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 3 of 3

The previous blog post continued the discussion on design thinking and Collective Impact making the argument that design thinking should be integrated with systems thinking (as well as artistic thinking) to have the greatest impact on addressing the complex, wicked challenges facing communities.

The idea of combining design thinking and systems thinking has been around for some time with Innovation as a learning process: Embedded Design Thinking by Sara L. Beckman and Michael Barry from 2007 or Systems & Design Thinking: A Conceptual Framework for Their Integration by John Pourdehnad, Erica R. Wexler, and Dennis V. Wilson from 2011.

Part of the problem is agreeing on what they are separate so as to enable agreement on what they are combined. Practitioners are fairly comfortable with some ambiguity in their own field but misconceptions about the other could make cooperation difficult. The supposed Lessons Learned — Why the Failure of Systems Thinking Should Inform the Future of Design Thinking, from June of 2009, by Fred Collopy would seem to give neither side much hope since design thinking still seems in the same boat as systems thinking.  What Collopy doesn’t seem to have considered is that each could learn from each other, particularly if they were used to target the same challenges addressed under Collective Impact. 

The first step is to determine What is Design Thinking, Really?, from back in July of 2010 in which Venessa Miemis cites the term design thinking as referring to a set of principles, from mindset to process, that can be applied to solve complex problems, coined by IDEO’s David Kelley. 

She goes on to review Change by Design, by IDEO’s CEO Tim Brown, getting to the meat and potatoes of addressing Collective Impact concerns with chapters titled ‘The New Social Contract,’ ‘Design Activism,’ and ‘Designing Tomorrow – Today’, framing the opening pages of the book:

What we need are new choices – new products that balance the needs of individuals and of society as a whole; new ideas that tackle the global challenges of health, poverty, and education; new strategies that results in differences that matter and a sense of purpose that engages everyone affected by them.

The perspective had of systems thinking is important in this partnership. Some seem to wrongly assume that systems thinking only addresses well understood problems, with one best answer to that problem and the path to finding that answer being linear. Others believe that systems thinking involves making changes to a system that will lead to the elimination of a problem identified within one of the system components. Russell L. Ackoff though admonished us to Never improve a part of the system unless it also improves the whole. The fact that these errors or disagreements over definition are not only limited to those on the design thinking side of the issue complicates things.

Systems Thinking and Design Thinking from Triarchy Press correctly defines a systems thinking approach (in contrast to taking a reductionistic approach to complex systems like a business, separating it out into component parts and trying to manage each part as well as possible) as looking at relationships (rather than unrelated objects), connectedness, process (rather than structure), the whole (rather than just its parts), the patterns (rather than the contents) of a system, and context. While its definition of design thinking as using the definitions and assumptions of systems thinking and focuses on applying them to innovative processes for problem-solving and decision-making is arguably too restrictive.

Design thinking is about empathy and systems thinkers are the better for it makes the argument that “The combination of design and systems thinking can deliver a truly holistic understanding of a current system, generate ideas that will transform the system while yet continue to maintain a whole systems view to ensure the new system is sustainable.” This is not merely a touchy-feely appeal and this blog is not backing away from the need for the proper type of business discipline in the public sector. Empathy according to MixMashups' Gary Hamel drives innovation

In more recent articles, arguments have been made for design thinking to take lessons from systems thinking. In a Fast Company article of May of this year, Why Designers Must Put Invention First, Paddy Harrington quotes Charles Eames who said, "Eventually everything connects—people, ideas, objects, etc....the quality of the connections is the key to quality per se." The Eames office had a diagram of three overlapping circles representing the interests of the design office, the interests of the client and the interests of society as a whole, that explained their approach to their practice. Their work, the Eames said, was at the intersection of the three. The Eames talent, however, provided them the luxury of choice. 

Realistically, one won’t have the luxury of choosing clients if pursuing social change through design thinking and Collective Impact. How then Paddy Harrington asks can one, “...(establish a purpose that drives our practice more deeply and lets us work with more self-determination?” His answer is that Eames' approach is still the best guide for staying on course: first, connect everything in order to understand relationships, influences, and possibilities. In Richard Saul Wurman’s view, ”...[Eames] was selling his ignorance and his desire to learn about a subject. The journey of not knowing to knowing was his work."

