The Human Centered Design Podcast with Gerry Scullion

Designing Tomorrow: Genevieve Gaudet for Nava

John Carter
May 13, 2024
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Designing Tomorrow: Genevieve Gaudet for Nava

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Episode shownotes

Welcome to another episode of This is HCD. We're joined by Genevieve Gaudet from Nava. She sheds light on her role as Director of Design, which revolves around enhancing access to essential government services for the people of America. Genevieve contrasts the allure of big tech in Silicon Valley, with its potential for higher earnings and work on innovative products, against the meaningful work undertaken daily at Nava in Los Angeles. She delves into the significance of their efforts, emphasising the impactful difference they make in people's lives through their dedication to public service. Sit back, relax and enjoy this episode.

  • Nava Labs: Learn more about Nava Labs
  • Navigator Decision Support Tool: Nava Labs' partnership with Benefits Data Trust to learn about how AI might be able to support professional navigators in their work to connect people to public benefits and services
  • Designing the unseen: How Nava designers use service design to enable government institutions to build public trust
  • Nava's Careers page: Always adding new roles to join the growing multi-disciplinary team using design and technology to make government services more simple, effective, and accessible to all.

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Episode Transcript

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Gerry Scullion (08:02.542)

Maybe we'll kick off like, you're from Nava, which we're going to get in more information.

Gerry Scullion (08:30.735)

and more details, you know, in a few minutes. But maybe we'll start off. Tell us a little bit about yourself, where you're from and what you do.

Genevieve Gaudet (08:37.456)

Sure. My name is Genevieve Gaudet My pronouns are she, her. I currently live in Los Angeles, California, but grew up in New Orleans, the deep south of the US and went to New York for a while where I actually worked for the mayor of New York City and co-founded a service design studio in Mayor de Blasio's office there and focused on getting, you know, the

Gerry Scullion (08:57.518)



That's right.

Genevieve Gaudet (09:07.45)

eight million New Yorkers that we had, the benefits that they were entitled to, if they were struggling and needed help paying food or getting housing, things like that. And then when I left the mayor's office, went and joined a company called Nava, which is where I am today and where I get to be director of design for research and development over there.

Gerry Scullion (09:31.786)

I didn't realize that connection with New York. And I remember Marie Nakano, who, yeah, we were emailing, I don't know, at some point, what year is it? Two thousand and thirty four, a couple of years ago anyway. We were back and forth because I think they'd left the mayor's office around that time. But it is a small world and the service design world is even smaller than that. So how long have you been at Nava, have you said?

Genevieve Gaudet (09:39.566)

Oh yeah!

Genevieve Gaudet (09:48.636)


Genevieve Gaudet (09:59.64)

I have been at Nava for almost seven years. Yeah, by far and away the longest job I've ever had.

Gerry Scullion (10:02.483)

Seven years, wow, okay, yeah.

Gerry Scullion (10:07.582)

Yeah, and you're in, you know, sunny California as well, which is an awful place to live. Three hundred and something days of sun every single year, which is ridiculous, like, you know, but I'll be honest, like before we spoke, I hadn't really heard of Nava because I'm obviously based in Ireland and lived in Australia. And when the email came through about.

Genevieve Gaudet (10:12.2)


Genevieve Gaudet (10:15.437)

Oh, it's your address.

That's great.

Gerry Scullion (10:33.534)

You know, potentially doing a podcast with an ava and yourself, of course. I was intrigued. And how do you describe it to people when you're out for dinner? Say like, say, what do you do and what does Nava do?

Genevieve Gaudet (10:47.48)

Yeah, well, I usually ask if they remember when Barack Obama was in office, president of the United States. Yeah, well, first we need to go to Wikipedia. We'll do a background on Obama.

Gerry Scullion (10:55.765)

How many joking?

Gerry Scullion (11:01.473)


Genevieve Gaudet (11:03.264)

So back in 2013, President Obama's administration passed the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, to expand health insurance coverage for Americans. And famously, this came with trying to launch a website called, which would be one of the main ways that people could sign up for health insurance. And it did not work. The day came and the website didn't launch.

Gerry Scullion (11:12.022)


Gerry Scullion (11:20.558)


Gerry Scullion (11:29.65)

I do remember this story actually.

Genevieve Gaudet (11:31.896)

Yeah, and so Nava's co-founders were recruited by the Obama administration in 2013, along with a bunch of other really excellent technologists to help fix So that team got it, got it working again, got it up and running. And that was sort of the seed where Nava came from.

And from there, we have expanded and we work in a number of agencies all in the US right now, but at the federal, state, and even sometimes the local level to do things like that, to either get systems that are not working, working again, or to improve them or expand them. We've gotten to build some from scratch, which is really cool in government. We don't often get to do that. Yeah, that's Nava.

Gerry Scullion (12:18.95)

Okay, so that's it in a nutshell. But is it a kind of a consultancy in that sense for government agencies to get better outcomes for people? Or how does it work?

