Youth Designing for Good: Bringing Design Thinking to Community Development

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By Bess Nuland

This December, Maggie Chumbley, a global and community educator, joined the Environmental Justice Team for a Tuesday evening meeting to discuss how to incorporate “design thinking” and “prototyping” principles into community mobilization projects. The Environmental Justice team has been exploring meaningful ways to incorporate local voices and support community action in addressing conservation and sustainability issues in the Seattle area. With Ms. Chumbley’s facilitation, the Environmental Justice team learned to employ tools to collect information and cultivate relationships that will help them identify community needs and design service programs that galvanize the community around environmental justice topics.

Ms. Chumbley explains the process and importance of design thinking as follows:

When creating community projects and support youth to create their own projects, it helps to orient our thinking towards process over product.  Instead of encouraging them to find just one great idea, the youth learn the tools, habits of mind, and a process that allows them to engage with the communities they hope to serve way that truly meets the needs of those communities. This means instead of asking, “What shall we do?” they ask, “What might need to happen?” Two of the most powerful skills these eager youth leave with are also two of the most important core values of design thinking: empathy and prototyping. They learn, through the design thinking process that it takes multiple interviews, meetings, observations, good questions, photos, videos, and visits to begin to grasp what is happening and what might need to happen to be in true service in their communities. Empathy is paramount, as it supports subsequent process of prototyping. Guiding youth to try out several of their ideas in several situations in order to learn more about what might work best and then design for it is the heart of prototyping. And the best part is, it completely eliminates the pressure to get it “right” the first time.”

In the New Year, the Environmental Justice team will be employing these new tools to explore expanding composting programs in schools and promoting community gardens.

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