The Power of Engaging with Empathy

Empathy is at the heart of Design Thinking—the approach we’re using to guide this project. By starting with empathy it feels we’re really able to see folks just as they are and appreciate what makes them unique. I’m so amazed by what these folks have been able to accomplish in their lives, most of which our system doesn’t always know or ask about. I think I can speak for the Overlap team when I say we have truly enjoyed meeting with these folks and spending time with them.

Some of the areas we're interested in learning about participants. As you can see...it is a work in progress as we try and find language that works best for our participants.

Some of the areas we're interested in learning about participants. As you can see...it is a work in progress as we try and find language that works best for our participants.

We have been engaging with people in different ways trying to understand what it is like to be in their shoes. We have spent time with people in their homes and in the community. So far we have:

  • Followed a participant on an unplanned trip to a local emergency room
  • Experienced a glimpse of what it is like to live in a rooming house
  • Observed a participant walk to and meet with a support coordinator
  • Observed an addiction supportive housing worker make a home visit with a participant
  • Observed what it was like for a participant to hear that they may die in the next 3 months
  • Observed what it is like for a participant to live in a motel
  • Followed a rural participant on their hour long trip to receive care
  • Experienced what it is like to use an interpreter with 2 participants
  • Observed a support group for parents/family members

All the people we have met have a lot going on in their lives, most of it involving very hard stuff. As they honestly share their inspiring and difficult journeys with us I’m painfully aware that for most, we have not been able to really meet their needs holistically. We are often moved to tears by the experiences these folks have faced. Some have had some very harsh experiences in our healthcare system, leaving them feeling like they don’t matter. Even with all of this, they still continue on their journey. So inspiring!

Along the way, we have been trying to solve little problems as we work with people where we can. So far we have been able to:

  • Support a participant in finding ways to get dental care for her dear friend (her cat)
  • Purchased a new door lock for a participant who was feeling unsafe as her door didn’t lock
  • Purchased a plunger for a participant who had a clogged toilet for a week and no money to buy one
  • Purchased a couple of dvds for a participant who had nothing to do and was challenged to physically leave their home
  • Researched where to take salsa dancing lessons for a participant who wants to dance
  • Purchased a voice recorder so one of our participants who loves to share stories can more easily participate
  • Scratched and rubbed a cat belly or two to keep cats from laying on our papers while we learn from their owners
  • Been someone for people to talk to and share some laughs with over coffee/tea
A sample engagement kit for a participant. What's included: Voice recorder, question cards, instructions on using the voice recorder, and a sharpie to check off questions when they are done.

A sample engagement kit for a participant. What's included: Voice recorder, question cards, instructions on using the voice recorder, and a sharpie to check off questions when they are done.

Our participants are some strong people! They all have some hope even though life is extremely hard for them and most have very little support. All have also shared some amazing stories with us about the support they get from the people who provide services. They truly appreciate and value the people who work with them!

Next up: We’re wrapping up our engagement with some participants, following a few more participants and experiencing more of what it is like to be a family member of someone struggling with addictions/mental health. We’re all really excited to begin working with the data we have collected and getting all stakeholders involved in designing solutions.  

Brooke