Genevieve Gaudet (12:21.768)

That's right.

Genevieve Gaudet (12:33.372)

That's right. So we have an interdisciplinary team of designers, engineers, product folks, really good project managers, and we're helping agencies make their services simpler, more effective, more accessible. And we've done this on a big scale with agencies like

the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services. So this is the federal agency in the US that manages our big public health insurance programs to places like the VA, which is where we help veterans access anything from healthcare to other kinds of services. And then we've also done much smaller scale projects like with the city of New York, for instance, or things like that.

Gerry Scullion (13:20.306)

Very good. You seem so like somebody who has, you know, a deep sense of why they do this work. It just seems to exude from whenever we've spoken before. Where does this come from, from your perspective? Like, you know, surely with your skill set, you could end up working in, you're in LA, you're not too far from, you know, the mecca of tech. I was like, oh, that's the, you know,

the valley or San Francisco. What why work for an organization like Nava for someone like you, Genevieve? What is it about?

Genevieve Gaudet (13:58.744)

asking that. Well, I'm just sort of referencing all these things that happened in the US back in the early 2000s. Do you recall in 2005 there was a very serious hurricane that hit the Gulf South of the United States, Hurricane Katrina, it hit New Orleans and I was actually supposed to start college that day.

Gerry Scullion (14:05.643)


Gerry Scullion (14:15.566)

Mm-hmm. That's right.

Genevieve Gaudet (14:26.06)

In New Orleans, I'd grown up there, so it was already my hometown. Yeah. And I was supposed to start college at Tulane University, a private university there. So it was really the, you know, the first event of my adult life was the city I lived in was just totally, you know, flattened. Exactly. And when the city opened back up, I, as a very, very young adult, had some notion that I wanted

Gerry Scullion (14:32.075)


Gerry Scullion (14:44.342)

Devastated. Hmm.

Genevieve Gaudet (14:55.914)

be a medical doctor.

And there was a pretty severe shortage of medical staff at the time in the city. So I became an EMT, which is like, you know, if you call emergency services in the US, 911, those are the people that will show up and help you and get you to the hospital. And I actually did that for about four years during my undergrad. And so it was super up close to what it looked like when your whole public health system has just

Gerry Scullion (15:10.402)


Gerry Scullion (15:24.599)


Genevieve Gaudet (15:28.958)

is totally dysfunctional. And just stuck around, I figured out I didn't wanna be a doctor pretty quickly, but I did wanna do something about it, about the issues I was seeing. And, you know, tech is much more comfortable than taking people to the hospital.

Gerry Scullion (15:29.091)


Gerry Scullion (15:40.213)


Gerry Scullion (15:48.575)


But what is it about like working for Nava in particular? There's. Yeah, there are other consultancies out there that really do something similar, but like it seems like the team size, like one of the things folks, before we get on the call, is like this, there's a lot of people working in Nava at the moment. This, I think you said 400 people, so almost, but we'll call it 390. There's a lot of people working there at the moment.

Genevieve Gaudet (16:09.341)



Genevieve Gaudet (16:15.336)

There we go.

Gerry Scullion (16:19.934)

Is there like a drive for something that's coming from within for you, like to achieve equity for people in America to get access to all these different types of services? Because I know looking at the website, there's a lot of mission and a lot of purpose conversation going through that.

Genevieve Gaudet (16:38.435)

There is. And I think for me, what drew me to Nava and what's really kept me there has been the

The intersection of a few things that Nava has that feels kind of unique. First, there is the people who work there. So the folks at Nava are super talented. It's one of the reasons we've been able to get really interesting work that I don't think I would have been able to do at any other organization. Even some of those big consultancies, they said that we'll get, you know, really large-scale government contracts.

So we've got the people, we've got the culture, Nava is a really value admission driven organization, which you know, I think.

if you've gotten the privilege to be able to work at a few different places, different kinds of consultancies, different sorts of social impact organizations, I find that there is something really critical that plants in the culture of the organization. Kind of attracts, you know, good people who I want to be around and want to be doing this work with. So I really appreciate that about Nava. And I appreciate that they, it was so serious for the founders that they, they built it into

Gerry Scullion (17:45.463)


Genevieve Gaudet (17:59.542)

the legal structure of the organization, right? We must be acting in the public interest. And then over time, I think those two things have really allowed Nava to build this deep well of delivery experience, specifically in the public interest technology and civic technology space, which this is sort of changing now, but certainly when I joined, there were organizations that were super, super mission driven,

Gerry Scullion (18:01.837)


Gerry Scullion (18:19.636)


Genevieve Gaudet (18:29.462)

but were maybe nonprofits, you know, and couldn't get some of these big contracts. So couldn't build up the delivery experience, even though the advocacy and the point of view and the approach to design was maybe something that would have been compelling for me.