Harrington further addresses embracing complexity and uncertainty citing Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of The Black Swan, who wrote:

"Categorizing always produces reduction in true complexity…Any reduction of the world around us can have explosive consequences since it rules out some sources of uncertainty; it drives us to a misunderstanding of the fabric of the world."

In response, Paddy Harington advises that “Rather than simplify a complex situation, we must start with a certain kind of fearlessness in the face of the unknown and establish tools to help us find answers in the absence of tangible information. And once we embrace that unknown, it’s the methodical application of those tools toward solutions that point us in a better direction.” This is a perspective that NCP can agree with, seeing Complexity as Cradle for Creativity and Innovation in moving from incoherent complexity to coherent complexity.

In the Fast Company article, Why "Design For Development" Is Failing On Its Promise, also from May of this year, Panthea Lee writes about noticing her colleagues wrestling a growing nervousness about how much design can create positive change and with the ways that, "design for development" is falling short of its promises.

She cites possible market-based reasons for this. In functioning markets, the user or customer is made powerful because of control of the money to spend. The users of a development program have no money so are often marginalized and powerless with no voice to compel governments to listen to them. Commercial projects have a clear idea of their user or customer and clear measures of success. Public sector design projects have no set "bottom line.” How does one then define the metrics for "improved governance"?  She recognizes at the same time that democracy requires people driving for themselves and that it is not simply a matter of having an easy answer or to "know the right solution. ” This means moving beyond defined terms of "evidence-based design decisions" and the desire to "drive positive change" so as to create a shift in what the work is serving.’’ She goes on to argue that, “(T)he world’s most intractable problems are deeply rooted in massive systems, while design is a discipline focused on the edges”

Traditional design focuses on creating and improving society’s outputs and interactions, such as a sleeker mobile phone or a more efficient way to buy
coffee. When these skills are translated over to the public sphere, design 
still tends to focus on outputs instead of the real systemic problems.

The Stanford Social Innovation Review makes the argument that design thinking applied to Collective Impact is capable of Turning Empathy into Action and lists the positive contributing attributes of each. 
It is this blog’s position that to be capable of, for example Solving Democracy’s Design Problem and moving from actual systems in the world such as Public Participation Designed for Entrenched Incumbents (Stafford Beer’s POSIWID) to more idealized, yet viable visions of Designing Public Participation Processes Map will require systems thinking as scaffolding for such a large, collaborative and scalable undertaking.

The What, Why and How of Design Thinking and Collective Impact part 2 of 3

In the last blog post, the Acumen/IDEO Design Thinking class (map) was looked at as part of the Living Cities online Collective Impact Course and compared with a similar program previously offered by the Stanford University dschool.

The stated NCP goal in taking a design thinking class the first time was to see how it could be incorporated into a community-based direct deliberative democracy approach to community governance. Design Thinking has had its own NCP wiki-page for some time. It has been of interest and relevance to New Community Paradigms for the reason that it is seen as being both solution oriented and inclusive, intentionally bringing in a variety of perspectives to face a challenge, not limited to only those with particular areas of expertise. Making it potentially useful to a diverse group of community members coming together to discuss problems, say with traffic and school crossings or other community challenges.  

Greater use of design thinking could scale from improving individual user interface with a particular app to helping to implement larger scalable, community-based, collaborative efforts such as Collective Impact or The Next Systems Project by deeply understanding the needs of the community. Another developing premise is that design thinking can help navigate the maze of complex ‘wicked’ challenges facing our communities. The Acumen/IDEO course comes closer to achieving those goals.

Important lessons were still taken from the Design Thinking Action Lab. The Stanford University d-school approach cited in Incorporating Design Thinking into New Community Paradigms emphasized the importance of drilling down to the individual.

Design Thinking demonstrates that there is an important difference between designing for individuals as the average of a class or for a group of individuals and instead designing for one specific individual. The later is more aligned with a human-centered design or user-centered design perspective by emphasizing a deeper understanding of problems from the perspective of different stakeholders, not as a member of a class or a category, but as a unique individual. It can be applied in this way to the creation of innovative products, services and processes.

Looking for extreme users can also help provide insight in understanding the experiences of people at the statistical edges, “(P)eople who are in extreme positions one way or the other are exhibiting needs more acutely than the average person,” according to Andrew Haeg, Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the Center for Collaborative Journalism at Mercer University. 

