Business 2.0, Design, Government 2.0, NGOs & Nonprofits, Presentations, Sustainability

Designing for Purpose

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the February instalment of Design Thinking Sydney, a monthly meetup for exploring design thinking practice.

I was stoked to be asked to present on the topic of Designing for Purpose. My presentation slides below:

I need to do a tiny bit of tidy-up on my notes, but I hope to do so over the weekend, and I’ll post them here once they’re done.

As I suspected a number of attendees at the session would be relatively well-versed in the ideas behind design thinking, I wanted to focus a bit on what’s different about applying these practices in a for-purpose context.

Given a tad more preparation time, I’d reframe a few of the points I made to be more positive (it may come across as a bit negative!) But I think these methods hold tremendous value, and that it’s really important that we continue to develop these practice—just that we go in with our “eyes open” and to be prepared for some of these differences and challenges.

The main points of difference I identified (and, of course, there are probably more than I’ve highlighted here) were in how we:

  • Define value
  • Embrace and frame “failure”
  • Engage with stakeholders
  • Encourage behaviour change
  • Measure and evaluate

Thanks to the organising committee for the invite, and for the participants who asked questions and came and spoke to me after—it was a great opportunity to dive in and explore and challenge the things I presented, which I found most valuable and enlightening!

NGOs & Nonprofits, Social media & networking

Digital “deprivation” challenge

Next week I’m participating in a workshop being hosted by the Smith Family which will be utilising design thinking methodology to explore “transformational thinking around how the organisation can best leverage new foundation technologies and systems to help reduce the digital divide.”

In the lead-up to the event, the team at the Smith Family have asked if we could participate in what they call a “digital deprivation challenge”:

To improve our understanding of how we can better support our students and their families we need to first understand what it is like to be one of our students or at least a part of their family. So here is your challenge should you choose to accept… and we strongly encourage you to do so!

During a weekend between now and the workshop we would like you to experience what it is like to be electronically disconnected. This means no electronic devices or screens for a whole weekend – and documenting your experience.

What we are asking you to do is to turn off your smart phone and put it in a top drawer till the weekend is over. Close your laptop and leave it in the office over the weekend. When you get home go and switch off your WiFi and leave it off till Monday morning. Kick your tablet under the bed and leave it there.

Sounds tough hey! Well we think this challenge will help put you in the mindset of what it is like to live disconnected in a world where everything and everyone is connected. It will give you a small insight into what it is like for our students and their families, and more importantly what they are missing out on because of their circumstances. Hopefully you will then be in a much better position to be creative for our Design Thinking session.

Ostensibly the challenge aims to engender a sense of empathy with the people we aim to serve within the context of the workshop. While I think all involved recognise that this is far from a true test, it will be interesting to journal the approach and see how it plays out. Kudos to the Smith Family for trying something a bit different by having this as part of proceedings.

Part of the reason I’m posting here is that I won’t be online this weekend, and thus if you call, SMS, tweet, or FB mention me, I won’t know about it ;) Some might suggest that’s bliss! But I’m sure it’s going to throw up all manner of challenges given how much my patterns of behaviour have changed over the past few years to be so digitally-centric.

No Google Maps, no quick check-ins when trying to co-ordinate to meet with someone, no quickly searching for an answer to that nagging question, no train times, no safety net if I’m out on a mountain-bike trail (or even just trying to get in or out of an unfamiliar location).

I’m looking forward to hearing from others in the workshop about their experience…

Business 2.0, NGOs & Nonprofits

Prototyping vs. piloting

This is a cross-posting of a post originally published on the IDX Backstage Blog.

In conversations talking about iterative approaches to projects I often make the distinction between a “pilot” and a “prototype”.

I can’t recall where I heard this, but I remember someone once saying that a “prototype” is as much about working out what doesn’t work (failing informatively, to borrow Clay Shirky’s phrase) as it is about working out what does work.

A prototype should be “light”—the minimum investment necessary to test something. It should be, conceptually, something that you’re not afraid to throw away.