Gerry Scullion (18:44.725)


Genevieve Gaudet (18:46.052)

And so, yeah, just over time, it's continued to be an even more compelling portfolio, a place where it's, we're able to attract the kinds of work that I think are really impactful and interesting. And, yeah, they've got me around.

Gerry Scullion (18:59.338)

Yeah. It seems like the team as well, there's a nice balance visually when I look at the, you know, the kind of people that you have on the team. So there seems to be an inclusivity that's going right through from leadership all the way down to the bottom. I'm not getting paid for this podcast. It sounds like I'm selling now that I'm not, but it just seems like, you know.

Genevieve Gaudet (19:18.452)

I'm going to go to bed.

Gerry Scullion (19:22.654)

All of the things that we talk about within design have kind of been executed really nicely in terms of the language and also the offering. And also the team, you know, this it's an inclusive team. I can see pretty, pretty straight, straight away. Can you talk about some of the work that you actually get to do in these pieces? Because there's a lot of designers out there at the moment who first of all, are looking for work, especially in America.

The theme in our community this month in particular is ageism in design. And I noticed that there are people there that don't look like they're in their twenties, which is amazing. Um, so there seems to be something that goes right through there. So for anyone who's out there in America, who hasn't heard of Nava and wants to do impactful work, this looks like it's a decent organization to maybe get in contact with, but I want to learn more around some of the, some of the kind of works you got to do, cause you, you said you're a service designer.

Genevieve Gaudet (20:00.444)


Gerry Scullion (20:18.93)

Um, and I want to understand what that looks like because, you know, there's people out there that say they're service design and they don't really get to do service design. So I'd love to learn a little bit more what that work looks like.

Genevieve Gaudet (20:25.5)


Genevieve Gaudet (20:31.028)

tour and now I'm wondering if you'll consider...

Gerry Scullion (20:33.894)

No, I'm not saying that there's not a parameter here. Like that's not the rule of design. It's not like that at all. But especially one of the bits when I see on the website, like it's for digital services. I want to understand a little bit more and the inclusivity and how you actually design for that kind of case of people who weren't on within the threshold for owning a smartphone. What does that look like? How does the service degrade?

Genevieve Gaudet (20:38.868)

That's true.

Genevieve Gaudet (20:45.424)


Genevieve Gaudet (20:58.26)

to work.

Ooh, we've added a constraint. Okay, people without a smartphone. I'll switch my example. I was gonna give you two examples, one of which was a service without a screen, because I think that's what we're service designers.

Gerry Scullion (21:12.392)

Okay, yeah, nice.

Genevieve Gaudet (21:15.284)

But maybe we can get into that one second. I think the example I'll share with you first is our work with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. So at Nava, we were really lucky to get to work with Massachusetts to help launch its first digital native service, as they were calling it, for paid family and medical leave. And so the Massachusetts legislature passed a law saying that workers in the

Commonwealth were entitled to pay leave if they got sick or if someone in their family got sick and they were taking time off to care for them or if you know they had a child or adopted a child and they wanted to and they were going to spend time you know with them. So this became you know a benefit that most workers in the Commonwealth were entitled to and the legislature had

Gerry Scullion (22:01.878)


Genevieve Gaudet (22:14.798)

21. And Nava came, our contract came online in December of 2019. So we had about one year to launch a service that did not exist. Just there was nothing. And I really want to emphasize for folks who are thinking about going into this work how unusual that is. Most of the time, you know, a lot of government programs have just been around forever. It's hard to create a new one. So this was a very unique experience.

Gerry Scullion (22:16.802)

That's nice.

Gerry Scullion (22:36.374)


Genevieve Gaudet (22:45.624)

unique project. So from that perspective, the service design, we have a bunch of lenses we want to look at all at once. We have, well, what are the major touch points and systems that we're going to need in order to facilitate this service experience well? And just at the highest level, if you can imagine, well, a person is going to need to apply, their

some input into this process. So they might need another website, maybe. Their doctor will probably have some input into their process. So they'll need something. From some other work, I'll give a little spoiler now. Doctors did not want another website. So they've got to provide their information somehow to this service. The frontline staff will need to manage these cases and process these applications.

Gerry Scullion (23:31.619)


Genevieve Gaudet (23:44.678)

that we're going to need some APIs that connect everything and we're moving money around. So we're going to need a way of calculating someone's benefit and then getting that money to them. In the broadest of strokes you can begin to see the shape of the service a little bit, or at least the big buckets that we're going to have to design into.

Gerry Scullion (23:56.459)


Gerry Scullion (24:03.306)

Yeah, that's nice.

Genevieve Gaudet (24:08.512)

And then when we went a level deeper, we were looking at, well, who's going to use this service and what are the, what are kind of the, the differentiators that might give them a very different sort of experience. So these are archetypes, right? And we found something that I think won't shock any of these researchers or service designers in the call, but we found there were three big buckets and they really

they really differentiated themselves along the lines of access to support, right?

