Client Spotlight – Vecova

Vecova is a leading edge, registered and accredited charitable organization that has been meeting the lifelong and changing needs of persons with disabilities and the community since 1969 through its programs and services, social research and innovation and enterprises.

Blue Monarch Management has assisted Vecova over the past 3 years in such areas as technology systems and infrastructure planning, program design and implementation, and technical and grant writing.

As Tom Naested, Director of Wellness at Vecova recently said, “Blue Monarch has provided expertise to a consistently high level and have met or exceeded deliverables in content and timeliness. They have done so while working collaboratively to create a collegial working relationship that has elevated the final result.”

Tom has worked closely with our Director of Consulting Services, Erin Melnychuck. In his words, “Erin and her team bring significant expertise in human centered program design, community economic development, organizational awareness and strategic thinking to the projects with which they have been involved. While their collective expertise has been invaluable, we have valued most highly their collaborative approach and a focus on the end user experience to build internal capacity and buy-in.”

Our Work With Vecova

Reflecting on our most recent work with Vecova Erin noted that, while the organization has been running an Employment Services program for adults living with disabilities for decades, they realized that many of the adults they were supporting could have been better set up for success if they received support as a young person transitioning into adulthood. In 2019, Vecova received funding to pilot a program for high school-aged youth to support their transition planning and preparation for employment. After 3 years of delivering the pilot, the organization knew it was on to something, but needed help to grow the program’s impact. 

Blue Monarch conducted a program review using the principles of Human Centered Design. The review team consisted of key Vecova team members, guided by Erin. As she said, “We wanted to build their team’s capacity to understand HCD approaches, improve their program design skills, and to think strategically about scaling impact.” 

Human Centred Design (HCD) is a process in which we work with our client’s stakeholders to understand their motivations, pain points, and goals and incorporate their lived experiences into the solution design. It addresses the challenge that is pervasive in the nonprofit sector, where solutions are designed and implemented by individuals with no lived experience with the problem they are attempting to address – a situation captured in the saying “nothing about us, without us”.

The traditional approach used by service providers is typically research-driven, wherein research and problem analysis drive conclusions about the ideal solution. As a best-case, such research can identify models that have worked elsewhere to reflect something of a best practice. As a worst-case, the research does not capture the true breadth of the problem because it was too narrow in scope and the solution not ideally suited. It underscores the reality that every organization works within a unique ecosystem, subject to its own set of challenges and opportunities. 

The power of HCD is in the engagement with actors in the local ecosystem to understand the unique gaps and barriers that exist in the area and to work directly with end users to design solutions that work specifically for them. 

For our work on the program review, we first conducted extensive discovery interviews with stakeholders. We spoke with other service providers in the ecosystem, students enrolled in the program, their families, their teachers/support staff, and prospective employers. Out of this work we produced journey maps and empathy maps for the students. We identified themes and trends from the interviews which we used to identify design opportunities and also noted challenges within the current design. We used ‘How Might We’ questions to challenge ourselves to get creative on all the ways we might approach design solutions to respond. We then needed to make decisions around design changes that were desirable, feasible, and viable that support the goals of scaling the impact of the program.

Mr. Naested concluded our conversation by saying “It has been such an excellent experience for Vecova, partnering with Blue Monarch, and we look forward to our ongoing collaboration.”

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