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Systems Design for Justice Reform: not an illusion!

Updated: Jan 28, 2020

Remember when you were a careless eight-year-old kid kicking the ball with your friends, dribbling each other around the neighbourhood? Remember that feeling of absolute freedom as you felt the adrenaline rush and the smile it put on your face? When we were allowed to break a few rules of the game! I never thought I would feel that way as a grown-up until I met like-minded leaders at the Design for Social Systems Fellowship at the Stanford

At first, I was a bit skeptical about the total idea of “Theory of Change”. But what is a theory of change exactly? I asked! It’s an articulation, whether in the form of an explanatory memo or a diagram and often combining both, of precisely how an organization is going to achieve its objectives. A good theory of change details the causal links between an organization’s vision and its own programmatic activities.

So here I was, on a short vacation on a rainy weekend when I came across some homeless people. I quickly remembered how broken the system is and for a minute I transported myself to my home country where equitable society and fairer distribution of resources remains the greatest development challenge. I knew it was time to reach out for feedback.

How Do You Get People to Give You Feedback In A Fun Way?

“As a designer, you must rely on personal communication and, particularly, feedback, during design work…”

These are the questions that emerge from the systems change process, for example:

Who are the different players to include in systems change efforts, and what are their relationships and power dynamics?

What are the reasons for the current status quo?

What is the readiness or capacity for a system to change?

What is the best strategy for influencing systems?

What process should we use to implement a systems change initiative?

How can we learn about what is working and not working to change the system?

When I established Konopo & Partner Labour Law Consultancy I relied on natural instincts to bring justice to those that were marginalized by impenetrable, rigid systems. I was going to use the same instincts to implement the “Take-it-home” design project that I had curated over the intensive workshop to help me design more “human-centred” strategic, and effective programs.

I remembered that I had the Design Thinking Bootleg deck in my carry bag. So with the employment justice project in mind, I needed to find ways to get the users to be part of the design process and the question was how? The deck became handy! The deck provided different methods of prototyping but what caught my attention was the concept of “User-Driven Prototyping”.

User-Driven Prototyping  A user-driven prototype is unlike any other prototyping method previously mentioned. Instead of building a prototype to test on users, you will instead get the user to create something, and from the process learn more about the user. When you ask the user to design a solution, rather than provide feedback on a prototype, you can learn about the assumptions and desires that the user possesses. The purpose of a user-driven prototype is not to use the solutions that the users have generated; instead, it is to use their designs to understand their thinking. You can use user-driven prototypes to gain empathy with your users or to fine-tune the details of your product once you have an idea in mind.

How to create a user-driven prototype: In order to create a user-driven prototype, you should ask the users to create something that enables you to understand how they think about certain issues. For instance, if you are interested in creating an improved airport waiting experience, you could ask users to draw out what they think is the ideal airport waiting for the processor you could give them a bunch of Lego bricks and encourage them to show you their dream waiting area in an airport. Alternatively, if your solution is a website, you could ask your users to create a sketch of what features they think the website should have. For user-driven prototypes to be useful, you should balance the amount of help you offer the users so they do not feel lost (and thus fail to ideate), while making the session open enough so that you can learn more about the users without shepherding them towards your own ideas, which would defeat the purpose in this light.

WHY prototype *To ideate and problem-solve. Build to think. *To communicate. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a prototype is worth a thousand pictures

*To start a conversation. Your interactions with users are often richer when centred on a conversation piece. A prototype is an opportunity to have another, directed conversation with a user. *To fail quickly and cheaply. Committing as few resources as possible to each idea means less time and money invested up front. *To test possibilities. Staying low-res allows you to pursue many different ideas without committing to a direction too early on. *To manage the solution-building process. Identifying a variable also encourages you to break a large problem down into smaller, testable chunks.

Scott Doorley put it very simple by saying,“The only way to learn it is to do it.”

Encountering different perspectives is one key to unlocking design thinking creativity.The workshop emphasis was placed on process over content: how participants where working, not just what they’re producing. One biggest takeaway from designing for social systems was to embrace clashing perspectives.

That is why I convened an Employment Justice Lab to bring together the brains, methodology, and diverse tools for justice innovations. Which you will learn more about it real soon.

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