Gerry Scullion (24:41.068)


Genevieve Gaudet (24:41.948)

and sort of perceived agency within the system. So there were folks who sort of in the most, they were gonna have the easiest time getting through the service. It's like, these are people who are usually salaried workers, they get benefits at their job. So that's like vacation time and health insurance and things like that. And not only did they feel just generally like entitled to the benefit,

Gerry Scullion (25:04.084)


Genevieve Gaudet (25:11.742)

like, oh yes, this is obviously for me. They also had the support of their organization's, you know, human resources department or whoever was gonna facilitate them through that application. So they were kind of gonna get this benefit no matter what. We designed it quite poorly and they probably would have gotten it. That second group looked like people who would probably be able to access the benefit but might need to struggle through it a little bit.

So, you know, folks who own small businesses, maybe, were kind of on their own, but generally felt like I can figure this out and I am probably entitled to this. And then there were folks who generally did not accrue benefits at their job. So these are people who maybe work shifts or hourly, don't get paid time off, maybe don't even get health insurance covered because of the nature of their work, and would just

assume that this wasn't for them anyway, and usually did not maybe worked at a company that was so large that they didn't know the human resources department or who they would even contact or um.

or there might not be one where they work, maybe it's a more informal operation. And those folks, those were the people who were gonna have a really hard time, right? That's kind of the case where you need to design in the most accessibility, the most sort of outreach, that kind of thing. And so those were our big archetypes. And now you can sort of see the constraints we're putting into, oh, okay, here's how we need to make this work from a service design perspective.

Gerry Scullion (26:55.458)

So in that in that scenario, the client, that was a government agency, right? So you've got a client there that may not have any idea between the difference between a service designer and a design researcher and the user experience designer and so forth. What's the relationship there between Nav and that client, an example? Because in my experience,

Genevieve Gaudet (27:01.448)

Thank you.

Gerry Scullion (27:24.854)

You know, there's a lot of people working in that design team. Um, how, how are they paid? I mean, I'm trying to understand the dynamics between that, that client and Nava. Cause I know there's, when I look at the website and I was researched in there when I was on my holidays, actually, believe it or not, the Gates Foundation have got some sort of involvement with Nava. So I want to understand the dynamics between you and the client and also where the Gates Foundation comes into, comes into play.

Genevieve Gaudet (27:53.78)

Sure. Yeah. So let's see, I'll answer the first part of the question first. So, and this applies to, you know, any client that we work with at Nava. While this is changing through the advocacy efforts of many, many people, including folks at Nava,

Gerry Scullion (27:55.586)

Getting into the weeds.

Gerry Scullion (28:00.832)


Gerry Scullion (28:08.514)


Genevieve Gaudet (28:19.464)

In general, the adoption of design and design principles in the government agencies has been a slow process over the last 15 years, longer in the UK. I actually think Ireland has been doing some really interesting work the last time I spoke to folks there. And so...

Gerry Scullion (28:30.167)


Genevieve Gaudet (28:45.74)

In general, when we're coming into an agency, there's no assumption that the folks we're going to be working with on the government side know or care, you know, what about the weeds of good design. But in general, there's, there's enough sort of familiarity, influence, see that government agencies will ask us, you know, for human centered design or user research.

Gerry Scullion (28:58.285)


Gerry Scullion (29:10.446)


Genevieve Gaudet (29:15.574)

the case, there is a level of, you know, sort of client services work to be done there to kind of make the case for how and how the human centered design approach is going to make a more effective service, why it's worth investing that time. And we need to be we need to be flexible, right? And we need to be able to design in our

Gerry Scullion (29:25.333)


Gerry Scullion (29:32.407)


Gerry Scullion (29:39.019)


Genevieve Gaudet (29:44.028)

the user research we need, the testing we need to do in a way that is still gonna fulfill the needs and expectations of, certainly of the government folks working on a project, but also, you know, sometimes this funding has specific milestones built in or trying to get into production as quickly as possible. So there are trade-offs that we need to do along with, you know, making sure that we're sort of bringing government partners along with us.

Gerry Scullion (30:02.57)


Gerry Scullion (30:13.602)

Yeah, because for me, like I was trying to understand, and I still am trying to understand, is this a new model for government kind of service design and how they're actually procuring it because there are functions I know within American government where there are service designers. Do

Do you do you work with that level of kind of implementation? So you encourage service design to become more prolific within areas of the American government? Is that one of your tasks when you're working to create a new service? That example that you gave you also cultivate the kind of the environment and the ecosystem for design to thrive.

Genevieve Gaudet (30:45.042)


Genevieve Gaudet (30:58.052)

Yes, to the extent that we can. You know, and I'll share another example of our work.

