A Human-Centered Approach to Designing BigApps

During the fall of 2016, Civic Hall Labs facilitated seven listening sessions with New York City youth, seniors, and immigrants, and the practitioners from community-based organizations who serve them in order to understand real challenges and opportunities for NYC residents.

Initial roundtable discussions took place with various social services professionals, government employees, and researchers to better understand their perspectives and needs regarding the constituencies they serve: youth, seniors, and immigrants. In order to do this, Civic Hall Labs asked them about their motivations, building context around the services they provide. They were asked to identify specific problems that needed to be addressed in the work they do daily, and to define what success looks like.

Practitioners who work with youth shared meaningful insights like:

  • “Many youth in low-income communities do not have social supports or guidance on how to navigate the world of resources available to them to build their futures.”
  • “Understand systemic, institutional failures and see apps as interventions that can slow the symptoms, but also think more deeply about how we facilitate deeper change.”
  • “Bridge communication across industries, i.e., education, health, justice. Tech can be the common denominator in creating a new space for servicers to function as a holistic entity.”
  • “Teach youth to develop their identity despite all the outside noise they deal with from parents, peers, and social media.”
  • “Be conscious of the potential injustices of empathy or defining someone else’s goals and challenges… If you’re in someone else’s shoes, you’ve stolen their shoes.”

The expertise and perspectives shared from these discussions were recorded and synthesized and the resulting themes were used as fodder for the next set of listening sessions with youth, seniors, and immigrants themselves.


By facilitating a community engagement process that put end-users at the center, NYCEDC and Civic Hall Labs aim to generate design challenges anchored in real human needs for the NYC BigApps 2017 competition. The resulting challenge statements will reflect the themes that emerged from listening to New York City’s youth, seniors, and immigrants, and the people who serve them. We will also host seven public workshops for participants to learn more about using a human-centered design approach when creating their solutions.

Starting January 12, 2017, NYC BigApps 2017 encourages designers, developers, entrepreneurs, students, and New Yorkers at large to submit their ideas of how to use technology to improve the lives of New Yorkers.


Originally posted on bigapps.nyc on December 21, 2016. Civic Innovation Lab partnered with Civic Hall Labs to design and execute the NYC BigApps 2017 competition.

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