Over the weekend, I facilitated a workshop on design thinking for a group of social entrepreneurs at Changeweekend. Seeing people who want to create social impact engage with design thinking was a hugely rewarding experience.
I think two big take-aways for the social entrepreneurs this weekend were (1) it’s surprisingly easy to prototype new products and services and (2) people with all kinds of backgrounds, including psychology and anthropology, can play an important role in the innovation process.
Many social organisations think of their product development in the same way as their funding cycle — something that takes a long time, anywhere between three to six months. Once funding is approved for a project, it’s hard for organisations to go back to their funders and tell them they need to re-think how their programme is being delivered based on what they’ve discovered on the ground. It’s not hard to guess that this kind of process discourages social innovation.
Design thinking plays a big role in enabling innovation in the social sector. When social organisations can quickly and cheaply prototype new products and services, designing and testing the best way to serve a group of people before getting funded becomes plausible for resource-strapped organisations.
For new social entrepreneurs, one of the key requirements to make this work is a platform that gives them access to stakeholders who are safe to test products and services with. Unlike most product testing in the private sector, experimentation in the social sector requires some sensitivity because the underprivileged might be involved or because there are important social issues at stake.
For some of the organisations at Changeweekend, that will mean partnering with each. For others, it will mean seeking out third party social organisations that have strong relationships with the stakeholders they are looking to reach.