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What definition of social design do you use, and what do you call it?

Michael Murphy MASS Design Group
We call our process Lo-Fab (from Local Fabrication, as opposed to Pre-Fab, or prefabrication). This process has five pillars: we immerse in context, hire locally, source regionally, train where we can, and invest in the dignity of the places we serve.

 
Kristin Hughes Carnegie Mellon University
A novel solution to a social problem that is more effective, efficient, or sustainable than existing solutions and for which the value created accrues primarily to society as a whole rather than private individuals. Adapted from Rediscovering Social Innovation, SSRI, Fall 2008

“Social innovation is a process of change where new ideas emerge from a variety of actors directly involved in the problem to be solved: final users, grass roots technicians and entrepreneurs, local institutions, government and civil organizations.” — Ezio Manzini

We also use the Young Foundation to help guide conversations about social innovation with students.


 
Kippy Joseph Rockefeller Foundation
At The Rockefeller Foundation, we focus on innovation for development, often that is social innovation or systems innovation since the problems our constituents are facing are complex and inter-dependent and therefore defy single point solutions or product innovations. Our definition holds a high bar for innovation, aiming for discontinuity from previous practice, but is often a hybrid of existing elements across traditional boundaries, where new social relationships are left in the wake.

 
Jesper Christiansen Nesta, UK
I don’t have one definition, but I often use the notion ‘human-centred design’ in relation to the creation of public value (innovation).

 
Kyle Reis TechSoup
I would broadly define social design as an empathy-based, consensus-building, collective-action mechanism for addressing society’s challenges. I use a number of terms like “public interest design” and “human-centered design” but I like the term “user-centered design” as well as “social design,” though I think this latter term might have negative connotations similar to those associated with “social engineering.”

 
Tracy Johnson Gates Foundation
For me, here at the Foundation, I focus on helping people understand social design as the process by which you include users in everything that they do. So for me the “social design” process has to be woven through each stage of what we do – problem definition, understanding the people who will use or interact with the products and services we send out into the world, the context around those people, the matrix of people who must be present with the product or service to make it successful and their context, proximate product and service design, iteration, prototypes, launch, piloting, and measuring and evaluating impact. Here we call it very simply Human Centered Design – it’s the term that people were familiar with when I first arrived, and having been used by the co-chairs and our CEO there needs to be that synergy.

 
Laurie Leitch Threshold GlobalWorks
I would define it as the actions of creative changemakers who tackle complex social problems with creativity, humanitarianism, and out of the box thinking.

 
Jeralyn Powell MFA Candidate, DSI
Social innovation uses a traditional design process to understand the interactions and relationships within social systems and create innovative solutions that decrease the impact of social ailments.

 
Tina Park Diagram
My definition of social design is ideas that help the end user not to buy or consume something, but to better their lives or support them in their challenges.

 
Leetha Filderman PopTech
We base our theory of design on social innovation practice. We focus on identifying global challenges that can benefit from novel approaches that create new solutions or amplify existing approaches. Solutions should have the potential to spread, scale and replicate over time. We prioritize societal over individual gain.

 
Jonathan McKay Praekelt.org
Within our own organisation we talk about human-centred design rather than social design. Everything we do aims at producing some sort of social good, so the term social design feels insufficient to describe our approach to problem solving.

To us, human-centred design is an approach that places human beings at the centre of every step of the design process. The aim of this approach is to produce solutions that meet real needs while responding to environmental constraints and opportunities.


 
Anne LaFond John Snow, Inc.
Design Thinking is a methodology used by designers to solve complex problems, and find desirable solutions for clients.

Design thinking is a form of inquiry that is applied in the conceptual stages of a planning process and subsequent stages of program or product development. The process of design thinking is described as open-minded, iterative, and human-centered and is intended to result in new, innovative, and groundbreaking solutions. It is used to help define problems from the user perspective, explore user needs and desires with respect to a particular issue or problem and identify solutions to address those needs and desires.

In the context of global health, design thinking is emerging as an approach to enhance the effectiveness of health program interventions. It is helps to tailor program interventions to user needs and desires in order to improve the uptake and sustained use of health products, services and behaviors.


 
Karen Proctor Harbour Workshop
I don’t have or use a definition of social design.

I am concerned about rigorous advancement of the concept of social innovation which I believe has been aptly defined by the Stanford Center for Social Innovation as, “a novel solution to a social problem that is more effective, efficient, sustainable, or just than current solutions. The value created accrues primarily to society rather than to private individuals.”

I am keen on the range of participatory methodologies that engage stakeholders in the understanding of, and the development of creative solutions for social problems.


 
Sara Tollefson D-Rev
The terms we use at D-Rev are “user-centered design” (or sometimes “user-obsessed design”) and “impact-driven”. To me, “social design” is design for the greater good (especially to address inequity), that is carried out in ways that honor and respect those affected.

