UNIVERSITY OF CINCINNATI Date:
April 27th, 2009
hereby submit this original work as part of the requirements for the degree of:
Master of Design in
the School of Design
It is entitled:
Design and Empowerment: Learning from Community Organizing
This work and its defense approved by: Committee Chair:
Mike Zender M. Ann Welsh Ph.D.
Approval of the electronic document: I have reviewed the Thesis/Dissertation in its final electronic format and certify that it is an accurate copy of the document reviewed and approved by the committee. Committee Chair signature:
Design and Empowerment: Learning from Community Organizing
A thesis submitted to the Graduate School of the University of Cincinnati in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Design in the School of Design of the Design, Art, Architecture, and Planning College
by Ramsey Ford
B.S. University of Cincinnati 2003
Committee Chair: Mike Zender Committee Members: Craig Vogel and Anne Welsh
Abstract: Should designers move past creating ‘tools which empower’ impoverished communities to ‘empowering impoverished communities’ to make tools? As designers have begun to work on the complex problems associated with global poverty they have slowly documented methods and identified best practices for creating social impact through design. One such practice is to increase the capacity of impoverished communities to solve problems. However, little has been written on how to accomplish this task. This thesis looks to community organizers for insight on community empowerment. It analyzes and compares design and community organizing in order to identify compatible and complimentary aspects of each profession. This comparison is used to suggest benefits each profession would realize from working with the other. The thesis culminates in the presentation of a novel approach for creating social impact through design and community organizing that moves beyond collaboration and into hybridization.
Copyright 2009: Ramsey Ford
Kate Hanisian, my wife, for her inspiration, support, and feedback. Sarah Laichas for her editing prowess. My committee for their guidance.
Table of Contents:
Introduction: Starting from the social model of design
Victor Margolin and the social model of design
Social innovation, design for social impact, and economic development
The best practice of developing local capacity
Learning from community organizing
Analysis of design
Introduction to chapter two
What is design for social impact?
The history of design for social impact
The current practice of design for social impact
The core value of designers
The design process
Summary of chapter two
Analysis of community organizing
Introduction to chapter three
What is community organizing?
Organizing and social learning theory
Community organizing in the United States
The power-based model
The community building model
The transformative model
The women-centered model
Focus on the power based model
The core value of community organizers
The community organizing process
Entering the community
Developing the community organization
Leaving the community
Summary of chapter three
Comparison of design for social impact and community organizing
Introduction to chapter four
Similarities between designers and organizers
Focus on individual relationships
Differences between organizers and designers
Goals and objectives
Ownership of change
Summary of similarities and differences
Cast study: The Q Drum
Q Drum Introduction
Design for social impact process applied to the Q Drum
Community organizing process applied to the Q Drum
Q Drum summary
Synthesis of the design and organizing processes
Design in the organizing process
Creative problem solving
Visual communication and branding
Organizing in the design for social impact process
Developing interpersonal relationships
Identifying opportunities and widening the possibilities
Community organizing and design for social impact hybrid
Finding opportunities in contrasting strengths
5.4.2 Goals and process
Challenges of the hybrid process for designers
Challenges of the hybrid process for organizers
Hybrid process applied to the Q Drum
Final assessment of the hybrid process
Developing tool versus empowering communities
5.5.3 Next Steps
List of Illustrations:
Illustration 2.5: Summary Design for Social Impact
Illustration 3.6: Summary Community Organizing
Illustration 4.3.2: IDE Treadle Pump
Illustration 4.4: Comparison of Design and Organizing
Illustration 4.5.1: The Q Drum in Use
Illustration 4.5.2: Q Drum in Design for Social Impact Process
Illustration 4.5.3: Q Drum in Community Organizing Process
Illustration 4.5.4: Q Drum: Process Comparison
Illustration 5.4.1: Design and Organizing Hybrid Opportunities
Illustration 5.4.2: The Hybrid Process
Illustration 5.4.5: Q Drum in the Hybrid Process
Illustration 5.4.6: Q Drum: Design for Social Impact, Community Organizing, and Hybrid Comparison
Introduction: Starting from the social model of design “We believe that many professionals share the goals of designers who want to do socially responsible work, and therefore we propose that both designers and helping professionals find ways to work together.” –Victor Margolin, 2002
Victor Margolin and the social model of design In Victor Margolin’s 2002 article in Design Issues he calls on the design profession to
consider the “structures, methods, and objectives of social design.” He argues that while many designers work in the social context, little theory is developed around this emerging model. Instead, Margolin states, the focus of design theorists and educators remains on the prevalent “market model” of design. To address this, he proposes that social design research be done that communicates design’s value, measures design’s success, and educates designers to have social impact. In the seven years since Margolin wrote this article, the social design movement has continued to gain momentum. This thesis is written to add to that progress.
Social innovation, design for social impact, and economic development In this thesis we refer to what Margolin called social design as design for social impact.
In his article, Margolin defines the difference between the market and social models of design not through their processes, but through their priorities. This is because the market and social models both employ similar processes, but the way that they measure success is different. This
focus on the results of design is essential to the definition of design for social impact and will be explained more fully in chapter one. Design for social impact has emerged within the broader context of the social innovation movement. Therefore, to understand design for social impact it is important to understand social innovation. Social innovation is defined as “a novel solution to a social problem” (Phills, 2008). Over the past twenty-five years, non-profits, governments, and businesses have realized that the complexity of global problems, such as climate change and poverty, require new solutions that can not be limited to a specific sector or expertise. This acknowledgement has led to the discovery of tactics, theories, and strategies that transcend sectors and create lasting change (Phills, 2008). These can be referred to as social innovations. Many of these social innovations have taken place in the area of development economics. This includes innovations like the appropriate technologies movement, the realization of microfinance, and the market-based approach to development. This final area, the market-based approach to economic development, has been a focus of design for social impact over the past several years. Market-based economic development simply means that the process for wealth creation relies on market mechanisms rather than policy changes or charity. This focus is visible through the efforts of design’s own Smithsonian museum, the Cooper-Hewitt, which in 2007 featured an exhibit on Design for the other 90%. This exhibit showcased design solutions to social problems such as clean drinking water, rural communications, and disaster recovery. Cynthia Smith, the curator of the Cooper-Hewitt exhibit, explains that design can further economic development by working with impoverished populations to develop low-cost technologies which promote local economic growth and a way out of poverty (Smith, 2007, 11).
This idea is expanded by Paul Polak, founder of International Development Enterprises (IDE), who explains that identifying poor communities as groups of consumers allows for businesses and designers to create important tools for poverty alleviation (Polak, 2008, 196). IDE is a good example of how design operates in the field of economic development. IDE works around the globe developing and marketing products that help small plot farmers increase their yields. The increased income generated by these crops allows farmers to invest in healthcare and education for their families. These investments create positive social impact throughout the community and are the actual goal of IDE projects (www.ideorg.org, 2008).
The best practice of developing local capacity The market-based approach to economic development has a rich history of literature that
identifies best practices. One such best practice is to organize projects that develop local capacity and sustain economic development progress. This practice has its roots in the work of David Korten and the social learning theorists. During the 1970s, Korten worked for USAID in Asia and developed a theory called the learning process approach to development. This approach uses a participatory process that requires a constant evaluation of progress to learn from failures and successes. He suggests that sustained economic development is reliant on the creation of local problem-solving capacity. This concept has been practiced and established as an important indicator of the long-term success of economic development projects (Sherwood, 2001). This sentiment is echoed by George Soros who identifies local ownership of development programs as vital to the economic development of impoverished communities (Soros, 2006, 137).
Design theorists agree with economic development theorists that developing local capacity is the most significant way to create impact. IDEO, the leading design organization on design for social impact, identifies the development of local capacity to solve problems as one of the largest potential impacts of design projects (Brown, 2008, 67). This view is supported by other design for social impact practitioners who identify that the development of local innovative capacity is vital to the success of any design for social impact project (Thomas, 2006 and Donaldson, 2008).
Learning from community organizing Even as design has identified local capacity building as an important aspect of design for
social impact work, very few projects succeed in actually building the capacity of a local community to problem solve (Donaldson, 2008). Most of these projects employ the concept of participatory design, or human centered design, to involve the community in the design process (Amir, 2004). While useful for developing appropriate solutions, the participatory design process does not create local capacity to solve problems. This thesis presents an opportunity for design to learn more about building local capacity. When Margolin argues for a better understanding and practice of design for social impact, he identifies the field of social work as a good place to gain this understanding. He points out that the social work process has social impact as its goal and that there are several points in their processes where designers could be of service. In working with social workers, designers could directly engage in the process of creating social impact (Margolin, 2002). If
social work offers insight to social practice in general, which field of study can offer insights to specifically developing local capacity? Community organizing focuses on building the capacity of communities. This is done by bringing members of a community together and providing them with the tools to help themselves (Mattessich, 1997, 60). Community organizing has many well documented successes and is currently practiced and taught throughout the world. These features make it an appropriate field of study for designers to both work with and learn from.
