7 Sneaky Cognitive Biases that Wreak Havoc on Innovation

10 min read 

 7 Sneaky Cognitive Biases that Wreak Havoc on Innovation


Have you ever wondered why even the most brilliant projects sometimes go completely off track? The culprit might just be lurking in our own minds—cognitive biases. These sneaky mental shortcuts can wreak havoc on our ability to think objectively and sabotage collaboration. Inspired by the captivating book "The Art of Thinking Clearly," I couldn't resist exploring how biases disrupt the world of innovation - especially when it comes to working together to bring new ideas to life. So, buckle up and join me on a journey to unravel 7 lesser-known cognitive biases that can turn your collaboration into a wild ride. But fret not! Along the way, I'll equip you with clever strategies to navigate through these biases and steer your team towards success.

1. The IKEA Effect: When You Built It, You Believe It Must Be Good 

Two people building IKEA furniture


Imagine pouring your heart, soul, and Allen wrenches into a project, becoming its number one defender. That's the IKEA effect in action! This sneaky bias tricks us into overvaluing our creations just because we invested so much time and effort into building them. 


In collaboration, the IKEA effect can be a stumbling block. It makes us cling onto our ideas too tightly, blinding us to their flaws and alternative viewpoints. This bias can hinder progress and prevent us from making necessary improvements. 


Don't worry, we've got the tools to tackle this bias! To beat the IKEA effect, create a culture of constructive critique. Encourage honest feedback, foster open discussions, and invite external perspectives. By seeking different viewpoints and being open to improvement, you'll ensure your collaborative creations are top-notch. Consider hosting a critique workshop in partnership with our team to overcome barriers.

2. The Curse of Knowledge: When Expertise Hinders Effective Communication 

The curse of knowledge, when you know a lot it's easy to think everyone knows, too.


Have you ever explained a mind-boggling concept to your team, but all you see are puzzled expressions. Uh-oh, you might be cursed with knowledge! This tricky bias makes it hard for us to remember what it's like not to know something we're already familiar with. 


In collaboration, the curse of knowledge can turn communication into a jumbled mess. It's like speaking a different language that only you understand. Your team might feel left in the dark, hindering their ability to contribute effectively and slowing down progress. 


Do not despair, communication superheroes! To banish this curse, embrace the power of clear and concise communication. Seek diverse perspectives to uncover blind spots, encourage knowledge sharing within the team, and bring in visual aids, analogies, or even a captivating story. By bridging the gap in understanding, you'll ensure smooth collaboration and save the day! 

3. The Spotlight Effect: When We Feel Like Everyone is Watching 

spotlight effect image of woman nervous about public speaking


Imagine feeling like all eyes are on you, judging your every move in a meeting. Cue the spotlight effect! This bias makes us think that everyone notices and cares way more about our performance than they actually do. 


In collaborative settings, the spotlight effect can turn us into nervous wrecks, afraid to speak up or share our ideas. It's like having a mini audience of critics in our heads, holding us back from contributing our best. Collaboration suffers when we're too self-conscious to let our creativity flow freely. 


But fear not, brave collaborator! Dim that spotlight and let your brilliance shine. Create a safe and supportive collaboration space where everyone feels comfortable being themselves. Embrace open dialogue and celebrate mistakes as opportunities for growth. Remember, we're all human, and nobody expects perfection. Foster a culture where ideas are welcomed with open arms, questions are encouraged, and judgment takes a back seat. 


4. The Backfire Effect: When Beliefs Get Sticky 

Wile E. Coyote


Have you ever presented solid evidence that contradicts someone's beliefs, and instead of changing their minds, they dig their heels in even deeper! That's the backfire effect in action. It's like a force field that makes people cling stubbornly to their beliefs when faced with opposing evidence.  


When the backfire effect takes the stage, projects suffers. It creates a divide among team members, polarizing their beliefs and hindering constructive discussions. Instead of engaging in a productive exchange of ideas, people become defensive and resistant to alternative perspectives. This can lead to a stalemate, with no room for growth or innovation. It's like being trapped in a belief bubble, unable to break free and embrace new possibilities. 


To defeat the backfire effect and foster a collaborative environment where ideas can flow freely, we need to embrace a few superhero strategies. First, let's focus on evidence-based discussions rather than personal opinions. When presenting conflicting information, approach it with curiosity and a willingness to learn. Encourage critical thinking and constructive debates, where everyone's input is valued. By creating an atmosphere of open-mindedness, we can burst the belief bubbles and pave the way for productive collaboration. 

Remember, we're all on this collaborative journey together, and by taming the Backfire Effect, we can create a dynamic space where ideas can flourish and innovation can thrive! 

5. The Mere Exposure Effect: When Familiarity Breeds Comfort 

Mere Exposure Effect - The Decision Lab

Image via the Decision Lab


The Mere Exposure Effect is a fascinating bias that tells us our preferences can be swayed simply by repeated encounters with something, even if there's not much substance to it. But fear not, brave innovators! We have the power to break free from this effect and embrace true progress. 


In government innovation, the Mere Exposure Effect can be a saboteur. It tricks us into clinging to outdated practices and familiar ideas, preventing us from exploring new territories. Collaboration suffers as teams fall into the comfort of the known, stifling fresh thinking and growth. It's like being stuck in a time loop, where innovation becomes a mere illusion.  


To vanquish the Mere Exposure Effect and ignite a flame of innovation, we must embrace a few strategies. First, foster a culture of critical inquiry and openness to new ideas. Encourage diverse perspectives and invite voices from different backgrounds to challenge the status quo. Break free from the clutches of the familiar. Remember, true innovation lies in the unknown, not in the cozy corners of the familiar. 