The term “pilot”, on the other hand, infers something where there are a number of knowns and you’re really testing what it takes to actually run something—to take it to scale. There is a high expectation of the thing actually working. There may be more significant investment, just not to full scale. Often this may be the trigger for a summative evaluation (i.e. a stop-go decision)—making the stakes higher.

I’ve had occasion to revisit this thinking in the past few days. Both as we consider the first early prototypes of a series of workshop/event activities, and also in support of one of our Innovation Lab participants.

In the latter case, our participant is trying to understand how best to prototype an iPad app that will be used in a workshop context. There are a lot of mechanics to the workshop, and an underlying program logic (or theory of change) that needs to be tested, in addition to the app itself. So we’ve been exploring how paper prototyping tools might service the testing of this wider area of concern, before jumping too far into the development of the app.

At the same time, the IDX team has been exploring how coding and robotics workshops with primary school aged children could be of value in achieving our mission objectives. We’re looking into whether building on existing tools and approaches (MIT Scratch and FIRST LEGO League, for example) might work in our context. How we might need to adapt them. What level of interest might exist around these particular activities.

As a team we’ve been back-and-forthing about what “prototype” means in this scenario. Even running an initial workshop requires a degree of investment in hardware (computers, educational LEGO kits) that isn’t insignificant. What is the minimum investment needed, so that we can reduce the feeling that it must succeed (i.e. maintain space for informative failures).

I mapped this out on the back of a napkin this morning:

A rough mapping of prototyping through to delivery

We end up with three broad objectives for each phase: LEARN, PRACTICE, and EVOLVE. Of course, prototyping (and learning) can occur across the process, but as a broad mapping I found this useful to get an understanding in my head.

What do you think? Is this a useful distinction? Are there other definitions of these phases that provide a better understanding of when they apply?

Design, NGOs & Nonprofits, Presentations, Work

Reflections on the IDEA Summit

This time last week I was deeply engrossed in the IDEA Summit, which was a gathering of people exploring what “indigenous digital excellence” means.

I was privileged to be one of the co-facilitators for the sessions, and had the opportunity to briefly present on the concept of “design thinking”. Hopefully I did the topic justice in such a short timeframe (15 mins)! My presentation is embedded below, or you can download a PDF of the presentation with my associated speaker notes (PDF 3.9MB).

The event, which ran over 2 days, was a really inspiring experience to participate in. The atmosphere was awesome, in no small part due to Rhianna Patrick’s “MC” role.

The event culminated in a presentation of 5 ideas explored by the participants to a broader audience of invited guests. The 5 ideas emerged from exploration of a number of key themes that emerged early in the Summit around self-determination, appropriate technology, sustainability (for communities to manage and continue initiatives beyond the initial “seed”), mobile, and cultural transmission.
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Government 2.0, NGOs & Nonprofits, Social media & networking, Sustainability

New resource on evaluation and technology

A few weeks back I received this invite via email from colleague Duncan Rintoul, of the Institute for Innovation in Business and Social Research (IIBSOR) at University of Wollongong. Given the topic, I thought it was worthwhile sharing here also:

AES tech-eval: A new SIG focused on the intersection between evaluation and technology

These days it is no surprise to see mainstream and niche programs making use of tech-based platforms: web-based self-help tools, mobile applications, SMS-based reminder systems, viral videos, conversations on social media… the list is much longer than this, and ever growing.

We need to develop capacity among evaluators to work confidently in this environment, designing and executing sound evaluations that understand what these technologies are, how they can be used and how their impact can be measured.

There are also great opportunities for using technology in our evaluations — wikis, online forums, online surveys, social media monitoring… again the list is long and growing.

Spilling over from one of the parallel sessions at the 2011 AES conference, a crew of around 15 people has started pulling together a new AES Special Interest Group around this intersection between evaluation and technology: AES tech-eval.

It’s early days yet, but two things you can do for now:

  • Join the email listserv
  • Check out v1.0 of their resource library of conference papers, published evaluations and other resources for evaluating tech-based programs and program elements.

Go on, join them! If technology freaks you out, swap fear of the unknown with curiosity and see where it takes you. If you’re already working comfortably in this space, help lead your colleagues forward.