 
Doug Powell IBM
I’m using “Social Impact Design.” For me, “Social Design” is a bit unclear. Social Impact Design is an approach to addressing complex social and cultural problems using the fundamentals of human-centered design: understanding people, exploring a range of ideas, rapid prototyping, and constant iteration.

 
Nancye Green The Medicines Company
When I think about social design, I think about designing from the bottom up, meaning, with input from, with the perspective of, and with specific ideas generated from, the users of the designed environment, object or experience. This might even mean including the users of the design in building or making it happen. I began my career working with students and teachers designing schools and building the classrooms with them that they had designed and working with neighbors redesigning St. Mary’s Park in the South Bronx. We called it advocacy planning. As I have encountered the terms – user centered design, user generated design, social design, etc., I have found them useful in signaling a different process for impacting specific populations of users.

 
Rosanne Haggerty Community Solutions
We focus on the design of systems that vulnerable people rely on — things like housing assistance, healthcare delivery, and also the ways that community actors and institutions can plug into and improve those systems for their end users by intentionally functioning as a system. We think systems are often left out of conversations about social design. We’re trying to make systems design, not just product and service design, a bigger part of the conversation by helping communities develop the skills required to lead that sort of work.

 
Zoé Bezpalko Autodesk
At the Autodesk Foundation, we support those using design for positive social and environmental impact — what we refer to as Impact Design. By design, we mean the upstream process by which physical “things” — building and products — are created. And by impact, we mean both the social and environmental challenges being addressed.

 
Professor Yongqi Lou Tongji University
Social Design = design for (x%) + design with (y%) + design by (z%) society

 
Chelsea Mauldin Public Policy Lab
We describe our work in this way: The Public Policy Lab partners with government agencies to develop more satisfying and effective services through ethnographic research, human-centered design, rapid prototyping, and formative evaluation.

We don’t use the term ‘social design’ — it’s not helpful in a government context. If anything, we refer to our work as ‘service design’ or ‘human-centered design.’


 
Ledia Andrawes ThinkPlace
“While the primary purpose of design for the market is creating products for sale … the foremost intent of social design is the satisfaction of human needs.” (Margolin and Margolin 2002), which is further supported by others (Kennedy 2014; Faud-Luke 2013; Kimbell 2011)

In referencing that definition from the literature, it seems as though the term ‘social design’ is not used all that much in practice. I find that people who have applied ‘design’ to ‘social’ challenges tend to use the terms ‘human centred design’ or ‘design thinking’ in referencing what they have done.

I personally don’t think any of these terms really encapsulate the true essence of what designers do, and how they do it, when applied to social challenges. For example:

“Human-centred” is too much focused on the end-user of a product/service, and doesn’t emphasise enough the notions of multi-layered and multi-perspective co-design when working in complex systems.

“Design thinking” emphasises too much the ‘thinking’ piece and doesn’t do justice to the action-oriented, maker aptitude, that is design ‘doing’.

The definition of “social design” provided in the literature places too much emphasis on the satisfaction of ‘needs’ through technical solutions to be bought, and not enough emphasis on design’s role in facilitating ‘radical democracy’ and ‘social change’ processes that might be more political than economic.

For me, I am yet to settle on a single term and remain open to the use of a pluralism of terms depending on my audience.”


 
Tina Ye Interaction Designer
The process of solving society’s biggest problems/improving the human condition using design methods such as research, prototyping, idea brainstorming, and iteration. It also looks for ways to merge social good with innovation and business thinking, though not necessarily (can redesign government services, for example).

 
Stephen Morrison MFA Candidate, DSI
The challenge of defining Social Design is that it’s largely a description of a community in action and, thereby, a ‘definition in motion.’ Perhaps that characteristic forms part of the definition: social design is a field in motion.

It is a practice that evolves and adapts the creative capacity of humans to the challenges of their shared environment – challenges which seem to grow in complexity commensurate with our exponentially expanding capacity to measure our world.

More to the point of this summit, one might say that social design arises from the gaps that emerge around us as our measures have improved, revealing problems that are tougher than we’d previously presumed. Problems whose solutions must be designed socially, structurally, collaboratively.


 
Jen Keilty-Friesen & Janeen Halliwell attendees
People Minded Business (PMB) has developed a social design model we call “I+Q”, or “Innovation + Quality”. Our clients are primarily health and human service organizations, and it has been developed with these groups in mind. The methodologies that support it are primarily from the innovation and quality sectors, as well as design thinking. Our definition of social design is a process for innovating new approaches or further developing services that improves people’s lives.

