Design Thinking, Futures & Evaluation

The time to bring together three fields of practice focused on shaping the future with evidence and imagination is here.

Design thinking is about problem-finding, solution-seeking, and creating the things — programs, products, services, and policies — that contribute to the solution.

Futures and Strategic Foresight are about examining trends and patterns in a context and drawing potential strategic options — scenarios, possible directions, hypotheticals, and imagined solutions — that can help direct our actions toward creating a future we want.

Evaluation is the systematic collection of data to support decision-making about things that we value and, as some suggest, defines the merit, significance, and worth of something.

Given the dramatic upheaval — whether its outright transformation or simply an interruption to the usual routine — to so many of our systems around us the time has never been more clear for a need to innovate. This means bringing together these three areas in a more fulsome manner to shape what’s next.

Why Now, Why Us?

None of these fields are sufficient to addressing what is coming and what is here, yet together create a constellation of perceptive and skill ‘sets’ that can enable us to leverage so many other areas of knowledge and skill to move us forward with design. This is innovation in practice.

Design matters because that is about us consciously, intentionally, and (when done well) responsibly creating what it is that serves us and the planet. It’s not about happenstance. Innovation is an intentional, conscious act — even if there are unintentional consequences that also come with it.

If you’re an innovator you probably know all three fields — even if you don’t know the specifics or even technical aspects of them.

  • You see problems and opportunities
  • You have the energy and motivation to act on these
  • You’ve spotted trends and patterns in the world that makes you think your idea has merit, your solution has a need
  • You see possible futures that could arise from taking action
  • You’re generating, pooling, and sorting through ideas for how to make this future real
  • You’re creative in finding ways to bring your ideas to life and open to new ways of seeing things
  • You’re open to — even if not always happy about — trying and failing and repeating this pattern again until you get something that works to your satisfaction
  • You also care about creating things to meet others’ needs — a customer, a fellow citizen, a patient or others
  • You are driven to bring the idea to life and will watch to see what kind of influence your idea has in the world
  • You’re inclined to change things based on the feedback you get from what you see and those who engage with it in the world

If these are true for you, you’re using the tools of a designer/design thinker, a futurist, and an evaluator.

Elevating Innovation

The 2020’s are presenting us with some pretty high stakes. While there are some brilliant innovations created by determined individuals the most salient problems of the moment are ones that require we work together as neighbourhoods, organizations, communities and governments — often collectively. The health, welfare, and effectiveness of our schools, workplaces, and living spaces depend heavily on what comes next.

This involves having those engaged with design and design thinking, futures, and evaluation step up and do more intentional work together. This is about elevating what we do as innovators. It’s no longer sufficient to see possible futures without the means to work toward them and the data collection to help guide our journey. The cost of false starts driven by ignorance rather than lack of efficacy is higher than before. People are tired, systems are strained and the vacuum that crises create will be filled by something. It’s better that it is what we want, not just what those most leveraged to act right now because of systemic advantages (e.g., wealth, power).

Rather than talking amongst ourselves — designers to designers, evaluators to evaluators and so on, the time to shape new conversations has come. It’s time to design for the next, not the now. After months of lockdowns, restrictions, and limits — and more to come for many parts of our world — the reflection time has had its day. It’s time to use of some of that energy toward creating what’s next. Fellow designers, futurists, and evaluators — our time is here.

Thanks for reading.

Photo by Zahin Mohamed on Unsplash

Cameron D. Norman

I am a designer, psychologist, educator, evaluator, and strategist focused on innovation in human systems. I'm curious about the world around me and use my role as Principal and President of Cense Ltd. as a means of channeling that curiosity into ideas, questions, and projects that contribute to a better world.

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