. “Given that, an important question for us going forward will be: How do we continue to scale to meet the demand for human centered design research? Do we scale at all? We’re not really designed to grow past a certain point … agility tops out at a certain size. Maintaining our lab culture is important, because that’s how you find that richness, that sweet spot,” he says.

Ryan offers a real-life example to demonstrate how the Greenfield Labs team is advancing its design thinking within Ford to help the company manage quality of life for its employees, and by extension, for employees of other companies, too. “GetVoy is a commute management tool we’ve been incubating in our lab. This one has taken a little longer than is typical because our beta-testing phase has involved us working directly with five companies in the Bay Area that are interested in using it,” says Ryan. “Our basic premise is this: a main reason mobility exists is for workers to commute to their jobs, and as we all know, commutes can be really frustrating. Likewise, a major pain point for companies is employee turnover—people leave jobs all the time due to their frustration with their commute,” Ryan explains.

“But what if companies could influence their workers’ commute experience?” Ryan posits. He says his team has been using the underpinnings of behavioral science to inform their pursuit of answers to this question. “What if a company had a commute concierge on staff who, at an employee’s convenience, could help them realize a more optimized commute—by analyzing and perhaps modifying their route, or their mode of transport?” Ryan says one of the struggles with developing this tool has been the fact that a person making transit choices doesn’t always select for optimization. “The decision could be an emotional one, or driven by any number of other things—the time required, how much a particular mode costs, the fact that they have kids to transport… the list goes on and on,” Ryan explains.

“But even with the complicating factors, what if we could help people choose their commute more wisely by guiding them through a prioritization process, so they could rank which factors are most important to them? Yes, we need a way to change hearts and minds … at a few different levels. We know decision-making isn’t always rational. Our research shows that commuting is habit-driven; people tend to stay in their rut,” Ryan says. “So, we need to create ways to cultivate willingness among workers to think critically about their commute, to make different choices. But also on the employer side—a change-making philosophy is needed at the top. The executive team needs to have the will to want to influence their employees’ commutes, and create the organizational culture to do that,” he says.

Behavior Change Analysis

Ryan cites a number of examples of behavior change strategy as he describes the Greenfield Labs approach to human-centered design thinking, and the specific projects his team has managed.

Ryan identified one of the more challenging aspects of designing the GetVoy tool when he described how many different factors can influence a person’s commuting choices. Rarely a rational decision, Ryan highlighted how AFFECT is chief among the factors shaping someone’s commute.

Finally, Ryan discussed how his design thinking team had identified need for resetting a company’s DEFAULTS in order to cultivate across company culture an expectation that the employer can and will be a proactive participant in shaping a more quality commute for its employees.


The work of Greenfield Labs that Ryan describes involves a nimble team that creatively manages behavior change strategy of some kind with its clients, though the scale of impact can vary greatly. “There are obviously a lot of factors to consider in any design process,” says Ryan. “The point is, how can we instigate change that will produce tangible results at the individual level, and also more globally? This is where human-centered design thinking gets really exciting,” he says.

Design thinking inherently involves behavior change strategy. The work has the potential to create impact at scale, and the Greenfield Labs’ work showcases this quite nicely. That’s the scale of change in the public realm Greenfield Labs seeks to create with and on behalf of Ford. We are in it for the opportunity to make the world a better place, and for Ford to be a brand known for that.”

The theoretical basis for the Behavior Change Blog Series is informed by two mnemonic frameworks shown in detail below. The MINDSPACE framework is a list of the elements that inform cognitive biases and human behaviors, while the EAST framework is a list of directives that are derived from MINDSPACE and help inform strategies for influencing behavior change in humans. These two frameworks were established by the Behavioural Insights Team (BIT), a social enterprise based in the United Kingdom.


MINDSPACE Framework EAST Framework
Messenger – We are heavily influenced by who communicates information to us. Make it Easy – Harness the power of defaults, reduce the ‘hassle factor’, simplify messages.
Incentives – Our response to incentives is shaped by predictable mental shortcuts such as reference points, aversion to losses, and overweighting of small probabilities. Make it Attractive – Draw people toward preferred behaviors, design rewards and sanctions to maximize effect.
Norms – We are strongly influenced by what others do. Make it Social – Show people the norm, use the power of networks to encourage and support, encourage people to make a commitment.
Defaults – We “go with the flow” of pre-set options. Make it Timely – Prompt people when they are most likely to be receptive, consider immediate costs and benefits, help people plan their response.
Salience – Our attention is drawn to what is novel and also to what seems relevant to us.
Priming – We are often influenced by subconscious cues.
Affect – Our emotional associations can powerfully shape our actions.
Commitments – We seek to be consistent with our public promises, and to reciprocate acts.
Ego – We act in ways that make us feel better about ourselves.


Leave your comment below, or reply to others.

Please note that this comment section is for thoughtful, on-topic discussions. Admin approval is required for all comments. Your comment may be edited if it contains grammatical errors. Low effort, self-promotional, or impolite comments will be deleted.