 
Linda Bader attendee
Creative and innovative problem solving by, looking through the lens of the consumer and considering his/her unmet needs and those of the community. The process includes listening and learning from the consumer. Finally, developing ideas, testing ideas and refining these ideas to solve a problem.

 
Courtney Spearman attendee
Most often I use the terms Social Impact Design or Community Engaged Design. I think of it as a way of designing a space, product or service that engages the user all along the way, and most often supports an underserved community in some way.

What differentiates it from traditional design or typical social interventions?

Michael Murphy MASS Design Group
It borrows from medical anthropology training and ethnographic research, group workshopping is borrowed from social entrepreneurship visioning and project articulation studies, and of course, we gain a lot from community-based planning initiatives. The primary requirement is that we demand it become part of every project or we won’t do the project. This allows us to benchmark against it to compare each project to each other as well as continue to iterate.

 
Kristin Hughes Carnegie Mellon University
Students working in the area of social design need to obtain a foundational understanding of social innovation; methods and practices; understanding of the role of local economies and law; and how formation of real world, evidence-based public policy effect change.
• Needs to look at all levels of the socioeconomic scale.
• Understanding of social practices and ways of working.
• Understand and define what “success” looks like prior to design intervention.

 
Kippy Joseph Rockefeller Foundation
A key differentiator is the whole systems approach, a kind of innovation that shifts pieces of an existing system for lasting positive social change. Significant shifts in authority or resource flows are examples. Rockefeller funding initiatives may seek simultaneous changes in public perception, funding allocation and national policy stemming from an innovation.

 
Jesper Christiansen Nesta, UK
Social design requires a deep understanding of the concrete experience and the everyday practice of people’s lives. And this has to be combined with a holistic perspective on the system you are intervening in – micro and macro perspectives combined in explorative, experimental processes of prototyping new ideas, testing their fit and function in everyday practice and adapting potential solutions over time.

 
Kyle Reis TechSoup
For me, social design starts with and focuses heavily on the user and the quality of their experiences. How do they live their life and navigate the world? What are their needs and wants? How is the world constraining them? Traditional design seems focused on improving design in the environment (spaces, things, etc.) so that it better works for, accommodates, and is more aesthetically pleasing to people. I think of social design as focusing on quality of life issues, particularly for those living in constrained environments. It focuses on values, customs, history, as well as sociological contexts and constructs. Social design for me navigates between individual human rights and societal norms.

 
Tracy Johnson Gates Foundation
I think that what we do here at the Foundation is different from typical social interventions in that problem definition is this world is usually done from a very medicalized realm, there is the assumption here that people will act rationally to maximize their benefits, and interventions have often been far more concerned with the supply side of the equation rather than really seeking to understand demand or one’s users.

 
Laurie Leitch Threshold GlobalWorks
Traditional design is inclined to follow prescriptions that have developed in a linear way, rather than departing from the confines of “what’s been done before.” It requires a shift in thinking.

I think of the quote from Henry Ford when asked how he knew to develop the automobile. He said, “If I had asked my customers what they wanted they would have said they wanted a faster horse.”


 
Jeralyn Powell MFA Candidate, DSI
Different from traditional design, social design is not left up to the discretion of a single designer but relies on the collaborative efforts of multiple stakeholders.

It differs from typical social intervention in that it takes on an iterative process that allows for prototyping and refinement.


 
Tina Park Diagram
It differentiates by starting with the discovery of user needs and understanding their behavior. It also involves the user from concept to implementation through co-design and iteration.

 
Leetha Filderman PopTech
The key differentiator in our approach is our desire to work with multiple highly collaborative organizations and individuals that possess networks that can be leveraged. We do not operate as a solo player.

 
Jake Porway DataKind
Because we focus on data and machine learning in our work, much of our differentiation comes from helping organizations understand how to use data science ethically and capably. Collaborative design styles aren’t new, but the introduction of data brings a fundamentally new challenge to the design process. The data itself tends to be an incredibly sensitive resource that is the connective tissue between all of the actors in the room. If we seek to create a data science application that improves the foster care system, we have to use data about children in the foster care system, which is highly personal data about individuals, held by foundations and our non-profit partners, and that will be operated on by algorithms. Questions of ownership, identity, privacy, malicious use, bias, and just plain “creepiness” factors come up from the start that we need to navigate. We work very hard to give all people around the table ownership of the process and the results, though each of them can only contribute to one aspect of the actual creation.

 
Jonathan McKay Praekelt.org
Among the many notable differences between traditional design and HCD, we are most concerned with the following: HCD is the product of collaboration; HCD is cross-disciplinary; it is engaged with the world rather than inward looking; it is the product of intuition, research and testing, rather than the product of a lone designer who divines what her audience needs or wants in isolation – there’s a different set of ethics at play.