Gerry Scullion (31:01.663)


Gerry Scullion (31:05.83)


Genevieve Gaudet (31:07.228)

with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. So again, this is the agency that manages the really large health insurance programs in the US. And so back when I joined Nava in 2017, one of the big initiatives in that space was called the Quality Payment Program. And so, excuse me, this was, thank you. This was part of a law called the MACRA law

Gerry Scullion (31:28.846)

Mm-hmm. That's it.

Genevieve Gaudet (31:37.334)

in the US in 2015 that sort of directed that agency to begin to move Medicare, which is like the big one in the US. This is how we get health insurance to older people, people who are very sick, etc. I think there's like 65 million people on it or something, just a huge number of people. So they wanted to move that program from being value-based, which means that, you know, if you

Gerry Scullion (31:47.402)


Genevieve Gaudet (32:07.226)

doctor three times and they'll maybe do three blood tests and they'll charge the government for three blood tests.

Gerry Scullion (32:13.782)


Genevieve Gaudet (32:14.228)

It's the quality based. So maybe the first time you go in, your doctor does the blood test and the second time they give you some, you know, sort of, they refer you to nutrition counseling or physical therapy or, you know, something that's going to help improve your health outcomes that might qualify that doctor for like a quality payment. So trying to push the US out of this like crazy healthcare,

Gerry Scullion (32:38.371)


Genevieve Gaudet (32:43.882)

create a fiasco into more quality-based care. And one of the things that they needed, which is what Nava was brought in for, was they needed a way for Medicare providers, this is everyone from individual doctors to huge hospital groups, to be able to submit Medicare quality data. We needed to be able to submit measures, we had to be able to analyze them and generate whatever that quality score was. And so Nava was asked to create

Gerry Scullion (33:03.166)


Genevieve Gaudet (33:13.782)

submissions API, the QPP, Quality Payment Program, submissions API. So I came in as the design lead on that project. And in this case, the users are the developers who help doctors integrate the API with their health record system.

Gerry Scullion (33:17.143)


Gerry Scullion (33:30.163)


Genevieve Gaudet (33:34.972)

And this was a voluntary program in its first year. And we needed to figure out a way to make it compelling enough for industry developers and the organizations they work for to decide to integrate with our API. And so the service design there is then like, well, what is their yearly planning cycle? How does it align with the program cycle?

Gerry Scullion (33:50.477)


Gerry Scullion (34:01.375)


Genevieve Gaudet (34:04.726)

rotation, and then what do we need to provide for them to make this easy? How do we make it a business case that the VP of development can make a case for, and how do we make it easier for the developers? So now we're user testing API documentation and getting feedback on that as a designer and creating beta periods and sandboxes that they can practice the integration with.

Gerry Scullion (34:22.792)


Gerry Scullion (34:32.61)

It sounds pretty cool from a human-centered design perspective that you're actually getting to go pretty deep into the weeds as regards, you know, APIs and all this. Most of the time, whenever I've been working, you don't really have to get down into the nuts and bolts. Usually the developers, you kind of meet them at that point. But it sounds like you're actually working, you know, at a very kind of low level of Zoom, if you want, around the data structures and, you know, the technical documentation and so forth.

Genevieve Gaudet (34:34.132)

It was cool.

Gerry Scullion (35:02.302)

You are. So as regards, there was another in the notes for this episode. There was something that we needed to cover off, which was the benefits data trust. Now, what is this? Because I'm not sure that everybody knows about the Gates Foundation. If you're in this world, like I've done some work for the Gates Foundation before. Maybe tell me a little bit about.

Nava’s kind of got an organization here, provide services to government agencies. Where does Bill and Melinda get into this conversation? You know, they they're philanthropists. They drop some money in. Do they own the business?

Genevieve Gaudet (35:45.869)

No, Nava is actually worker owned.

Gerry Scullion (35:49.238)

I know. I know. I know. Oh, it's a workaround as well. Very cool. So they provide money, capital to keep the business going. Is that correct?

Genevieve Gaudet (35:57.876)

Uh, not exactly. So, um, and it's good we're talking about this at this point in the conversation, because I think we've established a good base for what is Nava. Nava is effectively a government contractor, right, or we are a government contractor, right. That's, that's the vast majority of Nava's business is contracting directly with government agencies. And so, a little more recently, uh, over

Gerry Scullion (36:06.774)


Gerry Scullion (36:15.159)


Genevieve Gaudet (36:25.052)

We've been working on this over the last almost two years, but very recently we actually launched a new division called Nava Labs. And so myself and a colleague, Martel Esposito, have been leading that launch. And this is a philanthropically funded division that is really the research and development arm of the company. So we're focused on kind of proving out value and mitigating risks through piloting with

government agencies, academic institutions, partnering with nonprofits, things like that.

to really enhance different practices, maybe technologies the government isn't quite ready to buy or where we want to establish a little more credibility and proof points and then advocate for the adoption of those things into government agencies. Our first project in NUVA Labs was actually not with the Gates Foundation. It was with the state of Montana and a few other states in the US in partnership with an organization called the National WIC Association.

to develop an API standard for a US program called WIC, which stands for Women, Infants, and Children. So this is Women, Infants, and Children. If you're familiar with the program called SNAP, which used to be called Food Stamps in the US, it's a bit like that in that there's like a supplementary food budget, but there's also a healthcare component.