6. The Halo Effect: When a Single Trait Can Cloud Judgement 

Halo effect - The Decision Lab

Image via the Decision Lab


Welcome to the world of the Halo Effect where one shiny attribute dazzles us and influences our overall judgment. Imagine falling head over heels for a product just because it has a sleek design, assuming it's top-notch in every way. But hold on tight, because this bias can make us miss important details and lead us astray.  


When it comes to collaboration, the Halo Effect can create illusions and hinder thorough evaluations. When we're mesmerized by one impressive quality of a person, product, or organization, we tend to overlook other essential aspects. This can result in skewed judgments, favoritism, and missed opportunities for growth. It's like seeing only the dazzling exterior while ignoring what truly matters on the inside. 


To prevent the Halo Effect from clouding our judgments, we need to put on our critical thinking capes! Instead of being swayed by one standout characteristic, let's take a step back and evaluate things holistically. Look beyond the shiny surface and delve into the depths of different aspects and attributes. Ask questions, gather information, and consider multiple perspectives. By embracing a comprehensive evaluation approach, we can unravel the truth beneath the halo and make more informed decisions. 

7. Sunk Cost Fallacy: When We Cling to Past Investments 

The Sunk Cost Fallacy - The Decision Lab

Image via the Decision Lab


Let's talk about the Sunk Cost Fallacy, a tricky bias that can keep us tied to the past. Picture this: you've poured your whole treasure chest of resources into a project. But alas, it's not sailing smoothly. Yet, you find yourself clinging to it, unwilling to abandon ship. That's the Sunk Cost Fallacy in action! It's when we let past investments cloud our judgment and keep us stuck in uncharted waters.  


The Sunk Cost Fallacy can shackle us to failing projects or ideas. We become so attached to what we've already invested—time, money, and effort—that we can't bear to let go, even when it's clear they're dragging us down. This reluctance to cut our losses leads to wasted resources, missed opportunities for innovation, and a ship stuck in the doldrums. But fear not, there's a map to navigate past this treacherous fallacy! 


To prevent the Sunk Cost Fallacy from steering us astray, we need to summon our courage and embrace a rational mindset. It's time to evaluate projects and ideas based on their current merits, not the past investments. Ask yourselves, "Is this still the right course? Can we chart a better path forward?" Don't let the fear of abandoning sunk costs weigh you down. Instead, focus on the potential for innovation, growth, and undiscovered treasures. Remember, cutting losses can free up resources for new and exciting ventures! 


From the mighty IKEA effect to sunk cost fallacy, we've uncovered some of the secrets that shape our collaborative endeavors. But we hold the key to unlock the full potential of our teamwork! By embracing strategies like fostering a culture of constructive critique, bridging communication gaps, taming self-consciousness, balancing power dynamics, and charting realistic plans, we become masters of collaboration. Though much can be accomplished simply by being aware of our own biases and recognizing when they're at play.

Chelsea is a Senior Design Strategist with the CCSQ Human-Centered Design Center of Excellence (HCD CoE). For more than a decade she has led mixed-methods user research for science, health, and public policy organizations such as National Geographic, Johns Hopkins Medicine, Penn Medicine, Medicare/Medicaid, and Mathematica Policy Research. Chelsea holds a Master of Science in Human-Centered Computing from the University of Maryland, where she studied as a Computing Research Association scholar.

The Crisis of Rural Hospital Closures

Reading Time: 4 mins 

Located near U.S. Route 66 in eastern New Mexico, a 10-bed hospital has long been a crucial source of emergency care for car crash and ranching accident victims. Additionally, it has served as a convenient option for overnight stays, primarily for older residents dealing with pneumonia or heart ailments. Covering a vast area of 3,000 square miles (about twice the area of Rhode Island), home to over 4,500 people, this hospital stands as the sole medical facility in the region. However, despite a tax levy in place to support it, the hospital has suffered a financial loss of over $1 million in the last six months. Christina Campos, administrator of Guadalupe County Hospital in Santa Rosa, expressed their anticipation of closure while hoping for a sustainable program to intervene. 

In response to the challenges faced by rural hospitals across the country, Guadalupe is among the first to undergo the transformation into a Rural Emergency Hospital. This designation is part of a new federal payment program introduced by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, specifically designed to assist rural providers. Although not a permanent solution, policymakers and hospital operators are optimistic that it will help alleviate the ongoing financial struggles that have forced numerous rural hospitals to shut down. 

This narrative reflects the crisis in many of our rural hospitals. Rural hospitals have long been facing an ongoing crisis, with over 150 closures since 2010 and over 300 more at risk, a problem further intensified by the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, out of approximately 5,000 facilities across the country, only about 2,230 rural hospitals remain. The closures have been escalating in recent years, leading to subsequent shutdowns of primary and specialty care providers in affected areas. While federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) attempt to address the gaps, significant healthcare deficiencies persist following these closures. 

Why are rural hospitals closing? 

Understanding the causes of rural hospital closures is challenging due to multiple ongoing changes in rural communities. However, certain factors have been identified. States that did not expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) saw a higher likelihood of rural hospital closures. Other factors associated with closure include financial instability, declining economic conditions in rural communities, and a higher proportion of for-profit hospitals among recent closures. Additionally, rural patients increasingly bypass local hospitals, opting for care at more distant facilities, which contributes to lower occupancy rates. The reasons for this behavior remain uncertain but could be influenced by perceptions of better-quality care elsewhere or concerns about the adequacy of local hospitals. 

Rural hospitals, compared to their urban and suburban counterparts, are smaller in size and face lower occupancy rates, making them more vulnerable to financial instability. Consequently, rural hospitals typically have less than half the median profit margins of urban hospitals. 