 
Sara Tollefson D-Rev
In traditional design, marketers determine what will make companies money, and then engineers are instructed to make those things. There is little input, if any, from end-users during the design process (i.e., it is a top-down process). The focus is on increasing the profit of companies rather than finding out what people need and designing that, which is what social design tries to do. There are at least two (complimentary) dimensions of user-centeredness in social design: (1) a commitment to design something that will improve well-being, especially addressing inequity; and (2) taking an approach during the design process that pays close attention to what users actually want and need, and removing as many of the obstacles to their getting it as we can.

 
Doug Powell IBM
There are several basic differences between the approach described above and a more traditional approach: first, a design-driven approach is inclusive of multiple points of view (whereas a traditional approach is often intolerant of this); second, a design-driven approach is non-linear and divergent which differs from traditional, so-called “evidence based” approaches in which there is very little room for considering alternative ideas.

 
Nancye Green The Medicines Company
It is differentiated by who identifies the need, who defines the design parameters and then who controls the process and the choices that are made. It is not the designer, philanthropist, agency or NGO doing for others, but others doing for themselves expressing and satisfying the needs that they understand, prioritizing and being the creative force. It is not about ‘missionaries’ showing the uninitiated the way, but rather those who understand how to design and how to use the tools and processes putting these into the hands of those intended to receive the outcomes of this process and then allowing them to lead.

 
Zoé Bezpalko Autodesk
Traditional design, as we see it, is very much transactional and incremental: a designer comes, deliver his or her services, and leaves. Impact Design, on the other hand, is not only human-centered all along the process but it also inherently considers the long-term impact of what is being designed to achieve a positive social or environmental outcome.

Impact Design also considers a larger pool of stakeholders than a typical design approach and tends to be highly inclusive. Traditional design tends to focus on the recipient or end-user of the transaction (with satisfaction-level metrics for instance), but measuring the long-term impact of design also means considering the full ecosystem surrounding the recipient, such as the family, the community, etc.


 
Maggie Breslin The Patient Revolution
I think it is different from traditional design in that it must be much more collaborative and informed by the knowledge and expertise of other disciplines. Design alone isn’t really enough. And what it brings to the development of social interventions is a more thoughtful, participatory and iterative evolution of an idea.

 
Chelsea Mauldin Public Policy Lab
We focus on collaborative engagement with end users at every stage of the design process, and we look at a user’s entire experience of a service, over time, rather than focusing on the design of single artifacts or interactions.

 
Ledia Andrawes ThinkPlace
How it is different from traditional design:

The end-game is not a new product to be consumed, but rather, a small contribution to human flourishing.

How it is different from typical social interventions:

It flips the power dynamics usually at play, decision-making becomes interlaced with the voices of those actually affected by those decision, voices which are usually unheard, heard too late, or de-prioritised.


 
Tina Ye Interaction Designer
Traditional design focuses on solving business problems or creating products for a marketplace. Social interventions are typically done by nonprofits via traditional means such as fundraising, campaigning, lobbying or direct intervention (such as building homeless shelters). Social design tries to merge the two by creating “win-win” situations where the societal problem is addressed in a way that also satisfies business or marketplace demands.

 
Stephen Morrison MFA Candidate, DSI
Traditional design seems to gather traditional designers for its problems. Likewise for sociological problems. Yet many of our most pressing issues require more than increasing specialization from us. They require transdisciplinarity. That such multi-modal activity and teams of such diverse subject area expertise characterize social design work is indicative of its expanded tool set more appropriate to wicked problems.

 
Lee-Sean Huang Foossa
From one perspective, all design has a “social impact.” Let’s take the example of cell phones, both as product/gadget and service (your calling and data plan and all the apps you can download). Mobile technology has dramatically changed the way we work and socialize in the last decades.

But are cell phones “social design”? In some ways yes, if you focus on tools like mobile money that emerged from places like East Africa and brought financial services to people for the first time. But in other aspects, cell phones are still very much “traditional design.” The design of most hardware is still controlled by a few big players. The manufacturing supply chains have all sorts of problematic ecological and labor issues. There is more to be done in making the design of mobile technology more “social.”

As for the relationship between social design and social activism, I would say there is some overlap. Traditional social activists are interested in policy change, that is getting government and businesses to change the rules and act in different ways, i.e. gay marriage. Activists, as well as social designers, are also interested in behavioral and cultural change, i.e. social acceptance of LGBT people. Social designers focus on making interventions through products, services, and interactions to change behaviors, culture, and policy. For example, this could mean designing new ways for people to pressure governments for LGBT equality, or new tools to help people safely come out to their families.


 
Gill Wildman Plot London
In my career I have both experiences, so I can see these phenomena from both sides.

On the one hand, in traditional design we are working and creating within a set of constraints that are fairly fixed and knowable — the business objectives, the form, the materials, the aesthetics. On the other hand, with traditional social interventions, we are looking at a more unknowable model of constraints — other people, and their needs, dreams, and motivations.

