#IAMCandidateX with Christine Hemphill – Open Inclusion

#IAMCandidateX with Christine Hemphill – Open Inclusion

In the UK, 1 in 3 of us will experience a disability at any one time. Whilst this could be an impairment that may vanish within 12 months, it will be limiting for activities in your day to day. In tandem with this, the UK is an ageing population that is growing and our requirements and access needs will change.  Considerations for these needs span across both physical and digital spaces, products and services. To produce ones that inclusive in design, functional and life enhancing requires dedication, insight and research.

In this episode we are joined by Christine Hemphill, one of the key people in this space. Join us to find out why and how a former World Championship Triathlete founded Open Inclusion, a consultancy which  create products, services and environments that are not only beautiful, but inclusive and effective for everyone.

Transcript

Christine Hemphil – Open Inclusion – Founder and MD

SUMMARY KEYWORDS

people, organisations, design, inclusion, environments, period, inclusive, moment, create, understand, space, product, client, innovation, bit, physical, open, life, disability, interesting

SPEAKERS

Man Wong, Christine Hemphill

Man Wong 

Welcome to the #IAMCandidateX series the show about community innovators, entrepreneurs and the impact they are having in our world or through a diversity and inclusion lens. I’m your host Man Wong and today I’m joined by Christine Hemphill. Christine is the Founder and Managing Director of Open Inclusion. Founded in 2015. Open inclusion is an accessibility and innovation consultancy, partnering clients to understand inclusion opportunities and issues. Open Inclusion help create products, services and environments that are not only beautiful, but inclusive and effective for everyone. Christine a very warm welcome to you on a very rainy day in London. How are you and where are you speaking to us from today?

Christine Hemphill 

Hey Man. Lovely to speak to you today. Yes our rain has moved on here. We’ve just got grey clouds today but I’m speaking to you from France today. And actually my home base is here in the French Alps. Although, Open is a London based organisation so usually I’m flitting to and from the two of them quite regularly. At the moment obviously not so much.

Man Wong

You’ve been there since lockdown?

Christine Hemphill

We have yes, yes.

Man Wong

At least you’ve got the open space to sort of enjoy, which is great.

Christine Hemphill

Thankfully,.

Man Wong

Been taking advantage of that, I hope

Christine Hemphill 

We have yes, especially in fact, it was almost like the from the beginning of lockdown Spring started, so we had the most remarkable six weeks when you know, no one was really been meant to be going out at all where it was beautiful sunshine all the time. But luckily, we’re right on a hill so you don’t have any problems with social distancing.

Man Wong

Oh, brilliant. And your family must be enjoying the enforced family time with each other, I guess, during this period, is it more time with each other than you’ve ever experienced in the period?

Christine Hemphill

It’s really interesting, in our household, we’ve had one period from 2010 to 2000, kind of mid-2011. Other than that, you know the last few decades, either my husband and or I have been travelling all the time for work. regularly pretty well every week. And it’s been an absolute delight to have a couple of months with zero travel required, and all of us in the home all the time. So, yes, teenagers in the home all the time, you know, occasionally gets a little challenging. But actually, it’s been a real, you know, we’ve got to recognise this as a privilege for us. And it’s not been a pleasure for everyone, that just having that time where you’re all together, there’s not the distractions of so much schooling or so much your activity for the boys. It’s been really nice.

Man Wong

It’s interesting, isn’t it? And it’s been one of the more stressful periods, certainly in my life for a number of reasons, because of this enforce lockdown, but I have to say, I don’t think I’ve laughed as much. Because with the family, you know, and all that sort stuff. And just as you say, having the privilege to see them grow so closely, which I which otherwise I’d be stuck on a desk, probably in meetings and all that sort of stuff, having the in care with someone else then picking them up. Don’t get me wrong, it can be very stressful at the same token, the yin and the yang, I guess.

Christine Hemphill

That’s taking the benefits that have come with this, you know, it’s a very high cost to society and to individuals, yeah, to all of us in different ways. And it but it’s landed very unevenly. But there is also some very nice things that have landed with it. Like you were, you know, we’ve got kids that aren’t going to be with us that much longer. Our oldest son will probably go off to university this time next year. So, you know, we’ll take that time while we’ve got it.

Man Wong

Yeah, absolutely. Just before we get into the crux of the conversation, what have you missed in normal life, quote, unquote, during this long period?

Christine Hemphill

Hanging out with girlfriends probably. When I go to London, I catch up with you know friends there, we’ll go out for a drink in the evening or, you know, that physical face to face with people. I miss that. Lots of engagement happening and lots of communication and I haven’t felt that I’ve missed that but there really is that kind of catching up with friends, particularly whether it’s friends, here or friends there. And actually, the unexpected catch ups with people, everything is planned in lockdown. So, you can catch up with fabulous people and reach out to people and people will reach out. But those unplanned conversations that just happen when you’re at a meet up or at an event or going and visiting a client and you meet up with someone there. That doesn’t happen at the moment, and I missed that. I like that, the surprises of the day.

Man Wong

100%, the spontaneity of life is what we’re all missing I think during this period, so fingers crossed not too long before we can sort of revert back to some of that aspect and we can all look forward to that. Well, I want to say a big thanks for your time today for joining us having a conversation. We’re dying to find out a bit more about yourself what you’ve been doing and learn more about your business. So, before we get into Open Inclusion as I alluded to a little bit earlier, I wanted to start with the conversation around your early career because you’ve not always been in inclusion or diversity AND inclusion in that space and research and design. You started your career a little bit earlier and in some different guises. Can you talk a little bit through them?

