Global Health Ideas

Finding global health solutions through innovation and technology

Trends: Global Health and Design for Social Impact

Jaspal is now back in Mongolia finishing up some research and I am posting this for him. He is a design expert and I am just beginning to learn about the impact of design on pretty much everything. In both development and public/global health communities design theory is a foreign concept that is not discussed formally. However, as we will detail in future posts, the impact of design on human behavior is profound (read more here). We should be paying attention to this because of its importance and ability to have a critical impact. More details on design and public health in future posts. In the meantime, organizations like PATH, GATES and the Rockefeller Foundation are just beginning to pay attention to design – you will be hearing a lot more about this in the future.
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By Jaspal, cross-posted from Design Research from Health:
Just after the Global Health Council Conference and just before coming to Mongolia, I attended the “Design for Social Impact Symposium” in New York (photo below), a joint project of the Rockefeller Foundation and IDEO. Thanks to Aman for pointing out that this event has been covered by Jocelyn Wyatt and Rob Katz. The symposium was based on the work of Jocelyn and Aaron Sklar, both of IDEO, who developed ideas about how design can play a larger role in social impact.

I had planned a detailed post about this event, but I left my notebook at home in Oakland, so this is the abbreviated version.

The two key outcomes of this meeting were, in my opinion:
  1. a conceptual foundation for how the design industry can participate in social impact work
  2. a network of key players in this space
RfFrontDoorScaledThe attendees included design firms (IDEO, Frog, Jump), consulting firms (BCG), NGOs (WaterAid, Design that Matters, PATH, Unitus), foundations (Rockefeller, Acumen, Gates), universities (MIT, Srishti, Duke, Berkeley), and others (World Bank, Cooper-Hewitt). [That’s not a complete list of attending organizations, just the ones that came to mind.] I must say that I was impressed, not just by the institutions, but by the individuals representing those institutions. These were some really good people, with some really solid experience.

The meeting was based on IDEO’s findings and resulted in two publications, which they have made publicly available. But it was also about sharing experiences of the other attendees. The one prompt that I remember most clearly, more of an ice breaker really, was about goats. “In our experience, there’s always someone in the room who has done projects with goats. Who here has worked with goats?” Two hands raised out of forty.

The underlying assumption of the meeting was that the design industry has a role to play in social impact, not just design as a concept or process (I agree, by the way). Based on that assumption, the discussion was about meeting the goals of social good while still operating a business. Several people from design firms talked about internal pressure from designers who want to do social impact work, not just projects for large, corporate clients.

I pulled a few excerpts from the IDEO + Rockefeller Guide:

What they looked at:
How can design firms make social impact work a core part of their business? How can we collaborate with organizations that are highly resource constrained? How can we redesign our offerings to become more accessible to social sector organizations? This initiative is focused on the process around doing this work, rather than the content of the work itself.
How they did it:
The Rockefeller Foundation invited IDEO to conduct this exploration starting in February 2008. We spent the first two months interviewing people involved in social sector work. We had inspiring discussions with foundations, social entrepreneurs, NGOs, professors, writers, students, designers, and consultants. The conversations examined the role design could play in this sector, how design fi rms might work with social sector organizations, and how we could maximize our impact in this space. Observations and interviews were conducted in offices, at conferences, and on the phone, and brought the team to Bangalore, Bombay, New York, Oxford, Palo Alto, Pune, San Francisco, and Seattle.
Definition of social impact:
To designers, it is about the impact of products or services on individuals and groups of people. We look at the broader impact of all of the design work we undertake. We think about balancing the needs of the individual with the needs of the overall community. On every design project, we can consider the triple bottom line and take into account social, environmental, and economic impacts.
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Written by Aman

June 26, 2008 at 9:14 pm

Posted in Global Health

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