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Creating more inclusive products and services with the Inclusion canvas

Culture

Over the past few years, the topic of diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) has finally started to break away from its traditional place on the HR agenda, and is now spreading into every direction throughout the organization – from the individual team level all the way to the C-suite. This is great news for inclusivity in product and service design, among many other things, but there’s plenty of work to be done to see results on a larger scale.

Portrait of Pekka Lehtinen
Pekka Lehtinen

Head of Content

Although DE&I is gaining traction rapidly, inclusive practices are still taking root in business culture, and the shift is nowhere near ready. But as organizations come to terms with the fact that diverse teams create more inclusive – and profitable – products and services, the demand for tools that support this development is on the rise as well.

In order to cater to this need, we at Futurice have come up with a dedicated tool called the Inclusion canvas. It helps product and service creation teams consider the needs of more diverse end-user groups in their work that they might otherwise overlook – after all, the harsh reality is that a team can never be perfectly diverse or equally represent every demographic imaginable.

In this interview, Futurice Head of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Heidi Pech tells more about the newly created canvas and explains its benefits both in terms of teamwork and new business potential.

Download the inclusion canvas here!

What is the purpose of the Inclusion canvas?

The Inclusion canvas is a collaborative tool that offers an easy way for teams and organizations to make the products and services they design more inclusive. Its purpose is to make sure that teams responsible for creating these products and services have the means to analyze their choices and decisions from diverse perspectives in the development stage.

This has two implications in practice. First, it helps unlock new business opportunities by making solutions cater to broader and more diverse user groups. Secondly, it enables teams to take into account the specific needs of certain user groups, and encourages them to make active, conscious decisions about who their solution is intended for – instead of excluding groups of people by accident.

Its potential also extends to the research and testing phases, prompting solution creators to consider whether their research and testing pools are diverse enough, and whether they may have missed some insights or potential issues due to not taking diversity into account.

Who is the Inclusion canvas intended for?

The canvas was primarily designed for any team or organization that creates products and services, especially – but not exclusively – digital ones. Adopting an easy tool to make your product more inclusive should be a no-brainer for any organization, and given that it can also help broaden your user base, it makes total sense for business, too.

The canvas will be equally beneficial for digital consultancies and agencies as well as other third parties that support others on R&D on some level, for example. At Futurice, we will be using it in our own client projects, and it also will be a part of our Lean Service Creation methodology (LSC).

How is the canvas used?

If you’re familiar with Lean Service Creation – or most other service design tools or methodologies, for that matter – you should be right at home with the Inclusion canvas as well. But the beautiful part is that it doesn’t require any sort of prior experience with the use of workshop canvases.

The canvas comes with instructions on how to approach the situation at hand, and what kinds of things to consider when working on it. The only additional tools you need to use its physical version are sticky notes and marker pens, and you can also use it by importing it into any number of digital collaboration tools, like Miro.

The canvas aims to make your solution more inclusive by focusing on three separate perspectives and focusing on them specifically with diversity in mind. The areas it covers are business opportunities, the diversity angle of an organization’s vision and strategy, and the composition of the project team itself.

The idea is to create inclusive solutions not only because it is the right thing to do – but also do so in a way that makes business sense for each particular product or service, improves customer value, and helps mitigate unconscious bias.

Heidi Pech (article image) Heidi Pech, Head of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Futurice

What inspired its creation?

The history behind the canvas dates back to October 2020, when Futurice participated in #GirlsTakeover organized by Plan International. In line with the theme of the day – girls and technology – we handed the reins to 18-year-old Jessica Komulainen who took over the role of Futurice CEO for the day.

To engage our employees to support this cause and make a lasting impact, we organized a company-wide contest where Futuriceans teamed up and innovated solutions for some key problems girls and women face with technology today – and made a commitment to develop and open source the winning solution. The first prize went to the Inclusion canvas, the brainchild of a team trying to solve the problem related to non-diverse and male-heavy teams building software and apps for a very diverse population.

Why do we need a canvas like this?

There’s been a lot of talk about lack of diversity in the technology sector especially over the past decade. When homogenous teams create products for very diverse groups of users, this may result in unintended problems that come as a complete surprise. A prime example of this is Apple’s Health app, which initially lacked menstrual cycle tracking features when it was first launched in 2014.

Obviously, this is an issue we should address at the grassroots level by ensuring that the sector itself becomes more diverse, and includes different kinds of people from various walks of life. We already know that diverse teams build more creative solutions and perform better in the financial sense.

In reality, however, you will never have a team that perfectly covers all possible aspects of diversity, and the Inclusion canvas tries to address this issue in particular: If a team cannot have a perfectly diverse representation of perspectives, how can it at least think as diversely as possible to make up for it?

Sounds like something that will also support in generating awareness of diversity issues.

Yes, very much so. We’re hoping that in addition to solving practical problems in different scenarios, it will also increase the understanding of inclusivity topics for those who use the tool as a side effect. But even so, it’s worth emphasizing that this does not remove the need for organisations to work on their diversity, equity and inclusion issues and do their part in rectifying this imbalance.

One very clear benefit is that the tool can actually be used right now, while companies are still working on the diversity issues of their respective business sectors. It is an immediate remedy – a band-aid, if you will – while working on those long-term and large-scale improvements.

What are the biggest benefits of inclusivity in business?

There is plenty of research that shows that diverse teams produce better financial results and are more creative. And it all makes perfect sense when you think about it – by combining their thinking, many minds are more likely to create a better outcome than just one. To bring together as different minds as possible, the best bet is to have people from as different backgrounds as possible.

But in order to truly benefit from having diverse people in an organization, those people must feel like they have a voice, that they belong and can contribute as their true selves – and this is what inclusion is all about. And diversity without inclusion simply does not work. If you have diverse, talented people who don’t feel included, they will most likely leave, or at the very least underutilize their full potential.

What is the best way to start fixing inclusivity issues?

The first step is to find out what the state of inclusion is in your organization right now, preferably backed by hard data. This demands a lot of courage, as facing the reality and looking the pain points straight in the eye can be a humbling experience.

At Futurice, we started out by conducting a thorough DE&I audit to really find out what the employee experience is like for different groups – our focus being on finding out which parts of the experience were subpar for minority groups compared to those in the majority. This helped us pinpoint our actions to the areas where they’d matter the most.

In addition to the audit, we’ve also included DE&I as a key element in our company strategy, and created measurable DE&I goals. With the help of a roadmap we can continuously monitor our progress and ensure that we are making improvements every day as we work to reach our goals.

It’s a long journey and we still make mistakes, but we are committed to appreciating and celebrating diversity as well as building an inclusive, international culture with equitable opportunities for every employee and a sense of belonging for all of us.


The Inclusion canvas can be downloaded here. To take your organization’s service design capabilities to the next level, learn more about the Lean Service Creation methodology. If you’re interested in being part of building a more inclusive workplace and doing other great things at Futurice, please take a look at our careers page.

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