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Visualizing the invisible, from service design to sustainability.

Empowering Local Communities through Group Problem Solving

One by one, fingers excitedly point at the image-covered walls. “I was surprised how quickly we were able to reach agreement once we were able to share our differences of opinion,” says one. “We talked about healthy food, too, but after a lot of discussion, we thought violence prevention was a better topic for our team to focus on,” says another. “It can’t be fixed without everyone coming together,” says still another.

These high school student quotes were recorded by Scott Boylston at “Leaders Meeting Leaders,” one of three capstone events as part of frog’s first pilot of the Collective Action Toolkit (CAT), in partnership with Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) , Design Ethos, Gatorball Academy, and teachers and classes at Beach, Groves, and Savannah High Schools.

Yesterday, I published articles on FastCoDesign and Design Mind where I shared results from this pilot program and stories from the three high schools. In this piece, I’ll talk about three different ways we’ve passed on what we’ve discovered from this pilot program for use by SCAD, Savannah’s high schools, and the local government through a series of local events. And next week, I’ll share best practices for how to use tools like our Collective Action Toolkit with high school students and youth in your community.


Leaders Meeting Leaders: Creating Connections Between Students, Schools, and Local Communities

The first event was a storytelling session called “Leaders Meeting Leaders” at Groves High School, which served as a capstone for the Winter quarter. All of the students from the schools would attend and discover what happened with the students at the other schools in a casual round-robin presentation format. Along with the students, we invited public school administrators and administrators from other government agencies interested in furthering their own youth advocacy programs.

As Scott Boylston described the event experience: “The word “student” was turned inside out: principals learned from students; high school students taught college students; professors learned from students of all ages, and school principals taught principal designers.” The SCAD graduate students created visual recaps for each school that the students could use as a reference aid in sharing their stories, drawn from their “We Have a Voice” book for their class with Scott. An additional station staffed by the SCAD graduate students included a presentation about how their needs could be factored into the organizational strategy for Gatorball Academy.

Near the end of the session we provided the students with free pizza and led them through a brief activity where they identified how they would want to take their efforts further. Amidst an impromptu rap and some dance moves, they individually filled out sticky notes where they answered two questions: What’s your next step? Who can help you with that next step? Then they signed their names, publicly committing to carrying their efforts forward.

Some of those student pledges would become real at their schools.For example:On April 15–19, 2013, Anti-Violence Week was produced by Ms. Wilson’s class at Beach High School. Each day of Anti-Violence focused on a different facet of what violence meant, both in the community at large and within the school: gun violence, domestic violence, cyber-bullying, and gang violence.

Ninth graders at the school were the primary participants in each day’s events, participating in activities, listening to speakers, and signing a youth pledge of nonviolence that the students had written. The students did their best to tie the week’s subjects to both local issues and national news, such the bombing of the Boston Marathon (which happened on Monday) and the suicide of Amanda Todd. They also created handbills to rally the school to “Keep Calm and Be Yourself” and “Stop Violence and Turn It Up,” designed to look like the original “Keep Calm and Carry On” posters.


We Have a Voice: Investing in Local Communities by Sharing the Power of Design

I returned to Savannah in early May to present a talk and facilitate a public panel discussion at the SCAD Museum of Art, which was open to the entire Savannah community. On the panel were Aaliyah Williams, Joseph Smith, and Dante Maultsby from Beach High School; their teacher Nakeesha Wilson; and Robynn Butler, Eric Green, and Nathan Sundberg from Scott’s class at SCAD.

For the first part of the event, I gave a 30-minute presentation about the pilot program with SCAD: how it came about, how it was connected to frog’s work with the Girl Effect and our Collective Action Toolkit, and how their efforts were part of a greater movement we’re seeing to foster the learning of the 4C’s (communication, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking) through collective problem solving in schools.

For the following 45 minutes, I led a discussion between the students, teachers, and SCAD facilitators, getting a sense of what were the most powerful moments for them over the course of those 10 weeks, as well as what challenges they had to deal with along the way. One of the most powerful moments of the evening was when Aaliyah asked if everyone in attendance would agree to their Pledge of Nonviolence, which she read out to the auditorium.


Bringing Youth-Led Design into Community and Government Programming

The day after the panel discussion, I led a workshop called “Empowering Local Communities through Group Problem Solving,” sponsored by SCAD and the Housing Authority of Savannah. The workshop was co-facilitated by the graduate students in SCAD’s Design for Sustainability program that had participated in the pilot program: Robynn Butler, Eric Green, Carol Lora, Katie Mansell, Naz Mirzaie, Alexandra Pappalardo, and Marina Petrova.

This workshop was inspired by the “Leaders Meeting Leaders” event, and was a bridge from seeing the effects of the CAT in schools to understanding how it could best be deployed in community development work. The 40 participants at the event were from Housing Authority of Savannah, Savannah-Chatham County Public Schools, Savannah-Chatham County Metropolitan Planning Commission, Wells Fargo, and the City of Savannah together with SCAD students and faculty. Everyone wanted to understand how to use the CAT as part of their community development efforts.

Over the four hours, we broke the room into groups of 5 to 6 people who hadn’t previously met or collaborated before. We then led those groups through a series of activities. At first, the groups did activities to build their groups, such as “Skill Share.” Then, once they knew each other, they did “Find True North,” which helped them understand what subjects each of them were passionate about and identify a community issue they wanted to change for the better. (We also let people go outside, to see how different spaces could influence they dynamics of the group.)

Past that point, the rest of the workshop was up to them—they were encouraged to reflect on what they’d learned using the Learning Cards in the CAT, then choose the activities they felt would best help them advance their efforts. Along the way, participants received feedback from myself, Scott Boylston, and the SCAD graduate students about what facilitation techniques would be most effective for different activities, as well as which activities could be chained together to achieve the best effects, based on participant feedback.

The last hour of the workshop was spent sharing what each group had discovered. Sharing divergent paths through a topic, or multiple topics, was critical for us to understand that there is no one prescriptive way to arrange the activities in the CAT to achieve a desired result. Instead, the dialogue and collective intelligence of the group helps the facilitator to understand what next one or two activities make the most sense.

We’ll be continuing to conduct this workshop with local communities and student groups. Our next workshop is today at Art Center College of Design in Los Angeles, sponsored by Designmatters.

David Sherwin is an interaction design director at frog. He has built his reputation as a design leader, interaction designer, and researcher with 17 years of experience in generating compelling solutions for systemic business problems. David is the author of Creative Workshop: 80 Challenges to Sharpen Your Design Skills and Success by Design: The Essential Business Reference for Designers. You can follow David on Twitter @changeorder.