Regarding the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on rural hospitals, approximately 21 closures have been recorded since its onset, which aligns with pre-pandemic closure trends. However, some argue that rural hospitals may have been relatively resilient in the face of pandemic-related financial pressures due to the diverse roles played by staff members and the strong community-hospital relationships that were established prior to the pandemic. 

Using new econometric methods, researchers have conducted a comprehensive analysis comparing counties with and without hospital closures over time. They examined 10 economic indicators, including healthcare sector jobs, overall unemployment, per capita income, and bankruptcies, providing detailed insights into the relationship between closures and economic conditions. Their findings revealed that only healthcare-sector employment experienced a significant decline, with a 14% reduction in jobs in counties with hospital closures compared to those without closures. Other outcomes, such as overall employment, total jobs, and county population, did not show significant declines. However, the analysis highlights the importance of pre-existing trends, as economies in areas with hospital closures were already deteriorating before the closures. These trends included declining per capita income, total job numbers, and increased unemployment, observed up to seven years before the hospital closures. These findings suggest that factors like unemployment in non-healthcare sectors and a general loss of local investment contribute to low hospital occupancy and financial difficulties, ultimately leading to eventual closures. 


Closure Effects & Support 

One concern is that rural hospital closures disproportionately affect communities of color. Research indicates that closures are more likely to occur in counties with larger non-white populations. As rural America experiences shifting demographics and increased representation of racial and ethnic minorities, previous studies have shown that rural counties with higher proportions of non-Hispanic Black populations were more prone to losing access to obstetric care. These trends raise apprehension that communities of color may be overrepresented among the populations adversely impacted by hospital closures. 

Rural hospitals receive financial support from over 20 programs operated by the Department of Health and Human Services, along with local or state government subsidies and provider taxes. However, despite the availability of these support mechanisms, rural hospitals continue to face ongoing financial challenges. 


What should Policymakers do? 

To bolster rural health care, policymakers should focus on strengthening rural communities as a whole, considering the broader socioeconomic challenges they face rather than solely addressing health care payment and infrastructure. Policies should be integrated to prioritize improving economic and employment conditions, as these factors have a significant impact on health outcomes. While enhancing rural healthcare delivery remains essential, novel approaches like the Rural Emergency Hospital Program and the Pennsylvania Rural Health Model offer creative solutions. The former allows rural hospitals to convert to emergency departments, maintaining access to emergency care while avoiding unnecessary fixed and overhead costs of inpatient units. The latter, implemented in 2019, provides a "global budget" to rural hospitals, ensuring financial predictability and enabling transformation in patient care through telemedicine and community health worker programs. These approaches adapt to meet the unique needs of different rural communities, providing flexibility alongside financial support. Monitoring the evolution of these programs in the years to come will be crucial and promising. 



UNC Rural Hospital Closures Tracker – dynamic data for tracking by state the nationwide closures and conversions since 2005. 

Saving Rural Hospitals – another dynamic chart offers granular detail of hospitals with reduced services, closures and profits. 

Economic Impact of Rural Hospital Closures By: Chris Tachibana, PhD, MS 

ChatGPT and the Future of Artificial Intelligence
Reading time: about 8 min

ChatGPT is one application that leverages OpenAI’s GPT language prediction model. As of this writing, the GPT-4 version recently rolled out, boasting “human-level performance.” But rather than telling you about this manifestation of an artificial intelligence solution based on my own research, let me conduct an interview with ChatGPT, leveraging its earlier GPT-3 engine. But to make this a bit more entertaining, let’s rename this AI entity “Wall-E”, the personified robot from Pixar’s movie of the same name. The following discussion is taken directly from ChatGPT’s responses to my questions: 

Rob Fay: What is a basic overview of OpenAI and its language prediction model? 

Wall-E: OpenAI is an artificial intelligence research laboratory consisting of a team of researchers and engineers dedicated to creating advanced AI systems. It was founded in 2015 by a group of tech luminaries, including Elon Musk, Sam Altman, Greg Brockman, Ilya Sutskever, and others. 

One of OpenAI's most well-known and groundbreaking projects is its language prediction model, which is also known as GPT (Generative Pre-trained Transformer). GPT is a deep learning model that uses a neural network to analyze and understand natural language text. It can generate human-like text by predicting the next word or phrase based on the context of the preceding text. 

GPT is trained on a massive dataset of text from the internet, including books, articles, and websites. The model uses unsupervised learning to learn the patterns and structures of language, allowing it to generate coherent and realistic text without any specific instructions or examples. 

GPT has been used for a variety of applications, including language translation, question-answering systems, chatbots, and more. It has set numerous records in natural language processing, such as achieving state-of-the-art results in language modeling, language generation, and machine reading comprehension. 

Rob Fay: How can artificial intelligence help the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services fulfill its mission? 

Wall-E: Artificial intelligence (AI) can help the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) fulfill its mission in several ways: 

  1. Fraud detection: CMS can use AI to detect fraudulent activities by analyzing large volumes of data to identify unusual patterns and behaviors. This can help prevent improper payments and save money.
  2. Predictive analytics: AI can be used to predict health outcomes and identify patients who are at risk for certain conditions. This can help CMS develop more targeted and effective programs and interventions to improve health outcomes.
  3. Claims processing: AI can help CMS process claims more efficiently by automating certain tasks, such as data entry and verification. This can reduce errors and improve the speed and accuracy of claim processing.
  4. Resource allocation: AI can help CMS optimize resource allocation by analyzing data on patient needs and service utilization. This can help CMS allocate resources more effectively and efficiently, ensuring that patients receive the care they need.
  5. Personalized medicine: AI can help CMS develop personalized treatment plans for patients by analyzing patient data and identifying patterns and trends. This can help improve health outcomes and reduce healthcare costs by tailoring treatment plans to individual patient needs. 