At issue here is that social design brings in a range of people-influenced dynamics. These include power, race, class, hierarchy or affiliation, blended with individual needs and goals. Designing well with these dynamic forces and constraints is a challenge for most traditional designers, and fixed brief-able elements are unlikely here.

Design in social interventions means that we take the methods and approaches from the world of design and adapt them for a new context.

This allows us to make ideas tangible earlier, which is traditionally a problem in social projects. It also generates an opportunity to develop a shared understanding — not only of what we all think the issues are, or what impact we might want to produce — but also of what it might be. For example, Plot do a lot of prototyping of service evidence to make things visible and tangible as early as possible. The interaction between crafted production and the attention of engaged people is both powerful and highly productive.


 
Jen Keilty-Friesen & Janeen Halliwell attendees
At the outset of the I+Q process there is a significant focus on taking time to complete a comprehensive “reality check.” We complete a full literature review and engage stakeholders using a combination of methods to ensure we fully understand and have empathy for the people. Because many of the people we work with have disabilities, mental illness or are disempowered, we have adapted and developed a suite of tools & techniques to support their true engagement and have their voice heard in the consultation process. Clear and meaningful measures of success and evaluation are built into the design process early and are very cognizant that, if not undertaken well, evaluation has the potential to stifle innovative or transformation. Developmental evaluation is employed throughout the pilot (prototype) process.

 
Linda Bader attendee
The typical social intervention imposes the ideas of one person or a small group of people on others, without considering what they feel is needed or considering how they culture/values may be impacted.

 
Courtney Spearman attendee
Social Interaction Design is different from traditional design in its authentic engagement with community, and different from other social interventions in its design focus – it makes design valuable in places and situations that would not necessary call for it otherwise.

What’s the most successful social design project you’ve seen or been involved with, and how do you know?

Michael Murphy MASS Design Group
Our most successful is our oldest, the Butaro Hospital. I know because we have been trying to replicate it since we were a part of it. Since it is our oldest, we have been able to study it the longest, and observe how it has had a measurable effect on the populations it is intended to serve.

 
Professor Yongqi Lou Tongji University
I really love the Design Harvests project founded by myself. It’s one of the first that kind of project in China. A key focus is on new roles, new missions, new scopes, and new approaches of design leading to social development in urban/rural interaction of China. The collaborative work and its results, based on a bottom-up approach, serves as a source for insight as well as inspiration when it comes to developing new modes and tools for sustainable urban development.

 
Kristin Hughes Carnegie Mellon University
Vote and Vax: Vote & Vax has built a network of providers across the United States who organize and run flu clinics at polling sites on or around Election Day. Vote & Vax activities have been growing since 1997. In 2006, Vote & Vax worked with local public health agencies to deliver 13,790 influenza vaccinations at 127 polling places in 14 states. Vote & Vax significantly expanded its efforts in 2008, ultimately delivering 21,434 influenza vaccinations at 331 locations in 42 states and the District of Columbia.

Key points:

  •    Team of people from many different organizations and disciplines
  •    Overtime system for delivery evolved and change to improve outcomes
  •    Brand/design motivated communities to take action
  •   Saved lives

Barefoot College: India’s Barefoot Solar Engineers. The solar engineering program at Barefoot College started in India in the 1990s. As of December 2007, Indian Barefoot solar engineers had installed – with absolutely no aid from urban professionals – 8,700 solar units, generating 500 kilowatts (kW) per day, and manufactured 4,100 solar lanterns. As a result, 574 villages and hamlets (nearly 100,000 people) as well as 870 schools now have solar electricity (several villages have more than one school; average attendance is 25 to 30 children). In the remote Himalayas, 270 Barefoot solar engineers (57 of them semi-literate rural women) have installed 16 solar power plants of 2.5 kW each. The women also built 40 parabolic solar cookers and 71 solar water heaters as well as trained others in their communities so they could assist in the establishing of 23 rural electronic workshops.

Key points:

  • Two very different groups combine their skills and magic happens.
  • Empowered and gave purpose to a vulnerable group while improving the conditions of a community
  • System was replicable and scalable

 
Kippy Joseph Rockefeller Foundation
The rise of the Social Impact Bond (or Pay for Success) in the US was a great example of an innovation that created shifts in the systems that constrain youth who have been court involved, among other populations. The evidence is the rapid pace of conceptual acceptance and practical experimentation: pilots in 10 states; federal funding allocation from 5 agencies; inception of at least four new social businesses dedicated to creating SIB deals; at least five capacity building providers shaping new programming and resources for non-profits; impact investors and foundations reallocating funding on the basis of the innovation.

