29 September 2009

What does design thinking look like?

I just got back from the IDSA conference in Miami. I've never been to one before so I can only compare it to other conferences I've attended. And on many levels, it follows a similar model of other organizations: workshops, keynotes and vendors all hosted at a fancy hotel or venue.

I tracked the Twitter feeds to find out what others were thinking about this event in real time. Since I'm not a member of the IDSA, I knew no one upon arrival. As I was going to present during a breakout session on the last day, I wanted to see if anyone had 140 characters that could help me understand this diverse group of people. Notably, there weren't many tweeters compared to some other events I've tracked but I was able to gain some perspective. Regardless, what continued to emerge throughout the event was the hope that design could change the world in ways it hadn't before.

Various other voices have weighed in on the experience. I would suggest that these thoughts are completely valid but tend to suggest the notion that the IDSA might not be able offer what these times demand. I'm not here to reject their ideas or the IDSA but I will say that one notable moment occurred during the conference that seemed to represent "design thinking" at its finest.

(image from Tim Brown's new book Change By Design)

A group of students led an impromptu session to ask the question, "What would your ideal conference experience be?" I told a fellow attendee, "That is where the ideas will come from at this conference. You want to find out the pulse for the future? Go there." Don't get me wrong. Everyone contributed many layers of value. I attended great sessions with amazing content and conversation. I was grateful to have people participate in my session for that matter (especially at 9am on Saturday morning!).

But for me, the student "charrette" and their final presentation offered an envisioned future that I believe we are meant to investigate as "design thinkers." And in my opinion, our thinking is best reflected when accompanied by some sort of design doing (if it is to make an impact). The student's approach acted as a microcosm of the topics covered during this event. We talk a lot about this notion but their actions represent what we are meant to be striving for in this process: they sought to engage a group, be user-centered, collect data and then present scenarios to the audience. And they did it all in a rapid prototyping fashion. With a healthy dose of humor. Brilliant.

I'm sure I could offer many event improvement suggestions. As designers, I think it's in our blood to figure out better ways to do everything. But I want to affirm that the students led the way through their innovative approach to evaluating the future of this type of conference. And to me, that is what design thinking looks like in real time. It becomes a testament to how our discipline can model ideas in the midst of our own learning. And gives us a chance to practice before we begin to approach these "wicked problems" filled with complexity.

Edit: It has been brought to my attention that P&G actually initiated this impromptu session. So credit to them for creating a means to dialogue about improving this event. See comments for more details.

02 September 2009

Human-Centered Evaluation

Some folks led a session at SoCap09 that I wish I could have been sitting in on. Twitter allows you to catch a glimpse of the topics but I would have loved to hear the dialogue beyond the 140 characters.

Two people I follow on Twitter were on this panel: Aaron Sklar & Tatyana Mamut (both work at Ideo and are connected to designing for social impact).

Here's the description:
Social investors and social entrepreneurs have been struggling for years to align on the right tools for measuring new-to-the world offerings. These offerings often take years to show results and many initiatives run the risk of stalling or failing due to lack of demonstrated progress. In addition, the evaluation of new solutions is often uncharted territory in terms of how to measure and what to measure. In this session aimed at funders and social entrepreneurs, Ideo, Jd Power and associates and Keystone will share their frameworks and experiences for creating a strategic measurement portfolio based on human centered measurement and evaluation methodologies. In the workshop portion of the session, participants will break into teams and create a human centered evaluation strategy to meet their current measurement challenges. Participants are invited to come with an evaluation challenge of a new-to-the-world initiative that they would like to work on in the workshop. The session is part of a collaboration between Ideo and Good magazine to advance dialogue about evaluation in the social sector.

Twitter began feeding these 5 principles for making change happen:
1. Put people at the center of evaluation
2. Take a systemic view
3. Navigate uncertainty
4. Zoom out to a portfolio view
5. Measure what you care about

Having pursued a focus on human-centered design in my graduate studies, I can relate to the struggle to adequately evaluate. There are so many factors that play into this! Notably, this becomes difficult when you are seeking to access evaluations from those who don't share the same language but who could benefit from your offering. Professor Ranjan at NID has a great diagram that reinforces how to keep people at the center of the evaluation by constantly revisiting the community at all stages of design. His diagram infers being present to these individuals: "You have to get your hands dirty on the ground to be able to really understand your customers' needs." (Lucky Gunasekara)

What Ranjan's diagram can't address is how you should interpret the feedback you receive in order to establish some sort of metric. It likely presumes that a conversation has occurred that will allow you to move onto next stages of evaluation. To me, this presents another reason why meaning and metrics are worth investigating. I continue to return to Jacqueline Novogratz's words in The Blue Sweater where she assesses how social programs have often created a culture of charity that don't empower people to say what they really mean. How can we access what people really think when money (or lack thereof) might affect their decision? Check the Twitter feeds under #socap09.ideo for much more on this. The diversity of discussion is worth perusing.

I'm definitely not a pro in the area of social innovation and/or its measurement. I am keen to grow in it because of the witnessed frustrations of ineffective offerings. I don't want to suggest simplistic ideas on such a far-reaching topic either; my limited experience continues to remind me that the number one principle suggested in this session is the one which will define the remainder on the list. Organizations like the ones included on this panel are asking good questions in order to link us to the broader topics of democracy, transparency and governance (for the sake of those who aren't physically present to lend their voices to their own social innovation but who are the beneficiaries of these discussions on some level).

But that's another blog entry altogether.

For more on this discussion, check out the Innovation in Evaluation forum.