Christine Hemphill 

Yes, I’ve had a very mixed career and I do feel like one of the newbies into this space so I still wear my, I still ask all the curious and weird questions of someone who’s quite new to it, which sometimes is a real advantage and sometimes not. I started actually in mining of all places. We’re just talking before about my very first career was in Hong Kong and Beijing and got sent up from North Asia, you know, for a mining organisation that picked me up and pay my way through university. And that was a fabulous, interesting career because yes I was one of the few women involved in it. It was very long relationships with organisations so you were really just the mantle holder for a short period in a very long time. Some of the relationships between organisations, in our organisation and client might already be 50 years old. So that made for a very interesting you think about game theory that kind of repeated game that every year you’d have negotiations with different people, that same organisation so that you very much had to respect that long game attitude to life. It was a tiny community, funnily enough, although it’s a very big industry. It’s a very small group of people globally. They’re involved in, in sales and purchasing for minerals and metals. So that was interesting, very physical products. So you know, very much the engineering type products. So my first innovation projects were in engineering spaces. So you could see it and you could measure it and you could test it in a variable physical way, which is quite interesting now when I think about designing services, that are really very intangible, and then we’re doing research to test them. Yeah. Which is not, not nearly so…

Man Wong

Polar opposites almost, isn’t it?

Christine Hemphill

Yeah, it’s a very, it’s a very different move. But that was the early, early career. I then went into consulting because I love the change. I love the innovation side of it. So I kind of followed some of the consulting houses I’ve worked with, into management, consulting. And then from there into banking, actually, mainly because I travelled so much I love travel, that we were looking to have a family and there’s something about you know, very young families travelling all the time doesn’t work so well. So I went to an industry where they were needing a lot of innovation knowledge, they were needing people that understood customers better because they weren’t brilliant at understanding the customer base. Things were kind of quite good at pushing product as opposed to understanding, desire and demand. And that was very interesting, early 2000. So early days of digital. So real transformation in the way in which services and products were being created and provided. And really quite, quite fast changes will fast changes for a very slow moving industry in terms of customer expectations of what’s possible. So if you think about the beginning of that decade, people didn’t do online banking by the end of the decade, particularly in Australia, where I was at the time, online banking had become very, very, had a huge take up and was the preferred option for many people, certainly for retail banking. So it was this really interesting transformative period to be, of course, through the financial crisis, nothing like working in bank during a financial crisis and to see what works and what doesn’t, culturally or product wise or consumer wise. So yeah, so that was a really interesting period and then I came to inclusion through design. So through that innovation and design bent. And when I started working in Europe, in 2013, really kind of differentiated a digital design agency we’re working, you’re building at the time for someone else, not my organisation. But we differentiated that on the basis of inclusion and accessibility. And that was such a positive experience. And I saw the potential of inclusive design to differentiate product and service outcomes from the customer perspective, so effectively, and yet few people, it seemed to still be this niche thing that you added on after, as opposed to just a way to make much better product [1]that yes, support some people all the time that otherwise would be excluded, but also just has this lovely positive flow on effect to your mainstream customer base that just makes better product.

Man Wong

Hmm, interesting, isn’t it, it’s um, rather than thinking it after the event as a bolt on, begin with the core and design it from there, so it’s always It’s always in focus always in mind. So that enables that accessibility and that inclusive mindset from the beginning. Just quickly back to your early sort of early career, I feel like you’ve missed a big portion out to through your sports there that I can’t move on from that point without really sort of talking about. So I need you to park your humility, and let me have some of your accomplishments you achieved there. (laughter)

Christine Hemphill

Yeah, it took a little segue, slightly late in life, but actually, it had an inclusive driver. So my sister and I both got two sons. Her second son was diagnosed with Muscular Dystrophy when he was four. It was this very challenging year that followed of learning about it before the changes that really hit so fully for him because it’s a progressive condition. Just that knowledge and, that your recognition of life is going to be different to what we potentially perceived and understanding that difference and understanding what that meant. So I went and did a triathlon for charity to raise some money for the Research Foundation simply to put myself through some pain to show my sister was on the dirty with her, couldn’t take it away, couldn’t change what it was just wanted to show that I gave a damn. And that opened the door that became an interesting and unusual adventure. A fabulous adventure, actually, where that race that I did for charity happened to be a qualification race for the world champs. I actually didn’t know that at the time,

Man Wong

I was about to ask you, you didn’t know that at the time?

Christine Hemphill

No. And I ended up qualifying and so in the world champs that you happen to be in Australia, so I decided to take it up. And then found a coach, got myself to it actually in better shape than I was at the beginning because obviously I still had an 18 month old son at the beginning of this so it’s still kind of getting my fitness back from having children. And by the time we were at the World Champs I was actually you know, moving quite a lot faster and getting more competitive than my coach just went to be you know, drop your day job. I was still working at the bank. Drop your day job for a while come and give this thing ago, I think you might have a chance. And so the next World Championships both short and long course, Olympic distance and ITU long course were in Europe, his girlfriend was based in Europe. So they said come over to Europe, spend a year and train here and see where you go. And that was a good year. So I ended up racing professionally for three years after that, and moved out of amateur after that first year. And that brought us to Europe.

Man Wong

I love how you were just gonna bypass that whole portion of your life. There’s no way I was gonna let you do that. I mean, I would call myself and I’ll be very generous by saying I’m a keen cyclist. So you know, I’m always enamoured by people who compete in this professionally, you know, incredible incredible. And I think it gives you a… certainly helps me understand a little bit more about your why. As to how you got into this with with a lot of vigour really, because it’s very personal and what happened with your sister, and your nephew in terms of that diagnosis. So was that the first couple steps in line, with also the product piece that you were doing in your day job regards to, “Okay, there’s a big  opportunity here, when we’re looking at making things inclusive, and making things as accessible as possible” is that what sort of drove you?