Overall, AI has the potential to help CMS fulfill its mission by improving the efficiency, effectiveness, and quality of healthcare services. 

Rob Fay: How can ChatGPT help the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services fulfill its mission? 

Wall-E: As an AI language model, ChatGPT can help the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) fulfill its mission in several ways: 

  1. Information dissemination: ChatGPT can provide accurate and up-to-date information about CMS programs and services to beneficiaries, providers, and stakeholders. This can help improve access to information and promote transparency.
  2. Education and outreach: ChatGPT can help CMS educate beneficiaries and providers about healthcare topics, such as preventive care, chronic disease management, and healthy behaviors. This can help promote better health outcomes and reduce healthcare costs.
  3. Customer service: ChatGPT can assist beneficiaries and providers with their inquiries and concerns about CMS programs and services. This can help improve customer satisfaction and reduce call center wait times.
  4. Data analysis: ChatGPT can analyze large volumes of data to identify trends and patterns that can inform policy decisions and program development. This can help CMS develop more effective and efficient healthcare programs and services.
  5. Quality improvement: ChatGPT can provide feedback and insights to CMS about the quality of healthcare services and the patient experience. This can help CMS identify areas for improvement and develop strategies to enhance the quality of care. 

Overall, ChatGPT has the potential to assist CMS in achieving its mission by providing information, education, customer service, data analysis, and quality improvement support. 

Rob Fay: What technical positions could be replaced by AI in the future? 

Wall-E: Artificial Intelligence (AI) has the potential to automate many tasks and job functions that are currently performed by humans. Here are a few examples of technical positions that could be replaced by AI in the future: 

  1. Data entry and processing: AI can be used to automate many data-related tasks, including data entry, data processing, and data analysis. This could reduce the need for human workers to perform these tasks.
  2. Quality assurance and testing: AI can be used to automate software testing and quality assurance tasks, which could reduce the need for human testers and improve the speed and accuracy of testing.
  3. Technical support and customer service: AI-powered chatbots and virtual assistants can be used to provide technical support and customer service, which could reduce the need for human support agents.
  4. Cybersecurity: AI can be used to automate cybersecurity tasks, including threat detection and response, which could reduce the need for human cybersecurity professionals.
  5. Manufacturing and assembly line jobs: AI-powered robots and automation systems can be used to perform manufacturing and assembly line tasks, which could reduce the need for human workers. 

It's important to note that while AI has the potential to automate many tasks and job functions, it is unlikely to completely replace human workers in the near future. Instead, it is more likely that AI will be used to augment and enhance human capabilities, rather than replace them. 

Rob Fay: What are the criticisms of ChatGPT about its biases? 

Wall-E: One of the main criticisms of ChatGPT and other language models is that they can exhibit biases based on the data they were trained on. This is because language models learn from large datasets of text, and if these datasets contain biases or stereotypes, the model may learn and replicate those biases in its output. 

Here are some specific criticisms of ChatGPT regarding biases: 

  1. Gender and racial biases: Some studies have found that ChatGPT and other language models can exhibit gender and racial biases in their output. For example, the language model may associate certain professions or activities with specific genders or races, which can perpetuate stereotypes and reinforce existing biases.
  2. Lack of diversity in training data: Another criticism of ChatGPT is that it may not be trained on diverse datasets that represent a wide range of languages, cultures, and perspectives. This can result in biases and inaccuracies in its output when used in contexts that it was not specifically trained for.
  3. Amplifying harmful content: ChatGPT has also been criticized for its ability to generate and amplify harmful content, such as hate speech or misinformation. This can have negative effects on individuals and society as a whole.
  4. Ethics and transparency: Some critics have also raised concerns about the ethical implications of using ChatGPT and other language models, and have called for greater transparency in how these models are developed, tested, and deployed. 

It's important to note that OpenAI, the organization behind ChatGPT, has acknowledged these criticisms and has taken steps to address them, such as releasing more diverse training datasets and working to reduce biases in its models. However, the issue of biases in AI is complex and ongoing, and there is still much work to be done to ensure that language models like ChatGPT are as fair and accurate as possible. 

Rob Fay: Thank you Wall-E, for taking the time (average answer took ~10 seconds) to answer our questions. 

 If you’d like to learn more about OpenAI or experiment for yourself with ChatGPT, please refer to the following: 

A head shot of Rob Fay

Rob currently leads the CCSQ Human-Centered Design Center of Excellence (HCD CoE). The HCD CoE is an organization that impacts the way the CCSQ delivers policy, products and services to its customers. Through the provision of education, support and resources, he promotes the continued implementation and usage of HCD best practices and seeks to fulfill the charge of OMB Circular A-11 Section 280 (i.e., “Managing Customer Experience and Service Delivery”). For over 20 years Rob has focused on making products and services delightful and easy to use by leading research and design initiatives at government agencies like CMS, NIH, and USPTO and commercial organizations including Blackboard and Allegis Group. Rob holds a Master of Information Management and a Master of Science in Marriage & Family Therapy from the University of Maryland, College Park.

Research Operations: Approaches to Recruitment and Knowledge Management 

Research is the cornerstone to human-centered design process and understanding user and customer needs that builds solutions, strategy and results. Yet, we are challenged in multiple ways in how to conduct, share insights and build knowledge, while navigating sensitive records management (PII) and organizational challenges. 

This month’s Community of Practice will include a diverse and rich community panel of researchers, digital experts, and HCD leaders discussing and debating research operations moderated by Rob Fay, HCD Center of Excellence Lead. The panel will discuss and share knowledge, paths to success, contribute advice and provide contextual experiences. You will learn about approaching, conducting, recruiting, using methods and building organizational research for strong knowledge management. This session is highly suitable for working practitioners, team leaders and leadership. 

