This blog is part of an online learning platform which includes the Pathways to New Community Paradigms Wiki and a number of other Internet based resources to explore what is termed here 'new community paradigms' which are a transformational change brought about by members of a community.

It is intended to offer resources and explore ideas with the potential of purposefully directing the momentum needed for communities to create their own new community paradigms.

It seeks to help those interested in becoming active participants in the governance of their local communities rather than merely passive consumers of government service output. This blog seeks to assist individuals wanting to redefine their role in producing a more direct democratic form of governance by participating both in defining the political body and establishing the policies that will have an impact their community so that new paradigms for their community can be chosen rather than imposed.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

The What, Why and How of Design Thinking and Collective Impact part 1 of 3

The next three blog posts are going to take a closer look at the Design Thinking component of the Applying Business Concepts to Community Engagement map featured in the last post. This post will give a taste of what the course offers, what was different with another design thinking course and what is different from the usual standard government approach. The next two posts will focus on the why and how of design thinking as it relates to Collective Impact.

The Acumen’s Human Centered Design course (map), based in large part on The IDEO Field Guide to Human-Centered Design (map) was basically audited this time, due partially to lack thereof, for access to materials it might provide and to compare it to the Design Thinking Action Lab course taught by Leticia Britos Cavagnaro completed two years ago through the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford University (aka dschool). 

The New Community Paradigms Design Team at Design Thinking Action Lab blog post began the series on the Design Thinking Action Lab online course. The story continued with Learning more about What is Design Thinking?, and the creation of the five member, all from California, New Community Paradigms Learning Squad. The series was completed with Incorporating Design Thinking into New Community Paradigms which has the distinction of being the most viewed post by far of this blog’s existence. While not all of the resource links in the blog posts survived and the specific course has not been offered since, there is now the dSchool boot camp bootleg publication and alternative offerings. 

Perhaps the most significant difference between working through the two design thinking courses is that the Acumen/IDEO course is primarily designed with a group-guided learning structure, in a collaborative hands-on environment working on one project. With the Design Thinking Action Lab, we worked on our own individual projects for class credit but supported each other as a group through the phases of our class projects. Support was only  virtual though. The limitations with such an individual approach, not only to design thinking but to Collective Impact were recognized in the last post. The actual Acumen/IDEO course also seems to provide more written material from what I remembered of the Stanford course. 

The IDEO Field Guide shares the philosophy of design and the seven mindsets that set IDEO’s approach to design thinking apart: Empathy, Optimism, Iteration, Creative Confidence, Making, Embracing Ambiguity, and Learning from Failure.
                                                                                                 page 10, The Field Guide to                         Human-Centered Design

Other course materials cover the three main phases of design thinking: Inspiration, Ideation, and Implementation that according to Acumen/IDEO all design challenges move through. Similarly with the Design Lab, the first phase was framing or defining the problem by establishing empathy with the ultimate stakeholder. The challenge could be examined through different lenses and stakeholders by talking to them and learning about their perspectives so that one discovered their unique problems needing to be tackled.

Government very often takes a one size, or more to the point ‘our’ size, fits all approach. Government programs are usually designed to fit the specifications of funders or overseers, too seldom truly focusing on user needs. It has been a common philosophy of government that if you set the program resources up so as to keep those deemed undeserving out then the rest of the program will be able to take care of itself. 

The next step was Ideation with the Acumen/IDEO or Ideate with Design Lab, which for the Design Lab assignment consisted of coming up with 50 ideas that could address the specific insight derived from the empathy and definition stage. From the 50 or in my case 35 ideas, three were chosen as most practical, most disruptive and a favorite. From those, two were selected for the next stage of the assignment Prototype and Test. 

The fundamental idea taken from this next stage was of a failing forward, and fast approach. The Acumen/IDEO Human-centered design approach involves tinkering, testing, and failing early and often. Acumen/IDEO also emphasizes the power of tangibility, to ‘make it,' the human-centered design process being about making ideas visual, tactile, and experiential by making it. 

This means not only making tangible prototypes of ideas but sharing what has been made, and further iterating based on the feedback obtained because one hardly ever gets it right on the first go.

And we know that making an idea real reveals so much that mere theory cannot. When the goal is to get impactful solutions out into the world, you can’t live in abstractions. You have to make them real.
                                  page 20, The Field Guide to                          Human-Centered Design

The concept of prototyping or pretotyping to fail more efficiently, effortless and at far lower costs was also explained, through the Design Lab course, by Alberto Savoia, Google's Innovation Agitator and Engineering Director, through his "The Pretotyping Manifesto" which was presented to the Stanford Graduate School of Business in January of 2012.

This is an approach followed by many innovative companies in the private sector but still seems inexplicable to many if not most in city hall. Government institution management is often not comfortable with an iterative process concerning the creation of something, wanting instead a final finished product without mistakes to be presented to the city council and public. They are often fine though with an iterative process of very small changes in how they do things.

This often means that once a course of action has been decided upon early in the process that everything is then done to justify that decision including selling it to the public. The notion that an idea should be allowed to fail and then try another one is inconceivable because it would mean that upper management or the city council had been wrong about something. At least this dismal perspective seemed truer when the design thinking blog series was first written. There does seem to have been some positive changes realized throughout the public sector though whether it is moving towards being enough is still a question.

It further requires being capable of frequently shifting gears, between what IDEO calls diverging and converging, moving from concrete observations to highly abstract thinking, and then back again throughout the process's three phases, and spending a surprising amount of time not knowing the answer to the challenge which  is unlike other problem solving methods. Raising a related question by the Stanford class forum, also asked by the Acumen/IDEO course, ‘How comfortable are you with uncertainty? ”

Perhaps the most important difference is not in the courses themselves but that Acumen is not an academic institution but a dedicated change agent one.  They believe in the importance of incorporating the principles of design thinking when creating solutions to problems of poverty so that low-income communities are provided with choice, not just charity and are seeking others with this mindset through free courses, including this one, at

This means that they go beyond a project-based focus to a practical one of we can make an actual impact on the world focus.

Human-centered design is uniquely situated to arrive at solutions that are desirable, feasible, and viable. By starting with humans, their hopes, fears, and needs, we quickly uncover what’s most desirable. But that’s only one lens through which we look at our solutions. Once we’ve determined a range of solutions that could appeal to the community we’re looking to serve, we then start to home in on what is technically feasible to actually implement and how to make the solution financially viable. It’s a balancing act, but one that’s absolutely crucial to designing solutions that are successful and sustainable. 
                                                                                                  page 14, The Field Guide to Human-Centered Design

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