Gerry Scullion (37:39.411)

Women and men.

Okay, wait a minute. Okay, very good.

Gerry Scullion (37:49.922)


Genevieve Gaudet (37:59.248)

to WIC. So that was our first Novel Labs project. Our second one, which is the one you were asking about, is a partnership with a nonprofit called Benefits Data Trust, which is founded, sorry, founded, funded by the Gates Foundation and to help explore the potential for generative AI and automation to help government staff refer to.

Gerry Scullion (38:07.438)


Gerry Scullion (38:21.269)


Gerry Scullion (38:25.442)

So it's a standalone business. It's not, you know, never working alongside one of these organizations that the Gates Foundation sort of instigated, I guess, or funded.

Genevieve Gaudet (38:37.572)

Uh, can you ask me that again? I'm not sure.

Gerry Scullion (38:39.01)

So did the Gates Foundation set up the benefits data trust? That's the Gates Foundation organization.

Genevieve Gaudet (38:47.282)


No, they are, they're a nonprofit who's also funded by Gates Foundation. But they're, they're great. They are their own business. They're a nonprofit that operates in, I believe, seven states. They help people enroll in SNAP. They also have some interesting work around student loan support in the US. I'm trying to keep myself from using all these acronyms that are just

Gerry Scullion (38:53.115)


Gerry Scullion (39:16.67)

No, I know it's okay. Like I'm, I know there's a few of them in here. I'm looking at the website and I'm like, wow, the whole, the vernacular and all of this stuff is very, I don't know, just, it's a different world almost. I can imagine you get sucked into using acronyms all the time.

Genevieve Gaudet (39:32.664)

It is, and it can seem intimidating and really exclusive, and it is, but it's also, it is learnable. I wouldn't want anyone to hear this and think like, oh my gosh, this is so jargony. I couldn't get into that work. Like, don't worry about that, Cronon's face, yeah.

Gerry Scullion (39:37.506)


Gerry Scullion (39:46.304)


Gerry Scullion (39:51.138)

So tell us about Benefits Data Trust, because it's a partnership then, as that was what I'm hearing. It's a partnership between Nava and Benefits Data Trust. What do they do? Because on the website it's about accessing government assistance for food and... Is that correct? Yeah.

Genevieve Gaudet (39:55.161)

It is.

Genevieve Gaudet (40:00.101)


Genevieve Gaudet (40:06.74)

That's right. That's exactly right.

And so one of the ways that they do that is they operate call centers in seven states where people can call in and they can get support applying for food assistance in the U.S. And this is a really critical part of their service because it's the overlap there that is enabling us to do some really interesting prototyping and pilot work. Right now, we're prototyping a tool and hope to pilot it with a focus

on helping those people who answer the phone, we call them benefits navigators really broadly. So this is people who help people apply for social services, either on the phone or in person or sometimes librarians in the US will kind of also serve this purpose. So we're focusing on how benefit navigators who are supporting people and their families can use those touch points to refer their clients

to a more holistic set of services. So you can imagine if someone needs help paying for food, they might also need help with some other things like they may need help getting access to healthcare, they may need help, you know, even accessing local community resources like food banks or, you know, kind of any of the other sort of large regional services that could support them.

Gerry Scullion (41:18.462)

Yeah, absolutely.

Gerry Scullion (41:31.84)


Gerry Scullion (41:35.186)

Yeah, it sounds like it's a pretty noble organisation. It's something that I imagine the team at NAV are excited to get stuck into. When was that partnership announced, Genevieve?

Genevieve Gaudet (41:49.364)

So we actually announced this. It's been running for just a little while. We officially kicked off in November, but we had our big official public announcement just last month. So you're catching us just three weeks. Yeah, right at the start, at least publicly anyway. But our team's been running for a few months now.

Gerry Scullion (42:04.202)

Right at the start.

Gerry Scullion (42:14.274)

So as regards to work that you're doing at Nav, I know you're kind of you're in there, you're seeing you've been there for seven years. Can you talk to us about some of the biggest challenges that you're faced with when you're working across so many different projects that can sometimes stretch you? And the reason why I'm asking this question is a lot of designers paint the picture.

of, oh, if only I could get a job or make an impact. I want to want to make an impact. And like, trust me, I coach enough designers. I know that this is really high in the agenda for a lot of people, especially post covid. What what does it look like on a day to day basis? Are you working on one dedicated project at a time? Probably not. But.

Tell me what does it look like? And maybe just to follow on that question, what are the kind of challenges that you're faced as a practitioner working across these complex systems?