Thesis organization The terms design and design for social impact are used concurrently in this thesis. Except
when explicitly noted, the term design is meant to encompass the specific focus on design for social impact. Design for social impact is used when a passage relies on an aspect of this subset that is unlike the traditional design profession. In this thesis, design and community organizing are analyzed individually. Each profession is studied to gain insight to its history, motives, and processes, as well as the core value that each profession provides. Then, these analyses are used to compare the two professions. The comparison identifies compatible and complimentary aspects of each profession. It explains the similarities and differences between the two professions and is used in the final chapter of the thesis to suggest how the two professions can benefit each other. The final chapter culminates in the suggestion of an integrated approach to building local capacity that reflects aspects of both professions. This approach is analyzed and final findings are reported in the conclusion. Â
The problems that designers interested in social impact attempt to solve are not simple. These complex social and economic problems are solvable only by applying the approaches from diverse fields of study (Phills, 2008). As a profession, design must consider how to work outside of comfortable silos and thought processes. The integrated approach is a merger of design and organizing that capitalizes on opportunities that exist between them. Moving beyond collaboration into hybridization, the integrated approach is a novel method for designers interested in solving complex social problems.
Analysis of design “What is the nature of a discipline that brings together knowledge from so many other disciplines and integrates it for the creation of successful products that have impact on human life?” –Richard Buchanan, 2001
Introduction to chapter two This chapter begins by defining design for social impact and explores its history and
current practices. The chapter then explores the actual processes that designers use to employ these skills. While it does not present a detailed set of methods used in designing, it does analyze the structure of a typical design for social impact process. A visual summary of this process and skill set can be found in the conclusion of this chapter.
What is design for social impact? In practice, design for social impact is very similar to the traditional design process. In
fact, it is defined as the application of the design process to create products or services that result in positive social change in communities (IDEO, 2008, 7). The success of a design can be measured by matching the planned with the actual results of a design (Jones, 1970, 4). In design for social impact, the primary planned result is positive social change. Positive social change is a vague concept that is identified with a wide array of goals. In this thesis, positive social change is identified with improved quality of life that is the result of economic development and the
building of local problem solving capacity. To help illustrate this definition, this section will describe the roots of design for social impact and give examples of current practitioners.
The history of design for social impact The design for social impact movement of today has its roots in the critical analysis of
design, which has typically focused on the impact that design has on the world. Critique of design began almost immediately after its inception. One of the earliest formal design schools, the Bauhaus, was formed by Walter Gropius after World War I to provide a rational basis for the industrial production of what had previously been craft-based products (Bayer, 1938). One of its professors, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, became well known for his position that design must focus on the user, stating that designers must â€œlay down the basis for an organic system of production whose focal point is man, not profitâ€? (Moholy-Nagy, 1928). This line of thinking was within the sensibilities of the Bauhaus. They believed that their focus on form and material resulted in objects that would enable the majority of people to enjoy an improved quality of life (Woodham, 1997). It was not until after World War II that critics of design began to seriously differ from the mainstream design movement. The end of World War II saw the economic and political rise of the United States and thus the rise of the American designer. The American designer, as represented by Raymond Loewy, Harold Van Doren, and Walter Teague, was different from the designers of the European Bauhaus. The Europeans were part of an intellectual movement that thought of design as a process of creating form from the inside out. The new American designer, trained mostly in illustration and theater design, focused on the outside alone, and rode to prominence on the Â
concept of planned obsolescence (Lorenz, 1990). Planned obsolescence is a method of increasing consumption where products go out of style before they become non-functional; thus encouraging consumers to purchase replacement products at shorter intervals. The American model of design was both powerful and popular. It became the model of choice around the world as designers looked to create a place for themselves in their respective economies (Thackara, 1988). Like the Bauhaus movement, the American movement had a few dissenters from within its ranks. Among the original stars of American industrial design, Henry Dreyfuss presented one of the few counterpoints to the mainstream methods of superfluous styling. Dreyfuss, a modernist, focused on satisfying the end user through styling, but also through utility, safety, maintenance, and cost (Dreyfuss, 1955, 84). The majority of American designers of the 1950s and 1960s continued to make design synonymous with styling and aligned design solely with capitalist corporations. As consumer culture grew, design solidified itself as part of the “formation of a system of perpetual innovation which creates a super-abundance of products, and mass user dissatisfaction with them” (Thackra, 1988). The first widely disseminated argument against the practice of design came in 1971 from Victor Papanek. In his book, Design for the Real World, Papanek presents a scathing review of the impact of design on the world, claiming that design is one of the most harmful professions that exists. He also presents a means for avoiding participation, to some extent, in this “brutal profession.” His suggestions focus on design for the third world, and provoke designers to spend a portion of their professional time engaging in this work. The book, now translated into 23 languages, is one of the bestselling design books available and is the originator of the movement in design to consider and act in a more ethical manner. It even led the International Council of
Societies of Industrial Design (ICSID) to focus its 1976 conference on “Design for Need.” Papanek represents a point of departure that made interest in non-consumer design a viable point of discussion. However, the interest in ethical or social design still remained a minority point of view in the profession. In his well known critique of design, Design for Society, Nigel Whiteley (1993) shows that awareness and support for social design was largely ignored because there was a counter argument that existed within design. First, there was both an assumption that unlimited growth was possible and that product creation and consumption could grow without social or environmental impacts. Second, designers argued that the responsibility of the design stopped with the satisfaction of the consumer and the producer. The design field had become so engrained in the context of business that it lacked the ability to critically self-analyze its larger role and impact on the world (Thackara, 1988). The environmental movement of the 1980s and 1990s began to change this point of view as the impacts of consumerist society became more evident to average citizens and designers. In addition, the development of new communication technologies and global political restructuring opened up previously closed borders, resulting in a much more transparent and connected world. The perspectives offered by this flat world made ignoring the problem associated with the global economy—and design in particular—much more difficult (Friedman, 2007, 51–199).
The current practice of design for social impact The design for social impact movement of today consists of a wide array of practitioners.
These practitioners come from all areas of design expertise and regions of the world. They have
different functions and priorities. They are non-profits, for-profits and hybrids. They partner with foundations, governments, social service providers, and corporate social responsibility initiatives. The two examples described below, IDE and WorldStudio, are good examples of the varied structures of design for social impact practitioners. IDE was founded in 1981 by Paul Polak with the mission of affecting world poverty through individual small plot farmers. Polak’s organization reapplies technology to make it affordable for impoverished sustenance farmers. The technology, often water pumps and irrigation systems, allows farmers to increase their production and thus raise their income (Armstrong, 2005). IDE has started businesses in Asia and Africa that now raise the wealth of small stakeholders by over $200 million a year. Their approach focuses on market development. To begin one of their enterprises, they look for the correct alignment of assets and needs within a country. These enterprises use local production, local sales, and local users to create sustainable wealth among multiple stakeholders. With each new product, IDE partners with local small businesses, international foundations, non-profit, and for-profit consultants to provide its solutions (www.ideorg.org, 2008). WorldStudio is a very different organization from IDE. It was founded by two “disillusioned” graphic designers in 1993 who wanted to experiment with how a for-profit design firm could become more socially responsible. They structured their organization so that a forprofit service could support a foundation with 10% of its profits. The primary goal of the foundation is to increase minority representation in design by encouraging young designers and artists to enter into the creative fields while maintaining a proactive relationship with their communities (www.worldstudio.com, 2009). They have started a creative mentoring program
and scholarship fund in New York City (Sterling, 2001), which has awarded over 100 scholarships to students in the past three years. IDE and WorldStudio are two examples of organizations that use the design process with the direct intent of creating positive social change. IDE creates products and business in developing countries, while WorldStudio provides direct creative mentoring in the United States. While the locations and processes are different, the overall goals are not: Using creative solutions to create positive social impact.
