The SCAD graduate students split up into teams and gathered around their copies of the Collective Action Toolkit (CAT), considering their homework assignment for their next class period. Their task: To pilot the first activity they would use with local high school students as their first introduction to working together in a group. In two days, they’d have to do a dry run with their classmates. As they looked over the toolkit’s action map, they began to where they should they begin? By having a “Knowledge Fest” or a “Skill Share?” By helping their group identify a goal right away, or by having fun and getting to know each other?
The CAT has been out for almost two months, and from the emails and conversations we’ve received since releasing the CAT, situations such as the above are happening more and more. The toolkit is being deployed far more broadly than expected, such as in our new Chinese language edition. People are finding new uses for it, from local education to entrepreneurship in global organizations. And we’ve embarked on our first educational pilot, working with SCAD’s Design for Sustainability program.
How did this happen? And in what ways can you use the CAT that you may not have considered?
Creating a Flexible Model for Effective Group Action
When our team created the CAT, we’d envisioned our original target audience was a local community leader (anyone with the initiative to solve a problem) who wanted to work with a group (at least three other people) to make the solution real.
This may seem like a general audience to address, but our approach was to determine what group situations would be universal in any problem-solving situation, from the initial agreement on a goal through to planning how to act on a solution. Once we’d identified those situations, we were able to create draft activities.
As we stress-tested the first drafts of CAT activities, we used a sample problem that we had seen in our own communities: How could we work together to create a community garden?
Very quickly, we discovered that this seemingly small problem touched upon a wide set of issues that transcended what seemed like a very tangible goal. Questions started to swirl: What is the best way to encourage healthier eating in a community? How can we best provide clean water for community farming? What best approaches should a community take to run a shared garden? We found that additional activities needed to be created to help those conversations and questions find a venue within the group, both for discussion, the building of consensus, and collective action on those ideas. Along the way, we had to establish through the mechanics of each activity effective patterns of group behavior, as well as encourage healthier collaboration habits for the individual participants through specific facilitation tips in each activity area.
But how the activities would connect and flow together was a primary concern. We shied away from establishing a process that would require the community leader to “bake,” where making a mistake with a specific proportion of an activity ingredient would cause immediate failure. Instead, the community leader chooses activities in the CAT as they would when cooking a meal, considering what recipe would achieve the desired result and adjusting the ingredients as necessary to help their group take shared steps towards that result. This approach would allow the leader to adapt their approach based on new thinking. The activities would require everyone in the group to share new opinions and ideas before coming to consensus, rather than a leader trying to create consensus solely around their own ideas and excluding critical ingredients. This is one of the biggest traps that any group can fall into.
Encouraging Entrepreneurship and Growth within Organizations
Community leaders have contacted us to let us know that they plan to use it to address community issues in the manner we’d outlined above. But what we’ve heard from other CAT users is that they could take the same activities and “cooking” approach and use them in other ways.
You can use the CAT as a flexible model for how groups can operate effectively within organizations. If you work at a for-profit or nonprofit venture, you can use the CAT to:
Work with entrepreneurs and multidisciplinary groups in established businesses to behave more like startups. People are using the CAT as a model for groups of people to come together and collaborate on new business ideas. Based on demand for this use case beyond the English edition, Azure Yang and Shine Chu localized the CAT into Chinese and launched an official Chinese-language edition at Startup Weekend Shanghai to encourage its use in this manner.
Help employees in organizations understand how to collaborate better. The action map and activities can serve as a template for an organization to adapt how they work to invite stronger collaboration and communication across disparate business groups or departments. For example: An independent consulting team has been using the CAT with a local NGO in Nairobi as a framework to encourage more efficient and effective management within the NGO.
New Educational Approaches for Collaboration, Creativity, and Community Problem Solving
In the realm of education—an area that I’m passionate about improving—the CAT is being utilized in many ways. You can use the CAT to:
Inspire students to investigate local issues and generate creative solutions. Teachers in schools, colleges, and community organizations have seen the CAT activities as a way to inspire creative and critical-thinking skills, whether on its own or in concert with traditional STEM curricula (science, technology, English, and math).
Encourage more student-centric content within school curricula. Teachers can use CAT activities with students to have them help voice what topics and issues are most appropriate to for specific learning objectives.
Provide teachers and leaders with templates for group facilitation. Teachers and designers have told us that the CAT's activities—especially in the “Clarify Your Goal” and “Build Your Team” activity areas—add more tools to their toolbox in facilitating student and faculty groups.
But one area I’m most excited about is how the CAT helps students better collaborate and co-design with community groups. Design teachers are exploring ways that the CAT can be involved in design curricula across many disciplines, especially in domains that require the direct participation of local community members for project success.
In order to further this type of use, SCAD's Design in Sustainability program is collaborating with frog to conduct our first educational pilot of the CAT. I’ve been working in partnership with Scott Boylston, a professor at SCAD and the founder of Design Ethos, on a graduate Design Practices seminar exploring how the CAT can be best used to help local organizations address community issues.
The local organization we are partnering with is Gatorball Academy, which is committed to the holistic mentoring of at-risk populations, with an emphasis on basketball, and obesity and diabetes prevention through healthy eating, exercise, and self-empowerment. A core objective of the academy is to encourage constructive competition both on the court and in the garden, with a focus on sportsmanship, citizenship, and entrepreneurship. Gator Rivers, the president of the organization, is a legendary Harlem Globetrotter (player and coach, 1973-1986) who has returned to his hometown of Savannah to give back to his community.
This class will explore the research and design opportunities that exist in the cross-pollination of the Collective Action Toolkit; design as a process of immersion, discovery, ideation and creation; and localized, sustainable initiatives. Their work will be shaped around a two-prong strategy:
Prong One: We will pilot the Community Action Toolkit with students from Savannah high schools that participate in Gatorball Academy. Both groups will be trained on how to use the CAT. Then, while one group will use the tool on their own over the course of the class, the other group’s efforts will be facilitated by class members. The process for both groups will be recorded, and documentation of comparative processes, overall team learnings, and outcomes will be created.
Prong Two: Gatorball Academy is a young organization with strong leadership and great potential to impact the lives of youth around the country. Their mix of sports, agriculture, and celebrity has equipped them with a highly unique DNA. In what ways can design advance their capacity, reach and impact? Prong Two will explore design solutions that leverage the organization’s unique qualities to further their mission, and to promote innovative triple bottom line initiatives. These solutions will be informed by what the class discovers in Prong One.
The students will be publicly sharing stories about what they’re learning throughout the class on the Design Ethos blog, and we’ll summarize here the class’s findings at the end of the quarter. You can read about our first class meetings here.
Let Us Know How You’re Using the CAT
Do you have a use case to add to the above list that would benefit others? Have something to share with us about how you are using the Collective Action Toolkit? Please send us your stories, and provide us feedback on how we can improve the CAT for the future, by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photographs are by Tiffany Lindeborn (Gator Rivers) and David Sherwin (SCAD classroom)
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.