Designing for Innovators: Defining the Challenge and Developing Prototypes for Action

Dan McWilliam, Learning Specialist - Rocky View Schools' design process can be described as a pattern of divergent phases where first we collect information and experiences then move on to phases of convergence where we reflect and make meaning in order to learn and go forward.

The discover phase is all about engaging stakeholders in identifying what is going well, what has been tricky and what could be done differently. A large amount of data is collected during this phase, which is then synthesized in the define phase by themes to create a picture of where we are, and finally defining the challenge to move forward. Across the jurisdiction, schools, departments and branches at the Education Centre were given four priority areas to develop their challenges within. Schools are focusing on: Student Engagement, Instructional Practice, Inclusion and Making Learning Visible. The Education Centre is focusing on: People, Structures, Approach and Culture.

Framing the define challenge as a ‘How Might We’ (HMW) question quickly invites stakeholders to contribute their ideas or scrappy little experiments. Telus Spark, for example, has a practice of brainstorming 100 ideas for every new exhibit no matter how hard it is or whether the first idea already looks amazing. Having built a culture of collaborative design, this interdisciplinary team keeps pushing themselves until they hit 100. Only then will they begin to sort and rank the ideas in order to choose what to prototype in the next phase.

Having looked inward to engage stakeholders in providing feedback, then consolidating our insights into areas for growth, and defining these areas as a question, it is now time for action! The develop phase is where the rubber hits the road and precedes getting to share with others what worked, what was tricky and what’s next. As Greg said in the video for Develop (see below) this is the part we’ve been waiting for. We have discovered some amazing feedback from parents, students and staff that brought us to some thought-provoking questions. Now its time to get our hands dirty and try some new things to see if they might work.

From the co-developed HMW question each member of the team or staff may decide to try a different tactic or idea and bring the experience and insights back to the group. You may decide to try the same prototype together or choose an opportunity to attempt it. The goal of prototyping is learning by doing and growing from reflecting.

I've been asked many times, "What is the difference between a pilot or initiative and prototyping?" A pilot suggests the implementation of an idea where you being the process with a smaller group, with the goal of full-scale implementation over time. Prototyping doesn’t presume implementation or even success. This is a process of trying some small tactics toward the inquiry question and reflecting on what worked and what didn’t in order to constantly be tweaking and iterating what we do in order to best meet the needs of students.

Examples of some prototypes we’ve seen so far are: ● Animating the School Announcements on the TVs to draw the attention of more students. ● Trying alternatives to traditional testing in the English department. ● Indoor recess alternatives ● Introducing some Maker Tools and documenting use among staff and students. ● Recording our daily school announcements and sharing the highlights with parents in the weekly newsletter. ● Informally making learning visible through Twitter. Sharing some candid photos of our learning community ● Hosting Lunch Box talks where community members join our grade 1’s for lunch to share their interests and passions, while building confidence in our students. ● Tracking the breadth of our work using the Trello app to recognize exemplary work and to build follow up processes. ● Using a school house system to build community and school spirit. ● Empowering the student leadership body to interview other students and staff in the Discover Phase to share with the action committee. ● Changing the physical space where we work and learn to promote new ideas and collaborations. 

We look forward to seeing the many prototypes posted to our 2023bydesign. com website soon!