By Robin Nichols
“The key of a design thinking structure is enough flexibility with enough specificity to ground its ideas in the lives of their intended beneficiaries.” Tim Brown, CEO. IDEO
The 2017-2018 year for the Innovation Lab started with an influx of enthusiastic new policy students, including those pursuing Masters in Public Policy, Masters in International Development Policy, and Masters in Policy Management. The previous members of the Lab took on leadership roles to lead us through the following teams:
· Economic Development
· Workforce Development
· Sustainability (Transportation and Environment)
The Lab grew not just in numbers, but also in diversity. Students from all over the world (i.e. China, Tajikistan, India, and more) applied with the goal of getting involved in the D.C. community. As policy students, we all jumped at the chance to complement our classroom learning with real world experience, and provide diverse perspective on the challenges that face communities in Anacostia.
Last fall, we started the process by visiting community sites, hosting community members on campus, and meeting with stakeholders. We then hit the ground running this New Year, hosting a Design Thinking Session in January attended by:
· Brenda Richardson: Earth Conservation Corps, PSA 702, long-time citizen activist, Ward 8 resident
· Malusi Kitchen: Anacostia Park and Community Collaborative (APACC)
· Steven Swann: Bread for the City
· Kate Mereand: Lab alumnus, DC Department of Small and Local Business Development
These individuals were critical throughout the session, providing their perspective and input during the day’s activities.
Empathy maps focus on identifying what other people are thinking, feeling, doing, seeing, and hearing as they engage with their community, their families, social networks, and local institutions. In teams, students assumed the profile of a DC resident, and dove into the unique challenges that individual may face. The profiles presented ranged from a family of four, to a single mother, to a young woman facing student loan debt.
By narrowing our lens to an individual’s perspective, we discussed the person’s possible daily activities, concerns, and aspirations. Most importantly, as we tried to truly put ourselves in the individual’s shoes, we received real-time feedback from Brenda, Malusi, Steven, and Kate. Their contributions were invaluable to identify and gain a deeper understanding of people’s challenges and needs.
Crosscutting Ideas & Takeaways
With the feedback from Brenda, Malusi, Steven, and Kate, we determined a few overarching challenges that impacted each profile, including trauma, recidivism, mental health, and limited education. As we debriefed, we found ourselves focusing on an overarching theme of connectivity – specifically, the lack of connectivity within the community and between organizations serving the community. Much good work is being done in Wards 7 & 8, but people may not be aware or may not have the ability to benefit from it.
As we move forward with our teams this spring, we will keep in mind these challenges and tailor our approaches accordingly. As good Design Thinking practitioners, we will start with empathy as we narrow our focus this semester in the Lab!