by Thomas Brandenburg
“Much of the work we do involves changing mindsets first. Our theory of change is that changing mindsets leads to behavior change, and when enough of a community or organization changes behavior this creates a change in culture and contexts—which is ultimately our goal.”
1. Within the social innovation landscape, what issues/problems do you find lend themselves best to using a service design approach?
Any challenge that involves the creation of a service that is geared toward marginalized populations is a great place for design. One of the pervasive problems that we see in the social sector is that physical proximity between the people who make decisions and the people who are most affected by those decisions does not necessarily lead to deep understanding and empathy. Decisions are often made based on middle class perspectives and social norms experienced by the leadership of an organization that don’t reflect the reality of the customers. Design can bridge this gap.
2. What are some of the biggest challenges you face applying service design for social innovation?
The language and terminology used are a problem. There is a tendency to use jargon, or phrases and concepts that are familiar to people in the design space, but this is a barrier to people with different backgrounds. We also find that many designers lack an understanding of the systemic and institutional barriers that are the root causes of many problems. This lack of deep awareness can lead to surface level solutions that may look good, but lacks the ability to generate sustainable change. This insight inspired us to develop a set of metathemes to help people work at a deeper level.
3. In developing social innovation, what some of the most useful activities, tools or approaches you have used, especially if you consider how you would engage stakeholders with diverse perspectives and backgrounds?
We see a lot of breakthrough, ‘a-ha!’ moments when working with partners on seeing their system. Tools like root cause analysis and power mapping help people quickly see the connections between causes and where they can effect change. These tools—borrowed from fields outside of design--are easy to use and give people an opportunity to explore their own understanding and curiosity around solving systems challenges.
4. What organizations come to mind when you think about social innovation?
I don’t have a narrow list for this. We work with large and small organizations, grant makers, and community groups from all over and see social innovation in so many different forms and places. The way this sector works and thinks is changing rapidly, just like the rest of our world.
5. What are the most useful method(s) or framework(s) for measuring social impact?
Much of the work we do involves changing mindsets first. Our theory of change is that changing mindsets leads to behavior change, and when enough of a community or organization changes behavior this creates a change in culture and contexts—which is ultimately our goal. We develop metrics to measure these changes, in the near term and long term, and report on outcomes based on these. You can read more about our theory of change and measurement in our recent impact report.