Genevieve Gaudet (43:14.84)

Yeah, well first I want to say that I also hear that a lot from designers who are either looking as to move into this space from, you know, maybe industry or consumer products. And I really empathize with them because I did it the hard way where I just only worked in social technology until that finally worked out for me and thank goodness that it did.

Gerry Scullion (43:20.418)


Gerry Scullion (43:36.418)


Genevieve Gaudet (43:44.528)

You know, and what I would say is one of the reasons I've stayed at Nava is because I have found a sustainable place to do this work. So, prior to Nava, like I said, I was at the mayor's office. Before that, I did a combination of working for a smaller design firm that also had a social impact focus. I also have my own practice for a while before that. And

To be honest, it was exhausting. It was really hard. It's hard to work for a politician in the nurse office. And even though you're right next to the mission, right? You're right up close to it. I didn't find it sustainable to be in that position. And then at a smaller firm, the projects were kind of not at the scale that I wanted.

Gerry Scullion (44:28.983)


Genevieve Gaudet (44:45.182)

having to do a lot of the sort of pitching and delivery, sort of doing all of it at once, which can also be really exhausting. One of the things I've appreciated about Nava is that, you know, we're really bringing in for the most part pretty long

Gerry Scullion (44:55.839)


Genevieve Gaudet (45:07.7)

projects. We have people on projects here for usually about a year before we move them to another one. So most individual contributors, so folks who are either a design lead or a designer researcher or content strategist or...

maybe front end designer, they'll stay on their project for about a year and rarely will we have people work on more than one project at once. So that's sort of one way we've tried to make it sustainable. As a director, I am not on one project, but I do have the benefit of being able to support people who are on.

Gerry Scullion (45:37.65)


Genevieve Gaudet (45:48.196)

a single project at a time. And so that then, it doesn't really feel like a stretch anymore. It feels like kind of a privilege because they're really doing the work but I'm kind of helping in any way I can, scrubbing in if they really need me, but otherwise, able to support there. But I would say the challenges for us are really not.

Gerry Scullion (45:48.962)

single project.

Gerry Scullion (45:57.908)


you're dipping in.

Gerry Scullion (46:10.338)


Genevieve Gaudet (46:16.568)

so much coming from being stretched across multiple projects. I think the challenges in government still come from, you know, a few different places. I think we're still really pushing in many cases for sort of the basics in terms of.

Gerry Scullion (46:19.598)


Gerry Scullion (46:35.124)


Genevieve Gaudet (46:37.788)

This is what human centered design and practice really looks like. And this is how to do it. And, and here are kind of the hard conversations we need to have around trading off maybe the, the whole universe of scope, this agent want to, to get it to something really solid and sort of MVP level.

Gerry Scullion (46:41.207)


Gerry Scullion (46:53.68)


Genevieve Gaudet (47:00.424)

you know, those things are still really hard. Sometimes it's hard to get, you know, user research approved in those settings because it's such a risk-averse kind of environment. And then, you know, and that's also one of the reasons that we set up Nova Labs is, you know, this generative AI project sounds really cool, super buzzwordy, but because we are able to work with Benefits Data

Gerry Scullion (47:10.21)


Genevieve Gaudet (47:30.398)

that is not actually in a government agency and that has kind of the guardrails of a caseworker looking at it and telling us like if this tool is just putting out complete nonsense or if it's actually doing something helpful we are kind of protecting the government from being accused of like wasting lots of public money on a technology that's still emerging doesn't quite work yet.

Gerry Scullion (47:31.243)


Gerry Scullion (47:41.603)


Gerry Scullion (47:53.078)

Hmm. That's interesting.

Genevieve Gaudet (47:55.364)

Yeah, and we're protecting sort of that client, that caller that is just trying to get, they're just trying to help buy food for their family, right? Like they don't care about all of this stuff. So it's another way of kind of mitigating the sort of like high stakes environment that we're often in the government agencies.

Gerry Scullion (48:03.046)


Gerry Scullion (48:16.404)


Can I ask you with the current state of American politics at the moment and the future, does that impact organizations like Nava when, you know, people listen to the podcast know that I'm not a major fan of Donald Trump. So if his, you know, God forbid, election as a second president, what impact would that have?

for the likes of Nava when they're trying to do human centered design work across the states.

Genevieve Gaudet (48:56.132)

Yeah, well, one of the interesting things that we saw in the first Trump administration, and I'll be clear, I don't want that to happen. Absolute worst case scenario. We were.

Gerry Scullion (48:57.056)

What's the risk there?

Gerry Scullion (49:05.81)

Yeah, not many people do who are in the design world.

Genevieve Gaudet (49:12.132)

very lucky, you know, our business continued and we were able to do good work under the first Trump administration. And what really happened that we saw was a lot of money got pushed to the states. So suddenly the states kind of became the place where the really kind of interesting leading edge groundbreaking work started to happen.