  1. Great article, the influence of the external in us …
    And can we build the external among all from what we are ourselves? Maybe going on the search, or rather creating the conditions for that search from ourselves, may be the solution, we are a universe each of us. And that universe wants to be born, that is the greatest satisfaction of the human being, the rest may be something more of the same, adapt and stop being, limiting our greatest and only satisfaction, go beyond, transcend.
    The story is wonderful, from our best solution we advance to our downfall, a nature that shows every sunrise and sunset, maybe taking the moment of death of something leads us to look for another sunrise without losing what was achieved. Perhaps returning to the origin is the most advisable, to 1920. Return with our technological treasure and experience gained in free spaces without regulations because it does not require them, return to the space achieved after leaving behind the streets and mobile obstacles where we can sow a free future to travel at the ground level distractedly, with all our attention on what we love most, the very existence that transcends each step.
    From this new philosophy that tends to solve the peace of the world with our very creative way of life, generating our energy and sustenance helped by technology in the company of nature that we are. The depredation of consumerism that this platform gave us is in this way, in the memories of what has been achieved, of our achievements, not of the subsequent destruction that we now have as a tendency of life. The laws of the environment today are part of our daily life but there is still much more, like new laws that protect the being (all) from which all laws are subordinated, because it is logical to think that a transcendental being is far beyond criminal or environmental, for example, recognizing that, by nature, we go inexorably beyond the humanly known, remember that when the car is born, the environment and natural resources were not considered and peace was sought in the world from consumerism …
    The utopian levitation is, then, more real than the streets, more real than the car, more true than the environment and more necessary than insisting to invest in what has already happened to mature, which by natural law must die, the car and its roads. An additional question, What madness is this to alter all nature and the planet to achieve mobility and wealth? Now we know, before we did not know. What must be achieved is to invest (at the cost of 10% of the road investment budget …) at all costs, without investing more in what has an inevitable destiny, to die, at the expense of consuming supposedly getting it right, everything earned without any destiny, instead of being wrong on the other hand a thousand times after the search for a solution for the next way of life, with new levitating personal and family ships, and then leaving the problem earlier than imagined, towards our happiness of Being.
    The solution. Where the vision of the public highway is the universe and all, not just Ford, we are all out of the box.

  2. I’m trying to reach Ryan Westrom from Greenfield labs. I’m interested in finding out more about the Street Steward Program. Are there organizations/groups nationally or regionally? I live in San Diego. Is there someone I can communicate with to see how such a program works? Is it launched in San Diego or SoCal? If not, how does one go about launching such a program? My main interest is doing something about the litter issue, but would be interested in other aspects as well. Hope you can point me in the right direction.

    Scott Horst
    San Diego


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Read more from

Spotlighting innovations in urban sustainability and connected technology

Middle-Mile Networks: The Middleman of Internet Connectivity

Middle-Mile Networks: The Middleman of Internet Connectivity

The development of public, open-access middle mile infrastructure can expand internet networks closer to unserved and underserved communities while offering equal opportunity for ISPs to link cost effectively to last mile infrastructure. This strategy would connect more Americans to high-speed internet while also driving down prices by increasing competition among local ISPs.

In addition to potentially helping narrow the digital divide, middle mile infrastructure would also provide backup options for networks if one connection pathway fails, and it would help support regional economic development by connecting businesses.

Wildfire Risk Reduction: Connecting the Dots

Wildfire Risk Reduction: Connecting the Dots

One of the most visceral manifestations of the combined problems of urbanization and climate change are the enormous wildfires that engulf areas of the American West. Fire behavior itself is now changing.  Over 120 years of well-intentioned fire suppression have created huge reserves of fuel which, when combined with warmer temperatures and drought-dried landscapes, create unstoppable fires that spread with extreme speed, jump fire-breaks, level entire towns, take lives and destroy hundreds of thousands of acres, even in landscapes that are conditioned to employ fire as part of their reproductive cycle.

ARISE-US recently held a very successful symposium, “Wildfire Risk Reduction – Connecting the Dots”  for wildfire stakeholders – insurers, US Forest Service, engineers, fire awareness NGOs and others – to discuss the issues and their possible solutions.  This article sets out some of the major points to emerge.

Innovating Our Way Out of Crisis

Innovating Our Way Out of Crisis

Whether deep freezes in Texas, wildfires in California, hurricanes along the Gulf Coast, or any other calamity, our innovations today will build the reliable, resilient, equitable, and prosperous grid tomorrow. Innovation, in short, combines the dream of what’s possible with the pragmatism of what’s practical. That’s the big-idea, hard-reality approach that helped transform Texas into the world’s energy powerhouse — from oil and gas to zero-emissions wind, sun, and, soon, geothermal.

It’s time to make the production and consumption of energy faster, smarter, cleaner, more resilient, and more efficient. Business leaders, political leaders, the energy sector, and savvy citizens have the power to put investment and practices in place that support a robust energy innovation ecosystem. So, saddle up.

The Future of Cities

Mayors, planners, futurists, technologists, executives and advocates — hundreds of urban thought leaders publish on Meeting of the Minds. Sign up to follow the future of cities.

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Wait! Before You Leave —

Wait! Before You Leave —

Subscribe to receive updates on the Executive Cohort Program!

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Share This