The Knight Digital Media Center believes that design thinking can develop better solutions for community organizations, especially foundations, and community media. This perspective can be extended, according to the Knight article, “Can design thinking power better solutions for community foundations?, to small groups of people by diving deep with them to really understand their day-to-day behavior, their context, how they feel, what they do and how, instead of talking with a scientifically representative sample. 

The Incourage Community Foundation’s initial goal was working with the community of Wisconsin Rapids on developing new ways of listening, talking and interacting, so as to encourage a culture ripe for self-organizing and collective action. The impact of their work with residents was increased through incorporating adaptive skills and design thinking. Applying adaptive skills prepared the ground so that a human-centered design approach created deep roots helping to transform the people and the culture of the place where they worked and lived. Design thinking can help community foundations frame the question, “How might we craft information solutions that meet the deepest needs of our community?” 

If Design Thinking could be implemented in a community setting it then could perhaps develop into a needed skill by community development workers in the public and private sectors but not on its own. It needs to be integrated with other approaches to community building and change. The primary bias for this blog has been towards systems thinking and more recently, Collective Impact. While it might seem that design thinking is being relegated to a secondary role it has, I believe, the potential to be a significant catalyst.

Since October of last year, this blog began, with A Map for Direct Democracy and Systems Thinking, a more concerted effort of proposing models, such as Direct Democracy and Systems Thinking map, integrating systems thinking with a system of deliberative and participatory or direct democratic community governance. These maps are made up of Causal Loop Diagrams, involving feedback within the system in question.

Within that map, the role of "Civic and Community Groups" is envisioned as being the juncture between the two foundational reinforcing loops R1 Deliberative  Democratic Dialogue and  "R2 Working with Systems Thinking”. This would involve working with "Systems Thinking Facilitators" and other community government "Staff" on the development of specific proposals for projects, programs or policies which would come from the community or from selected or assigned leadership in the community. The actual creation of the projects, programs or policies should require the use of design thinking.  This, it can be argued, would support both the implementation of systems thinking in a complex and participatory mode within Jackson’s SOSM Framework. It could also assist in integrating Community Groups into a system of Community Based Virtual Systemic Inquiry

There are capacities that are important in both systems thinking and design thinking, including the importance of mindsets, whether the seven mindsets of the IDEO approach to design thinking or the foundational mindset of the system thinking iceberg. This might mean that design thinking could help in overcoming, though likely not eliminate, the inherent and sometimes conflicting dichotomy between hard and soft system thinking approaches, (approaches which can be seen in the general tendencies of people) as was discussed in A Map for a Pathway to New Community Paradigms. It could also be helpful, if it follows IDEO’s balanced pragmatism, with overcoming potential stumbling blocks with working with community activists that might arise if there isn’t a set discipline to walk the space between stifling creativity and becoming too attached to an idea that isn’t going anywhere,.

The community impact of design thinking could also be extended further. Art as a Path of Social Disruptive Innovation Towards New Community Paradigms asserts that communities should add artistic thinking to design thinking and systems thinking as means of generating public involvement and community innovation. These three types of thinking can be seen as being both independent and integrated at the same time. 

Design thinking could help ensure that artistically inspired endeavors properly focus on important community needs and systems thinking could help in understanding the impact on the larger environments. Ideas such as those found in the Debunking 10 Myths of Innovation by Richard Evans, President, EMCARTS INC could contribute insights that could be of great benefit to communities. 

A number of other organizations have been able to tie an artistic mindset to community related concerns. They could then work to better integrate the talents of artists and cultural organizations toward helping people engage in civic and community life.  Animating Democracy, a project of Americans for the Arts helps to identify, develop, and advocate for public and private sector policies, practices, funding, and initiatives that advance the role of the arts in fostering citizen participation and social change. Art VULUPS does so with geography, environmental science, land use planning, sustainability, art and creativity concepts.

Artistic thinking can help reach deeper insights, generate more ideas and seep into the community's fabric so that its influence becomes one more of dispersion within a complex community system rather than a transfer of information from one institution to another. An artistic perspective should not be left to the end though but made foundational in community design through design thinking, systems thinking and other approaches to achieve Collective Impact through new community paradigms.

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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