Christine Hemphill

It’s really interesting. It’s one of those things that I wish I could know how to do this better to share this passion because once you’ve seen exclusion, and once you’ve seen the pain and the frustration, of exclusion, and then from the other side, that which was what kind of happened on the personal journey. And with the other side, once you’ve seen the power of design and innovation, to solve problems, human problems in meaningful ways. It’s so hard not to put these things together. It’s so hard to ever unsee that and it’s so hard to ever want to design anything that’s going to give people a bad experience? When simply by using good human centred design and inclusively, you know, specifically inclusive human centred design. We can not do that. So, it’s one of those things where it was this combination of a personal journey and a professional journey that made it so obvious to me. And yet there wasn’t momentum in this space. In a very, there are lots of great organisations that have been working in this space for years. But what I saw was your advocacy organisations that came very much from that personal perspective, and here’s what our community are feeling and receiving and this is why you should change it. And then there was some design organisations that had some elements of good inclusive design, but not necessarily full spectrum. And that very positive and innovation first, how do we solve for this better for more people so that it’s a better experience more consistently, and also I think you’re just one other element. I suppose the third pillar of that is probably the fact that I’m an economist. by trade, don’t hold it against me.

Man Wong

I’m a recruiter by trade, so don’t worry.

Christine Hemphill

Ha well there you go. But I also look at the commercial aspect of this. And let’s not, not look at that, because this is the largest global underserved market – people with varying abilities, that how can we not look at that and go, this is an opportunity. So a lot of it had been stick based up until then, there’s a little bit of innovation in spaces that have come through that have come through very strongly. But that insight, lead, you know, exclusion, identification and removal. There wasn’t a lot of organisations or a lot of capability that seemed to be sitting in the market doing that. And particularly with good research at its heart. I’m a believer in – no one person can understand the lived experience of the community of people you’re wanting to service with a product or a service, either commercially or as a government organisation or what have you. So we need to put research at the heart of it. And we need to ask people about their experience because, you know, we can’t just empathise to understand, we have to actually find out what that experience is like, because people are fabulously diverse in the way that they adapt to differences. So even three people with the same physical condition, you know, they might have the same level of sight loss or the same level of mobility restriction, but they’ll adapt to that in completely differentiated ways based on where they live, the challenges and hurdles that that would have otherwise got in their day, what their preferences are, where they, you know, so all of these things then become things we need to ask. So putting research at the heart of what we do, allows us to solve in a much, much more powerful way and effectively.

Man Wong

So did you find that some, you know, given the things that you saw, obviously being an economist by heart by trade, you could see the tremendous opportunity. Would you say would it be a fair comment to say that you were an accidental entrepreneur in starting Open?

Christine Hemphill

I would say I was an accidental finder of inclusive design and innovation as a capability and as a thing that really just sits perfectly with me. In the design agency I worked with before because we chose differentiated with accessibility at the heart that meant we went looking for specific people that had great capability and that brought them in house. I started to learn and get on that journey with them. By the time I set up Open, I knew this was my thing. It actually it’s one of those things that was a bit like when I get got to triathlon. I had been doing triathlon for nine months, I did a bit when I was at university, but I competed in triathlon as an adult and post University for nine months by the time I went to the First World Champs I went to, and by the time I went there, it was my thing. Yeah. managed to finish on the podium in my age group. Nine months into doing this sport. I didn’t need long to know, that fit was right. It’s the same with inclusive design and innovation for me, after the agency experience was accidental, partly accidental, partly just bringing together things that seemed quite logical to me as a differentiator and then falling into it, learning more and just go, this fits perfectly. And it seems to fit a need that’s out there and unmet, quite perfectly. I really enjoy this space and that’s what triggered us to go and set up Open.

Man Wong

Magic. So in 2015, just before that happened, and the stars were aligning for you as such, what was the mission that you wanted to achieve with Open?

Christine Hemphill

Really good question. Probably three things. Firstly, I wanted inclusion to be positive, not negative. So a lot of accessibility, particularly that kind of just making it accessible to standards so that there’s compliance tick box exercise was all about mitigating risk. And managing the downside. I saw inclusion as this very, very powerful upside driver. And I wanted to change the way other people saw it, so that they didn’t just hit that minimum hurdle of, I’ve just got my nose over the compliance bar, but they looked at it and said, as an organisation, how can I maximise the value to my organisation of using this lever of inclusive design and capability? So the first thing was that optimistic upside, reaching for the upside, as opposed to holding down the downside. The second part was asking and learning. So putting research and insight at the heart of design as opposed to either old stuff that had been done previously – “oh when we did this back in 2008, we had this experience, therefore, this is what we need to design for”. I think I’ve done a huge amount of usability testing in the digital space. And that power of people to inform design was absolutely kind of ground into me in that. And the fact that people were changing much faster than we could understand and adapt to, particularly if you’re talking about kind of very stable organisations, banking and big retail organisations and so on where things are quite slow to change. The opportunities both from a technology perspective, but also people’s usage of that were changing much more rapidly than we could predict. And in different ways to we could predict. So by asking, you can understand what you can’t otherwise find. And that’s so powerful. So I wanted to bring that power into the front of it. And then the third part was being pragmatic. So rather than doing this and it being this kind of CSR objective or something that kind of you can put on a wall and you can feel good about or whatever. At the end of the day, someone’s experience had to change because of the work we did. So someone’s life had to be, you know, have less friction, less barriers into it, because we’d done something that had worked better for them. So, an actual practical outcome in someone’s daily life.

Man Wong 

Love it. And I think you know, if I was putting my client hat on and I was talking to you and you’re trying to explain to me what your drivers were and you were listing through those three things. That’s not a corporate tick box exercise. There’s going to be a really nice reiterative process here,almost taking that lean agile methodology piece of a product market fit, right? And then we’re going to have some pragmatic outcomes here. You know, this would be something that as a client, I think you’d naturally gravitate towards. Have you found that’s the case with client appetite? Do they see the value that you’re trying to present with them?

Christine Hemphill

To really interesting, great question and a challenging answer. The answer is yes and no. So this was a space at the work weren’t a lot of organisations playing into as I say, it was a pretty open space when we stepped into it, no pun intended. That we have created a market we’ve been successful for five years, we have more and more demand for our services. We’re about 50% of corporate facing kind of understanding current experiences for current clients in current environments, and about 50% innovation spaces looking to create new things in new ways for new environments. So, there is a market there. And we’ve been able to really move into that and create that and build that around us. Having said that, that you can’t unsee once you’ve seen this, I still get frustrated by the fact that a lot of people that I engage with, we’re still engaging early on in that maturity journey. And I think about UX quite a lot in this because in the early 2000s, I’m old enough to remember the early stages of digital when people create a digital product, shoved it out there and then said, people go and learn how to use it. And in the early noughties, UX became this theme, oh my gosh, you can ask people what they think of it. You can do this iterative design and then you know, by mid noughties, and you started to get kind of early stage agile and then lean came in and then you’ve got this very iterative process now where most organisations would not imagine creating a digital product particularly but hopefully any product or service without engaging with people without doing it in an iterative and learned way. I’m waiting for the time that inclusive design becomes like that. I’m a little bit frustrated because I’m impatient person, that for five years of doing this job, we’re still having those conversations for the first time with some people, and still helping them open their eyes to the power of inclusive design and edge case insights, and where and how that and they can be applied to just make much better product and service. I still love sharing that power. But I wish that we were sharing the next layer of maturity. And, you know, I think we will get there. I think that if you think about just a few weeks ago, it was global Accessibility Awareness Day. And there were huge number of events around the world and organisations like Microsoft and Atos having all day events that anyone could come into, particularly in this moment with virtual ability to come into them and learn about the power of inclusive design both in the workplace and for consumers and how they could apply it and lots of very practical specific sessions that they can do. That wasn’t happening five years ago. So, you know, there’s a lot to be positive about. But yes, I am patiently impatient about. I prefer that it was faster.

Man Wong

I can empathise with you for sure on that, but I think that might be another conversation in its entirety. And so a couple of things, I guess, you know, the analogy you used earlier was a less of the stick more of a carrot now. So I guess clients that are having this conversation with you, obviously understanding it, wants to seize the market opportunity. So, can I ask you a little bit about that? What’s the size of the market? And what are you trying to help them address on that sense?

Christine Hemphill

Yeah, so the particular communities that we help organisations understand most are people with disabilities. So, kind of lived experience of all sorts of disabilities and long term health conditions. So could be sensory base. So, hearing or sight mobility or dexterity, or neuraldiversity, mental health and so on or long-term health conditions. So, understanding that kind of ability difference. And the other one is older people where they may or may not define themselves or identify as disabled, that may have changing functional needs, and also be perceived differently by the community, actually, for both those communities, which can in itself create barriers rather than just opportunities. So of those two kind of community areas. It’s your one in five people have a permanent disability. So this is a huge market of people that could be permanently excluded if you’ve not actually designed in, you know, for permanent disability. One in three people will have a disability at any point in time so we’ll have an impairment that might not last more than 12 months but at the point in time, that ONS has run the survey that they had something significant that was limiting their day to day life, households that have someone with a disability, and that’s 40% of households in the UK. And yet, as we age, that’s going to be 100% of us because we’re all incurring impairments. By the time we’re 75, two in three of us have a long-term disability. So with an ageing society, and actually with wealth, moving with age, because the wealthiest parts of our population at the moment, are some of the older segments of our population, it is not just a very large market in terms of numbers of people. This is an enormous opportunity in terms of value of that market, and it’s an increasing, you know, it’s one of our most rapidly growing communities in society. And it’s also one of these things where it’s interesting, expectations are changing. So if you think about for the older community, those that are kind of 85 plus at the moment, their expectation when they got older is very, very different to the expectation that the current baby boomers who are just get stepping into retirement or in early retirement now, have, they’ve been fated the whole life they’ve had, they’ve been the demographic bubble that everywhere they went, there’s been an economic boom around them. So when they hit teenage years, there was a music boom. When they hit young family years, there was a housing boom. When they were having kids, there was a children’s toy and, and services boom. They’ve hit retirement. So where are the products, the services and you know, the ways that they wish to engage and their expectation of healthy ageing is quite different to two decades ago, too. So I think there’s a lot of very positive momentum driving inclusive design in a really good direction. I also think people with disabilities have had a similar sort of transformation in that the expectation of being included, there is no reason particularly as technology and emerging technologies coming in at such a fast rate. And we’ve just seen with COVID-19 everyone’s working from home. Yes, you can do it in every industry in pretty well, every role. Yes, education can be delivered online. We can never turn that back and say to people again, no, you may not learn from home because we can’t manage it. That’s gone as an excuse. So there’s so many ways in which we can include people with all sorts of different access needs, that the expectations are absolutely rightly lifting. And therefore, those organisations that are stepping in to fulfil those expectations have open fields at the moment.

Man Wong

Yeah, that’s so true, isn’t it? A few points on the aspects that you mentioned. It’s a clear problem, right in terms of what you’re trying to address, and what I find interesting, when you talk to people about disability who are able bodied is that they often don’t think that they could, I mean, I, I’m almost 40 and as far as I know, I’m pretty healthy. But at one point in my life as I get older, as these ailments kick in, I am very likely to suffer from something, you know, it could be disability, so it can happen to anybody in their, in their minds in life. So, it’s in everybody’s best interest to take interest in what people like yourself and organisations like Open are doing to address this. And then to your point about what COVID has done, you know, it sets that precedent. Having worked in recruitment for such a long period of time getting an employer to even listen to the conversation to allow individuals to work from home because they got childcare issues or because they have a disability. And was such a non starter. They can’t be in the office, even though they weren’t able to do work. This has completely changed that and you’re right that opportunity from this problem has now been created. I was interested because the market is so big and you know, I’m not as I said, I’m an able bodied individual, but I have young kids and I’ve often found myself and my wife wandering around the city with our kids with a pram. And it’s only when you do that and you and I’m not to compare it, I’m very careful not to compare apples with oranges here. It’s not like I’m requiring wheelchair access. But I found there’s just steps everywhere. And just to navigate with a pram in the City of London is a nightmare. Even stations, London Bridge has just had a big refurb. But before that, I mean, it’s not safe to bring them on escalators and things like that. So, and I know that’s not really you know, you guys, you do the work that you guys are doing much more but it’s just an analogy about the problems that access can create, you know, for someone who’s not able bodied pushing a pram around.

