Design for Impact Labs

  • Design for Impact Labs
    Raising Design Awareness in the Social Sector 
  • NEED

    Social entrepreneurs are mission-driven, determined to achieve results and committed to maintaining accountability to the communities they serve. According to Ashoka founder Bill Drayton: “An entrepreneur plows the field” and “weakens the idea that change isn’t possible.” Social entrepreneurs effect systemic transformation by tackling not only the problem at hand, but also the roots of that problem.

    Design solutions and design thinking can have a profound effect on social enterprise, taking them to the next level of impact and scalability, but most members of the social sector have only a shallow awareness of what design has to offer. Design services are often perceived as unaffordable not only because of the cost, but the cost in comparison to the perceived benefit. It can be difficult for designers based in the 1st world to intersect and make the kind of meaningful connections with international social enterprise that lead to deeper partnerships. Design can have an explosive impact on the social sector, and similarly, the social sector can have a transformative effect on the world of design, if only they are in the same room together.

    Design for Impact Labs are a chance for social enterprises to get valuable advice from Design that Matters’ (DtM) core team and network of experts in design thinking methodologies. Over the course of several hours, DtM uses a teachable design process to collaboratively generate suggestions and ideas that social enterprises can immediately implement. Each lab has three stages: preparation, lab, and follow-up. During preparation, DtM staff works with the social entrepreneurs to craft one to three focused questions to be addressed during the lab. Then an appropriate lab team is formed from DtM’s network and members of the social enterprise to tackle the question. Durring the lab, DtM volunteers are inspired by social enterprise’s misson and background. After agreeing on the final question, and the techniques used to address each question, the team shifts into generating mode. After the lab, DtM sends a packet of materials to all participants with a record of what was generated, a reminder of the processes used, and additional design references. Long after the lab, DtM stays in close touch to determine whether the lab benefited the social enterprise and to nurture good matches into full partnerships.

    Example Topic Areas Include:

    Program Scoping: create a program point of view that concisely states the need you aim to address AND what you will not address.

    Innovation Planning: create a step-by step hypothesis and a set of assumptions that will help you flexibly manage your program.

    Conducting user research: suggested interview, observation, and information synthesis techniques that help guide the creation solutions that are most likely to be adopted by target user.

    Generating ideas: brainstorming together to generate ideas on a chosen topic big or small (think products or services).

    Testing concepts: discussing methods to rapidly prototype concepts and test them for usability and technical feasibility.

    Detailed engineering problem-solving: bring a tough engineering challenge and have a short discussion about new angles of attack.

    Design Review: bring an existing product or service and participate in a critique about its overall usability.

    Since the initiative’s inception in 2010, Design for Impact Labs have had an immediate effect on all ten organizations who report integrating the techniques they learned and implementing some of the ideas we generated together. To date, connections made during the labs have led to follow-on conversations between DtM and over half of the social enterprises including generation of a children’s hearing aid concept in 2011 with Solar Ear. Examples of lab questions and feedback appear below.

    How might we manage risk throughout the twists and turns of a unique global collaboration?

    “I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to meet with you all; not only did it really help frame/re-frame + ideas and scenarios, it also helped me think about applying this process to a wider set of things in both my professional and personal life. Again, thanks!”
    April Rinne, Director of WaterCredit,

    What infant care technologies would be appropriate for ASHAs in India to sell or rent to rural homes to improve infant mortality?

    “The methodology used was very inter-active and made me feel at ease even though I am not from a technology or an engineering background. The group of facilitators had diverse skill sets which helped in coming up with innovative ideas to address the problem that was being discussed.”
    Sita Shankar Wunnava, Director, Maternal and Child Health/Nutrition, PATH India

    How might we make simple changes to improve the usability of the solar suitcase?

    “I really loved working with you, and it inspired us to continue brainstorming at home (see photo of me in my kitchen yesterday). We have incorporated design changes that were very much influenced by the session with you. Needless to say, you took us a great deal forward.”
    Laura Stachel, Founder, WE CARE Solar, makers of a solar suitcase to power medical lighting and communication