The core value of designers
In a corporate landscape dominated by engineers and marketers, designers often act as
catalysts of innovation. In multiple texts on design management it is argued that the core set of design skills are imagination and creativity, visual communication, consumer empathy, and inclusive planning. This section relies heavily on The Design Dimension (1990) by Christopher Lorenz, Winning by Design (1992) by Vivien Walsh and Design Management (2003) by Brigette Borja de Mozota. Creativity and visual communication are closely linked skills for designers. While designers do not have a monopoly on creative problem solving, they are trained to develop creative approaches. Although marketers and engineers may use imagination in their work, designers must employ imagination in their craft (Lorenz, 1990, 23). Creativity is closely linked with the ability of a designer to visually communicate ideas. While graphic, industrial, and digital designers (among others) all use different tools for visual communication, they all share
the ability to visually communicate. Therefore, the basic values of design are visual communication and creative process skills (Mozota, 2003, 12). In business, design is often closely related to marketing, and is thus connected closely with the consumer. Designers are taught to observe and research consumer preferences and their environments. Embracing this user-oriented approach has enabled design to add a great deal of value in the product development process (Mozota, 2003, 83–116). Tom Kelley, chief executive officer of IDEO, explains that when designers spend time in real-life situations with consumers, the insights that they apply to a project are nothing less than “magic” (Peters, 2005, 96). While design and marketing share the responsibility for satisfying the consumer, design is often the only group that is in touch with both the consumer and the technology, bridging the gap between marketing and engineering (Lorenz, 1990, 152).
To satisfy the needs of both marketers and engineers, designers have learned to plan for
varied and divergent inputs. Inclusive planning is a process for incorporating all of the diverse requirements that must be met in a successful project. These requirements involve matching appearance, cost, ergonomics, and quality with the expectations and environments of consumers (Kotler, 1984). The process of inclusive planning is also applied by designers to define the identity of a company. This action, where designers contribute consistency to the aesthetic and symbolic expressions of a company, is referred to as branding (Mozota, 2003, 107–108). While branding represents the fusion of all aspect of a company, the skill of inclusive planning is used at its highest level when designers are asked to serve an integrative function within the company. When applied throughout the process of development, the integrative function of design helps create success by reducing the time and energy it takes to develop a product (Walsh, 1992, 116).
The design process The work of John Chris Jones informs this review of the design process. In his book,
Design Methods (1970), Jones calls for an update on the current practice of design and details new design processes. He understands that design is involved in the changing of complex systems and that its traditional methods, which focus on drafting, are not sufficient (6). Jones believes that design is moving from an era of drawing objects into an era of planning systems of interaction. He documents a general process of design that involves a front-end focus on the world of the user (61). His work is the basis for many of the processes that designers use today. In order to make Jones’ work applicable to design for social impact projects, it is paired with insights from the “Human Centered Design” (HCD) document created by IDEO. It builds on Jones’ structure and is appropriate for comparison with community development methodologies because it focuses on design in impoverished communities. The HCD document was created based on extensive field work and in partnership with international development non-profits Heifer International and IDE. The design process, according to these texts, is divided into three stages. The first stage is divergence, and is defined as an exploratory and open period of the design process. In the second stage, transformation, these explorations are structured and creative solutions are identified. During the final stage, convergence, the designer brings the solution in line with the realities of the environment and delivers a final product.
Divergence Divergence focuses on research, cultivation of an open mind, and analysis (Hammond,
1994, 51). This stage identifies all the unknowns of a project, such as user expectations, material costs, and environmental impact, and then analyzes how these will impact the solution (Jones, 1970, 64). Research begins with the assumption that the problem has not been defined, or if it has been defined, that the designer still needs to explore and understand which points are fixed and which can be altered. This process establishes the project scope. Traditionally this exploration considers consumer needs, market competition, and manufacturing restraints (Jones, 1970, 64– 65). However, in human-centered design, the research is focused more specifically on the user. This research strives to uncover the deep needs, desires and aspirations of the users, as well as to discover the social, political, and economic barriers and opportunities that exist for a community. Human-centered research takes leg work. Best practice suggests that the closer the designer can get to the true experience of the user, the better. This generally involves individual and group interviews, but ideally includes immersion through direct participation in the user’s daily experience. Immersive research is used to inspire the design team to question their assumptions and create solutions that are appropriate for the user group (IDEO hear, 2008, 1–9). Successful research requires that the designer avoid judging the new knowledge they are gaining (Jones, 1970, 65). This is a difficult task because people generally interpret what they see through their past experiences and react accordingly. It is counterintuitive to keep a truly open mind while actively observing. The ability to observe without judging or filtering is called the beginner’s mind. Developing a beginner’s mind takes practice and self awareness on the part of
the designer (IDEO hear, 2008, 24). This mindset takes detachment and mental flexibility. In many ways, the designer must act like scientist, working without a preconceived solution so that the experiment will not be tainted (Jones, 1970, 65).
Transformation In this stage, the designer assembles research and must synthesize these findings into
opportunity areas that suggest possible solutions. The activity of transforming research into solutions is central to the design process. This stage varies by project inputs, but always involves two steps: the synthesis of research to identify opportunities and the conceptualization of solutions (Jones, 1970, 66–7). Identifying opportunities involves seeing patterns in the research. In human-centered design, these patterns often emerge from stories, or from specific insights from users’ lives. These stories are collected and searched for connections or commonalities (IDEO create, 2008, 4–8). These connections are useful only when they reflect reality. Thus, feedback from users is essential to validating the connections. At this point, the designer often employs the core skill of visualization to create diagrams that reflect these connections. The goal of diagramming is to simplify complex inputs so that they can be easily understood and analyzed (Jones, 1970, 61–66). These diagrams provide a baseline for understanding the issues that affect the outcome of the project and make it easier to identify opportunity areas. Once the opportunity areas are identified, they are used to drive the development of solutions (IDEO create, 2008, 13–16).
Developing solutions to match the opportunity areas, a process often referred to as conceptualization, consists of brainstorming and prototyping (Apselund, 2006, 67–74). Brainstorming is an activity of focused creative energy that allows the designer to think expansively about the opportunity areas. Brainstorming is centered on the concept of deferred judgment–ideas that are generated and not evaluated until later (IDEO create, 2008, 16). This enables the design team to function within an environment safe for creative expression. After the brainstorming period, ideas are assessed, grouped, and then developed by the designer. This often occurs in visual form and then moves to testable prototypes as quickly as possible. Prototypes are disposable tools that are used to validate ideas. Designers should share the prototypes with users in order to get feedback. The prototyping prepares the design for the final stage of the process (IDEO create, 2008, 17–21).
Convergence Convergence is the final stage of the design process. The success of this stage is directly
related to how well the transformation stage is executed (Jones, 1970, 68). In this stage, the design evolves in response to real world constraints, the final solution is implemented, and its success is evaluated. Constraints are real-world limits that affect the design. Constraints can emerge from production capabilities, financing, marketing, the environment, or even from the design team itself (Apselund, 2006, 50–59). Working within constraints is essential for the design to be successful when implemented. Many of these considerations are summed up by addressing the cost versus value of a design. If it costs more to deliver a product than the product is worth to the
user, then the design will fail (IDEO deliver, 2008, 3–7). Throughout this process, the designer must keep the intention of the design in mind and not change it in order to overcome a constraint. Unlike the beginner’s mind employed in the divergence stage, this stage requires a rigid mindset that relies on rational thinking (Jones, 1970, 68). As the design successfully incorporates the constraints, it becomes ready for implementation. Implementation should not be viewed as a one-time event. Successful implementation takes planning and practice that can be achieved through pilot runs. Pilot runs involve small scale attempts at delivering the design solution by using all of the channels that are planned for the final delivery. These should be used as opportunities to further refine the design and the process for its delivery to users (IDEO deliver, 2008, 10–13). When the design has fully incorporated real-world constraints it is ready for market. If successful on market the design can support itself through a sustainable revenue stream. Once the design has been delivered, the impact and success of the design should be measured and communicated. This measurement should reflect the original opportunity that the design was meant to explore. If the intensions of the designer match the final impact of the design, then it can be deemed successful (Jones, 1970, 4). Finally, the designer should communicate and publish the findings of their evaluation. This allows for the entire design community to grow from the experience.
Summary of chapter two The chart and graph below provide an overview of this chapter. The chart summarizes the
core skills that designers employ and the general goal of a design for social impact project. The
diagram shows the basic steps that a design for social impact project will undertake, with the end goal of a sustainably funded product or service. The diagrams used in this thesis are inspired by the work of George Honadle. Honadle created similar diagrams to explain the process of creating self-reliance in a community through a planned development project. The process is described as a “starter motor” to development, meaning that it is designed to occur once and result in a self-sustaining course of action. It is adaptable to the design for social impact and community organizing processes because both serve as catalysts, or starter motors, of change (Honadle, 1985, 66).
Illustration 2.5: Summary Design for Social Impact
Analysis of community organizing “The people themselves are the future.” –Saul Alinsky, 1946
Introduction to chapter three This chapter begins by defining community organizing, and then outlines the history and
current state of organizing in the United States. The chapter then explores the core skills of organizers and the processes that organizers use to employ these skills. While it does not present a detailed set of methods used in community organizing, it does analyze the structure of a typical organizing process. A visual summary of the community organizing process and skill set can be found in the conclusion of this chapter.
