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Understanding the complexities of being poor

The Auckland City Mission knew that more people were using their food bank recurrently instead of during crises. Furthermore, people seeking support seemed to be in greater levels of hardship and stress.
Auckland City Mission
Community engagement and co-design, Human-centred innovation, Complex human experience sensemaking, Empathy research
Social services
Project Team
Mondy Jera's profile'
Jess Lunnon's profile'

To find out why, the Mission commissioned an ambitious case-series research project called Family 100, which involved interviewing 100 families from their client database about their experiences with housing, employment, food security, debt, education, health and justice.

To translate this data, the Mission needed a way to bring the research narratives to life - to advocate for their clients, increase awareness of their community’s plight, and to unravel some of the complexity that permeated the lives of families in hardship.

What we did was to design a visual document that guides people through some of the challenges of being poor in urban Auckland. The result is a series of journey maps featuring a hypothetical character, “Charlotte”. The reader has a chance to walk through Charlotte’s attempts to find food for her family, cope with a substandard house, find employment and battle with mounting debts.

Charlotte’s story reveals a classic and wicked problem – the issues are interlinked and the solutions required are multifaceted. The story also exposes some ideas for quick wins. For instance, the Mission decided to try delivering food parcels to their clients rather than requiring them to spend bus fare to the central city to pick up food parcels.

The Empathy Tool ThinkPlace created is now widely used across New Zealand to educate policy makers, students and service providers about the complex dynamics of poverty in urban New Zealand.

<p>Participants had to tell and re-tell their stories of despair to many different agents to ‘prove’ they were poor, truly desperate and deserving of help.</p>