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)