Money isn’t a number, it’s the way through which we express our liberty as an individual. Thus, it comes as no surprise then, to learn that there is an indisputable link between mental health and financial literacy. Yet less than 50% of adults living with autism in the UK  have any control over how their money is managed. Banks have failed to offer these groups any form of inclusive financial products, forcing their families and carers to strip them of much of their financial independence.
Making use of decentralised technologies, Olive offers a new paradigm of value. One that understands that money isn’t just about numbers. Using her inclusive and transparent platform, she offers us tools to help these groups voice their needs and goal. For carers, Olive empowers them, by helping them expand their support network, enabling carers to distribute responsibility and adapt according to their abilities.
In this example, Olive explores the relationships between carers and the people being cared for. To gain access to the money set aside for this outing, the user needs permission from their carer, who in this scenario, is the guardian of these funds.
My research heavily indicated that half the problem is with how banks force us to approach our money in single lump sums. This doesn’t make sense though, as a number doesn’t reflect the range of contexts in which it is used.
Olive presents money in a more natural way. She not only enables us to categorise our funds but goes a step further in allowing us to apply rules to them based on their context of use. In doing so, carers are able to adjust Olive to reflect the needs and abilities of the people they’re caring for.
For example, does Alex need a carer to oversee his groceries, or is this something he can do on his own? The answer to this question would indicate the type of rules applied to the money allocated to his grocery shopping.
One of the biggest barriers to institutions creating inclusive financial systems is that there are huge gaps in our knowledge of how to even provide such financial support. Thus, one of this thesis’s objectives was to illuminate the problems faced by people with NDDs in relation to finance, and further, go on to provide frameworks and tools to support banks make this shift.
I am currently planning a number of workshops and talks with some financial institutions, and will in coming months make my toolkit public.
As follows is my synthesis from my process in the form of insights, system mapping frameworks and design principles.
If you'd like to understand what informed my design decisions, I would recommend looking below.
The system casual loop above reflects the current state of financial management today. We can see here that carers and adults with NDDs are stuck in a negative feedback loop. This is detrimental to their relationships and their mental health. By consequence, a core strategic point became attempting to turn this into a positive feedback loop.
What became very clear, was that one of the reasons why carers find it difficult giving these groups money is that they don't make good decisions... But what is a decision? Well, this paper demonstrated that a decision is composed of 4 parts. Our ability to understand these components is what determines whether we make a fully reasoned choice.
So if we can measure someone's ability to make a fully reasoned decision, we can thus map what decisions they have the capacity to make. To the right is my own framework that attempts to map the autonomy an individual has the ability to manage (dignity of risk).
What became obvious was that people who have a limited capacity to make a decision become paralysed as they don't have the tools they need to enable action, regardless of how motivated they are to make good financial decisions. This lead me to start asking whether we might provide them with such tools?
The government recognises that people need dignity of risk, but it fails to appreciate that there are shades of autonomy.
“Is it dignity of risk to let them cross the road when you know they’re not capable of crossing them without being distracted and getting run over…where do you draw the line” (Frida)
Financial institutions are trying to package their products in a more inclusive manner, but ultimately it is the products themselves that are the problem.
“Even setting up the bank account at Westpac, they didn’t really have a product for people with disabilities…it wasn’t attractive and it wasn’t really fair for him” (Alec)
For carers, giving people with NDDs access to money is awfully onerous. There are no current frameworks to guide them or tools to lighten the load.
“I was not in favour of the the NDIS…There’s no gov body to look after the person anymore…The NDIS has thrown it back onto the families… You need a network of support” (Alyson)
Society, nearly by default, takes autonomy away from people who need support. Many are thus forced to fight for their for their independence.
“I don’t like you controlling my money, I earn my money” (Dave)
Above reflects the final framework I created. In theory, banks would be able to use this framework as a skeleton to build their systems and products off. A whole page could be dedicated to this, but all I will say here is that the framework recognises that the ways in which we interact with value are not only determined by context but time. Taking these two variables into consideration ultimately moulds the products that are made.
Ambiguity is not something that is easy to deal with for these groups. It leaves them anxious and can lead to unpredictable behaviour. Structure will ground them and give rise to confidence and certitude.
Keeping track of decisions and past agreements has never been an easy task for this group that are all to often lead astray by compulsive behaviour. Prompt and remind them to keep them on track and help them make better decisions.
Abstractions like value haven't historically been communicated in a very inclusive manner. Many of these groups have, by consequence, been left ostracised. Translate these ideas into forms they can understand and interact with and you will give them a voice.
Carers and parents of this group all to often carry more responsibility than should ever be asked, but not out of choice. Give them channels to distribute this burden so that they can share this responsibility and in doing so strengthen the social networks that surround the person.
This project demanded that I work very closely with potential users. This form of inclusive design proved very rewarding. I was able to test 2 prototypes and meet weekly with a group of adults with autism.
My brother, Julian, is a 24-year-old with autism. I won't say much here, but my experience and context were instrumental in navigating the obstacles that came my way.
One of the first questions I had was whether we could transform value into a medium that people like Julian can understand and interact with?
The budget planner proved that this is a big yes! For 4 months, Julian and his family used the budget planner to plan out how he would like to use his money every week.
Why has this been so successful?
According to Julian's parents, this has grounded them and provided the family with a common agreement about his money. This "reduced tensions"
The learning I took away from this, is that a current lack of structure between budgeting and accessing this money often leaves people such as Julian without any means of communicating how they would like to use their money.
As a result, I formulated a new framework (to the right), which presents the need for having a place between budgeting and spending that allows for reflection and communication.
Using Lego, me and Oskar envisioned a world where he could save. This world contained a magic saving box that he couldn't access.
Using this story, his mother Malin and I gave Oskar this box to test whether it would actually help. Because of this box, Oskar was able to save for a new phone, the first thing he's ever managed to save for!
For my initial research, I interviewed over 20 people, consisting of parents, adults with autism, special need educators, carers and entrepreneurs in the disability sector. From these interviews, I created over 60 stories which were clustered and used to create maps and frameworks.
If you’d like to see a sample of my stories, click HERE
Cross-analysis, memo making and coding was a really important part of this project. So many amazing stories, so many different problems. Thus extracting the facts was important in helping the insights and themes emerge.
Probes, that embodied questions or gut feelings, were one of the most important tools for this project.
They helped me sniff out needs, problems, and opportunities and in doing so, forge a very strong understanding of what direction I needed to go in.
Finding ways of co-creating with these groups proved to be the biggest challenge. I found, however, that lego was one of the most effective ways of communicating.
Lego proved to be an amazing tool for world building, exploring and imagining with these groups. It allowed me to easily pivot and generate stories with them.
To test some strategic directions, I created 3 videos that explore different elements of this new paradigm. Film was an amazing format. It allowed me to easily gain access to not only carers but sociologists, psychologists and lawyers to have their epistemologies embodied in my design.
If you’d like to see these videos, please click HERE.