Recommended ReadsJuly 20th, 2021

NDIS robo-planning algorithms are putting personas to troubling use

Shona Curvers
Shona Curvers, Senior Design Researcher

Personas paint a picture of the different kinds of people who might be interacting with a particular policy, product or service, and get a sense of what their needs and experiences are in their own words.

But any tool can be misused. The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) uses personas to inform the development of an algorithm which will have real-world consequences on the lives of people living with disabilities.

This article highlights important concerns: personas can be dangerous if they are not co-designed with users, if they are relied upon as a single source of truth or treated as precise representations of real people.

People need to be involved to provide feedback and validation, and to help counter the biases of the researchers. There should be full transparency around how the personas were created, and for what purpose. None of this was the case for the NDIS.

“The upending of the NDIS social contract has precipitated an insidious episode of servicing by algorithm, in which no Australian has had a say.”

Personas are a handy tool, but they are imperfect representations of real people. They should be used with caution, and where the stakes are high and there is no room for mistakes, perhaps using personas is not the way to go.

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