Capacity building for social innovation

 

united nations | frog design, new york

Role: Designer & Facilitator | Project: Verge in collaboration with United Nations and Frog Design, New York (2016)

Team: Janson Cheng, Jennifer Dunnam, Nina Brandt, and Ricardo Dutra

Fig.1: participants from diverse fields (including government, business and universities) get together to re-imagine the future of capacity building for social innovation

Fig.1: participants from diverse fields (including government, business and universities) get together to re-imagine the future of capacity building for social innovation

As part of Verge – a thought conference led by Parsons The New School for Design to re-imagine roles for design in regards to current pressing social, economic and environmental issues – I co-designed and led a two-day co-created session in collaboration with The United Nations and Frog Design to re-imagine the future of capacity building for social innovation. Participants represented organizations such as Toyota (innovation lab), The New York Mayor's Office of Technology and Innovation, the World Bank, among others. UN and Frog shared ways in which they currently do capacity building. Using design tools & approaches we re-framed ways for capacity building to ideate on what could be the future experiences of exchanging knowledge, collaborating, and building networks in our society.

Fig.2: participants create alignment by sharing what capacity building means for them in terms of knowledge exchange, collaboration and networks

Fig.2: participants create alignment by sharing what capacity building means for them in terms of knowledge exchange, collaboration and networks

Fig.3: participants position themselves on a line (from completely agree to disagree) in regards to statements we propose on capacity building & social innovation

Fig.3: participants position themselves on a line (from completely agree to disagree) in regards to statements we propose on capacity building & social innovation

I don’t like uncertainty but I need to accept it is part of finding answers. We all move through the unknown. The unkown is where creativity can happen.
— Participant, New York
Fig.3: designers create a representation of where they feel 'stuck' in the system - a designer tries to cross the challenges of everyday reality while remaining imaginative

Fig.3: designers create a representation of where they feel 'stuck' in the system - a designer tries to cross the challenges of everyday reality while remaining imaginative

Fig.4: the 'stuck' moments were captured with a polaroid camera and groups had to name the ways they were 'stuck' and describe it

Fig.4: the 'stuck' moments were captured with a polaroid camera and groups had to name the ways they were 'stuck' and describe it

Fig.5: participants go outside the room and capture images of 'future fragments' that become prompts to initiate the process of ideation

Fig.5: participants go outside the room and capture images of 'future fragments' that become prompts to initiate the process of ideation

We emphasized this process as an early stage concept ideation for future ideas on capacity building for social innovation. These are three examples among all ideas co-created:

1. Merging talents: how might students see career pathways within existing organizations and organizations get up-to-date with the new thinking generated by students? A designer on one side would map his/her career while the student would be offered the opportunity to re-frame it.

 
Within Frog Design, the type of problem that usually comes to us is not clean-cut in terms of 1 visual designer, 1 strategist, etc. However that is historically how we formed teams. So broadening the understanding of the new talents that are coming up and how do we pair this ’weird complex problem’ with this ‘weird complex talent’, merging the two of them is absolutely capacity building within the organization I work in. The system we have right now does not work if we just label students this or that.
— Jennifer Dunnam, Associate Creative Director at Frog Design, New York City
 

2.Odd professionals in odd roles: the concept suggested bringing students to internships in places that have nothing to do with their university degree. For instance, an engineer might be placed to work at an art studio or a doctor may spend weeks working with an anthropologist. This idea builds on a recent trend of professionals continuously moving into new roles. 

 

3. Probes Kit for researching innovation: the early-stage idea co-created by a Parsons student and Toyota's innovation lead was based on the challenge that companies have to cross the barriers of universities and access new thinking and knowledge produced by students. In this concept, the company would create a 'probes kit' and send it to students who would them re-frame their roles (becoming short term researchers) in collaboration with the company. 

 

LESSONS LEARNED:

  • using imagery is a powerful way to access emotions and create empathy within groups we collaborate with
  • when we navigate from individuals to collective in the complex systems we operate in, it is critical to do so from a place of empathy and recognition that we may have many challenges in common. Acknowledging this becomes the ground for meaningful collaboration
  • spending time with sense-making in-between ideation sessions is critical to help participants grasp and make sense of new concepts, ideas, and mindsets