Prototyping in Practice: How Designing Effective Social Services Begins and Ends with People
It’s a deceptively simple concept. Their “Grounded Change” philosophy promotes a thorough understanding of a target audience — which includes their physical and emotional needs, their environments, and their motivations. This understanding isn’t based on assumptions around the needs of certain “types” of people; it’s gleaned from spending large amounts of unstructured time with individuals, then using this information to rapidly prototype solutions that incorporate their ongoing feedback.
Through her Innovation Fellowship, Schulman brought together 23 non-profit leaders and policy makers for the Learning Circle, a biweekly, six-month opportunity for participants to learn to apply the Grounded Change values and strategies in their work. They identified challenges within their organizations (referred to as “pain points”), tested their assumptions on the people affected by these challenges, and designed and evaluated new prototype solutions that could more effectively meet their audiences’ needs.
For example, when The Stop Community Food Centre began the Learning Circle, they believed their “pain point” was that many women who use their drop-in centre felt unsafe. Open-ended conversations with the women in question revealed that safety concerns really weren’t issues for them; that they’d actually prefer to access more family-centric programming outside of the drop-in environment. With this information, The Stop was able to design a new family support group, and used the Grounded Change approach to continually test which elements of their program were proving useful for their participating parents.
Metcalf’s Inclusive Local Economies program benefited immensely from our participation in the Learning Circle. Our pain point was uncertainty around how to most effectively strengthen connections between our grantees working within the social services sector. We held eight conversations with grantees from different organizational sizes, designed our recent Inclusive Local Economies symposium as a prototype opportunity, and are using feedback from the event to inform our future program and partnership development.
Learning Circle Prototypes
Posters outlining the teams’ prototypes were displayed during Demo-Day, the Learning Circle’s graduation ceremony.
Linked below, each 3-page PDF briefly summarizes their activities and insights as they designed, delivered, and evaluated their projects: