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Summary and Takeaways

While social innovation may sound like a popular fad to technical communicators, its exigency aligns with that of the social justice paradigm that is becoming increasingly dominant in technical communication scholarship and practice today. By situating user advocacy and social issues at the core of technical communication, this chapter presented design thinking as a methodology that supports social innovation, with the argument that technical communicators should pursue leadership in social advocacy. The case examples featured in this chapter demonstrated how design thinking can facilitate user-centered solutions. Through interviews with industry practitioners, I presented insights about these experts’ perspectives on social innovation and the role of design thinking in their respective scopes of work. Altogether, these instances highlight the implications of design thinking and social innovation for technical communication, especially in programmatic innovation for the workplace and the classroom. Key takeaways from this chapter are:

  • • Technical communication is rooted in user advocacy and social justice. Design thinking can help level up technical communication’s social advocacy through social innovation.
  • • Existing projects in technical communication and adjacent fields showed the importance of design thinking principles, i.e., participatory design, rapid prototyping, and empathy, in facilitating social innovation.
  • • Industry practitioners acknowledged the importance of design thinking in user advocacy but did not always recognize their work in terms of social innovation.
  • • Corporate organizations can lead the change toward more involved social advocacy by incentivizing technical communicators who pursue social innovation.

Learning Activity: Facilitate a Community Workshop

A productive way to uncover community needs and identify design opportunities is by conducting a community workshop. The community workshop method lets designers gather firsthand accounts of problems and user needs by interacting directly with those who are affected by the problem.

One crucial step to take in this research process is critical reflection prior to data collection. Before you design the workshop and approach your target community, you should first consider your own role and positionality as the design thinker in this project: What power and privilege (Walton et al., 2019) do you enact? How might you be transparent about these identities and let your community partners/participants learn about you? These questions can help designers and researchers see their own biases and goals in conjunction with the research agenda. Having answered these questions—and having considered the ethics involved in this research—you may decide to plan a community workshop with students and community partners to gather insights about a specific social problem facing the community.

In terms of logistics, you will need a space/room that can hold 15-20 people comfortably, walls or tables that allow participatory exercises, and sketching utensils like pens and sticky notes. This workshop may be led by students as a class, with 6-12 community members, for about 60-90 minutes. Below I recommend a simple flow for the workshop:

  • 1. Introduce the purpose of the workshop. Students may do a quick (5 minutes) presentation about current challenges in assisted home living for senior citizens, and share their initial findings.
  • 2. Gather informed consent. Let the community members know of their rights as participants of the workshop.
  • 3. Do a breakout discussion. Organize community members into smaller groups (of 4-5) with each group being facilitated by 1-2 students. Students should present prompts that help community members think about their everyday experiences, wishes and hopes, struggles and pain points.
  • 4. Do a large-group discussion. Students from each group report back the insights gathered from the breakout session, and have the community members identify the top three concerns they would like to see addressed. Students may write these concerns on a board/wall/paper on the table.
  • 5. Conduct a “Dream Session” where all community members write their aspirations and suggestions for addressing the selected concerns on post-its, and put them to the board/wall/paper. Use arrows and lines to make connections between the post-its.
  • 6. Have a student leader or two provide a summary based on the post-it notes by the end of the Dream Session.
  • 7. Create a point-of-view (POV) statement using the user-requirement structure and ask the community members for feedback.
  • 8. As you’re concluding the workshop, find two or three community members and conduct brief one-on-one conversations to gather some information for creating some user personas. Capture actual quotes (verbatim) from these community members for later use.
  • 9. Thank the community members for their time and participation. Provide any rewards/incentives or gifts as appreciation.

Reflection questions for workshop facilitators:

  • • When did participants seem particularly engaged? What were they doing? What were you doing?
  • • When did participants seem to have difficulty or were disengaged?
  • • What insights do you find most interesting?
  • • What is your revised POV statement?
  • • How can you use this POV statement to ideate possible solutions?
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