Project detail and samples
View a Slideshare summary of the project that I presented at Design Thinking for HR in December 2019.
Commmunications for this project required a great deal of tact and diplomacy, as I needed to probe subject matter that was both complex and often emotionally challenging, with many points of friction naturally arising between diverse stakeholders. The largest deliverables were three versions (executive, condensed, and full) of the final research report, which can be downloaded below. Please note: there is no confidentiality policy for any of these materials, but they are sensitive in nature—as such, I would appreciate if you delete them after review.
In 2015, UNICEF revived a policy that had gone somewhat dormant, applicable to its approximately 4,000 International Professional (IP) staff, but was only followed by some (and voluntarily): Mobility—a UN-wide guideline to rotate to a different duty stations, preferably in a different region of the world, every 2-5 years, depending on one's Tour of Duty. The first reaction from the staff was shock. This program was tough to strictly follow, and could require serious sacrifices in career, personal life, and even well-being: as one of UNICEF's taglines reads: they work in some of the the toughest places in the world to reach the most disadvantaged children. Some staff at UNICEF take considerable risks for their work (and receive danger pay and other entitlements) while leaving families behind somewhere safe, and others work in comfortable cosmopolitan cities. One goal of the Mobility policy was to ensure that the burden of the most personally challenging duty stations was not always on the same staff members.
Though the team had several years of Mobility program experience by the time they hired me as a human-centered design consultant in 2019, it had been almost impossible to be sure of what was going well for staff, and what was not, because of the wide range of situations and experiences staff around the world inevitably had—and the team wanted to hear about these firsthand from staff, not through local HR reps. So this project was mainly an investigation, via quant and qual research, into IP staff's experiences and perceptions of the program, with the hopeful goal of improving communications, process, and policy (in that order) so that the frequent disruptive job transitions now required for staff would go as smoothly as possible.
Though the project was initially slated to take 6-9 months, budget and timeline were reduced to 4-6 months by the time I began. And I needed a full six months, due to an overwhelming response from IP staff to our call for participation in focus groups. (One lesson for qual research in the HR sector: be prepared to scope generously, as you can't really say "no" to staff who want their voices heard!) If I had had longer than six months, I would have liked to have done more ideation around policy and program ideas, and service blueprinting, in collaboration with the Mobility team, which I think could have helped further efforts in innovation. But because of the overall sensitivity of the project, and because the findings indicated some significant unexpected dissatisfaction with the policy—in particular, the way certain leaders were managing part of the Mobility processes, I think the team had to deal with the findings internally, as they understood their organization's political situation best.
Process Snapshot and Project Plan:
Stakeholder Interview Report (Initial Findings):
For large projects, after team kickoff, I almost always start with immersion in secondary research, and then a round of stakeholder interviews. In this case, the initial interviews were of various staff in DHR, including the Director and Deputy Director of HR for UNICEF. I made the decision to interview Regional Chiefs of HR (one Chief for each of the UN's seven regions - LACRO, ECAR, ESAR, MENAR, SAR, EAPRO, WCAR) as part of the primary research, as they were also subject to the Mobility policy, in addition to being faciltators of it. After putting together a 10-page report, I reviewed it with the Mobility team for feedback and clarification, and made notes on their clarifications in caps. This document was an informal document for my benefit but also to be sure stakeholders were aware of one another's perceptions and expectations, and so any signficant misalignments could be resolved prior to starting the primary research.
Mobility Process/ Service diagram:
As part of the initial immersion phase, I documented a more thorough process of how the managed Mobility exercise worked, with feedback from the team. In blue are key issues Regional Chiefs of HR identified to me, after I interviewed them. Here's where, if I had had more budget, we could have done more service blueprinting, making clearer the various roles and communications coming from which parties (as DHR, Regional Chiefs of HR, and local HR reps were all involved at different levels, all of which varied per duty station), and then, after policy modifications, the service blueprint could have been refined, improved, and used as a guide internally.
Mobiiity Staff Notification Timeline:
(Compare with diagram above)
On the Mobility intranet site, this timeline diagram, not developed by me, served as a simplified journey map which I used to probe issues with the Mobility process in focus groups. It ended up being viewed as misleading by staff in several ways.
Recruitment for qualitative research was a huge undertaking for this project; luckily, I had some assistance from the Mobility team. The matrix I developed for recruitment was necessary to ensure we were determining ample diversity and representation of different staff viewpoints, and it evolved over time, as I learned more about which criteria were likely to be most important in gaining a complete understanding of diverse viewpoints for this highly diverse and widely geographically distributed staff.
Survey and Focus Group/ Interview Protocols:
Please download the full report and refer to pages 12-13 and Appendix C (or click here for survey results). The survey was developed and released first, in close collaboration with the team (I drafted, and they provided extensive feedback and additions). One mistake was probably letting the team talk me into so many open-ended questions, which made analysis pretty overwhelming; still, we got good data and a strong response for such a long survey. I think we were also a bit repetitive with a couple questions. But all in all, it was very helpful for getting at underlying issues, some of which I could then probe in the focus groups and interviews.
Focus groups and interviews:
I moderated all of these, but have no sample recordings of these, as they have been destroyed, due to promised confidentiality/ anonymity for staff who participated, which was a key learning from this project: for vulnerable participants or difficult subject matter, remote research can actually be an advantage, as it helps ensure anonymity for those who want it. I did promise all staff that no names would be included in the final report, even though I needed their e-mail addresses to set up the sessions. Some staff (including HR) did participate in in-person sessions in New York, Nairobi, Geneva and Copenhagen as well, which followed a similar structure to the remote sessions, but we did some sketching of overlapping categories of issues during some discussions:
Because of the massive amount of qual and quant research performed, I was able to incorporate several analysis methodologies: thematic analysis of dialogue and written comments in the survey was one. Here I'm showing the color code key to the themes that emerged, along with coding of some survey answers. I also performed some quantitative analysis of the qualitative data—for instance, I was able to count the number of times staff used words such as "transparency."
Quant survey analysis:
See the report for more specific findings. Below are samples from the report breaking down responses by cohort, such as region and gender.
Presentation of findings/ working session:
Along with the final reports, I facilitated a workings session with the Mobility team, conveying key findings as a prompt for discussion:
Further Systems Analysis (through systems diagramming):
Finally, compelled by the systems problem that my research on Mobility was presenting, I did some further systems analysis through diagramming, to both illustrate and discover why some policy problems were so tough to solve: interconnecting nodes of the Human Resources systems, culture elements, and organizational mandates.
Stock and flow diagram: helpful to illustrate and explore movement through and relative numerical relationships in this system comprising stocks (accumulations) of staff and job posts. It helped me see the limitations of the Mobility program on various flow points, as well as where in the process things were not an even playing field between staff members at different duty stations (represented by colors on left: H, RO, A, B, C, D, E level stations). Problematic areas are in red.
Stock and flow diagram: mapping out the unique experience of E (Emergency) Duty Station staff through the stock and flow
Adding a basic staff journey map above the stock and flow: mapping a more accurate representation of time it takes to flow through the system.
Adding reinforcing feedback loops identified: these get at some of the problem areas with organizational culture and certain guidelines around Mobility, how they play out in the system for staff members at different duty stations (H, RO, A, B, C, D, E)
Adding causal diagram: mapping theorized causes of why things are the way they are in the system - what the aspects are influencing policies, process, and culture, as uncovered through the research with staff