 
Jesper Christiansen Nesta, UK
The most successful project I have been running, was a design project focused on transforming the practice of policy-making in the Danish Ministry of Employment. This was an example of how design can be used to change structural and organisational processes and create new mindsets and behaviour in an otherwise rigid bureaucratic system. Impact is visible through changes in priorities, behaviours and attitudes within the ministry as well as in the way they engage citizens and stakeholders in developing new policies.

 
Kyle Reis TechSoup
Though I’m not sure if this qualifies, one of the best social design projects I was actively involved in revolved around coming up with a better way to determine the qualifications of non-US-based nonprofits to be eligible for foundation grants, a process known as equivalency determination or ED. The system had been dysfunctional and inconsistent. The process was laborious and expensive. The laws were outdated and in need of change and foundations could not share their work. A concerted effort on behalf of key umbrella organizations like the Council on Foundations, working with a consortium of international funders embarked on a near seven year effort to change the whole landscape and were successful. It involved a several dozen actors in the foundation and nonprofit sectors and required working in concert with three federal agencies (IRS, State and Treasury departments.) The result was NGOsource! Here is a great case study of the effort.

 
Laurie Leitch Threshold GlobalWorks
I like one done by UPS when they wanted to decrease fuel usage to save money but also protect the environment. After trying the typical driver education about acceleration/deceleration that didn’t make much difference they decided to study driving routes and see what might make a difference without relying on pre-conceived ideas. They found that left turns consumed more gas so they redesigned their routes to reduce the numbers of left turns on the routes.

 
Jeralyn Powell MFA Candidate, DSI
Tough question. Currently when I consider a project successful, it is sustainable beyond a funding source, it considers all stakeholders, and it goes further upstream than treating symptoms.

 
Tina Park Diagram
I am involved and continue to be involved with a career long project of improving patient experiences. It is full of little successes and is measured by the continued expansion of patient-centered practices throughout healthcare.

 
Leetha Filderman PopTech
Project Masiluleke – it’s measured impact was phenomenal.

 
Jake Porway DataKind
One of our most successful social design projects entailed creating a tool to visualize and analyze child wellbeing data in DC. The work itself involved combining multiple datasets that few had ever looked at before to make them accessible and understandable to a range of stakeholders, from politicians to NGOs to public citizens. The tool itself allowed child wellbeing advocates to recognize that, through the combination of transportation and mental health services data, that children in some neighborhood had to take 5 or more different buses, costing over $30, to receive mental health care. That prohibitive cost allowed the NGO to advocate for policy changes to bring more mental health services to youths.

The reason this project was one of the most successful goes far beyond that one data outcome, however. The mayor of DC was so impressed with the work that he publicly honored this NGO, saying that other organizations in the district needed to adopt these same data analysis and visualization skills. Moreover, the tool that was built for this NGO started appearing elsewhere: a group in the UK used the tool to identify terminally ill children in need of hospice services, while a group in Bangalore adopted the tool to provide financial accountability for government.

Our job is to work ourselves out of business by making sure that all NGOs have access to data science capabilities, so the expansive application of the tool and its use in inspiring groups to expand their own data science skills made this one of our most successful projects.


 
Jonathan McKay Praekelt.org
This is a difficult question to me to answer. What we mean when we talk about a successful project has changed dramatically for our organisation over the last two years. For most of our history success meant scale. Underlying in this understanding of success was an implicit assumption that providing 2 million teenagers with access to information about HIV and AIDS must result in better health outcomes, that triggering 10 million calls to an HIV hotline surely means that more people are getting the support that they need. As mobile technologies mature, our emphasis has shifted. We know we can achieve scale. But do we know what that actually means? What is the actual impact?

Over the last two years there are examples of projects that we’ve launched that have used human-centred design, but we don’t yet know if they’re successful. We feel they must be, because of the assumptions that have been challenged, the errors in thinking that have been brought to light and because of feedback from our users, but we don’t know this for sure. Not yet. I’ll have a think about the projects that have inspired me.


 
Anne LaFond John Snow, Inc.
​I have only studied four examples where design was used in public health. All were influenced in some way by the application of design. In one case, design was used to create a mobile phone application to improve community health nurse motivation and job satisfaction in rural Ghana. There was a strong link between the use of design and program success, but it was not the only driver of success. In the other three cases, design was instrumental in refining an existing program concept to fit end users more effectively, and facilitated the uptake of new roles, behaviors, and collaborations, and use of a technology product. To understand the influence of design and its link to program outcomes we conducted a more standard program or impact evaluation, used process documentation to test the implementation strategies throughout, and conducted case studies focusing on the role of design. ​We had to define our own metrics for the influence of design.

 
Karen Proctor Harbour Workshop
The 20th Century American civil rights movement. Laws and lives were changed.