What is community organizing? Community organizing is the process of bringing people together and providing them
with tools to help themselves (Mattesich et al., 1997, 60). In many cases, community organizing is aimed at building power within a community so that the community can win real local improvements and eventually alter their relationship with larger power structures. The power of community organizing is illustrated here by Saul Alinsky: “When people are brought together, or organized, they get to know each other’s point of view; they reach compromises on many of their differences, they learn that many opinions which they maintained solely as their own are shared by others, and they discover that many problems which they had thought of only as
‘their’ problems, are common to all. Out of all this social interplay emerges a common agreement …” This understanding that personal issues are generally related to larger social issues is an important step toward empowering a community to work for change (Alinsky, 1969, 56). Empowerment, an essential aspect of community organizing, is any activity pursued by a community to increase community social capacity (Mattesich et al., 1997, 60). People want to obtain things through their own work. The opportunity to create change through a self-run organization is both motivating and empowering (Alinsky, 1969, 54).
Organizing and social learning theory The concept of creating an empowered community through the creation local capacity is
underpinned by the social learning theory. Social learning theory was developed in the 1990’s as a critique of traditional formal education which separates knowledge from action (Fox, 2006). The theory explains that most learning is the result of direct interaction with a person who knows a specific skill. It stresses that this learning tends to be improvised, rather than dictated. Most importantly for community organizing, the social learning theory identifies “communities of practice”— social or work groups in which learning occurs outside of traditional education. In these communities knowledge is not centered in an individual but is shared by all members of the community (Lave and Wenger, 1991, 93-94). This well established theory directly supports the strategy of community empowerment that community organizers employ.
Community organizing in the United States Community organizing in the United States became a formal area of expertise during the
Great Depression. It began primarily as a means for disenfranchised communities to gain power and has grown to include a wide variety of community based activities (Smock, 2004, 13-66). The following section summarizes the history of community organizing in the United States and describes some its primary models.
The power-based model Most historians would point to Saul Alinsky as the individual responsible for the
popularization of community organizing in the United States. Alinsky rose to prominence in the late 1930s after successfully organizing the “Back of Yards Neighborhoods” in Chicago’s meat packing district (Smock, 2004, 14). Alisnky’s method was to create a powerful community organization that could change the balance of power, often through conflict, within a small region. Alinsky’s methods have become known as the “power-based model of community organizing.” The basic tenet of this approach is that urban problems are a result of a lack of power in poor communities and that to gain power there needs to be conflict. In power-based organizations, organizers are tasked with identifying and developing leaders. This process often sees “outside” organizers engaging in intense one-on-one relationships with “inside” leaders. In this relationship the organizer works behind the scenes to encourage the development of an organization, while the leaders work openly with the community. These leaders go through training to become effective public speakers and political agitators. Their skills are then applied
to campaigns as the organization grows. Eventually, these leaders identify and train new leaders to grow the organization (Smock, 2004, 38–42).
The community building model The power-based model of organization came to dominate U.S. organizing and has
greatly influenced subsequent models. However, over the past 40 years, the community organizing movement has moved away from such oppositional tactics and more towards positive community development. This type of community development focuses on positive visions for the community and defines power as the development of untapped technical skills and capacity. This model, often referred to as the “community building model,” has become more prominent in the past two decades. In this approach the focus is on increasing the social and economic fabric of a community through established community leaders. These leaders– and their organizations– focus on building and communicating the community’s assets. The goal of community building is to increase the capacity of a neighborhood to solve problems through its local institutions (Smock, 2004, 59–65).
The transformative model While both the community building and power-based approaches have had success
creating change at a local level, they have been criticized for not dealing with the larger root causes of community problems. The transformative approach is very similar to the power-based model except that in addition to organizing on a local level, transformative organizers also look
to change the larger system. Conceptually, this change is made possible through popular education. Popular education is the process of developing an understanding of collective history within a community so that the community can create societal change (Cadena, 1984). In practice, the transformative model often creates a two-tier system where low-income leaders focus on short-term needs, and middle-income leaders, who have more formal training and economic flexibility, focus on understanding systemic change (Smock, 2004, 49â€“54).
The women-centered model There is one other model that is used by organizers when working with impoverished
communities. It is referred to as the women-centered model because it is generally applied to groups of women. It is not widely applied in the United States, but is worth mention because it is often used in developing countries for the application of micro-loans (Servon, 2002). The women-centered model draws women to public life by emphasizing the connection between personal and public issues. This model appeals to women and gives them a basic gathering opportunity for support and networking. These gatherings begin by encouraging personal growth and empowerment. Empowerment occurs as women draw connections between their personal issues and larger social issues and make steps to solve these personal and public problems. Although leaders emerge as women accomplish goals, leadership is often shared among group members. While this model serves to empower communities of women, it is often criticized for being both labor intensive and slow to grow (Smock, 2004, 44â€“48).
Focus on the power based model This thesis uses both the power-based and community building models of organizing in
its analysis. The power-based model is used because it is the root of the other models and is still widely applied in the United States. The community building model, which is also widely applied in the United States, is used because of its focus on developing local capacity. Together these two provide a suitable cross-section of methods and objectives for comparison with the design for social impact process.
The core value of community organizers The work of a community organizer is “extremely labor intensive.” It requires constant
attention to identifying and developing leaders, building organizations, raising funds, engaging in lobbying and occasional direct action, conducting research, and developing media savvy (Drier, 2007). This work takes place behind the scenes because the primary goal of the community organizer is to be a catalyst for community empowerment, rather than be a leader (Fischer, 1994, 109). The catalytic nature of an organizer’s position requires that the organizer possess the ability to foster deep interpersonal relationships and to strategically plan the community’s goals. In order to develop deep interpersonal relationships, the community organizer needs to understand the culture, social structure, and political structure of the community. It also requires an intimate engagement with community members and commitment to the community as a whole. The organizer needs to be sincere in his commitment. This involves becoming attached to people in the community, participating in honest relationships, and keeping the community’s long-term benefit in mind at all times. This relationship is built on trust and takes time and effort
to develop (Mattesich et al., 1997, 44â€“49). The ability to maintain relationships is often considered to be the foremost trait of a successful community organizer because all other aspects of creating a successful organization rest on these relationships. The ability to see the community as an objective outsider and apply insights to a strategic plan are essential for the creation of a strong community organization. A successful organizer will focus on product and process concurrently, and strategically plan actions to foster both. This allows the organization to grow its capabilities while providing tangible change for the community. Goals should start simple and become more complex, providing the community with achievements while it grows (Mattesich et al., 1997, 33â€“35). The value that organizers provide in creating relationships and providing strategic planning is reinforced by reviewing a general process of community organizing.
The community organizing process The organizing process is not always linear and is rarely pursued within a pre-set amount
of time. The duration and difficulty of the community organizing process is determined by the social, economic, and cultural attributes of the community. This section gives an overview of the process based on several expert accounts. The process of community organizing can be broken into three overlapping sections. These sections are entering the community, which involves research and relationship building; developing the community organization, which focuses on the development of leaders and the pursuit of issues; and leaving the community when it has established a sustainable organization.
Entering the community A successful project relies on research that explains the larger social issues that affect the
community, the ability of the community to organize for change, and the social customs of the community. Understanding the language, political system, environment, and industry that surrounds a community is essential for having a greater understanding of its formal and informal power structure (Kahn, 1970, 11â€“12). This research often leads to a basic understanding of what the community may be able to provide in terms of organization. For example, the existence of basic community structures, such as neighborhood organizations, will make it easier to build social capacity, reach consensus, and cooperate in action within the community. In addition to community structures, having established leaders in a community will greatly aid in the development of a community organization. Often communities that exhibit these characteristics may already have awareness of an issue and the ability to motivate towards solving problems related to it (Mattesich et al., 1997, 20â€“26). Community organizing relies on personal relationships, and thus researching the local customs is equally as important as understanding the larger issues that may affect the organization. Alinsky advises organizers to get to know local traditions, values, and language ahead of time. In order to work with people, they must be approached through mutual understanding. This understanding is fostered through expressing shared beliefs and values. Even local traditions that may not align with the organizers beliefs must be respected. It is not the role of the organizer to impose outside values on the community. Accepting the moral
standards of the community is essential to successfully engage and organize (Alinsky, 1969, 76–89). After researching the community, the organizer needs to create a strategy for entering the community. This strategy may vary between communities based on existing social structures or cultural standards, but it will always hinge on getting to know individuals in order to find out what issues are important to them. These issues can then be used to begin to build the community organization. An important aspect of entering a community is to live in the same area, and with similar standards, as the rest of the community. Living in the community means that the organizer should spend a good deal of time in public places, making their presence felt in a very visible manner. As the organizer begins to be seen as trustworthy within the community, they should begin make deeper contacts. These contacts should be used to make new contacts and the organizer should slowly build a network. It is important for the organizer to maintain these relationships. Every daily action can fulfill a part of the organizer’s strategy so that the organizer is continually working on building his network. During this process, the organizer is gaining an understanding of sub-groups, leadership, and informal power structures within the community (Kahn, 1970, 2–24). The organizer needs to develop an understanding of the points of view that affect community members’ everyday existence, as well as the larger context that influences these perceptions. This knowledge allows the organizer to place the individual within a larger social framework in order to understand their motivations. Culture defines the individual, and understanding this relationship is important to turning the individuals self interest into the
interest of the community. Through this process, an individuals’ motivation feeds the group motivation and provides the base for the formation of a community organization (Alinsky, 1969, 93–95, 103). Individual motivation is created from a variety of social dynamics which effect the way a person perceives the world. Smock (2004, 67) describes these as instrumental, affective, and normative. Instrumental motivators are tangible benefits, such as improved wages. Affective motivators involve the emotional attachment that an individual has to the community, such as memories of a favorite corner store. Normative motivators are the obligation that an individual has to principles. The breach of a local tradition by an outside institution could be considered a normative motivator. All of these can be used by the organizer to attract individuals to the organization.