Topics may include: 

  • Recruiting,  
  • Records management (including PII),  
  • Paperwork Reduction Act,
  • Knowledge management (synthesis, collaboration, findings), 
  • Research tools, and  
  • Ways CMS can better support research operations.

The panel includes:

Rob Fay (Moderator) - HCD Center of Excellence Lead, Center for Clinical Standards & Quality at CMS 

Rob works for Tantus Technologies, supporting their Portfolio, Program, and Project Management (PM3) contract with CCSQ's Information Systems Group (ISG). In this role, he leads CCSQ's HCD Center of Excellence, partnering with stakeholders throughout the enterprise to ensure that CMS products, services, and even policies reflect the voice of the customer. 

Pam Drouin - UX Research Lead, Center for Medicaid and CHIP Services (MACFin) at CMS 

Pam is a UX Research Lead with the Medicaid and CHIP Financial (MACFin) team, which is the financial reporting system that executes quarterly budgeting and expenditures processes. Pam works for A1M Solutions, a small, woman-owned company that supports the entire government program ecosystem, promoting better health outcomes for all. She collaborates on a shared research repository as part of the MACBIS HCD CoP ResearchOps. Pam's background is in UX design, while her prior career was in library and information science. 

Kevin Hoffman - Director of Design, Office of the CTO at VA 

Kevin is the Director of Design for the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of the CTO, managing and leading the Veteran account experience, which helps millions of Veterans of the US Armed Forces get the benefits they’ve earned. Previously, he was the Vice President of Design at Capital One, and the founder of a design consultancy, Seven Heads Design. He is the author of the Rosenfeld Media book Meeting Design for Makers, Managers and Everyone, and regularly teaches workshops and speaks to teams about improving meetings in their work. 

Kimberly Hyde - Senior UX Researcher, Center for Clinical Standards & Quality (iQIES) at CMS 

Kim is a Senior UX Researcher with the iQIES program; supporting the collection and management of healthcare provider survey data. She is particularly passionate about advocating for those whose voices are often left out of the software development process and disseminating knowledge of HCD concepts beyond the borders of the UX team. Outside of work, Kim is an avid traveler, architecture nerd, and mother to (almost) 3 young children. 

Antwyn Jackson - HCD/UX Designer, Center for Clinical Standards & Quality (HIDS) at CMS 

Antwyn is an experienced HCD Analyst and UX Designer that has had the opportunity to work for both private and public companies.  His mix of experience has given him great insight into research, strategy, and design philosophies. 

Kiel McLaughlin - Senior UX Design Researcher, Center for Clinical Standards & Quality (QPP) at CMS 

Kiel is a Senior UX Design Researcher with Agile Six and has supported the Quality Payment Program (QPP) since 2019. Kiel has worked in Civic Tech since 2015 and graduated from the University of Baltimore Interaction Design & Information Architecture program. 

Mathais Rechtzigel - Design Technologist, Office of the Administrator, Digital Services at CMS 

Mathias Rechtzigel is a Design Technologist and Educator based in Minnesota at the Digital Service at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Mathias’s background at the intersection of design, technology, and education, has influenced projects across the Treasury Department, Bureau of the Fiscal Service, Federal Reserve, and CMS. 


The presentation slides and recording will be available following the session on Confluence. 


When: Thursday, March 30, 1 PM ET

Where: Zoom, meeting ID 825 1230 8285, pass 240154

A Coffee Conversation: Addressing Disability with Healthcare Disparities and Equity

This month’s Community of Practice coffee conversation and round table, will include a range of captivating thought leaders who will discuss and reflect upon improving healthcare disparities by the disabled and improving their equity through a person-centered approach.

Topics include:

  • Blue Print at National Council on Disability
  • Cultural competence
  • Disparities
  • Inclusion and Usability
  • Person-centered care and services

The round table members, many of who have “lived experience” as people with disabilities, will include:

Moderator and Thought Leader: Gary C. Norman, Esq. L.L.M.

Mr. Norman is a resolute public servant gifted with the ability to bring people of unrelated interests together. He is a valued leader, manager, collaborator, and team member in any setting, who actively engages with, leads, even envisions trending, prevailing public policy issues. He particularly cares as to elevate the policy voice and leadership by people with disabilities.

Mr. Norman started his public service career as a Presidential Management Fellow in 2000 with the federal government after graduating from Wright State University and Cleveland State University. He has the unique brand of serving on the public square with a special sidekick, guide dog Bowie. In 2022, he completed two Fellowships: One at the Wilson Center for federal executives to learn as to Artificial Intelligence; One within the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to pipeline diverse potential managers. He serves on the Board of the Presidential Management Alumni Association.

In 2021, the Baltimore Business Journal recognized Mr. Norman as a Leader in Diversity. He has long shared the disability experience – its benefits and challenges – in a society not yet as accessible as it should be for service animal teams. He consistently reminds colleagues that, while not perfect, this republic has achieved great progress in living to its tenants. He is known for his semi-regular salons in which he brokers thought leaders, including, the disabled and the able, having mentored a range of law students with disabilities.

In 2020, Mr. Norman received the Administrator’s Award at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services for his work on healthcare accessibility and quality policy related to people with disabilities. In 2011, Mr. Norman obtained his Masters in Letters of Law at Washington College of Law. Where, as a Law and Government Scholar, he focused on the intersection among bioethics, civil rights, and regulatory policy.

Mr. Norman serves as Co-chair of the Board of Advisors at the Pieces of Me Foundation. Mr. Norman served as Chair of the Board of Commissioners at the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights from 2018 to 2021, co-leading the Agency to a new three-year strategic plan. He also formally served on the Maryland Lynching Truth and Reconciliation Commission as one of his concurrent roles as Chair.

