Connecting with Richmonders

The James River is 560 km long and one of the 12th longest rivers in the United States that remains within the same state (source: wikipedia) and the centre piece to a design challenge at Collegiate School in Richmond Virginia.

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How might we connect with Richmonders to bring awareness to the James River?

This HMW question was the frame for a 1 week design challenge and I had the pleasure of being able to kick of the design thinking work with Collegiate. I travelled to Virginia for 2 intense days of design thinking following a half day Jane’s Walk aka “Jenn’s Walk” designed specifically for me by the Collegiate Students ūüôā

Often, the question about design thinking is around what are the outcomes and what are the students really learning by being involved. Most evidently are the practical outcomes of producing a product and being able to present that idea that get assessed and evaluated, and then there is the process and perhaps more intangible outcomes. These are the outcomes that I took notice of.

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Talk to strangers ¬†We teach kids not to talk to strangers.¬†For some of the students, it was unnerving to go up to complete strangers to ask questions and they soon realized that they had to pick themselves up quickly from rejection.¬†It was invaluable how the students had to learn to grab someone’s attention and to try and state their intent quickly, this was something they had to iterate on often.¬†These grade 8’s at Collegiate very quickly had to learn how to talk to strangers and we had a critical conversation about when it is appropriate to observe strangers and a few expressed concerns of unease when it came to people watching and making notes about it. The major difference between your personal comfort level as a researcher/designer¬†and how to gain information needed to inform your work to be human-centered.

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Collaboration takes time We have expectations of what collaboration should look like. For students to work together is a key to learning how to negotiate, how to balance power and where the boundaries of roles are that influence and distract from the team. As Heidi Siwak once said “Collaboration is not group work“. It is not as easy as putting students in groups and expecting them to perform a specific way. On day 2, the teachers at Collegiate and I had a conversation that I think captures this well.¬†It was pointed out to me that one of the groups “was behind”. This prompted an interesting conversation about what it meant to be in this emergent process and how this group was performing in comparison to the other groups. Ultimately, it was the tension of what collaboration should look like and what it actually did. The group stayed together and worked their way through the week at their own pace.

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Ask for what you need It takes vulnerability to verbalize how we work. During design thinking 101, I watched as groups pushed through the process and for some it was physically a struggle. I could see the frustration in some of the students faces as they worked through uncertainty and ambiguity. Following DT 101, we had a conversation about Task, Team, Self to reflect and in particular one student spoke up about her personal frustrations of having to move forward before she felt like a task was complete. It was inspiring to hear her share this and together we were able to work out a way for her to ask her team for time to pause before moving on. Later in the day, she told me that it helped her greatly to let her team know what she needed and for the team to be able to reciprocate.

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Our time was brief together, it was a ton of fun and I know the students got a lot out of it. It was exciting to be a part of their engagement with the James River. The river that runs through some of their backyards and is the root of a nature, physical activities and economy. Through design thinking 101, an introduction to ethnography through observations and interviews, and a deep dive into defining the problem and developing solid HMW questions; I was inspired to observe some of their lessons learned through engaging in the design thinking process.

 

 

 

 

NOISE for Change – New Opportunities for Innovative Student Engagement

It was a cold and rainy evening when we arrived on the York University campus and found our way to the workshop room. The participants were lining up for the dinner before the workshop took place. The NOISE for Change group had been meeting since August to do work together and now in March, it was easy to see that they had clearly forged new relationships and were making an impact on one another. Meeting at York University, the high school students from Emery High School were introduced to the world of University and were embraced by their York University counterparts from Bachelors and Masters of Social Work. The NOISE for Change project is an amazing testimony to bringing together youth leaders and inspiring peer to peer projects. It was inspiring to see the investment everyone had made into the project and to each other.

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NOISE for Change has been making some big bangs in the Jane-Finch neighbourhood from their pilot project out of York University. “NOISE for Change, an opportunity for innovative student engagement, brought together 20 grade nines, 20 grade twelves, 20 Bachelors of Social Work students, 20 Masters of Social Work students and 20 York Social Work Alumni for such a unique program.”

In Community Action Pods, the groups worked together on projects for the community, many of them focused on bringing positive attention to the neighbourhood.

We were delighted to come and offer a Design Thinking 101 workshop for the Pods who are in the thick of their project work. As per usual, we opened up the workshop with the Oreo Cookie workshop to make an analogy to how we are all design thinkers. This activity always breaks up any apprehension that the participants have going into a design thinking workshop and put a little bit of sugar in their systems for the next bit of work.

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For the design thinking workshop, in our short time together, the groups explored a few possible design challenges that have popped up as projects brought forward by the community during past design jams at Green Change. Groups designed for community gardens and parking lot parties, no one wanted to take on the Tool Library, but we can come back to that another time.

The groups worked quickly at coming up with stakeholders and ideas for how they could make some of the projects a reality. As the groups are working on their own positive change projects in the neighbourhood, it was great to see them take what they have learned so far and apply that to these new challenges.

We are looking forward to seeing what comes from NOISE for Change next year as the take on new projects and youth leaders, it is inspiring to see their great work.

 

Growth

Yesterday, we facilitated a furniture design charrette in Jane and Finch for the Centre of Green Change. After a bit of dinner and an idea dump on the floor about the 4 main areas of programming, the participants were off to the races. With playdoh and hot glue guns, there was little need for enticement to get some of the youth building furniture. We ended up with a variety of table designs of different heights and convertible features, some firm stances for and against benches, and a pizza oven! Designs ranged from functional to artful, each with personality and adaptability in mind. There was a desire for open spaces and hidden spaces, like the indoor treehouse reading space. There was a strong focus of bringing natural elements and inspiration.

The process delivered many ideas and introduced the project to a whole new group of youth, this furniture charrette was the beginning of a longer conversation about sustainability and what you can make with your hands.

Maybe, one day we can build this growth table.