Design for America
Design for America Leadership Studio
This is a group-initiated project but is sponsored by McCormick School of Engineering and the Segal Design Institute at Northwestern University.
Design for America Leadership Studio
As a nationwide network of student led studios using design to create local and social impact, Design for America is committed to deploying new models of design-driven innovation and community engagement across college campuses throughout the country. The jury found that with the new Leadership Studio, DFA is demonstrating how they are achieving sound scalability and showing strong commitment to sustain and build on the leadership lessons that participation in the program affords students.
Design for America Leadership Studio
Design for America (DFA) is a nationwide network of student led studios using design to create local and social impact. DFA’s vision is to enable a generation to tackle the most ill-structured challenges of our time in the areas of health, education, economy, and the environment. To achieve this, DFA plans to expand to college campuses throughout the country. Last year, DFA established DFA Studios at 8 college campuses across the country and held its first ever DFA Leadership Studio to train new student leaders to effectively create impact through their DFA studios and within their communities.2. The Brief: Summarize the problem you set out to solve. What was the context for the project, and what was the challenge posed to you?
Our future depends on innovation. Traditional higher education coursework focuses on developing domain expertise, preparing students with the skills needed to earn a living, but necessarily to innovate solutions to problems in the world around them. Innovation-thinking skills and confidence are most effectively developed through regular enactive mastery experiences where students learn and witness the results of their work. These skills, dispositions and knowledge must be fostered within our students of today, so that they may effectively thrive as leaders of tomorrow.
In order to develop a pipeline of innovation leaders, DFA needs a process to share lessons and best practices generated by each student and take advantage of the shared passion those members have for social impact throughout its network. The Leadership Studio is a 4 day fast paced training workshop for student representatives to acquire the skills and confidence needed to lead projects and community development on and off campus. Learning from each other, professional mentors, and community partners, the Leadership Studio trains students to work within a community, appreciate different perspectives, apply human centered design to address social challenges, and cultivate a network of support throughout their journey as change makers.
DFA’s point of view is that innovation thrives within a community of practice, which is a framework that situates learning not in the mind of one individual but in the relationship between a person and the world. DFA’s community of practice includes students and their peers, faculty, community partners, and professional mentors. To equip students with the skill-set and mind-set to effectively innovate solutions for local community challenges, the DFA Leadership Studio brings the following three-pronged perspectives:
1) As students work within a community of practice, they work directly with those they are designing for. This empathy cultivates an increase in motivation: a key component to a student’s commitment and perseverance to move projects into implementation and actualize social impact.
2) By working within a community of practice and interdisciplinary teams, students are exposed to a variety of different perspectives. DFA engages students from over 60 different majors including psychology, biology, journalism and community members to work towards holistic and innovative solutions for local and social challenges.
3) By working within a community of practice, students gain access to the resources and support needed to guide them through the human centered design process as well domain expertise needed to truly understand a challenge from the local perspective. It is through this support and seeking out help that teams are able to fail safely and move beyond hurdles.4. The Process: Describe the rigor that informed your project. (Research, ethnography, subject matter experts, materials exploration, technology, iteration, testing, etc., as applicable.) What stakeholder interests did you consider? (Audience, business, organization, labor, manufacturing, distribution, etc., as applicable)
The principles of DFA’s learning approach are based upon a new student-directed approach to education called Extracurricular Design-Based Learning (EDBL) (Gerber, Olson, & Komarek, 2011). The EDBL model provides opportunities for students to develop the non-technical skills critical to examining and prototyping solutions to ambiguous and complex problems from a design perspective, and engages students early in their academic experience within a community of professional practice that extends beyond university boundaries to inspire careers in innovation.
Theoretically, EDBL blends perspectives from many learning models, including project-based learning, adaptive learning, and design-based learning. Like these models, EDBL leverages the student-centered elements of student interest and self-direction; however EDBL depends upon knowledge being co-created by the students, peer mentors, and facilitators who are applying learning in a specific service learning context and applying this learning to complex social problems in uncertain organizational systems.
Since the original conception of the organization in 2008, DFA student founders, faculty advisors, administration, and community partners have followed a participatory design approach to refine DFA. Through one-on-one conversations, weekly check-ins, evaluations, and reflective workshops, DFA continues to include its various stakeholders on the refinement of its services. Through rigorous evaluation of learning outcomes it is found that participation in DFA positively influences students’ beliefs in their ability to use design to innovate (Gerber, Olson, Komarek, 2011). DFA’s services continually adapt to meet the needs of their users and encourage input from each participating member to offer insight for improvements to exemplify the learning model that we advocate.
DFA worked with learning scientists, professional mentors, and students to apply DFA’s organizational goals to the learning objectives of the DFA Leadership Studio. As an example of this process, a learning science team investigated project scoping specifically to develop a facilitation guide that supports new DFA leaders in selecting and scoping design projects that will maximize student participants’ learning, motivation, and success. This team conducted interviews with DFA staff, advisors, and students to create a combined Hierarchical Task Analysis to represent the collective knowledge of the process of Project Selection and Scoping.