Service to the Profession: In 2021, Chief Judge Barbarra appointed Mr. Norman to serve on the appeals committee of the Maryland Court of Appeals related to requests for reasonable accommodations to the Maryland Bar Exam. He is a member of the Board of Governors of the Maryland State Bar Association. Mr. Norman is a Fellow of the Maryland Bar Foundation. Mr. Norman has served on, and serves on, the Board for the Leadership Academy of the Maryland State Bar Association.

Consensus-Builder: In November 2019, he served as a Fellow at the invite-only Public Policy Conflict Resolution Fellowship. A program for high-level leaders convened under the auspices of the Md. Judiciary. At the Maryland Lynching Truth & Reconciliation Commission, he collaborated with his colleagues to broker various long-term relationships and special projects, including, a series of restorative justice trainings. In 2015, he served as a Visiting Fellow at the non-partisan Robert J. Dole Institute for Politics. He established a multi-year non-partisan symposium on animal law and policy brokering regional or even national experts together.

He is the past chief partnerships facilitator and Co-Executive Editor of The Mid-Atlantic Journal on Law and Public Policy: Animal and Disability Reporter. A non-partisan, law and public policy journal on animal and disability issues that he co-founded. He has a column in the Maryland Daily Record focusing on his adventures to influence policy as a lawyer with a guide dog. Additionally, he is a feature contributing author at GovLoop.

On a personal side, Mr. Norman enjoys reading and libraries, enjoys the theatre; as well as sharing time reading his books whilst drinking coffee. He is a shareholder member at the historic library Company of Philadelphia. His dog or dogs are usually near-by chewing on a bone or playing with toys.

Thought Leader: Daniel Hodges, J.D. Co-founder, C.E.O. and President of the Pieces of Me Foundation

Mr. Hodges is a coach, a consultant, and a public policy thought leader, who works at the intersection of disabilities, healthcare equity, and societal inclusion. He obtained his law degree at the University of Baltimore School of Law. He is a person who has multiple disabilities, thusly knowing the benefits and challenges of how a society identifies and accepts disability. 

Thought Leader: Daniel S. Davis, Policy Analyst, HHS

Daniel Davis serves as a Policy Analyst with the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Community Living’s Center for Policy Evaluation, Office of Policy Analysis and Development. As a person with an invisible disability committed to the full inclusion of people with disabilities and other disadvantaged groups in the realization of their American dream, Daniel has worked on policy and legislation impacting the lives of people with disabilities for nearly 20 years. 

The presentation slides and recording will be available following the session on Confluence. 


When: Thursday, October 27, 1 PM ET

Where: Zoom, meeting ID 813 1725 3712, pass 050855

Measuring Customer Satisfaction: Case Studies from Hospital Quality Reporting Program (HQR) and Quality Payment Program (QPP) 

This month's Community of Practice event, we’ll hear case studies from HQR and QPP to learn how they’ve implemented customer satisfaction surveys into their HCD practice. These surveys provide a continuous feedback mechanism for customers to express actionable praise and critique of CCSQ products and services. Join us to learn about aspects of customer satisfaction research at CCSQ, such as: 

  • Securing PRA coverage 
  • Survey tools used on these projects 
  • Writing customer satisfaction survey questions 
  • Leveraging site intercept survey technology 
  • How the HCD Center of Excellence can support your team’s customer satisfaction research 

The discussion will be led by HQR presenter, Lesley Humphreys, of Bellese Technologies, QPP presenter, Kiel McLaughlin, of Agile Six Applications, Inc. and Leann Down, of Huge, Inc.   

Lesley Humphreys - Human-Centered Design Lead, Bellese Technologies 
Lesley has been working in information design for 15 years, and during that time, she has been fortunate to contribute to a diverse array of government projects, including a re-architecture of the US Forest Service and U.S. Citizen and Immigration Service (USCIS) websites, the design of a new end-to-end patent review application for the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), the ESRD Quality Reporting Systems (EQRS), the Medicare Payment System Modernization Program (MPSM), and currently, Hospital Quality Reporting (HQR). She is a founder of the Baltimore UX Meetup and has a User Experience Managers' Certification from the Nielsen Norman Group

Kiel McLaughlin, Research Lead - QPP Human-Centered Design, Agile Six Applications, Inc. 
Kiel is the Research Lead with the Quality Payment Program HCD team (QPP), since 2019. He has been an HCD/UX Researcher/Designer for 6 years in the government space.  Kiel graduated from the Interaction Design & Information Architecture program at University of Baltimore. Kiel lives in Baltimore, has two cats, and a 6-month-old son. 

Leann Down, MPP, MSW - Senior Researcher, Huge, Inc.

Leann is an applied mixed-methods researcher, bringing an interdisciplinary approach to understanding the ways people engage with content, products, and technologies. Prior to joining Huge, Inc. and the Agile 6 team, Leann worked as an evaluation consultant to develop, design, evaluate, and implement new communications and sociotechnologies within nonprofit and US federal agencies, including NIST, NSF, and DOD. She holds masters degrees in public policy and social work from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. 

The presentation slides and recording will be available following the session on Confluence. 


When: Thursday, September 29, 1 PM ET

Where: Zoom, meeting ID 813 1725 3712, pass 050855

Calm Technology

Calm Technology

This month’s Community of Practice will focus on Calm technology. Calm technology describes a state of technological maturity where a user’s primary task is not computing, but being human. The idea behind Calm Technology is to have smarter people, not things. Technology shouldn’t require all of our attention, just some of it, and only when necessary.

The terms calm computing and calm technology were coined in 1995 by PARC Researchers Mark Weiser and John Seely Brown in reaction to the increasing complexities that information technologies were creating.

This talk explores the concept of calm technology, a method for smoothly capturing a user’s attention only when necessary, while calmly remaining in the background most of the time.

