Make it an ongoing practice
Relationships don’t happen overnight, or even in one strategic planning cycle. Connecting with your customer is ongoing work organizations need to continually invest in over time. That’s why we trained 53 librarians and staff at SPPL in the art of ‘empathy interviewing,’ a technique that helps organizations learn as much as possible about a person’s experience, the choices they make and the rationale behind their decisions. Over three months, SPPL staff led the effort to interview more than 400 community members, and that commitment they made to learn from the community was a big step for the organization. “Libraries are a foundation for democracy because they provide a private and free place for people to acquire knowledge without monitoring,” says Kate Khaled, the founder and managing director at Imagine Deliver. “Because of that role, privacy is an intrinsic and important consideration in the ethics of library staff. Getting out of that mold and actually asking people personal questions about why they use the library was quite a big shift for SPPL, but a really important one so they can design their services better.”
While these 400 interviews were a great way for SPPL to collect data to inform its strategic direction, it was also a chance for staff to deeply listen to community members and build relationships with them—ones that could last years beyond the original planning process.
“Imagine Deliver introduced our staff to a variety of creative processes and thinking,” says Maureen Hartman, the deputy director of public services at SPPL. “I’ve already seen empathy interviews modeled in two additional smaller projects since staff members learned the tool last spring.”