 
Sara Tollefson D-Rev
D-Rev’s development of Brilliance, an affordable phototherapy device to treat newborns with jaundice, has been successful in lowering the cost of reliable, world-class phototherapy globally, and improving the health outcomes of newborns born in lower- and middle-income countries as a result. The idea for a more affordable phototherapy device came from doctors in Nigeria and India who were seeing high rates of morbidity and mortality as a result of ineffective treatment for jaundice, a very treatable condition. D-Rev’s engineers sought input and feedback from users throughout the design process and came up with a device that was affordable, robust, and virtually maintenance-free. Brilliance has since been sold in over 40 countries, and quickly became its for-profit manufacturer/distributor’s top-selling phototherapy device. Brilliance has won government tenders in multiple countries, and been purchased by private hospitals, NGOs, and public hospitals. Doctors and nurses like using Brilliance and describe it as “beautiful” and their preferred device. Fieldwork documenting the improved health outcomes of babies treated with Brilliance will be further supported by third-party evaluations in 2017 that we expect will show faster treatment times and improved rates of bilirubin reduction in newborns as result of using Brilliance.

 
Nancye Green The Medicines Company
I have limited experience being involved with social design projects and am not intimately connected with any that I think have been very successful. When I think about this question over my lifetime, I can’t help but think about the many marches on Washington, etc., which I participated in in the 60’s and 70’s. These were user generated experiences designed to put pressure on the government to end the war and they did eventually succeed in convincing our government that the war was too unpopular to be sustainable. I think Black Lives Matter has had some success in making the voice of its constituency noticed. It remains to be seen if there will be substantive changes as a result.

 
Rosanne Haggerty Community Solutions
Our 100,000 Homes campaign, that ran from 2010-2014, was a game changer in our field: 186 participating communities housed more than 105,000 chronic and medically vulnerable homeless individuals, using principally the resources they already had, by learning how to redesign their housing placement systems around the primary desire of the end user, the homeless individual, to find a safe, stable home.

Our current Built for Zero campaign is working with 70 communities who have already housed more than 61,000 chronically homeless individuals and homeless veterans since early 2015. Here the design challenge has become more audacious: designing and simultaneously implementing local housing systems that end these conditions for good. Eight communities have already reached and held a measurable “zero” for six months or more.

Another interesting example from our work comes from Hartford, CT, where we have spent time trying to reduce utilization of emergency rooms in low-income neighborhoods. The healthcare system has been trying to figure this out for a long time, and they’ve mostly approached it by trying to get more people insured so they can access primary care. But what we found when we started doing user interviews was that most people didn’t need more or different medical care at all, they needed much cheaper social interventions like utility assistance, landlord mediation, help with transportation. We started problem solving with users around those issues, and we saw ER use go down among our beta group by more than 57% in nine months.


 
Zoé Bezpalko Autodesk
Before my work at the Autodesk Foundation, I was working as an environmental engineering promoting eco-design in emerging countries in South East Asia. I worked with a Vietnamese company and helped them re-design some wood furniture using sustainable design principles. Through a long and thoughtful Life Cycle Assessment, we proved that our re-design reduced the environmental footprint of a simple furniture piece by 80%!

Although the environmental field has solved the issue of impact assessment, the social sector has yet to be equipped with powerful tools such as LCAs. This means that success for design, or what we see as positive long-term social and/or environmental impact, is still relative, inconsistent and challenging to clearly define.

Because of the lack of standardized metrics, at the Autodesk Foundation, we discuss with our grantees which metrics they’d like to share with us. This provides an opportunity for us to assess how the practitioners are measuring and reporting on their impact, and it creates trust within our portfolio engagements. However, it doesn’t give us a consistent base for comparison by which to define the success of one organization over another.


 
Mark Randall Worldstudio
GMA Village: An affordable childcare service for low-income families in Oakland, California that leverages local grandmothers as trained and trusted providers.

While somewhat modest in scale at this early stage, GMA Village is extremely scalable. I personally like to champion these entrepreneurial efforts by young designers to showcase how accessible it can be to engage in this type of work, especially at the local level. This project has all the hallmarks of a good social design project; multi-disciplinary team, embedded in the community and co-created with locals. GMA Village has received substantial funding, indicating belief in the project’s value, which in turn we hope leads to growth and great success.


 
Stephen Morrison MFA Candidate, DSI
Although I was present for the implementation but not design phase, of the projects I’ve been associated with, I’ve been more impressed with Concern Worldwide’s Essential Newborn Care Corps pilot in Bo District, Sierra Leone. It collaborative designed an identity, an economic activity and a structure that was embraced by participants and their communities, and whose research results fed upwards into district and national policy creation and program formation in other districts.