Christine Hemphill

Actually, I think it is much more than that. It shows the extended power of universal design. Sorry, that’s not a ghost, that’s my dog. The point is some people need these facilities to have been designed within ease in mind all of the time, because they’re a permanent wheelchair user. And they need that all the time. Some people need it for a period in their life like a period when their children are young enough that they are having to get around by pram. Some people will need it occasionally because they might be using crutches or they might be in a wheelchair because they’ve been injured for a certain period in their in time. Or they might be sometime wheelchair users because they have either muscular issues or energy issues. That means that sometimes they can actually get around and walk around themselves they someone with multiple sclerosis, and other times they’ll be having a dip in their energy or their physical capability and they’ll need to be using it. So, this isn’t a binary of there’s those that are in and those that are out. This is a grey shade that some people are always excluded if you haven’t taken the needs into account and some people are occasionally excluded. But pretty well, everyone will be excluded at some point in time, if basic differences that are just human differences of mobility and sensory needs and cognitive needs aren’t taken into account. So, in sensory need someone wearing sound cancelling headphones, walking through a station is the same as someone who’s hard of hearing. So if you’re thinking about giving emergency messaging to people, you need to think about ways that are not just sound based to get to both those communities. And that’s just a much bigger group of people. If you’re thinking about mobility, as you say, you’ve talked about prams or you talk about injuries and so on, in cognitive, someone who’s got, you know, mild cognitive challenges because of age, or someone who you know, learns differently and has always done so, or someone who’s drunk and coming home from the pub late at night. They all have different ways that they’re going to absorb process and resolve information. So, if we’re not thinking about that upfront, all of those people are excluded. So this is just a way to make sure that when we’re designing something, it’s going to work for more people more of the time. And, you know, there is a parrot, there is an element of let’s understand those who are most disadvantaged, and ensure that, you know, significantly unfair disadvantage is removed. But we’re all disadvantaged by bad design. Yeah. And that’s a really important point.

Man Wong

No, it’s interesting, isn’t it? So on that point, then I guess. It highlights the importance and the keenness of research, right and having that understanding. So is that element, the key differentiator that open offers versus may perhaps his peers or indeed his competitors?

Christine Hemphill

I think the key of right insight at the right moment is absolutely a differentiator for us. So, we have a community of about just over 500 people at the moment who are either identify as disabled, and or over 65. Okay, and that gives us this fabulous pool of, you know, humans to respond to various environments or products or services, whether it’s paper prototype through to a physical environment, and we’ve done anything from very, very early stage,  like a paper prototypes where you’re pretending to be a screen reader for a blind person you can do it for you can work for everyone, right through two live environments and walk through some really very complex places like airports, where you’re getting people going, you’re one side to the other of land side to air side and air side back. So, you can do really quite good engagements and it’s the right kind of engagement at the right moment. So it doesn’t need to be incredibly expensive five stage process. It can be, at this moment, just six people with six different needs. They’re not going to represent the whole world, they never will. But it’s a bit like usability testing a little bit and as different from each other as possible. And you’ll get so much more insight that you can start to work from and start to feed into how you can make something that’s going to work better for more people than if you haven’t asked that question. So, a little bit regularly is always better than kind of either leaving it to the end or not doing it or even just trying to do it as one big chunk at one moment in time.

Man Wong

So do you, similar to I guess, not, but I’ll ask the question, do you use personas like you would do in a technology design methodology?

Christine Hemphill

We try not to use personas too much because they can end up being too much like a cardboard cutout and not real enough. And the differences between individuals – the thing about a persona is someone’s got to create them, which means you’ve got to imagine a person. So, what we try and do is, if we do it’s usually because we’ve done a piece of design or a piece of research already, well, then maybe we’ve had 30 people respond to an environment. And then we might create some amalgamations of those real people into design guidelines, which we can do. So, they we turn it, we flip it the other way and say for designer, what does that mean for them. So, we’ll create a design set of design guidelines for that. Or we do sometimes do personas and help them understand different groups of people with different preferences and needs and actually jobs to be done. You know, the jobs to be done. perspective on it is also really interesting because similar communities with similar needs and adaptation approaches but coming from a slightly different context of what we’re coming to that organisation for and the job that they’re trying to get done can make for a very different experience as well. So just going through those various frameworks of what’s the person’s personal needs, what’s the way they adapt to it? What are some of the other contexts around them in their life? Their living in conditions where they live with a family where they live alone, whether they have a young family or an old family, whether they go everywhere by car, or they prefer public transport, and then the function that they’re trying to do and following through that journey based approach of their job that they’ve come to that organisation to do. So, we do occasionally, and but usually based off a border, much more real set of people as opposed to that way sitting there drawing them up imagining what this person might be.

Man Wong

Well, you know, why not, though, in terms of you utilising, I guess you would call a consumer panel of the numbers that you’ve got with the varieties because I don’t think it can be replaced, right, with actual experience and feeling so as soon as types of work that you would utilise the consumer panel on what type of work will you undertake?

Christine Hemphill

So we’re mainly qualitative, it is a small panel, it’s 500 people, not 20,000. So, it’s mainly qualitative research, and both behavioral and attitude. And also we’ll do anything from surveys, which is very much what people think about things. We’ll also do things like ethnographic you know, in home studies, obviously not at the moment, though, we’ve just done it in home diary study where people just did daily videos. But it wasn’t us in the home, it was just them doing a daily video and sharing that with us through the COVID period. So we do mystery shopping, where people will actually go on a journey either online or in store or combination of both, to see what that journey feels like for them, and give them specific tasks to be done and see how that works for them with their access needs, and engagements they have. We work quite across the spectrum in terms of environments, as you mentioned before, so we do digital, we also look at customer service and physical environments. And when and where, it’s relevant to that. We’ll also look at the brand expectation – so what people think about a brand before they even go into those environments. So that kind of full spectrum of consumer experience and customer experience is relevant to us. Because when you’re thinking about how do I get to do something, a customer will come at it in the way that suits them. So if you just do occasionally, we’ll just do something just in the digital space or just in the physical space. But we try and come at it from the consumer perspective, which is these days more often than not multichannel.