Developing the community organization A community organization does not form on its own. Simply because people share the
same issues as their neighbors and understand that they are part of a larger social system does not necessarily enable a community to act. The community needs leaders and direction for addressing issues. Locating and developing community leaders is an essential aspect of community building. According to Kahn, “one of the organizer’s most important responsibilities within a community is to train local people as organizers to give them the skills and knowledge he himself has, so that they will be able to take over his functions in the community when he leaves (1970, 39).”
Community leaders are best identified through informal meetings with community members. In these conversations, leaders can usually be identified as the people that are turned to for advice (Alinsky, 1969, 64–66). Finding a leader through community members is important because it means that the leader is in line with community values. This can be difficult because often people will refer to a local doctor, lawyer, or other educated professional as a leader. These individuals are often well spoken and possibly even concerned about the community, but they are often not true leaders of the community because they are not actually of the community. Providing local leaders with opportunities to learn leadership skills is one of the most important aspects of the community organizer’s job. Most local leaders are not complete when they join the organization but need to develop skills of leadership, like public speaking or policy analysis. This is accomplished through the creation of positions which allow leaders to function in a broader capacity than they have in the past. These positions should involve planning and decision making for the organization, but should also involve a great deal of very visible public leadership activities. It is important for the organizer to remain behind the scenes in this development, so the community member is seen to lead (Bobo et al., 1991, 87–89). The process of developing leaders should not be rushed. Tasks should be developed that allow them to slowly gain experience and skills. Early tasks can involve simply gathering information, and can build to leading meetings and giving speeches. The more leaders engage in organizing the community, the stronger the organization will become. As the organization develops it will be able to affect issues in response to community needs (Kahn, 1970, 45). In order for the organization to grow, leaders need to recruit individuals from the community. Recruitment starts when the organizer begins to identify potential leaders and
convinces them to work with the organization. A best practice in this process is to recruit people to an action, not to a meeting. Actions, unlike meetings, force engagement (Kahn, 1970, 36–50). When recruiting new members it is important that there is a structure in place to introduce and engage these individuals. This structure will help the organization retain new members and begin to develop new leaders. In this manner, the activities of the organization will consistently build its internal capacity (Bobo et al., 1991, 9, 78–85). The community organization is oriented around issues. Issues are specific solutions to general problems, and they should always be used to build power and to build the organization (Bobo, 1991, 9). While choosing what issues are pursued is a democratic process, the organizer and leaders need to decide a plan of action that provides the organization with a victory. Victories are always two fold. They provide the direct result that was intended by the action, such as increased wages, and they empower the organization through the realization of the community’s own power (Bobo, 1991, 56).
Leaving the community Community organizations need to systematically gather information. This constant
measurement provides feedback, as well as skill-building tasks for community members (Mattesich et al., 1997, 37). The information gathered should identify the skills of leaders, the attitude of the community, the structure of the organization, the remaining needs, and the organizational accomplishments. This knowledge allows the organizer to measure the capacity of the organization to sustain itself. When the organization is strong enough to sustain itself, it is time for the organizer to leave.
The process of leaving should occur slowly; the organizer should begin to miss meetings and allow the leaders to take over his tasks. It is important for the organizer to say goodbye to everyone, being sure that everyone is aware of the accomplishments of the organization. After leaving the community, occasional contact is a good way for the organizer to show support.
Summary of chapter three
Similar to chapter two, the chart and graph below provide an overview of this chapter.
The chart summarizes the core skills that organizers employ and the general goal of a community organizing project. The diagram shows the basic steps that a community organizing project will undertake, with the end goal of a sustainable community organization.
Illustration 3.5: Summary Community Organizing
Comparison of design for social impact and community organizing “One can not achieve an optimal solution; one can only provide an optimal search.” –J. Christopher Jones, 1970
Introduction to chapter four Design and community organizing are both generalist practices, meaning that they
employ a wide range of skills in their efforts to solve problems. Generalists are defined by the types of problems that they attempt to solve and are differentiated by the skills they employ to create solutions (Kirst-Ashman, 2006, 5). Designers and organizers employ different skills in their attempts to solve problems. However, this chapter looks at the higher-level similarities and differences that arise when comparing the two fields of study.
Similarities between designers and organizers Both designers and organizers work to solve complex problems that require a deep
understanding of the people affected by their solution. Parallel practices emerge when comparing how designers and organizers address these complex problems. First, both serve as bridges, or catalysts, for their goals. Secondly, both provide the value of strategic planning through their core skills. Finally, both focus on individuals as an essential part of their process. Although these similarities exist between the professions, they are realized through very different skills sets.
Catalysts A catalyst is someone, or something, that precipitates an event or change, often without
being affected by the change. Precipitating change through the connection of people and ideas is essential to both the designer and the community organizer. The designer connects user insight with knowledge of markets and manufacturing to develop socially relevant and sustainable solutions. The organizer connects individuals to their community around shared issues so they can become empowered to create social and economic change. The design profession has matured within a business context that expects designers to become a bridge between marketers and engineers. To span this gap, designers have learned how to communicate about end users as well as manufacturing. Meeting the expectations of these two groups takes creativity, and allows for the creation of new and innovative solutions. Designers working for social impact maintain this practice through techniques that connect the needs of end users with the process of creating solutions. While community organizers also act as catalysts for change, the gap they bridge is different from that of designers. Organizers enter a community and begin to connect with individuals. These connections give the organizer an understanding of the communityâ€™s concerns. The organizer then creates awareness of the forces affecting the whole community. This catalyzes individuals around these issues and empowers them to create change.
Planning As catalysts, both designers and organizers strive to create change. To ensure that this
change is actually realized, both have developed core skills in planning. Whether synthesizing complex inputs for an optimal product solution, or satisfying multiple community goals, both professions rely on well developed planning skills to ensure that the multiple and conflicting inputs to their process can be either overcome or used to achieve their objectives. The function of planning has defined design since craft-based products became industrialized and automated. Early designers functioned as product planners â€” understanding the material and process of manufacturing and then drawing, or planning, the product on paper before it was created (Bayer, 1938). Today, planning a successful solution is more complicated. Designers need to incorporate input form a wide variety of sources, including user and market needs. These diverse demands on the final product have forced design to focus rigorously on planning in order to create a successful product. Community organizers function behind the scenes as planners in the development of an empowered community. They constantly consider how to internally build the organization and individual leaders, as well as how to match that internal growth with external forces and challenges. Considering each action and how it leads to the successful development of community capacity takes a considerable amount of strategic planning. The organizer brings an objective perspective to this task and can help guide the community until it is prepared to create and implement its own strategy.
Focus on individual relationships Designers and organizers are also adept at understanding an individualâ€™s wants and
needs. They are skilled at garnering individual concerns within the context of larger environmental issues. The designer uses these insights to create a more appropriate solution, while the organizer uses these insights to build a more robust community. Many designers, including those working for social impact, employ user-centered design techniques as a best practice. In this technique, the user is the source of insight for design opportunities and serves as an important feedback loop for the development of a solution. This requires the designer to develop a rapport with individuals and to understand them relative to their larger social, economic, and environmental context. To this end, designers have developed interpersonal skills that allow them to comfortably work with end users, and analytic skills that allow them to contextualize personal issues into larger themes. Because the organizer is often living in the community that she aims to empower she mayÂ develop several very personal relationships in this process. The organizer works through these
relationships to realize an empowered community. Early in the process the organizer develops relationships to locate leaders and to understand community issues. In the middle phase of the process the community organizer works individually with leaders to promote their development. Throughout the process the organizer helps the community see their personal issues as part of larger socioeconomic forces.
