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Building community through the lens of Design Thinking
How we can use Design Thinking to shape our community building efforts
I was chatting with my friend Sid a few weeks ago and while asking for some advice about a presentation I was working on, they hit me with this quote “Everything is a prototype” which comes from the Design Thinking approach and captured my attention.
In my previous life as a freelance designer, I have come across Design Thinking which essentially is both an ideology and a process, concerned with solving complex problems in a highly user-centric way.
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The 5 stages of design thinking include:
Empathize: understand your audience and their context
Define: identify, interpret, and construct a point of view
Ideate: brainstorm a lot of possible solutions
Prototype: design small prototypes of your solutions
Test: try your prototypes out in order to refine and reimagine
But, I never explored this concept deeply until I was reminded of the quote from Sid and it made me curious about how we can adopt this approach for community building.
One of the main reasons why Design Thinking can be valuable for community building is because it encourages a user-centered and empathetic mindset. To expand on this more, here are some ways that we can utilize this approach for community building.
Understanding community members’ needs
Since design thinking starts with empathy, we first need to participate in active listening and engage with our community members to understand their needs, pain points, and desires. A few ways that we can help achieve this is to conduct interviews, make observations, and build spaces/resources/tools for our members.
By tapping into empathy, we can gain deep insights into the wants, concerns, and behaviors of our community.
When we apply design thinking it also helps us identify opportunities for improvement within the community. By going over the information gathered during the empathy phase, we can identify recurring patterns, pain points, and unmet needs.
This helps us define the focus areas for our community-building initiatives.
Creating with your members aka collaboration
When it comes down to it, community building is all about collaboration. A great way to foster this is to engage community members in the co-creation process, which allows for a sense of ownership and active participation.
By involving diverse viewpoints in the community, we can tap into a variety of perspectives, ideas, and expertise. This can help strengthen a sense of community ownership and ensures that the initiatives reflect the actual needs of our members.
Coming up with solutions & testing
Another good perk about using design thinking is the rapid prototyping of solutions. As community builders, we can create low-fidelity prototypes of our member’s ideas. For example, this could look like designing and implementing small-scale events or pilot programs.
By testing these prototypes within the community, it allows us to gather valuable feedback, iterate, and refine our initiatives. This iterative process ensures that the solutions align with the community's expectations and are more likely to be successful in both the short and long term.
Building solutions for our member’s needs
Design thinking places community members at the center of the design process. By truly understanding their needs and involving them throughout the journey, we can develop solutions that are tailored to the specific context and preferences of the community. This approach increases the chances of creating meaningful and impactful initiatives.
Like community building, design thinking is an iterative process which means continuous learning and improvement. As community builders, we can apply this mindset to our efforts by seeking feedback, evaluating the impact of our initiatives, and making necessary adjustments.
To recap, design thinking offers community builders a framework to better understand community needs, foster collaboration, co-create solutions, and iterate based on feedback. By applying design thinking principles, we can create more inclusive, compassionate, and sustainable communities.
Also, if you’re interested in getting some experience with design thinking, I highly recommend checking out IDEO’s Design Kit which showcases different methods for you to test out. Some of the methods such as Immersion, Define Your Audience, and Journey Map might spark some inspiration on your community building & design thinking journey!