Man Wong

That’s excellent. That’s brilliant. And, I mean, you alluded to it a little bit in terms of what you’re trying to do during this period. How as the team and you been working during this period, because obviously very unusual circumstance, right?

Christine Hemphill

Yeah, I mean, everyone’s been challenged by this, us also luckily because of inclusive research, one of the ways we fought very hard to reach demographics into research prior to this period was using remote methodologies. So having someone Skype into a focus group where some people are in there physically in room or co design group, we’d have some people that didn’t want to travel or it was very difficult or they had anxiety around certain circumstances, would be brought in virtually. And therefore we had habits and we had practices around virtual engagement with our panel, you know, going way back, that has obviously gone to 100% of research at the moment. So all our research is still available. So we still do focus groups we can do usability testing can be mystery shopping. But all of that has been done in a virtual sense. So that’s where we’re at even got some physical testing, where we’re sending a prototype of a new technology around to people to test and all we’re having to do is send it back to our research director each time so I can get fully cleaned off and disinfected and so on between your individual so even physically Testing, we’ve found ways of doing. So yes, if you’re creative enough that you can do pretty well, everything, it’s just using the tools as effectively as we can, and making sure those tools are accessible to all the people we’re doing research with.

Man Wong

So good to hear, you know, it’s obvious that being who you are in the business that you’re trying to be established that almost from a cultural perspective, right, to not to not allow physical presence be an inhibitor, you know, always make it … which has meant that you’ve been able to offer your full array of services. So that’s interesting. So in terms of market uptake on the other side of the coin, then, have you been suffering from some of the downturn that some of the clients might be experiencing, or they put things on hold, or what are the challenges at this stage?

Christine Hemphill

Yes, absolutely. Um, you know, we’re a small business like most small businesses at the moment where, you know, finding it a difficult period to navigate. Having said that, I’m very optimistic long term, about what the period will do for insight and design. In fact, I’ve been using a Napoleon quote recently, which doesn’t always go down well in the UK as it does in France. 200 years ago. he said in times of great change, it’s not foresight or hindsight, we need but insight. And the more rapid the period of change the less relevant any knowledge you had from prior to at any period, because that changes happening so rapidly. Basically, the redundancy of knowledge becomes very fast. So the value of insight goes up. So I think the value we can bring to organisations has only gone up through this period and also the power of inclusive design has been exposed, where it’s failed people and organisations and the opportunity for people to I think, people’s social conscience has been challenged and changed through this period to, this period where we’ve had more time to reflect in different ways, obviously, what’s happening in the US at the moment as well and thinking about communities that have had very significant racism and bias against them for very long periods of time. And that social unrest that this is kind of given us a moment to stop and consider. We don’t want to go back to where we were, we want to go forward to something better. And I think a lot of people have that feeling and have this sense of by shaking everything loose. Which health crisis like this is done, and no we don’t don’t want that. It is a health crisis. But the fact that we have everything now loose and everything in this very uncertain state, let’s put it back together in a better shape than we started from. The stable base we can from is not the place we want to go back to. So short term, it’s hard as a small business and yes, large organisations aren’t being able to make decisions to invest in a whole lot of programmes that they might have had on the roadmap, back in January this year. Long term, I think we may have prioritised projects around the sort of work we do over and above other projects that might have been before. So, I have a real optimism long term. And yes, we just need to get through the turmoil of now. Having said we’ve been very busy with some of that business is us sharing what we’ve just done off our own bat. But we’ve also had, we’ve been very lucky. We’ve had a couple of projects that were going before this period and have kept going through these periods. So we haven’t quiten down yet. I keep waiting for it, but it hasn’t quite happened yet.

Man Wong

I know we were speaking obviously, just before we clicked the record button, how tired we both work from all the work we’re doing. So I don’t doubt that at all. It’s interesting, isn’t it because had COVID not taken place, obviously if I’d asked you the question, what challenges Open might be experiencing in terms of the market space? It’s, it’s a totally different answer now. Right. And I find that’s really interesting because the perspective of post COVID whatever that may or may not look like, I’m really eager to understand how and you know, I’ll ask you the question how people would how leaders would view diversity inclusion in that space because working so fragmented means that people have to put that extra effort to make inclusive inclusion a thing. With everything that’s been going on in the media with with all the tragedies has been happening around the world, you know, the aspects of diversity or prejudice and bias and racism is much more at the forefront. So it’s, it’s just interesting to see how this all sits together in this melting pot, get mixes together, and then what that means for you know, the work that you do, organisations like yourself at CandidateX etc, and how that impacts through So, yeah, it’s just how that’s gonna navigate that The space and I’m just interested to see what your thoughts are on that.