Differences between organizers and designers While many parallels arise in the problems that designers for social impact and
community organizers attempt to solve, their goals are not identical. The difference between their goals often is marked by the ownership of change. In the design process change is owned by the designer, while in the organizing process change is owned by the community. The concept of ownership drives the other process and objective differences, discussed below.
Process Design for social impact and community organizing processes begin and end very
similarly. They each start with researching and entering the community to develop relationships to further explore the needs of the population. Ideally, each ends with the creation of a sustainable solution and evaluation of the completed project. It is the middle stage of development where the processes separate. The middle stage of the design for social impact process, transformation, focuses on refining highly creative potential solutions into real world deliverables. This process highlights the designerâ€™s ability to synthesize insights into solutions. While the designer keeps the user in mind during this process, the user is generally absent from these activities, except as a feedback loop. In design for social impact, activities in this stage are driven by the goal of creating a product or service solution that will create quality of life improvements. The realization of this goal often requires corporate, or other outside partners, to finance and manufacture the solution. These external partnerships usually require a predetermined timeline that is much shorter than the timeline of a community organizing process.
In the central stage of the organizing process, developing, the organizer is working behind the scenes to build a community organization. This involves developing leaders individually and working with them to create strategies for developing organizational cohesion and strength. All of the actions of the organizer focus on building the communityâ€™s sense of power, as well as its capacity for using that power. This portion of the process allows the community to begin to take steps to solve its own problems. Communities range in size, adversity, and capacity, and thus the length of this stage can vary widely. In general, it is much longer than the timeline used in the design process.
Goals and objectives The processes employed by designers for social impact and community organizers differ
because their goals and objectives differ. The organizer attempts to empower a community through the creation of a self-sustaining community organization. The designer attempts to create social impact through the creation of a sustainably funded product or service. The creation of the product solution can provide shallow impact over a wide area, while the creation of an organization allows for deep impact in a narrow area. Impact created through a product or service can be significant but is limited to the number of and quality of solutions created. For example, in Ethiopia, IDE has sold over 1,300 treadle pumps, each of which results in a $250 gain in annual income for a farmer. This gain has a direct and positive impact on the farmerâ€™s family through allowing them to increase spending on health care and education (IDE Annual Report, 2007). The overall impact of this product is significant in terms of income and quality of life across many communities. However, the impact
of the treadle pump alone is often not enough to move a family out of poverty. The family must continue to wait for the development of more solutions like the pump in order to see additional life improvements. They are not empowered to create their own solutions.
Illustration 4.3.2: IDE Treadle Pump
While often less specific and discrete than the creation of a product or service, creating an empowered community has lasting effects that can continue past inception. Often the community is empowered to pursue a specific goal, such as forcing the regional government to improve local Â
roads. After this goal is accomplished the organization can continue to bring about other changes in the quality of the local community. This empowerment can have a deep impact on the lives of the community members; however, it is limited by lack of mobility and scalability. Unlike a treadle pump, the community organization can not easily be manufactured and shipped to affect other communities throughout a larger region.
4.3.3 Ownership of change As described in the previous passage, there are strengths and weaknesses to the design for social impact and community organizing methods of change making. While both are working to create positive social impact, their processes and goals are differentiated by ownership. The designer working for social impact functions within a community for as long as is necessary to collect inputs for the process. At best, a majority of the process will take place within the community. However, even when this occurs, the designer maintains control over the process. The specific development of a service or product is a specialized task that requires specific talents to complete, and these talents are often underdeveloped or nonexistent within an impoverished community. The design for social impact process is oriented around these specialized skills, and thus the designer maintains ownership of the social change that is created through the process. The organizer works within a community to create an organization. She takes great care to be seen as an organizer, not as a leader. The leadership and membership of the community organization is made of people from the community. Thus, the change that it can create is owned
by the community. The organizer controls the process at the beginning, but a primary objective of his process is to move the control and operation to the community.
Summary of similarities and differences The high-level generalist skills employed by both professions indicate that the two
professions share many core competencies. However, in discussing similarities, it is evident that the specific skills used to follow through on these high-level practices are very different. Many of these differences in process and objectives stem from the difference in ownership of change. These insights are illustrated in the chart below.
Illustration 4.4: Comparison of Design and Organizing
In chapter five, these differentiated skills are used to suggest how the designer and organizer could provide value in each otherâ€™s process.
Case study: The Q Drum This case study is included to help clarify the comparison of the design for social impact
and community organizing processes. In this example, a well known design for social impact project, the Q Drum, is used. The Q Drum is first described through the design for social impact lens. Then the project is described through the community organizing lens. In studying these two lenses, it is clear how the two processes differ.
Q Drum introduction In 1994, Pieter Hendrikse, a retired civil engineer, designed and self-funded a social
venture to manufacture and distribute the Q Drum. His work has earned accolades, including a 1996 Rolex Design Award. Over the past 15 years, the Q Drum and has been widely distributed across several countries in Africa (Simolan and Erwit, 2007, 96). Designed for Africans who need to carry water from a source to their home, the Q Drum is a vast improvement over traditional methods. The Q Drum allows 50 liters of water to be rolled instead of carried, which greatly reduces the amount of energy and strength needed for transport. The simple design consists of a rotational-molded barrel with a donut hole through its center. A simple screw cap and a piece of rope for towing are the only other components (Hendrikse, 2007).
Illustration 4.5.1: The Q Drum in Use
Design for social impact process applied to the Q Drum The development of the Q Drum fits well into the design for social impact process. While
not actively engaged in the design of the Q Drum, Henrikse lived in South Africa and observed impoverished families transporting water by hand (A). This passive observation gave him the insight to begin the design of a better product for water transportation. He designed the Q Drum with cost and durability in mind and user-tested early prototypes (B). One such test involved allowing a family of 13 to use the product for 20 months. During this time, the family rolled over 120,000 liters of water. The use of the Q Drum for water transport reduced the time needed for the task and enabled the children to help with the chore (Hawthorne, 1998). Hendrikse then Â
contracted with a local manufacturer to produce the Q Drums at a cost of $30 per unit (C). He initially sold the Q Drum to non-profit organizations and governments (D). This marketing strategy has allowed him to distribute Q Drums throughout Africa, but not to the degree that he initially planned. Hendrikse has published this market penetration failure, explaining that, â€œif our product is exclusively dependent on charity, the project will not be sustainable (E).â€? He has since changed his business plan and is now trying to find investors to bring his production to scale to make the Q Drum more affordable to low-income consumers (Simolan and Erwit, 2007, 96).
Illustration 4.5.2: Q Drum in Design for Social Impact Process
The productive aspects of the design for social impact process are that it is relatively efficient, provides a solution that is relevant to the end user, and can impact a large number of individuals. The Q Drum was created, tested, and marketed in just a few years. Since it was designed with user insight and feedback, it had a direct and important impact on the lives of those who use it. Even though its marketing was not a complete success, it was still able to reach a wide range of individuals through market mechanisms. The contrary aspects of the design for social impact process are that the solution does not affect any of the root causes of poverty and it does not empower those impacted by the solution Â
to develop other solutions on their own. The Q Drum is a successful stop-gap for transporting water. It does not impact the larger issues of infrastructure, capital, and access that cause physically carrying water to be the best method of retrieving water for household use. The solution also does not empower individuals to asses other local problems and create solutions.
Community organizing process applied to the Q Drum The application of the community organizing process to the same problems addressed in
the Q Drum project would most likely look very different from the design for social impact process. The following hypothesis is based on similar projects undertaken by various non-profit organizations, such as Engineers without Borders (www.ewb-usa.org, 2009). Before entering the community the organizer researches the community, gaining historical, political, and cultural perspectives on the people and their region. The organizer uses this information to facilitate her entrance to the community (A). As the organizer develops relationships and begins to understand the local institutions she can identify and start to cultivate potential leaders. These leaders identify issues that are important to the community and recruits people to action around these issues. If water access is an issue of importance it may very well be addressed. The nature of the action to address the issue of water access depends on the circumstances of the community and the capacity of the organization (B). In this scenario, the community organizes groups to begin digging a small trench from the local water source to the center of town. At the same time the leaders convince a local business person to lobby the regional government to purchase materials to install a pipeline. The installed pipeline enables the community to have a convenient local source of water (C). With this and other successes the community organization becomes
stronger. Through conversation and measurement the organizer gauges the strength of the organization. When it is strong enough she decides that it is time to leave (C). The empowered community organization continues to identify and solve local problems without the direct aid of the organizer (D).
