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How Do You Overcome Resistance in Projects?

Editor’s note: We spoke with your colleagues, current and former govies who are experts in the digital services realm. We wanted to know: Have they encountered resistance at work? And how did they overcome it? Here’s what they had to say.

“Have you ever done a project where there wasn’t some resistance?”

— Aaron Snow, Faculty Fellow at the Beeck Center for Social Impact and Innovation, co-founder of 18F

Show Your Work

Risk is inherent in any project. But resistance often tracks back to the people: Who is excited about change and who isn’t? How much does it matter to the people who hold levers such as authority and money?

That’s why one very important path to overcoming resistance is evidence, Snow said. It’s one of the reasons that design research is such a critical part of digital services teams — or whenever you want to introduce change. When you can perform user research and demonstrate findings with empathy and storytelling, it can be transformative.

How to Show Your Work

User research is a human-centered design method that gets insights directly from users, often through interviews. Jenn Noinaj, President of Technologists for the Public Good shared five tips for successful user research in a GovLoop blog. (The following is edited for brevity and clarity.)

  1. Ask broad questions. It is important to ask questions in a way that doesn’t limit the interviewee’s response. Use neutral phrasing.
  2. Ask for specific examples. The best indicator of what someone will do in the future is what they’ve done in the past.
  3. Listen actively. This helps build trust and establish rapport with the interviewee.
  4. Be mindful. Be aware of interviewer and response bias, where the interviewee answers questions in a manner to be viewed favorably by others.
  5. Review findings in context. Don’t take responses at face value. Instead, take a step back and look at all of the interview feedback collectively.

Earning Trust

“The traditional government IT approach is to try and squeeze as many services as possible into existing enterprise platforms, almost always at the cost of end-user experience.

“When we first formed the team, we knew we wanted to do things differently, and we knew we needed to earn our users’ trust that we were actually going to improve their lives. Our earliest wins came by working alongside our users to identify opportunities for change, iterating on solutions and eventually building up trust by showing them we were listening.” — John Clary, Data and Technology Services Manager, Austin Transportation Department

This article is an excerpt from GovLoop’s guide, “How to Provide People-Oriented Services: A Guide for State and Local Public Servants.”

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