Christine Hemphill

I think there’s some really interesting pieces to unpick in there. Firstly, for brands, they have both an opportunity and a risk right now, because people are experiencing in a heightened way, the brand. And this is because if you’re at home, and if you’re trying to get basics for food and the risk of going to a shop, you’re choosing not to take that risk and you’re not wanting to, and you’re excluded, because the digital platform that that brand offers, isn’t sufficient for your access needs, or has been overrun by you know, it’s just failed the stress test of this period or whatever the reasons are, that’s going to have a deeper impact on you now because there are a few things that you’re caring more about. So everything’s become a little bit more condensed and concentrated. Therefore customer experience, either positive or negative has become more condensed and concentrated. Which means if you get it right, right now, you are going to have an impact in terms of consumer loyalty and consumer positive brand affiliation way more deeply than you would have six months ago. If you get things wrong now, the same thing goes. So I suppose firstly is the impact of inclusion or exclusion is higher now. And part of that goes to, we’ve got fewer things that we’re caring more about, and part of it is that the cost of getting it wrong now can be fatal for people. So, if people are having to take risks, that means that they’re going out and they’re putting themselves at risk of getting Coronavirus, and particularly those that are more vulnerable to severe impacts from it. The impact of that and actually either the emotional impact of that of taking on that risk or the real impact of that if the risk is realised, is so much more profound, that organisations do need to recognise that and do what they can to minimise risks, and to maximise the benefits that they can offer to customers on key journeys that are relevant now, not on everything that they ever did just on those key things that are relevant now. So. I think firstly, that real depth of experience now is very powerful. Use the power for good. If you don’t use it for good, if you don’t even notice that it’s there, it might be that you’re not succeeding. So, so much in that and that’s not going to be a good thing for any brand right now. Secondly is that there is an ability to change that things are changing faster and consumers are changing faster. So, people that have said, I’ll never get on digital, or that have said that they will never, you know, try whatever it is Zumba or you’re all doing different things. So, this is an opportunity to attract people to an option that you’ve wanted to provide to them previously, people are far more open minded about that, because so much is new. Because we’re all going through so much new digital transformation has gone through in three months, what probably three years wouldn’t have done for us if it wasn’t for this period. So using the momentum that is there, in a positive way. So, there’s a number of these things that are quite profound and they’re quite strong. And they can either work with you or work against you, depending on how much you’re proactively leaning into it and taking advantage of them, or not.

Man Wong

It’s so I love that it’s rather than using the circumstances as a way to box you into a situation where I go, I can’t honestly consider diversity inclusion because I’ve got all these other priorities. Let’s actually use the circumstances to cook to help you create, actually, how can I use this in my favour? So not only is it hitting business requirements that I need, but also to create this area here that’s much more accessible and to utilise what that consumer movement is now doing, right?

Christine Hemphill

Let’s just take it to your world for a moment, and let’s think about talent. So, if you think as an organisation, we’ve just been forced to put 100% of our staff into a remote, your work from home situation, and we’ve worked out how to do it, right, or working out. But you know, we’re in that process of very rapidly working out how to enable people to be very efficient and effective from home. You’ve just opened your doors to a whole talent pool out there. That is underleveraged, which is the talent pool you’re talking about before, of people that want to work from home for whatever reason, that actually need to work from home because they’re far more efficient in the home environment than they are outside of it. Who might wish to work five hours a day because they’ve got care responsibilities. They’ve got elderly parents that they are looking after they’ve got young children they’re looking after, or they may themselves have physical needs, that means they’re very efficient. But for that period, that ability to not require them to be in an office and to waste that kind of dead time either side on commuting, and to use the lifetime, much more powerfully, and much more efficiently for some people, some people will always be better in the office, and that’s going to suit them and they’ll want to put a suit and tie on and go into a shared social environment, other people that really takes away from their efficiency. Now as an organisation, you’ve created more options, Options as an economist I can say pretty well always valuable. So, if you take it as that you’ve created this new funnel to talent that you couldn’t even ever before, because you hadn’t worked out how to open that door. Now you’ve opened the door. See what talents through it.

Man Wong

So on Open, and it’s way it’s engaging with clients, in your mind, I guess on a broader sense, but also very narrow to the client. What does success look like to you? When you’re engaged with a client. Is it a light bulb moment they might see or is it – genuine appetite they want to take on board? What you’re saying or what does that look like for you?

Christine Hemphill

Really good question. I think the most powerful impact we can have on an organisation is to make ourselves redundant, that they take that experience they have with us and they go, how do we not see this? How do we not do this? And they start to actually embed that capability within their organisational wherewithal, so whether it’s in terms of skills, whether it’s in terms of tools and policies and where they engage, maybe even creating their own kind of reference group that is the right reference group to their industry in the organisation that has access to I love that funnily enough, I’m not looking for Groundhog Day here, there’s so many more organisations out there, we haven’t got to yet. I would love to retire off as many as we possibly can, because they’ve got this. They’ve recognised how important it is. And they’re building the skills internally to be able to keep that momentum going without us. So to me, that’s probably the furthest extent of success. But back within that, it’s also a little moments like, when someone says, Oh my gosh, since that changed to a product or an environment, and we do testing before and testing after, I can now independently, go to that store, do the things I want, independently navigate my way through that environment or independently manage my own finances. And as a 40 year old person, I don’t need to ask my parents to come in and look at this to do these bits that I couldn’t do before. Tell me off of the things that they don’t think I should be spending. So it’s when you enable people to do things independently that they should, you know, they want to be able to do, they’ve got all the capabilities to be able to do that the environments inhibiting them from that, when we’ve removed the limitations in the environment, and people can do that. And you see those kind of very much one person moments of now, now I can do that. That’s great. It’s not the same as changing a whole organisation, but it feels great.

Man Wong

But how great is that though, you know, the overall mission similar to, me know when myself and Jonathan know when we talk about CandidateX, you know, people ask us what you want to achieve. We don’t want to exist, you know, things like us shouldn’t have to exist in that that’s when we know successful and what’s what you’re saying you you’ve helped enable such an open world that you’re no longer needed, but before you get to that individual impact, that you’ve managed to make them feel so independent and they’ve taken control which is great. You know, which was what companies in your mind, they don’t necessarily have to be clients, do you feel that are leading the way with this and have really done well in terms of accessibility and inclusion?

