Last week, I was lucky enough to participate in a brainstorming meeting at a foundation that was developing a strategy for its digital platforms (web, social, mobile, etc). The process was facilitated byPeter Maher, founder and CEO, of Luma Institute. We used some Human Centered Design techniques from their “Innovating for People” design methods recipe book. It was the most stimulating web platform strategy session that I have ever experienced!
What is Human Centered Design? Is it only used by people with artistic talents and graphic design skills? Anyone can be a designer! These are methods for developing solutions (any type) in service of people. By applying to this approach to web development or any program development or strategy, your nonprofit can more innovative and impactful results.
When I worked with a web developer for my blog redesign and hearing about how nonprofits typically approach platform design, there isn’t this much depth and creativity. Many times it is focused on “getting it done efficiently” and features. A quick focus on the solutions without taking the time to understand the challenges and open up creative thinking. As a result platform development strategy does not result in innovative thinking — and too much cookie cutter and template thinking.
We received copies of his Luma’s book and cards, “Innovation for People,” which is a synthesis of landscape analysis of design-thinking and human centered design methods. He told a story that someone in one of his workshops to teach these methods asked him, “So what are the skills that we need to practice for 10,000 hours? His response:
Looking: Observing human experience
Understanding: Methods for Analyzing Challenges and Opportunities
Making: Methods for Envisioning Future Possibilities
I really enjoyed how Peter Maher, CEO and Co-Founder of Luma-Institute facilitated the session. Not only was he a virtuoso facilitator but he was able to deftly move in and out of teacher mode and explain his tradecraft. I love being exposed to new ways of working, taking process notes, observing techniques, and thinking about how to apply to my own work.
The all-day session had us brainstorm new ideas, prioritize, and flesh out some concepts. Here’s a high level overview of some of the methods the small group of 12 participants used.
Technique #1: Rose, Bud, Thorn (Understanding)
We had to understand the problem and the challenge we were working on. We were asked to listen to a PPT presentation that shared the history, mission, goals, challenges and opportunities. But, there was a twist – we were asked to do critical or active listening. Not just sit back and listen, but actively for three things: Roses or strengths, Thorns or problems, or Buds or opportunities.
We were asked to write these down on sticky notes (Pink for Roses; Blue for Thorns; and Green for Buds). The purpose was for us to visualize the current situation individually. Brainstorming is about problem-solving and before you can start to add the creativity, you need to be a creative problem solver.
Since we were asked to listen critically, it was very engaging. It also put us into a different mindset.
Technique 2: Affinity Mapping
Next we went through the process of putting our sticky notes on the wall together. We generated at least several hundred sticky notes. The process felt organic, but with Peter’s skillful facilitation we did a rapid “Affinity Mapping,” organizing the sticky notes into logical categories and groups. It was amazing to see the themes appear and to visually see the strengths, challenges, and opportunities. It also helped us a group see the problem together – an important base for innovative thinking.
We did a round of collective sense-making to see the big patterns and themes – drawing insights from by defining common themes and attributes and identifying the tension points.
Next, we drilled into each theme to clarify why we grouped particular items into particular categories and where they might be some sub-categories. Peter facilitated conversation that helped us build a shared understanding of the current situation. He also stepped into teacher mode and explained some of the tradecraft of facilitating this particular method.
We synthesized the issues by generating a list of questions that could be used as a brainstorming questions.
Technique 3: Creative Matrix
We worked in small groups for the next process which helped us focus the problem a bit more. The creative matrix can help narrow down a problem that is too broad and help you break away from conventional thinking. It can also help generate many ideas.
Each small group was asked to pick and revise four questions or problem statements and the rows were categories for enabling solutions – program, communications, technology, etc. We were asked to brainstorm as many ideas for each cell on sticky notes in the space of 15 minutes. Our group generated 100 ideas!
Technique 4: Importance/Difficulty Matrix
This process helped us prioritized some of the best ideas. We used a simple 2×2 matrix where we ranked the best ideas on importance (low to high) and difficulty (low to high). Difficulty could be time, cultural, or cost. While it isn’t a scientific cost/benefit study, it helps resolves differing opinions, prioritize ideas quickly, and leads easily to a plan of action.
Technique 5: Concept and Synthesis
We were given a choice to use a particular “Making” method for envisioning and fleshing out the idea/concept that emerged. We selected “Concept Poster,” a presentation format illustrating the points of a new idea. We were encouraged not to over think it. The first sheet was a headline and drawing along with some bullet points that identified key features and benefits. The second sheet was an implementation timeline. We then presented our concept to the group.
Technique 6: Visualize the Vote
After each group presented, everyone was given 5 green sticky tabs and one red tab. We were asked to place the green sticky tabs on a detail that we liked. The red tab was placed on the overall concept we liked best. We immediately were able to rank and rate each presentation – and have a productive group discussion on the ideas.
Using structured brainstorming methods can lead to innovative ideas for nonprofit programs, platforms, and strategies in any area. However, to some it might seem like “extra” or “wasted” time because it isn’t the “to do list.” Investing the time to brainstorm, think creatively, analyze, and flesh out concepts and other human centered design principles can lead nonprofits to better results.
Has your nonprofits human centered design to develop ideas or strategy for its digital platforms, communications strategy, or program development? What was your experience?