Behavior Change Case Study: Greenfield Labs
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.
Read more from MeetingoftheMinds.org
Spotlighting innovations in urban sustainability and connected technology
Housing that is affordable to low-income residents is often substandard and suffering from deferred maintenance, exposing residents to poor air quality and high energy bills. This situation can exacerbate asthma and other respiratory health issues, and siphon scarce dollars from higher value items like more nutritious food, health care, or education. Providing safe, decent, affordable, and healthy housing is one way to address historic inequities in community investment. Engaging with affordable housing and other types of community benefit projects is an important first step toward fully integrating equity into the green building process. In creating a framework for going deeper on equity, our new book, the Blueprint for Affordable Housing (Island Press 2020), starts with the Convention on Human Rights and the fundamental right to housing.
Since the Great Recession of 2008, the housing wealth gap has expanded to include not just Black and Brown Americans, but younger White Americans as well. Millennials and Generation Z Whites are now joining their Black and Brown peers in facing untenable housing precarity and blocked access to wealth. With wages stuck at 1980 levels and housing prices at least double (in inflation adjusted terms) what they were 40 years ago, many younger Americans, most with college degrees, are giving up on buying a home and even struggle to rent apartments suitable for raising a family.
What makes it hard for policy people and citizens to accept this truth is that we have not seen this problem in a very long time. Back in the 1920s of course, but not really since then. But this is actually an old problem that has come back to haunt us; a problem first articulated by Adam Smith in the 1700s.
More than ever, urban transit services are in need of sustainable and affordable solutions to better serve all members of our diverse communities, not least among them, those that are traditionally car-dependent. New mobility technologies can be a potential resource for local transit agencies to augment multi-modal connectivity across existing transit infrastructures.
We envision a new decentralized and distributed model that provides multi-modal access through nimble and flexible multi-modal Transit Districts, rather than through traditional, centralized, and often too expensive Multi-modal Transit Hubs. Working in collaboration with existing agencies, new micro-mobility technologies could provide greater and seamless access to existing transit infrastructure, while maximizing the potential of the public realm, creating an experience that many could enjoy beyond just catching the next bus or finding a scooter. So how would we go about it?