Christine Hemphill

It’s really interesting and I’ve thought about this a bit lately. There’s some organisations that have got this and they’ve got it for the reasons. Basically innovation, real organisations that are working in spaces where innovation has a massive differentiator of success, and particularly about technology organisations for a moment, either physical technology like phone manufacturers, or software manufacturers. But where innovation is moving very, very fast. It worked out the power of extreme insights. And that can be people with permanent disabilities, people that adapt products in very different ways people that are very, very Intense users of a product or very occasional users of product, people who are very digitally savvy, very new to digital, or to a certain experience, you know, even a physical experience, very rare users have a certain physical environment. So once they and if it’s a space where innovation really counts for your success, and for long term, potential in that space, those organisations and you think about Apple and Google and Microsoft, are all working really fast in this space, all have great internal teams, they all know it’s a journey, all of them will say that they’re not there, and that there’s a lot more they can be doing that they have big footprints, and therefore there’s a lot of that footprint that’s not yet fully accessible and inclusive.

Man Wong

And that’s all right, right. You know, that’s okay to say that it’s brilliant.

Christine Hemphill

Actually, you know what, I think that’s a real sign of maturity because no one ever gets I work in inclusion agency, let me tell you, we still get things wrong. You know, we’re constantly looking to try and create environments that are as inclusive as possible. But you know, we make mistakes. It’s a journey. And we also create things that you then go now test it, we’re lucky, we have the panel. So we test, our panel leads test, our actual research programmes, we co design that with our panel lead. So each represent one of the communities that we have access to that not everyone does. So it’s a journey, we’re all on this journey. And environments are always changing. So we’re always having to learn because we’re creating a new product or we’re creating, we’re using leveraging a new technology or we’re in a new geography where culturally it’s different, or, you know, every time you work in a new way, or work in a new space or work with a new channel or technology, you’ve got to learn again. So it’s a never ending journey. But those organisations where innovation is at the heart. They’re the ones that we see moving the fastest. The other ones are some of the very highly competitive spaces. So spaces like fashion, spaces like your real design spaces, where making things, again going to the extremes, you can make something that is just more delightful for everyone. And even organisations like Ferrari creating a Ferrari that is more comfortable to drive in. And you know, they realise that actually, a lot of the people that were buying Ferraris are quite a lot older. They’re all of the average demographic, because that’s where they’ve got the wealth to go and buy themselves a Ferrari

Man Wong 

Makes sense yeh.

Christine Hemphill

Yeah, and rather than have these very uncomfortable vehicles that people are spending a fortune on, and then choosing not to drive a lot of kilometres because it wasn’t very comfortable. They’re actually coming from the inclusion perspective and redesigning that so that it’s a more comfortable experience so that they’re getting more value out of their very high end product. So some of those kind of real, you know, luxury spaces and your Tommy Hilfiger or you know that Nike with their Flyease shoe have come from that designing for one, and then bringing that back into making it, the Flyease shoe as a shoe where you don’t have laces. So it’s really easy for someone who’s got a mobility challenge to still have a sport shoe and still feel cool about going to school or high school or college or what have you with with a shoe that looks like their friend’s. It’s also fabulous for lazy teenagers who just can’t be bothered doing their laces and sounds

Man Wong

Sounds like you’ve got a few pairs in the house, Christine?

Christine Hemphill 

Yeah, let’s say that they’re very practical shoes for those that can’t be bothered.

Man Wong

Wonderful. I mean, I have to say every time I speak to you, when I get a bit of an overview of this, I feel a lot more positive about what may happen in the future. When you hear about, you know, there’s some genuine things going on out there that people sort of focused on, but basically by listening to everybody By taking  on board everybody’s voice and putting that into account. So, just to bring this sort of to a close, I guess a bit more of an open question for yourself, if you can wish for one thing for change or impact around inclusion, space and accessibility areas that you work on, what would it be?

Christine Hemphill 

Hmmmm my Magic Wand question. We often use that in our research. Yeah, if you gave me a magic wand. I think the one thing I’d love organisations to do is just start learning from the edges. So, I use the acronym swim, which is Someone Who Isn’t Me. Even if they just asked two…

Man Wong

I’m going to write that down

Christine Hemphill

Please. steal use, abuse and share at will. I think it’s a really powerful concept, which is, you don’t need to take this on as this great big challenge that all of a sudden I’m going to absorb you know, I’m going to have 100,000 pound programme and we’re going to be running this and that it’s going to be central to our whole strategy. Look at the organisation as it is, look at what you’re creating as it is. And just start asking people who are as far away from your experience or the experience of the designers and the product creators and those that have QAing ut and those are already in the product or environment creation process. Get perspectives, from as far away who are relevant customers who are relevant. Yeah, and it could be employees as well works just as effectively in the employee environment. But to understand how that experience varies from those someone’s who aren’t you and if you only have one person to ask, ask for someone is different as you if you’ve got two make sure the difference between those two people are as far from each other as polar opposites as possible. And so if you start to build it out, just start by engaging with people with really specific differences and looking for those differences and then listening and in, you’re not just taking that Oh, right, that’s their experience but what can we do with that experience? And how can we start to improve what we’re putting out there, so that it’s going to work for them as well.

Man Wong

Excellent.

Christine Hemphill

The more people just start that journey that once you start and once you get curious, and once you’ve seen this, we were saying beforehand, you can’t unsee it. Like, people still don’t see it, I can’t unsee it, I look at the world through that perspective of how much opportunity there is to make it better.

Man Wong 

Brilliant, I think that’s a very poignant point, to put a stop to where we’re at with things and I think if any of you could take one takeaway from this entire conversation it’s right? You know, put yourself into that perspective, those different avenues and really sort of see the world in that way. So, that we can make it more open for everybody that’s involved and needs to be. Christine, I want to say thank you very much for your time. It’s  been a brilliant conversation. I really enjoyed talking to you today. It’s good to see that you’re doing well and you’re enjoying everything over in France and hopefully we’ll get to meet in person again soon.

Christine Hemphill

Sounds good man. It’s been an absolute pleasure and keep safe.

Man Wong 

And to you Christine, thank you to everybody for listening, hope you enjoyed the show,  please be good, be kind and do stay safe.


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