Using the Design Thinking Process to Better the Community

Lina Bonapace | March 2, 2018 | 4 Min Read

Learn how Macadamian leveraged the Design Thinking process and our own expertise in design to solve challenges related to early childhood development and ending poverty in Edmonton at BarnRaise Edmonton 2017.

Is fundraising the only way to give back to our community? At Macadamian, we believe that one of the ways we can give back is by using our time and talents to make the world a better place. That’s why we were excited to work with the Bissell Centre at Canada’s first BarnRaise event in Edmonton – a 2.5 day event founded by the Institute of Design in Chicago, IL. BarnRaise brings together innovative community-based organizations, design firms, and conference participants to learn about design thinking, to connect and collaborate, and to address social issues in the local community.

At BarnRaise, we had the opportunity to leverage our expertise in Design Thinking and engage with local citizens and the Bissell Centre to explore solutions to current and foreseen challenges related to early childhood development and ending poverty in Edmonton.

Bissell Centre serves 1,400 children annually and incorporates the “learning through play” model to assist in developing children’s social, emotional, intellectual, and cultural growth.

Bissell’s Early Childhood Development program provides free temporary childcare services to families and caregivers experiencing hardship and in need of respite. Given the nature of the program, the Bissell Centre finds it challenging to create meaningful connections and build relationships with parents and caregivers; the drop-off and pick-up experience at the childcare centre is very short in time, and family members can be fearful of sharing information about their situation that may compromise their sense of freedom and wellbeing.

“It takes time to build those meaningful relationships. We have parents who feel that if they speak, they will be judged”. – Bissell Center Early Childhood Development Resource Worker.

This challenge of building relationships between parents and caregivers creates barriers to support the work of the respite care program in the development of a child’s social and emotional growth. This is what Macadamian and the Bissell Centre set out to tackle at BarnRaise Edmonton.

At BarnRaise Edmonton, participants from various branches of life brought their talents and perspectives to the event to help the Bissell Centre build a shared understanding of the challenge and to explore solutions around creating ways for parents and children to learn together.

BarnRaise organizers introduced an innovation approach that helps people better understand the problem by setting context and building empathy, analyzing and reframing the problem, and creating options that lead to the development and implementation of successful new offerings.

To understand the context of the problem, Macadamian conducted user research at the Bissell Centre in advance of BarnRaise to identify the needs and aspirations of parents/caregivers and respite care staff.

To help BarnRaise participants build the same level of understanding, they were provided with pictures of the childcare facility and copies of the transcripts from the interviews. Together, Macadamian, conference participants, and Bissell Centre staff analyzed the raw data for each user group (parents, children, and the Bissell Centre staff). They identified the needs, barriers, and opportunities, and began visualizing patterns and identifying common themes between the three user groups. Through journey mapping, they identified key interactions and opportunities for improvement that had an impact on all three user groups.

From the analysis, participants identified several themes for exploration and chose to focus on communication and engagement. Using the journey maps, participants identified two key phases where communication and engagement could be enhanced between parents/caregivers, children, and the Bissell Centre staff.

Participants leveraged the Design Thinking process to brainstorm solutions to enhance communication and engagement. Using storyboards and prototyping, participants were able to describe the intangible elements of their solutions in physical form (tangible), and ultimately, create two new concepts for the respite care program:

  1. StoryBook – a collaborative exercise for parents/caregivers, children, and Bissell Centre staff to create storybooks that capture a child’s experience at the Bissell Centre. Using artifacts such as photographs, images, children’s crafts, and written words, the storybook brings to life the child’s experience and showcases the ways that parents can support the social and emotional growth of their child.
  1. BlockParty – a community event held at the Bissell Center where parents/caregivers, children, and the Bissell staff can enjoy their time together in a social context with extended family and friends. The BlockParty will cultivate trusting relationships that support the work of the Bissell Centre and strengthen the community.

The Design Thinking approach, which puts the end user in focus, enables people from various backgrounds to work together to solve community problems. Setting context and getting a clear understanding of the users’ needs and challenges is imperative when exploring ideas and solutions. Using design tools such journey mapping and prototyping allows willing citizens and non-designers to quickly propose and explore concepts that can solve real-world problems.

At BarnRaise Edmonton, Macadamian was happy to guide engaged citizens in exploring solutions to community challenges related to early childhood development. By working together to gain a shared understanding of the problems, building empathy, and analyzing needs, barriers, and opportunities, the team was able to synthesize and visualize options to help solve the Bissell Centre’s challenge.

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