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Design Jam: The Power of Design to Strengthen Local Communities

How to make design more local 

Earlier this month we had the pleasure of once more running our flagship design bootcamp, Design Jam. Over two big days, our participants took on the ambitious challenge of using the design thinking skills and tools they were learning to create real solutions for real social impact problems.

This time around, our Design Jam partners bringing these real-world challenges to the table had a theme in common that tied their work together – they were all working to support local economies and strengthen local communities.

This shared focus gave the Design Jam a great local flavour– even though our partners work in different sectors and take different approaches, they shared a desire to make a positive impact in local places. Below we’ll share some of our lessons learned about how to make this happen.

Find the right person to talk to

SpacetoCo run a brilliant platform connecting people with spaces to people who’d like to hire those spaces – and their challenge for this Design Jam was to help schools connect with their local communities by leveraging underutilised spaces.

Realising that many awesome school facilities sit unused for most of the year (think evenings, weekends, and school holidays), SpacetoCo saw an opportunity for schools to hire out their spaces, creating not only an extra revenue stream, but a new way to connect with students, parents, local businesses and their community more broadly. Their biggest question was, why isn’t this happening already?

As our design team found at the Design Jam, the answer lay in finding the right person to talk to. In this case, that person was the school principal. Principals were the ultimate decision-makers when it came to hiring out school spaces, and their concerns around safety and logistics were the major barriers to overcome 

With this realisation in mind, our design team created a whole suite of prototypes (from a business plan down to a one-pager) to help SpacetoCo build relationships with principals and convince them of the value of sharing their spaces. We can’t wait to hear how SpacetoCo have been putting these prototypes into practice!

Start with what’s already working

Another of our brilliant Design Jam partners, The Town Team Movement is a central group who support a network of over 60 local Town Teams; collectives of local residents, business owners and members of community organisations volunteering to make their local place better.

The Town Team Movement’s challenge was to increase collaboration between Town Teams in different areas, so that ideas, strategies and resources could flow more freely from one local area to another.

What our design team found was that instead of focussing on where and why collaboration wasn’t happening, they could make a bigger impact by focusing on a collaboration between Town Teams that was already working well; the annual Convergence event that gathers Town Teams to learn and celebrate together.

Starting with this existing strength, our team designed away to make it easier for Town Teams and their members to craft the agenda for Convergence, making the event their own and ensuring they were learning and sharing what was most valuable. This new approach is already being integrated into the plans for Convergence 2021, and we look forward to seeing it inpractice very soon.

Put in the work to make it work long-term

Our final Design Jam partner, Social Reinvestment WA, put forward the most complex challenge of the three. The simple insight behind justice reinvestment is that instead of locking people up at great expense,public funds are better used to invest in strengthening local communities in ways that prevent crimes from being committed in the first place.

SRWA support a very successful justice reinvestment site in Halls Creek, where locally-led community programs have reduced crime rates significantly.

The challenge for our Design Jam team was that this kind of success can come at a cost – the government sees reduced crime rates as a sign of success and moves funding and support away from that community and the programs that actually reduced crime.

This is a thorny problem, and our design spent a lot of time grappling with how they could help to keep the benefits of justice reinvestment programs in the communities where those benefits were created. Their biggest learning in this process was that it takes a lot of work to ensure that community-building programs can be sustainable in the long-term – but that this work is well worth it!

By the end of the Design Jam, our team had come up with a new funding model for justice reinvestment sites like the one in Halls Creek –bringing together ideas from social enterprise and impact investing, they crafted the beginnings of a framework that would sustain successful programs in the long-term by keeping justice reinvestment benefits in the local community.

Designing to strengthen communities

We would like to thank our amazing Design Jam partners; SpacetoCo, Town Team Movement and Social Reinvestment WA, and all our Design Jam participants for courageously diving into the design process and generating some meaningful insights and solutions to some very complex problems. 

At Skills of the Modern Age, this is exactly the kind of work we love doing – building design and innovation capability at the same time as we uncover valuable lessons and build solutions that make a difference for problems that matter. If you’d like to work with us on your thorny problem, please get in touch and we’d love to chat!

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