Designing the design process

I received a call last night that a representative from Georgetown arrives tomorrow to check in on the program. I knew this was going to happen at some point this summer and that, with two Georgetown scholars in my group, he would spend some time with us. But I did not anticipate the anxiety.

Really, I have no reason to be nervous. He is not really evaluating me, but ThinkImpact (TI). And mostly, he is coming to check-in on scholars whom I know are doing well.

Nonetheless, I half hope he comes to a workshop and loves it and half hopes he does not come at all.

The scholars and I meet every morning. Using the meeting structure from the Women’s Center, we always begin with a personal check-in. We then move to logistsics, curriculum content, and a reflection question to journal and share.

I feel great about the group experience I am helping to facilitate for my scholars. Lately, I have also been really excited about where we are in the process/curriculum.

But, it is a funny thing to teach something outside of your field/experience.

Now that the scholars gathered their design teams, our workshops are in preparation for them to facilitate their own version of the activity with their teams.

To begin, I gave the scholars a variety of exercises to engage in asset mapping with the community members. Fortunately, I did a little bit of asset-based work in AmeriCorps, and read a lot about it then. In short, I felt way more prepared for that than the rest of the design process.

We start with assets very intentionally in order to estabish a foundation that says “you have the capacity.” While TI does not bring any money in for our projects, we bring a belief in the existing resources and skills in the community to create their own change (the development version of appreciative inquiry for my SOLES friends). It has been neat to see scholars embrace this philosophy, or at least consider it.

Next is an activity known as “Brainstorm a Path”- the TI equivalent to HCD’s ‘how might we’. With this, design teams begin to look at their daily experiences and how they might innovate around them.

“Innovate around experiences” is one of TI’s main principles, and I think the most difficult one to grasp. Essentially, it says that we are not creating products and services for the sake of building business, but for the purpose of improving lived experiences.

Last year, for example, one of the more successful design teams chose to innovate around the cooking experience and found that collecting firewood was a long and arduous process for families. So they innovated a charcoal product made from the existing waste (AKA asset) of their corn husks.

It is at this point that I am teaching ideas and concepts that are new to me, which is where my anxiety about our friend from Georgetown comes in. Fortunately, HCD is just that: human-centered, and I am quite familiar with the experience of being human.

It is an empathy-based approach, which is interesting for me to see in the context of the business process. And while some use it to better target the customer, in the context of social innovation, it is applied to a social issue of some sort.

I am learning a lot! I went through the’s open source crash course in design and am doing a lot of research on facilitation, design thinking, and entrepreneurship (any resources you have to share are welcome!).

And with every layer I peel back, while I might come up with some clever exercises, I discover yet another set of questions around our presence and approach, as well as development as whole.


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