Standing up a Data Experience Practice

Image with a white background. In the top left is the  U.S. Department of Homeland Security Seal with an eagle on the front, a shield over its chest, an olive branch in one foot and arrows in the other. The words, "U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services" is in the top right. Half of an American flag with a brass-looking flag poll is also features. Image is under a Creative Commons license from

The headquarters of the federal government’s asylum program is in the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Asylum headquarters has a unique branch known as “IDEA” or Innovation and Design for Enhanced Adjudications. They hired me to apply design strategy and qualitative research to their work doing data reporting and technology modernization.

Role: Principal Designer, Lead Qualitative Researcher and Project Manager

Year: 2023

Challenge: The data and reporting team are swamped with work. Could applying an equity-centered design approach save them time, while also better meeting the needs of those who use their dashboards and reports?

Strategy: I invited every member, on the nearly 15-person team, to a brief, individual, get-to-know-you interview. They discussed their portfolio of work, current and future challenges on their projects. I then shared a high-level summary of the interviews back with everyone to confirm my understanding of their insights. Next, I worked with the branch manager to clarify a vision for applying an equity-centered design framework to the team. We used past and current projects of the team to communicate each step in the framework, especially as it related to providing data dashboards and reports as a service to field offices, executives in the agency, and officials in Congress and the White House. Four workstreams / next steps came out of this strategy (described below under “Outputs.”)

Equity Considerations: I adapted an equity-centered design approach to this team’s work using a six-step process.

A screenshot of a presentation slide on a white background with a blue bar on the left side and a red bar on the top right.

"Equity-Centered Design in ASY IDEA" is written on the top left.

In the middle it says, "Part 3: Define & Separate" in blue lettering.

In two vertical, red circles, the top one says, "?Tie system to self?*" and the bottom one has the words, "'You can be right but not effective,' ~K. Ashton"

There are three blue circles with text. They say, "Ex. 1 Structural reasons" "Ex. 2 Training" "Ex. 3 [XYZ dashboard]
APPLYING equity-centered design to this team’s context

Outputs: In collaboration with others, I led (1) usability testing of a data dashboard with eight people in field offices and Asylum headquarters, (2) creating templates to prototype data dashboards among data engineers and data scientists before they spend anytime building them, (3) process mapping with a data engineer what is happening on the frontend of a case management system, producing data fields on the backend used in dashboards and reports, and (4) facilitating multiple strategic conversations to align the team, supervisors and managers.

Image with a peach-colored background that has the following text:
"Interview Summary
Top-Level Question: How do you, in a field office, experience the [ABC]* dashboard?
Interviewed 1 Person, 14 Feb. 2023
Supervisory Asylum Officer, Field Office, Uses the dashboard 3 x week.
'Post-Interview data is hard to find.'
'To the officer [looking in the XYZ system] this case is lost [when it's not on the ABC dashboard.'
"The ABC report does not allow us [...] to know where cases are in their lifetime.'"
Abridged view of an interview summary that THE DATA TEAM ANALYZED

Impact: (1) Field offices experienced more usable dashboards to meet their operational needs, saving them hours each month. (2) Data engineers and scientists have scalable templates and processes (a) to prototype new dashboards for internal alignment before spending any development time, and (b) to usability test current dashboards for feedback from executives, middle managers and frontline teams. (3) The Branch also better understands data fields of an asylum case because of the mapping efforts. (4) Branch supervisors and the manager reported how highly effective it was to have strategic conversations with others based on our facilitated discussions.