The Learning Accelerator Blog/Using Design Thinking to Solve System Challenges

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Using Design Thinking to Solve System Challenges

by Lacey Gonzales and Ryan Mick on May 5 2023

How do you unite a diverse set of organizations that believe in the same cause but haven’t worked collectively yet? And how do you ensure meaningful change and impact results from bringing the leaders of these organizations together? This is exactly the challenge the organizers of the Educating All Learners Alliance (EALA) faced in launching their inaugural Community of Action.

By adapting the steps outlined in a strategic change management process designed for improving equity and resiliency in schools — The Learning Accelerator’s (TLA) Real-Time Redesign toolkit — EALA organizers showcased how leveraging design thinking in the face of challenges can result in innovative and impactful results.

Adapting Real-Time Redesign to Build Foundations for Communities of Action

EALA Callout Box

EALA recently organized its inaugural Community of Action in Scottsdale, AZ, and brought together a diverse group of organizations dedicated to ensuring equity for students with disabilities and learning differences from across its growing network of 135+ partners.

In late 2022, the Community of Action convened virtually and agreed on some common challenges, but the organizers said they were struggling with a framework for their budding community. “We knew we wanted to take these themes and challenge points and turn them into action, but we were stumped on how… I knew TLA had resources on redesigning schools… I saw how [Real-Time Redesign] could work by clearly defining an issue into a how-to statement and turning it into an action piece,” said Treah Hutchings, InnovateEDU’s Project Manager for EALA.

EALA staff responsible for planning the Community of Action recognized that the Real-Time Redesign was initially designed for school leaders but said they had an easy time adapting it to build a community, align on their problem, and then empower the newly created Community of Action to catalyze change in their context. EALA organizers said they took the major sections of the guide (i.e., Come Together, Dream Big, Start Small, Do More) and had convening attendees work through each section, with the “Do More” section a focus of activity once attendees were back home in their communities. “We tried to keep schools and students inside the questions as much as possible, but added in the lens of an organizational perspective,” said Hutchings. “We wanted participants to walk away with clear next steps after they had left Arizona.”

This toolkit created the backbone for these organizations to come together, define a common problem, design a solution, and engage in participatory granting — all within 36 hours of meeting each other face-to-face for the first time. At the end of their time together, they selected two projects for over $100,000 in funding through this participatory design and grantmaking process.

Using Real-Time Redesign in Your Context

Many organizations face similar challenges to schools in terms of improving equity and inclusivity while navigating complex systems. TLA’s Real-Time Redesign toolkit offers a practical and rapid process for making targeted improvements in any context. It focuses on three key areas: equity and resiliency, targeted improvement, and authentic inclusivity, and provides guided activities and examples from schools that can be applied to an organization’s context, just as EALA did in Scottsdale.

To make the most of the toolkit, organizations can start by identifying a small but meaningful area for improvement and assembling a team to drive the change. They can then use the toolkit's guided activities to analyze the current state, envision a more equitable and inclusive future state, and develop and test small changes. Finally, they can evaluate the effectiveness of the changes and iterate as needed. The Real-Time Redesign process emphasizes the importance of taking action in the face of challenges and making ongoing improvements rather than waiting for the "perfect time" to create change.

Upholding the same resiliency and focus on equity that’s enshrined in TLA’s Real-Time Redesign toolkit, the EALA organizers of a novel Community of Action turned to a tested resource in the face of organizing challenges and an uncertain direction forward.

Have you used the Real-Time Redesign Guide to support equity-driven change management in your community? Tell us about it by email or on social media.

About the Author

Lacey Gonzales is an Associate Director, Communications at The Learning Accelerator. She brings her background in non-profit communications and media relations to lead TLA’s communications work.

Ryan Mick is the Chief Program Officer of The Learning Accelerator (TLA) and is a national leader in human-centered design, innovation, and continuous improvement methods.