Designing Data Together

Published on April 18, 2014 | Written by

I’ll be the first to admit it: I do not mix well with numbers. Whether it is spreadsheets, graphs or equations, the prospect of dealing with any sort of quantitative data scares me. I’ll be willing to bet many people feel this way, even people who participate in research studies.

Earlier this month, Youthprise partnered with Rainbow Research to talk about that very thing that scares me: numbers. However, our event, which shared information from our OST Baseline Study, was anything but scary. How did we do it? Design Thinking.

Bianca, getting ready to design the data!

Bianca, getting ready to design the data!

Last year Youthprise commissioned Rainbow Research to do a baseline study that determined participation gaps in out-of-school time programming, starting with the city of Minneapolis. While I won’t get into the nuts and bolts of the study here, you can visit our website to learn more about the study and why we commissioned it. On an early morning in April we brought together participants in the study and stakeholders to take a deeper dive. First, we wanted to make sure that participants understood the findings and how to use them. How do you use the study to communicate to funders? Or policymakers? Or peers? Second, we wanted to gain insights into how to better collect data in the future. And finally we asked – so what? What are the implications of the data we found and how do we move forward?

The first part of the event was centered on a presentation given by Rainbow Research’s Beki Saito. Attendees were asked to sit in a circle of chairs during the presentation to facilitate dialogue. Once Beki’s presentation was finished, the collaborative thinking process began. In between Prince songs, instructions were given from our youth/adult team of design thinking facilitators, Libby Rau, our Director of Youth Engagement, and Neese Parker, our Youth Philanthropy Innovator. Libby, who was fresh off a weeklong trip to Stanford to participate in a design thinking boot camp, urged participants to embrace the change in pace.

The goal for the design part – after hearing the initial results of the study – was to think together about how we can move the data from the paper into action.  We wanted to engage in a process that fostered radical collaboration with a bias toward action.

Designing the data

Designing the data

We challenged the group to be mindful of the process and embrace experimentation try something new and find nuggets of innovation in the wildest craziest ideas.

Instead of sitting around tables, participants stood at stations and engaged in the first step of the process: idea generating. Participants were asked to generate ideas are three big questions.

  • How can we adjust programming based on participation gaps?
  • How can we collect data differently?
  • How can we approach citywide planning based on what we’ve learned?

No idea was too small, no idea too big. Once we went through several rounds,over 500 ideas were generated. And it took less than 20 minutes. After all the ideas were put onto paper, groups were asked to cluster “like” ideas and label ideas that were the wildest, most likely to succeed and easiest to implement. Once the ideas were labeled, participants then had to vote on the idea they would present. The catch? It had to be one of the ideas labeled “wildest idea”. Once one idea was selected, groups walked around to see other ideas and add their own “yes, and…” statements.

Beki Saito, sharing the findings

Beki Saito, sharing the findings

The “yes and” statements were designed to build off of original ideas and practice saying YES to new/different ideas AND add something to it (this is the radical collaboration part – we tend to use no, but such language can stop innovation in its tracks). The result? Some wild, innovative and potentially successful ideas were designed.

While some components of design thinking are fast paced, the process is not about producing an innovative solution in the blink of an eye. Design Thinking is about the process. It is about working with a team to share a multitude of ideas. It is about visualizing ideas. It is messy. And loud. In fact, maybe one reason that we like design thinking so much at Youthprise is because it reminds us of another key strategy that we use throughout all of our work: youth/adult partnerships.

And while we did not come up with any final solutions at our baseline study event, we did learn – A LOT. We learned that people see social media as a tool for disseminating data and increasing access for research participants. We learned that data alone cannot solve disparities in access. We learned what worked with our baseline study data collection, and maybe more importantly, what didn’t. And while we did not come up with any final solutions, we did arrive at some general directions to go in taking next steps.

Design thinking is really meant to be the beginning of a process – it’s often a misconception that at the end of the day all the work is complete and the ideas are tied up in a nice little bow.

Bianca, myself, Neese and Libby - not afraid of numbers!

Bianca, myself, Neese and Libby – not afraid of numbers!

In reality, design thinking is just the initial part of the planning – the jumping off place – it’s about thinking big and changing the way we foster ideas. The next steps now require continued evaluation and vetting of the ideas, developing timelines and implementation plans, etc.

And outside of all of these larger things, this event also made me just a little less afraid of numbers.

 by Lizzy Shramko, Storyteller & Online Community Builder

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