Designing Social Innovations

Social innovations have to be designed. The necessary elements have to be recognized and organized into a social services program or a new way to use technology or whatever. That much should be obvious. This post is about the less obvious elements of design thinking.

All designs embody values. Designs intended to improve society, protect the environment, or restore environmental quality also embody values, of course. The specific values will vary and some of them will be obvious to anyone involved in social betterment (social activism and, social service delivery to name two examples) efforts of a given type.

A few other values also need to be considered. Equity, efficiency, simplicity, and and robustness are all broadly applicable desing values. How those values are realized in a particular case would be something for the individual “designers” to decide. Offering some comprehensive rules is obviously going to be impossible in one blog post.

All clients or potential clients need to be treated uniformly. A program can fairly target a certain group, pregnant teens or condo developers for example. However, it is not acceptable to exclude specific types of people. You shouldn’t neglect middle-class teens who happen to be pregnant – “Sorry, we are only serving black inner-city girls. Maybe there’s somewhere else you can go.”

Effectiveness is a critical value in social betterment efforts. What degree or type of change do you want to achieve? How will you know if you are succedding according ot that standard? There is simply no excuse for continuing to do something “good” because it is a good thing to do.

Robustness is important. What happens if you raise a little less money than anticipated. Will the program fall apart because there is  no slack in the budget? What if the program depends on having X number of volunteer hours each month? What if you lose a key staff member? No single “failure” in the system should bring the program to a halt.

You can learn more about design thinking in Edward De Bono’s New Thinking for the New Millenium, particularly in the second part of the book where De Bono describes design operations and design values.


~ by chetdavis on September 29, 2007.

One Response to “Designing Social Innovations”

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