Day: May 30, 2010

design thinkinginnovation

Design Lessons for Creating Social Impact

I just read a great article from Frog Design that highlights 8 lessons for creating social impact. The lessons, quoted here, seem right on the money:

1. Undervalue Your Own Ideas. They may seem pretty clever to you, but chances are that they won’t work the way that you are imagining. Trust me on this one.

2. Don’t Pursue Perfection. Keep close to the messy realities on the ground. And test your ideas while they are rough (they will likely stay that way for a long time).

3. You Are Not the Only Creative in the Room. Social entrepreneurs are not only creative, they are fearless. You may find yourself struggling to keep up.

4. Your Perspective Is Not Automatically Unique. Research and empathy are critical to inform and inspire the design process. But it takes time to develop a viable perspective. You won’t walk in with one.

5. Learn From Your Elders. There are a number of creative professions, such as urban planning, that have been engaged with social issues for some time. Yet they are rarely represented in current discussions. You would think that this generation of designers are the first to take on social impact.

6. The Web Will Not Save You. While the Internet and mobile technologies are important points of leverage, you need to resist the temptation to assume that communities will miraculously adopt and value these tools just because we thought them up.

7. You Better Be In It for the Long Haul. Ideation is just the beginning. Ideas are cheap. The determination and stubbornness to see them through is critical. Don’t underestimate the time it will take.

8. Don’t Celebrate Too Early. The design world has hurt its credibility with many social impact organizations by celebrating the wrong thing: Clever ideas that capture our imagination (like the Lifestraw or the Hippo Roller) but have major challenges in the field.

To this I would add one more: Time and timing are critical (and no amount of preparation will enable you get them both right at the same time so prepare for issues related to one of the two – including spotting opportunities)

public healthsocial media

Social Media, Control and Engagement

People Matter, Objects Don't (from Hugh MacLeod at

There’s no question that the term social media is hotter than ever with quite a future ahead. It seems you can’t go to any event that claims the term ‘innovation’ as its mandate without some reference to tools like Twitter, Facebook and Foursquare . It’s because of this that I have a love-hate relationship with social media because its popularity is also what makes it problematic, particularly for fields like public health or for academia or other types of serious matters. Why? As one who studies, uses and designs social media strategies for public health I should be thrilled that it’s taken up so widely.

It’s not that these tools are being used, but how – at least by organizations. In yesterday’s Globe and Mail, reporter Kelly Grant showcased how the Toronto mayoral candidates were using social media to advance their campaigns. The quote that stuck out for me was from candidate George Smitherman’s spokesman Stefan Baranski who said:

“What goes out on social media now is as good as a press release”

The focus is on ‘managing’ the message and “getting the word out” is, to my mind, missing the point. Social media — as its name suggests — is social. That means that it is all about relationships and that means trust. When was the last time you had a meaningful relationship that was managed? When did you last control a conversation?

Politicians, public health and health care leaders, and companies all want to engage the public and they see social media as the means to do it. But true engagement is about genuine conversation, dialogue and trust, not faux Tweets or self-promotional Facebook posts. Politicians, organizations and leaders within them might do better to treat their constituents as people rather than objects. That’s why so many distrust politicians, and why public agencies and corporations have such a difficult time using social media to convert their messages into real value.

In my field, public health (note: that first part), we often speak to people  like they’re children in a patronizing manner that says “we know better, trust us”. The problem is, we don’t and they don’t . We have a lot of knowledge about how to prevent illness, keep people healthy and happy, and create stronger communities, but we don’t know it all and never will. But, we do have a lot of knowledge that is useful and can make real contributions to the betterment of society.

That is what we’re supposed to do.

Our best chance is to dialogue with the public in ways that build trust, enabling the public to learn from us and to us to learn from them just as we would at a casual conversation with a friend or colleague.

Social media gives us the tools to do this, but only if we treat it as social and not just as media.