Illustration 4.5.3: Q Drum in Community Organizing Process
In this scenario, the productive aspects of the community organizing process are that it creates a solution to the issue while addressing the ability of the community to solve this and other problems. A community that faces a problem such as access to water surely has other issues that need to be addressed. The ability to organize, asses, and impact specific issues is a deep change that has potential to greatly affect the quality of life within the community. The contrary aspects of the community organizing process in this scenario are that it may take a very long time and the impact is only within a small region. Finding a solution to local water access is important, but it is only a step toward realizing an empowered community. Fully building an empowered community organization may take a long time. Additionally, the
organizing process does not have a mechanism for scaling impact to larger population and thus the impact is only felt within the confines of the community.
Q Drum summary The Q Drum case study helps to further explain the differences between the organizing
and design for social impact processes. While both processes are successful at creating economic development and quality of life improvements for targeted populations, the differences of goals and ownership create different results. The organizing process effects the root causes of poverty within a prescribed community over a long period of time. The design for social impact process efficiently creates impact that can be scaled to larger populations. These observations are captured in the chart below. The following chapter will expand on these differences while looking for an opportunity to capitalize on the strengths of both.
Illustration 4.5.4: Q Drum: Process Comparison
Synthesis of the design and organizing processes “Social innovation transcends sectors, levels of analysis, and methods to discover processes–the strategies, tactics, and theories of change–that produce lasting impact.” –James Phills, 2008
Introduction This chapter builds on the comparison from chapter four to suggest how both design for
social impact and community organizing can benefit from working together. The first section looks at how designers can bring value to the community organizing process, while the second section looks at how community organizers can bring value to the design for social impact process. The third and final section considers a hybrid of the two processes. This goes beyond the simple inclusion of diverse professionals on a project team and delves into the creation of a new means of creating social impact with design and community organizing.
Design in the organizing process A designer’s basic skills of creativity, communication, planning, and observation can be
put to good use throughout the development of a community organization. Opportunities for collaboration derive from overlap between skill sets and in process. Three specific areas that have potential for successful collaboration from the designer’s perspective are applying opportunity identification skills, identifying potential solutions to community problems, and
applying visual communication skills that help improve the brand image of the community organization.
Identifying opportunities The community organizing process focuses on participation over efficiency. This focus
on participation allows for the empowerment of a community and ensures that the vision of the community is consistent with the actions of the organization. However, in the process of identifying problems and developing solutions, certain techniques employed by designers can be of significant value. The design process of methodologically identifying opportunities constructs targets from individual insights. These targets are linked and grouped into larger themes. The themes are contrasted with the context and resources available to identify appropriate opportunities to explore. Design involvement in opportunity analysis for the community organization could function to both guide and support community decisions on which issues are feasible, pertinent, and timely to tackle.
Creative problem solving Once a specific issue is selected, the community organization creates a plan for
addressing it. This is another opportunity to apply design methodologies to the community organizing process. Designers have training and experience in leading groups of individuals in the process of brainstorming solutions. Though this process often looks simple on the surface, Â
the facilitation of a safe and creative environment for idea generation is a specific skill that designers must learn. After brainstorming, designers also have a process for turning these ideas into testable concepts that can be used to create confidence and garner feedback from the entire community. This process can save time and money for the organization.
5.2.3 Visual communication and branding Beyond the application of specific problem solving processes, designers can aid community organizations through their skills in visual communication. These skills can be applied to support the community organization’s internal and external communications. Internally, organizations need to build consensus in order to act on an issue. The ability to turn complex ideas into clear visual images is a powerful means of communication. The application of this design skill to the organizing process helps expedite the process of consolidating group opinion and can increase cohesion in the group. Additionally, the organization may hold events—conferences, meetings, protests, or concerts—to build the organization. The visual impact of these events is important to both the community and to the outside world. Understanding how spectators interpret space and the semantics of spatial relationships is important when communicating the intent and power of an event. The designer’s visual acuity enables the creation of events that have appropriate impact on the desired audience. Organizations gain power and credibility through exerting a common image to the outside world. This common image is essentially the brand of the organization. The designer’s
skills of visualization and planning allow the creation of a cohesive and potent image for the organization. An organization with a strong brand will be seen as more stable and influential, often enabling it to raise more money, and inspire more pride and empowerment amongst its community.
Organizing in the design for social impact process Just as the community organizing process might benefit from the inclusion of designers,
the design for social impact process can be aided by the inclusion of organizers. The most powerful skill set organizers bring is in the development of relationships with user communities. In addition, organizers can apply their broad perspective to help identify opportunities for solutions. This may widen solution possibilities to include non-product or service solutions, and thus effect the overall goal of a design for social impact project.
Developing interpersonal relationships The design for social impact process relies heavily on honest and open communication
between the project team and end users. Community organizers are skilled at developing trusting relationships with individuals that could aid in the process of gaining honest insight to the everyday realities of end users. Because the design for social impact process consistently involves end users, the skills of community organizers can be put to good use throughout the entire process.
Identifying opportunities and widening the possibilities If organizers help gather information from users, they will also be able to aid in the
development of themes and opportunities. Organizers have specific training in recognizing the larger social, cultural, and economic forces that act as barriers and opportunities within a community. Additionally, the broad point of view and skill sets of the organizer allow for a wider range of solution possibilities. Designers tend to look for product or service solutions, and while these are often appropriate, sometimes there maybe better solutions to community problems. The community organizerâ€™s perspective and experience allows the team to consider policy, media, and other solutions to such problems.
5.3.3 Changing goals Widening the possibilities of the project can result in broader goals for design for social impact projects. Typical design for social impact projects have a specific goal of developing a tool for a group of users, hoping that when scaled through the market, that tool will have significant social impact. The incorporation of community organizers in a project can compliment this goal by adding provisions that allow for more direct community empowerment. The social impact practitioner IDE already uses organizers in some of its projects. For instance, after developing and manufacturing a new treadle pump, IDE trains and deploys organizers to educate farmers on the benefits of irrigation, as well as how to rotate their crops to maximize their profits at market. These organizers work to increase the impact of the treadle pump, and in turn empower the community to have more control over their livelihood (International Development Enterprises, 2008). Â
Community organizing and design for social impact hybrid While designers and community organizers can aid each otherâ€™s processes, there is an
opportunity for greater impact through a hybrid process that capitalizes on the strengths of both. Via the delivery of products, design for social impact provides a useful process that helps identify and solve problems, and create a sustainable funding stream. Community organizing provides a methodology that empowers the community to create its own change by building relationships into organizations. The following section explains a hybrid process that represents a unique combination of skill sets. It also explains how the process is structured, as well as challenges of this process for designers, and includes a case study to illustrate the process.
Finding opportunities in contrasting strengths In the hybrid process, the strength of one expertise offsets the weakness of the other.
These complimentary attributes can be summed up into two distinct comparisons. The first comparison is social versus financial sustainability. Design for social impact excels at creating financial sustainability through the creation of a marketable product or service, but does not create the sustained social impact of community organizing. Adopting the methodology and timeline of community organizing allows for the creation of sustainable social impact. The second comparison is scalability of impact versus personalization of impact. Organizingâ€™s ability to empower a community to create its own change constitutes a deep local impact, but this change is difficult to scale to larger groups of people. Design for social impact offers an opportunity to scale the solution through the market. These two comparisons are captured in the illustration on the following page.
Illustration 5.4.1: Design and Organizing Hybrid Opportunities
Goals and process The strengths of designers and organizers compliment each other only if new goals and
objectives are adopted. The goal of this hybrid organization is to develop local capacity for problem solving. The process accomplishes this through the creation of a community organization that is oriented around the design of product and service solutions to local problems. These solutions, when appropriate, can be scaled to a mass market in order to create a source of sustainable funding. Finally, if careful consideration is taken, the process of developing a community organization may be codified and repeated in order to bring the deeper impact of empowerment to other communities.