While using personas to drive their design, the team developed what is now called the Project Scoping Wheel, which makes explicit the intuitive thought processes made by experts. The Project Scoping wheel outlines that the primary components to selecting an effective challenge are that it be Daring, Feasible, and Applicable to communities throughout the country. Beyond this, the Wheel provides indicator questions that blends analytical and intuitive knowledge such as, “If I had 30 seconds with the President, is this what I would talk about?” “Can I photograph or test the problem?” “Is it in my sphere of influence?” This content was used as part of the DFA Starter-Kit provided to all new student leaders as well as a unit during the Leadership Studio. It is the goal of Design for America to continue to integrate the rigor from learning sciences and design based research to improve its training programs.5. The Value: How does your project earn its keep in the world? What is its value? What is its impact? (Social, educational, economic, paradigm-shifting, sustainable, environmental, cultural, gladdening, etc.)
DFA equips college students from all backgrounds with the skill-set and mind-set to effectively innovate solutions for local community challenges. In addition to the potential social impact of student-designed solutions, DFA is building a pipeline of future innovators who will enter the world not only with their personal academic concentrations, but also with real project experience and a keen ability for interdisciplinary human-centered design work.
DFA has produced design solutions with local and social impact including a toy for diabetes, a system to reduce water usage in cafeterias, a hand hygiene device to reduce hospital acquired infections and more. Two DFA projects to date have received support from incubators to launch these projects into companies and implement these designed solutions. After the Leadership Studio, DFA students throughout the country are now working on over 25 challenges such as reducing the risk of lead poisoning for young children, improving dental health for pregnant women, increasing voter registration among college students, enhancing worker safety for cafeteria staff and beyond. Those within the DFA network have expressed:
“I’m no longer satisfied with the status quo. DFA makes you aware that you have the potential to change things” -Sara Kashani, Northwestern, Psychology ’12
“When it came down to choosing which grad program to go to, with all other things being equal I opted to go for the one that had a DFA Studio so I could experience more deeply human centered design.” –Shraddha Shah, Dartmouth College, Engineering Management ‘136. Describe the overall philosophy that drove the design brief, research methodologies, tools and outcomes (e.g. self-defined or client-defined briefs, participatory briefs, process outcomes or artifacts outcomes, etc.).
We won’t innovate if we don’t believe that we can. Innovation is the intentional implementation of novel and useful processes, products, or procedures designed to benefit society. Innovation self-efficacy develops in three primary ways: Social persuasion (being told you can do it), Vicarious learning (watching others do it), and Mastery experience (doing it). Despite anticipated benefits, innovation work can be unpredictable, controversial, and in competition with current courses of action. Innovators must develop, modify, and implement ideas while navigating ambiguous problem contexts, overcoming setbacks, and persisting through uncertainty. Innovation self-efficacy is our belief in our ability to take part in these types of actions. Innovation self-efficacy and innovative action are mutually reinforcing. Positive feedback from innovative action builds confidence, which leads to more innovation behavior.
Design for America faculty founder, Dr. Liz Gerber’s research investigates how people develop beliefs in their ability to innovate. She coined the term “innovation self-efficacy”, to describe this belief. For the past ten years, she has been researching and developing a new model of learning called Extracurricular Design-Based Learning (EDBL) which enables students to innovate solutions to authentic social challenges facing their local community in an extra-curricular setting. DFA was built on this model with the goal of creating a network of students confident in their ability to challenge the status quo and continuously innovate in their professions regardless of career path.7. How did the project, program or curriculum improve the students’ learning objectives, the institution’s overall learning and teaching and/or beneficial impact to outside community or industry partner?
The goal of the DFA Leadership Studio is to train students leaders with the skill-set and mind-set to effectively innovate solutions for local community challenges by cultivating a community of practice, working within interdisciplinary teams, practicing human centered design and forging a network of support with equally passionate peers from throughout the country. Upon reflection of the Leadership Studio, students expressed the following sentiments:
“We’re going to try to learn as much as we can, we’re going to keep on trying and we’re going to fail, over and over. But … if we never put the tools to use, it would be the biggest fail of all.” – Leila Moinpour, Science, Tech & Society, freshman, Stanford
“I realized what a great support system we have and that we’ll all be able to find the right questions to ask and new answers to them to confront these overwhelming challenges.” -Mica Russo, Product Design, Junior, University of Oregon
As a result of this Leadership Studio, DFA has grown into a network of over 600 students from 60 different majors throughout its eight campus studios with a pipeline of 28 projects and with students interacting online within and across-studio nearly daily. Over 36 local and national press outlets have recognized DFA and its projects including the cover of Fast Company, Forbes, HBR blog, MIT Tech Review, INC Magazine, Huffington Post, Chicago Tribune and GOOD Magazine.