  • How can we design technologies that become part of a life and not a distraction from it?
  • Technologies that respect human time instead of deterring from it? 

Amber Case studies the interaction between humans and computers and how our relationship with information is changing the way cultures think, act, and understand their worlds.

  • Internationally recognized design advocate and speaker and the author of four books, including Calm Technology and A Kids Book About Technology.
  • Fellow at MIT’s Center for Civic Media and Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society.
  • Her TED Talk, We Are All Cyborgs Now has over 2 million views.
  • Named one of Inc. Magazine’s 30 under 30 and Fast Company’s Most Influential Women in Technology.
  • Named a National Geographic Emerging Explorer in 2012.
  • Received the Claude Shannon Innovation Award from Bell Labs.
  • Co-founder and CEO of Geoloqi, a location-based software company acquired by Esri.
  • Co-founder of EverCharge, acquired SK E&S in 2022. 

Case currently works on next generational governance tools at DAO. You can follow her work on Medium: and Twitter:

The presentation slides and recording will be available following the session on Confluence. 


When: Thursday, August 25, 1 PM ET

Where: Zoom, meeting ID 813 1725 3712, pass 050855

WEB3.0 Is It Over?

WEB3.0 Is It Over? 

This month’s Community of Practice will focus on web3 and feature a debate on the promises of web3.  Will it revolutionize the web? Is Bitcoin the best use case for blockchain technology? Or is it merely a niche feature for rich people who want to pay millions for digital assets?

Join us on Thursday, July 28, for WEB3.0 Is It Over? Moderated by Content Director Stephanie Warren from Somo Global, a digital product agency, this debate promises to help you understand why some say it could revolutionize the web.  And why others disagree.

Through this debate you will learn: 

  • The key components of web3
  • The Barriers to mass adoption
  • The implications for health care


Since her early days at America Online, Stephanie has always had a passion for the user experience. As a pioneer in eCommerce, she learned quickly how users adapt to new tech and leverage it to better their lives - when they see a benefit. She currently directs all content efforts at Somo and is convinced the next big this is just around the corner.

The presentation slides and recording will be available following the session on Confluence. 


When: Thursday, July 28, 1 PM ET

Where: Zoom, meeting ID 813 1725 3712, pass 050855


This month’s Community of Practice will dive into the CMS Design System. We will discuss how the design system has evolved to meet the needs of CMS, the design system as of three years ago and the updates made; along with challenges up to today and plans for the future. Scott’s presentation is a companion piece to his article in the most recent edition of the embedded Newsletter, Maturing the CMS Design System.     

Scott will present: 

  • What a design system is
  • Why a design system is important
  • How to get involved with the design system
  • And more!

Since 2004, Scott Weber has focused on improving online experiences for US citizens through the lens of design systems, front-end user experience, web standards, and accessibility.

Currently, he works for Ad Hoc as a Managing Senior UX Designer 2 : Front-end Specialist and serves as the design lead for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services design system. He has worked with various federal, state, and local governments. In addition to CMS his work includes, National Science Foundation (NSF), the Thrift Savings Program (TSP), and He is an alum of both 18F and NIC Inc. and brings a passion for web standards, human-centered design, and research.  

The presentation slides and recording will be available following the session on Confluence. 


When: Thursday, June 30, 1 PM ET

Where: Zoom, meeting ID 813 1725 3712, pass 050855

HCD as a Verb and Behavior

HCD as a Verb and Behavior 

Are you culturally ready for HCD? Our guest presenter will provide an insightful discourse on how to rethink and engage HCD as a verb and mindset of behaviors. The session will address how a defined and accessible HCD system:

  • Delineates given and successful mindsets, personalities, and rational thinking;
  • and the tools necessary to propel value-driven HCD.

Our guest presenter, Howard Montgomery, is a practicing agnostic Human-Centered Design Thinking expert who thrives across the consumer experience continuum of products, services, digital, brand, strategy, and environments. He has led, collaborated and consulted with multiple Fortune 100 companies: Ford Motor, Unilever, BMW, The Home Depot, Steelcase, P&G and LG Electronics across diverse business sectors; building products, automotive, consumer, food and healthcare. He holds 48 International Patents and has been the recipient of over 25 international awards including IDEA Awards, iF Award and Good Design Award, and multiple publications of his work. He has taught at several schools in the USA and UK. He holds a bachelor’s degree with honors from Kingston University, London, UK and master’s degree from Cranbrook Academy of Art, Bloomfield Hills, USA, both in Design.

The presentation slides and recording will be available following the session on Confluence. 


When: Thursday, May 26, 1 PM ET

Where: Zoom, meeting ID 813 1725 3712, pass 050855

Brainstorming: How to Create More Ideas and Better Ideas.

A brainstorming session likely comes to mind when tasked with generating ideas to solve a problem or dream up an innovative solution. But does it work?

Quick answer: Yes. But if facilitated poorly or approached with a rigid perspective, it may lead to groupthink or an environment where good ideas go to die—the opposite of what you set out to accomplish.

Whether facilitating or participating in a brainstorming session, you will succeed by adhering to best practices and approaching the process with a creative mindset. So, what does success look like? More and better ideas!

The session will include:

  • How to protect and nurture ideas
  • Brainstorming best practices
  • Virtual brainstorming techniques

Our guest presenter is Senior Design Strategist Scott Reed with the HCD Center of Excellence and adjunct faculty at Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA). Scott has an MBA in Strategic Design and completed post-graduate work at Austin Center for Design.

The presentation slides and recording will be available following the session on Confluence. 