Scaling a product to have impact on a mass market, especially in an emerging market, is not a simple process. The hybrid organization is not necessarily prepared to provide for this transition. Successfully navigating this transition may require partnerships with organizations outside of the community. These organizations, possibly governments, NGOs, or companies, have the resources and experience needed to scale a project. Through these partnerships, the community may receive income through royalties or the sale of intellectual property. The expansion of the hybrid process to impact a wide range of communities is the ultimate goal of a community organizing and design for social impact hybrid. Expansion, however, can only occur after the process has proven effective and is refined to be efficient. It also must be sensitive to the needs and challenges of each community to which it is applied. Expansion requires the support of financial institutions, as well as the support of individuals to serve as designers/organizers. In the hybrid process, a designer/organizer works to enable a community to create its own solutions to local problems. The designer/organizer functions similar to a community organizer, except the communityâ€™s development is focused on the design process. The success of this arrangement follows from the social learning concept that new skills are best attained through direct interaction with experienced practitioners. While the designer/organizer is instrumental in the successful creation of solutions, the community owns the change that is created. The designer/organizer acts as a stimulus to the process, but the timing for solutions and advancement must reflect the ability and interest of the community. Creating a community organization that can continue to solve local problems is more complicated than traditional design for social impact goals, and thus the process may take longer
than traditional design for social impact projects. However, since the process is focused on developing a specific type of capacity it is expected to occur on a quicker timeline than traditional organizing projects. The hybrid process is captured in the illustration below.Â
Illustration 5.4.2: The Hybrid ProcessÂ
Challenges of the hybrid process for designers For designers, the primary challenge of this hybrid is that successfully developing
community capacity requires an entirely different approach to projects. Currently, most design projects are run according to a blueprint approach. The blueprint approach pre-plans a project using insights from research and pilot projects. This approach dictates a timeline and budget for a project, and evaluates the project on its ability to stick to these plans (Korten, 1984). The blueprint approach works well for developing physical products and is used by most design teams engaging in social impact work. The alternative that designers need to adopt is often Â
referred to as the learning process approach. As discussed earlier, the learning process approach involves a consistent updating of expectations for a project. This approach does not set out a specific timeline or budget, but instead is dictated by the necessary responses to the local environment (Honadle, 2008). This approach is well suited for developing community organizations and is similar to the process applied by community organizers. Adopting this approach as a designer may require working outside of the traditional organizations that employ designers. This leads to a further challenge of finding initial funding for such a project. The second challenge for designers attempting the hybrid approach is that ownership of change lies with the community. This is a radical concept for designers that have emerged from an academic and professional world that celebrates the genius of the individual. In order to accomplish this, it is necessary for the designer to have a deep respect for the dignity of individuals in the community and to keep the aspirations of that community constantly in mind (Alinsky, 1969, 100â€“101). It is important for the designer to care more about people than about design.
Challenges of the hybrid process for organizers Organizers working in the hybrid process face the difficulty of applying design methods
for community impact. Organizers tend to work broadly for community goals and the application of a specific means of achieving community goals may prove to be an obstacle. Not only is the focus on a single means of creating empowerment antithetical to organizing tradition, but the successful application of the design process takes experience. Additionally, attempting to scale a
solution via the market requires savvy and insight that is difficult to come by outside of the business world.
Hybrid process applied to the Q Drum The hybrid process is applied to the Q Drum case study to help illustrate it relative to the
organizing and design processes. The application of the Q Drum project to the hybrid process is hypothetical and represents one possible path the project can take. As with the original Q Drum project, an individual or organization from outside the community funds the initial development. The designer/organizer directly engages with a specific community to form a deeper understanding of the issues in that population. In this community, he develops relationships with individuals and comes to understand that the transportation of water is a major issue for the people (A). After building credibility within the community, the designer/organizer can then begin to work with community members toward addressing local issues of concern. These issues should be small, accomplishable tasks that deliver actual benefits to the community (B). Through these small design projects, leaders emerge and can be coached by the designer/organizer to lead other design projects. As the leaders slowly advance in ability and interest, they begin to form a group that can attempt to solve more complex problems (C). Eventually, the community may decide to address the difficulties of transporting water. Through several design sessions, the community develops a rough prototype of a rollable water container. If the designer/organizer believes that the solution has merit, he may look outside of the community and use both his technical skills and resources to connect this design with a larger market. The designer/organizer can apply specific technical skills to refine the product and prepare it for production. He can connect with outside sources of financing to manufacture and market the product. These two Â
steps are outside the communityâ€™s control, but at this stage in the process these technical skills and connections are not within their reach. If the product is satisfactorily implemented, income can flow back to the community (D). This can occur through the sale of intellectual property or through the realization of royalties. As the community identifies that the development of solutions through the design process can result in economic improvements, it brings credibility and interest to the local design group (E). This financial and community support results in a community design organization that can continue to function and develop solutions. If at this point the designer/organizer decides to move on to another project, it is advisable for him to stay in contact with the community. This will allow the designer/organizer to evaluate and help realize other marketable ideas (F).
Illustration 5.4.5: Q Drum in the Hybrid Process
The productive aspects of the hybrid process are that it addresses the long-term ability of a community to solve local problems. The hybrid process develops solutions that have the ability
to affect users to the same degree as the design for social impact process. Additionally, it allows for a targeted community to benefit from learning how to identify and address localized issues. The contrary aspects of the hybrid process are the length of the process and the reliance on an impoverished community to create solutions. Developing the capacity to problem solve is not an efficient process. It takes time and energy for which there is not a well established funding stream. Additionally, it is important not to idealize the poor as potential creators. The poor generally â€œlack the education, information, and other economic, cultural, and social capitalâ€? that is necessary to think strategically about the current situation (Karnani, 2009). There are very significant hurdles involved to empower an impoverished community to create its own solutions.
Final assessment of the hybrid process While the hybrid process faces challenges in developing capacity within impoverished
communities, this very challenge represents an improvement over traditional methods of design for social impact. The direct investment in upgrading the productive skills of the poor is the best way to alleviate poverty (Karnani, 2009). At its best, traditional design for social impact achieves this through interaction with organizations such as IDE, which develop products that allow for individual wealth creation. IDE believes that after individual wealth is created other social and economic improvements will follow. While this may be true, the direct empowerment of impoverished communities to asses and address their problems through the hybrid process will enable them continue to advance economically, socially, and culturally after the benefit from individual products are realized. The benefits of the hybrid process may not outweigh the challenges associated with working outside of a traditional funding stream. It is suggested that Â
the process be field tested to further understand the benefits that it delivers to targeted communities.
Illustration 5.4.6: Q Drum: Design for Social Impact, Community Organizing, and Hybrid Comparison.
Conclusion There are many ways that designers and organizers can work together to create social
impact. This thesis focuses on exploring and explaining these opportunities and then takes them a step further in creating a hybrid approach between the two professions. One of the main insights of this approach is that ownership of the process is an essential determinate of the type of impact a project will have. This conclusion expands on this insight, offers areas for further research, and explains the specific next steps for the authorâ€™s research.
Developing tools versus empowering communities Paul Polak writes that, “Poverty is profoundly linked to the major challenges faced by
planet earth over the next fifty years.” Design, as an inclusive and creative process, has potential to help alleviate and affect the complex problems associated with global poverty. While designers may agree that poverty needs to be reduced, very few agree on the best ways of accomplishing this goal. The hybrid approach described in this thesis is not meant to be a directive for design for social impact. Its primary purpose is to illustrate that our traditional methods of using design as a tool for development need to be examined. Designers pursuing social impact need to be conscious of the impact their work has on the communities of concern. They need to understand the profound ramifications economic development may have on the social, environmental, and cultural aspects of communities they work within. In the hybrid approach, the subtle switch of focus from “the development of tools to empower” to “the empowerment of a community to develop tools” is essential to realizing solutions that are sensitive to the needs of the targeted community. Currently, designers for social impact use the process of co-creation to ensure that the solution they create is inline with the needs and values of a community. However, only by switching the ownership of the process from the designer to the community can one be sure that the solution is actually the best option for the people. A community which develops its own solutions can decide what positive social change means and how to achieve it.
Further research Moholy-Nagy affirms that, “Only the person who understands himself, and co-operates
with others in a far reaching program of common action, can make his efforts count (Bayer, 1938, 18).” Thoughtful designers that understand the potential they have for impacting the world still need to reach out to others to realize their goals. This thesis stems from Margolin’s article on the social model of design–which considers how designers could function with social workers– using a similar structure to focus on community organizers as potential partners. However, many other fields offer valuable insight and access to the world of social impact. Research into the potential relationships between designers and activists, educators, scientists, and politicians may all be useful for understanding the variety of ways by which design can create impact outside of their traditional business context. Recently, design has begun to move from being a component of business—residing somewhere between engineering and marketing—into a way of thinking about business. The growing influence of design thinking on the structure and strategy of business has an important parallel in the world of social impact. There is fertile and unexplored ground for research in how design thinking could be applied in the mediums of social change. Understanding how design thinking could be successfully related to the social, political, and cultural systems of our world is of huge importance to effecting large scale social impact. In exploring how design and design thinking can have further influence outside of the sphere of business it is also necessary to consider how design in these realms could be funded. Nothing occurs without financial support. Design has created value within business and
understanding how to create and communicate designâ€™s value in other areas is essential to finding funding.
Next steps The hybrid process presented in this thesis is based on academic research. In order to
demonstrate this process the author plans to field test several of the concepts contained in this thesis. This field test involves working in partnership with educators, organizers, and developers in South India to build the local capacity to problem-solve.Â Over the next several years the author will test, refine, and expand the ideas highlighted in the hybrid approach. The results of the experience will be recorded and shared with the design community with the hope that they will help inform and inspire others.
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