July 19, 2022

Why should you use design thinking in social innovation?

July 19, 2022

Social innovators are the heroes we never thought we needed. But with the world facing tremendous societal challenges every day, now more than ever, we need more ambitious innovators looking to make the world a better place. 

But before social innovators can even think of making a significant impact, they have their internal hurdles to pass. From thinking of an impactful solution to a wicked problem to funding that possible solution, social innovators do not have it easy. So, it's no wonder many solutions fail to pass the chalkboard. What can they do? 

A possible solution: Design thinking 

Design thinking: What is it? 

For those that have a vague idea of what design thinking is, let's recap on it. 

Design thinking is an out-of-the-box problem-solving methodology that puts people at the center of your process. In a nutshell, 

  • It has five stages (empathize, define, ideate, prototype, test) 
  • It is non-linear, encouraging teams to use the methodology according to their design challenge, existing knowledge, and current setup. 
  • It means designing solutions that answer user needs, and every stage always points back to the target user and their challenges 

Design thinking is a buzzword, and its overarching popularity may cause some doubt, but big and small companies are using it and seeing the benefits.

Design thinking may be the solution to social innovation's internal gaps

There's a reason for its success, and its principles may be what social innovation needs to go from chalkboard to actual community impact. Let's dive deeper and see the benefits of design thinking for a social innovator. 

1. There's a reason why its Users - with an s 

The typical belief in social innovation is that you need a visionary to create an impactful solution. True, a visionary can help ideate a shiny idea that can wow investors. But if you want a shiny, impactful, long-lasting solution, you can't just have one user think of your answer. It would help if you had the thoughts of all your stakeholders, which is a design thinking principle. 

From the start, design thinking directs you to talk to your collaborators- not just your team but your beneficiaries, investors, and anyone who will have a hand in the solution. This approach will help you create a well-rounded fix. But the significant benefit is when you implement your program, it's easier to get people's buy-in because they know they had a hand in the process. 

2. Fixing the mindset we have on failure 

Due to limited funds, social innovators are hesitant to experiment on anything that can come close to failure, which defeats the name. Innovation is born from loss, and design thinking encourages the "fail fast, fail often" mindset. 

But this failure does not mean the entire program will collapse. Instead, this is where the prototyping phase comes in. The benefit of prototyping is that it gives you and your users a glimpse of the solution and its expectations. There are low-cost prototypes that social innovators can invest in, which are easier to improve after constant testing. 

3. Release the concept of perfection. Instead, accept the idea of now 

With all the pressure, social innovators are unknowingly stuck with thinking of a perfect solution. Innovators consistently spend their time brainstorming and debating for long hours, but the action is lacking. 

Design thinking urges the innovator to think and decide on it now. Vote on it today before leaving this room, especially if you have all the stakeholders present. Once you've chosen, then you constantly evolve your solution to fit the problem. 

Design thinking will not solve all the social innovation gaps, but its benefits help push innovators forward, providing them with invaluable insights and action-propelling techniques. As a professional in the development sector, I can personally attest to this. 

It's not easy trying to solve the world's greatest challenges. Lack of quality education, gender disequality, climate change to name a few all look like tall mountains that are impossible to climb. 

Yet, with the benefit of design thinking, we manage to create concrete steps. Steps that are not only aligned with business goals, but are also accessible to beneficiaries, creating longer and better impact. 

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