Gerry Scullion (49:17.747)


Gerry Scullion (49:34.638)

Hmm. As opposed to the federal level.

Genevieve Gaudet (49:37.724)

That's right, yeah. Whereas under the Obama administration, that event saw the founding of the US Digital Service within the White House, of 18F within GSA, which is like a in government design and technology consultancy. Those organizations continued and they're still around now, but the work really got pushed out to the states.

Gerry Scullion (49:47.042)


Gerry Scullion (49:56.3)


Genevieve Gaudet (50:07.798)

level of that. But there are also, there are just any number of high stakes situations ranging from what is the government's role in certain uses of AI, such as around facial recognition, etc. And then of course there's always like...

What does the funding landscape look like for its programs that we work on at Nava? That's always a concern, you know. What are...

Gerry Scullion (50:33.666)


Gerry Scullion (50:40.638)

Yeah, within that administration and which they provide and. Yeah, so it could impact, it could impact the business negatively at some point. Like, so here's hoping that doesn't happen. So, yeah, we'll wait and see. Genevieve, there's a lot of stuff that we've covered off at a very kind of top level here. Is there anything else you want to really mention and give a shout out to the listeners?

Genevieve Gaudet (50:44.136)

That's right. Yeah.

Genevieve Gaudet (50:54.159)


Gerry Scullion (51:10.87)

Maybe there's people you're looking to hire in the future with the Nava. If so, we can put a link to the Nava website. But now's a chance. Do the selling.

Genevieve Gaudet (51:21.36)

Sure. Yeah, well, I will say for the for the Nava Labs work, this really is, this isn't something that I've seen other organizations that look like Nava do before. And so that's really exciting to me. It feels like a doubling down of our values around stewarding the public

Gerry Scullion (51:38.093)


Genevieve Gaudet (51:51.81)

I think it's just from an AI perspective, it's a really interesting sort of take on looking at how we can use these tools to augment people's work and actually better support a workforce that's already beleaguered, already has lots of high turnover rather than sort of eliminate any human interaction that might take place between navigators and the public. And one of the things that we do as part of NOVA Labs

Gerry Scullion (52:04.279)


Gerry Scullion (52:12.814)


Genevieve Gaudet (52:21.506)

then for what are the policy changes that might need to happen? Or how could these practices and technologies be adopted responsibly back into government? Again, this isn't something that we're seeing a ton of delivery organizations, you know, really...

Gerry Scullion (52:29.269)


Genevieve Gaudet (52:38.108)

decide they want to get their hands messy with. And so I'm really lucky, she's not on the podcast today, but to have started Nava Labs with Martel Esposito, she's a policy expert at Nava. And so one of the things, in addition to just the software we're building, the insights we're generating out of our practices, we're also planning and sharing what we learn and contributing to that policy discussion around the ethical use of AI in the social safety net.

Gerry Scullion (52:39.405)


Gerry Scullion (53:04.547)


Genevieve Gaudet (53:08.582)

for interested in working at Nava, I would say we need designers to be part of that, we need engineers and product folks, and we also need policy experts who are willing to really kind of dive in to what it means to implement these policies, right? It's sort of, there's the policy layer, but then there's like, what does that look like in practice? How do you turn that into an API that does what you need to do or a piece of software? And I think that that's really,

Gerry Scullion (53:14.702)


Gerry Scullion (53:32.203)


Genevieve Gaudet (53:38.222)

of democracy, right, is like, well, what happens on the ground? You can write whatever you want into law and into policy, but the way that it looks and the way you interact with it is ultimately kind of who we are and what we're designed to provide for each other. Yeah.

Gerry Scullion (53:44.127)


Gerry Scullion (53:49.695)

Yeah, absolutely.

Well, look, Genevieve, I'll throw a link to your own LinkedIn as well, because I see you're active on LinkedIn. And I'll put a link to the Nava website as well for people who do want to get in touch and maybe inquire about opportunities as they arise. But listen, look, I always end the episodes and this is HCD by thanking the guests for their time and ultimately their vulnerability, because we don't do questions up front in this podcast. So it's a question of just.

me being curious and asking probing questions and going left and right and weaving, ducking and diving. So thanks for thanks for putting up with my weaving type questions. I really enjoyed speaking to you today, so listen, best of luck with the continued success at Nava and we'll love to have you on the show again some point.

Genevieve Gaudet (54:26.343)

I'm going to go.

Genevieve Gaudet (54:41.288)

Thank you. I would love that. Thank you so much for taking the time. And yeah, my best. Are you in Ireland? Are you in Ireland? Amazing. Well, thank you so much for your time.

Gerry Scullion (54:49.482)

I am in Ireland, yeah, absolutely.

John Carter
Tech Vlogger & YouTuber

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Led by Richard McMurray, this community launches on April 1 2024. This community is perfect for anyone looking to learn more about Journey Management, and also connect with other people who are implementing this in their organisations.

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