When: Thursday, April 28, 1 PM ET

Where: Zoom, meeting ID 813 1725 3712, pass 050855

Championing the Value of HCD in Government 

 Despite the expectations for federal agencies to become more user-friendly and customer-focused, human-centered design (HCD) often feels like it is left on the cutting room floor due to pressing deadlines, tight resources, and other constraints. The mandate is clear—from both customers and executive orders—yet we still face challenges when it comes to “selling” the value of HCD and related methods at the enterprise and product levels.  

 Join the CCSQ HCD Community of Practice on Thursday, March 31, for Championing the Value of HCD in Government. Senior Design Strategist Brian Flaherty with Tantus Technologies will share best practices and facilitate small group discussions to: 

  • Explore ways to champion the value of HCD 
  • Reflect on common rebuttals, like HCD takes too much time 
  • Define success with a human-centered lens 
  • Co-create meaningful answers to why HCD helps government
  • Learn about tools and resources to help you make a case for HCD 

Brian has spent the better part of three decades pitching creative and communications services to an extensive list of proponents and naysayers alike. He is currently a Senior Design Strategist with the CCSQ Human-Centered Design Center of Excellence, has been a graphic designer for 30 years, and has been practicing HCD for 12. In addition, Brian spent 11 years as a Creative Director, Communications Supervisor, and HCD Practitioner at Johns Hopkins University. He holds a BA degree from the University of Pittsburgh, where he majored in Creative Writing and Public Relations. Brian is married, has a daughter preparing to head off to college, two cats, two dogs, 26 chickens, four ducks, a crested gecko, and an alpaca named Skinny Pete. 


When: Thursday, March 31, 1 PM ET

Where: Zoom, meeting ID 813 1725 3712, pass 050855

Improving customer experience (CX) has been a longtime government initiative. Whether seeking Social Security, Medicare benefits, or other services, Americans expect services to be efficient, intuitive, and responsive to their needs, just like services from leading private-sector organizations. In late 2021 President Biden signed an executive order designed to elevate CX on the same level as financial and operational performance. However, improving CX is not simple, and there are many nuances to consider.

Join the CCSQ HCD Community of Practice Thursday, February 24, for Customer Experience: A Fireside Chat with Stephanie Thum, CCXP. Stephanie is a sought-after expert on customer experience topics—particularly in the government space. Stephanie will join Rob Fay, HCD Strategy Lead with Tantus Technologies, for a conversation about:

  • A historical lens for CX and government
  • Influencers and drivers of CX
  • The intersection of user experience (UX) and CX
  • The unique role and opportunity for human-centered design
  • And more!

Stephanie Thum is a Certified Customer Experience Professional (CCXP) and founder of Practical CX. She served as one of the U.S. federal government’s first agency-level customer experience leaders at the Export-Import Bank of the United States from 2012-2016. Stephanie is a frequent podcast guest, webinar presenter, expert source often quoted in the trade press around White House CX policies and published in scholarly circles. She has written and spoken extensively on customer experience strategy, global voice of the customer techniques, metrics, communication, and customer experience governance in multiple sectors.

Stephanie currently works with government agencies, B2B firms, technology companies, and marketing firms. She also serves as the series editor for a collection of scholarly case studies for SAGE Publishing. 

Register today to join the discussion and collaborate with a community of professionals.

Call For Speakers

Create, share, and apply HCD knowledge

We are looking for speakers, contributors for panel discussions, and facilitators who can share their experiences and perspectives with human-centered design, product development, and other relevant topics with the CCSQ HCD Community of Practice.

Call for Speakers Submission Form.

The community of practice is a unique opportunity to share your perspective and expand thought leadership and visibility. If selected to speak, you will have a diverse audience of professionals from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and federal contractors across the product development ecosystem.  

Generally, we meet virtually on Zoom on the last Friday of each month at 1 PM ET. The one-hour sessions involve designers and researchers, engineers, product managers, and anyone passionate about human-centered design. Speakers share insights in various formats, such as presentations, case studies, panel discussions, and mini-workshops. 

Speakers include product team members and guest speakers. Recent sessions include The Content Audit: Agony and Ecstasy (presentation), Service Design for Hospital Quality Reporting: Service Blueprint and Journey Maps (case study), Driving Creativity and Improving Customer Experience with Empathy (panel discussion), and Creative Facilitation: Increase Collaboration, Productivity, and Innovation (mini-workshop).

The call for speakers will close on Friday, January 14. We will review the submissions and be in touch with everyone who submits by Friday, January 28.  

Thank you in advance for your interest in contributing to the CCSQ HCD Community of Practice. If you have any questions, please contact us at

Call for Speakers Submission Form.

Using Ethnography to Make APIs Usable_HCD Community of Practice

Ethnographic methods that center systems thinking, how knowledge is constructed, and how knowledge is shared among communities are best for developing collective digital products like Application Programming Interfaces, known as APIs.

On Friday, December 17, at 1 PM ET, join the CCSQ HCD Community of Practice to explore APIs and human-centered design. Our guest presenters are Maria Vidart-Delgado, Senior UX Researcher, and John French, Senior UX Designer & Front-End Specialist with Ad Hoc LLC.

During the session, we will explore:

  • APIs as digital products that are built, maintained and consumed collectively.
  • The use of ethnography as a practical approach to researching the communities that use APIs and their end-products, understanding their information needs, and how they use an API.
  • Designing API functionality to answer end-user information needs, real-life questions, and easy-to-understand information architecture and documentation.

In this talk, the guest speakers will discuss Ad Hoc's approach to researching APIs by sharing their work with CMS Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) APIs and how qualitative research contributes to usable APIs. In addition, the presentation will include applying ethnographic methods to study end-users and communities of practice to design API functionality, architecture, documentation, and support. Finally, as a case study, they will demonstrate how ethnographic methods are highly effective in the context of APIs because these methods focus on understanding collectives and how they share information and knowledge.

Register today to join the discussion and to collaborate with a community of professionals.