 
Maggie Breslin The Patient Revolution
I’ve seen the communication tools and decision aids that we’ve created to help facilitate shared decision making change the way doctors and patients talk with each other. Their body language changes. Patients share stories they haven’t in the past or talk about what they feel like they can and can’t do. Doctors are motivated to do extra work outside the clinical visit. It is an effect you can see.

Measuring it though, across visits and patients, that’s much harder. And while the power and value of a moment like that can motivate some doctors, it isn’t enough for most if all the other signals from the system don’t support and value connecting with patients.


 
Chelsea Mauldin Public Policy Lab
The outcomes of our first project, a collaboration with the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development, have now been operational long enough that we have insight into not just the results of initial piloting (determined through a qualitative and quantitative evaluation prior to scaling), but also into more longitudinal impacts on agency culture and governance, as reported by agency staff.

 
Lee-Sean Huang Foossa
My current design practice, Foossa, has only been around for three and a half years, so I am not sure if I have the perspective yet on “success.” Prior to co-founding Foossa, I had the opportunity to work in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to help launch Meu Rio, a network of action working to make the city more democratic, inclusive, and sustainable. In addition to designing the outward-facing visual brand for the organization, I also worked in shaping the core identity and strategy for the organization.

As for measuring success, Meu Rio has been able to raise money to be self-sustaining over the last few years. They now have over 200,000 members on their email list, and they have succeeded in their advocacy efforts like saving a historic public school serving special needs students from demolition to make way for a parking lot for the Rio Olympics. I certainly can’t claim this credit as mine as a designer, but I think that crafting an open, flexible identity has been instrumental in the creation of the Meu Rio movement, a model that has now been replicated in other cities across Brazil.


 
Gill Wildman Plot London
Our current and very early stage project Fair Finance. It is looking at a series of strategic social design interventions that would support people experiencing poverty. Its about exploring what kinds of services might be made for people who exist on minimal funds. We were shocked in our research by how they are charged extra because they are poor – in what advocacy groups call ‘the poverty premium’ – and how we might engender a greater local flow of social capital.

There is no big heroic story here. The impacts are small and emergent. So far:

  • We have developed a set of concepts that users and other people told us to keep going with
  • We got to a robust understanding of a very gnarly problem (we didn’t ‘solve it’)
  • We connected some new dots between infrastructure, policy, community and local business
  • We constructed our own stakeholder group – which took a lot of time and a lot of trust-building
  • We got to work with some of the best advocacy groups in the country – alongside truly innovative people.

The truth is that this kind of work is very hard to do, takes a long time and the impact is difficult to track, but not impossible.


 
Jen Keilty-Friesen & Janeen Halliwell attendees
We are working on a social design project at the moment, entitled Real Change. The organization that we are working with supports adults with developmental disabilities. Through the I+Q process, the agency recognized that there needed to be a shift in the way services were being designed, to fully enable the people who are supported (and their families) to direct and co-design the supports they require. Supports may include housing, employment, respite services or any other support a person needs to live a good life. We know it has been successful (but not without challenges!) because of the results collected through a series of evaluation methods. These include: quantitative data, storytelling, and diaries that are kept by the people and their families. After a year, significant progress has been made. More to come!

 
Linda Bader attendee
Honestly, I do not know if this would count by the basic definitions of Social Design, but I believe that TimeSlips is a good example…at least for my definition.

Anne Bastings developed TimeSlips, after working with people with Alzheimer & dementia and failing to help them to remember their own stories and be able to express themselves. She believes that you can deeply impact peoples lives through the use of the arts and humanities. First, she tried improve, but got only silence from them. Then, she showed them a picture and asked them question after question about the picture. Forty five minutes later, the group had a story to tell about the picture. Anne found that simply talking to them through the use of ‘rational language’ resulted only in silence. It was only after showing them the picture, asking questions about the picture (using emotional communication), listening to their creative answers & putting them together to make a story, that the consumers needs were met. She has given them the gift of storytelling. The beauty of TimeSlips is that it allows everyone who is touched by dementia/Alzheimers to move past the stress and pain of memory loss and instead enjoy using ones imagination and being creative. This is very impactful for the consumer (person with dementia), caregivers & family members. It is an amazing way to bring joy to everyone impacted by Alzheimers/dementia and changes peoples perceptions.


 
Courtney Spearman attendee
There are so many! Two projects in particular that I think exemplify SID, both of which are in progress and both of which are NEA grantees:

11th Street Bridge Park in Washington, DC – their intense community engagement (over 500 meetings to date) and commitment to supporting the existing community through their Equitable Development Plan

Friendship Court housing redevelopment by the Piedmont Housing Alliance in Charlottesville, VA – super thoughtful, person-to-person engagement on the redevelopment of an aging public housing project which will retain 100% of current residents and offer quality of life improvements during the planning process and beyond.