Giving Compass' Take:

• Thomas Both explores both human-centered and systems-thinking methods in philanthropy and how they can work together to address social challenges.

• It all starts with information. Organizations should take a close look at how they gather data and attempt to utilize it. Are we finding new perspectives on solutions — or reverting back to old habits?

• Read more about redesigning and rethinking systems of inequality.

A design approach emphasizes discovering the right problem to solve, and investing in both problem-finding and problem-solving. For both human- and systems-level challenges, we need to identify the problems worth addressing if we are to create meaningful change. Understanding the right problem, we can better create effective solutions. A very simple characterization of a design approach is that we move from working to understand a challenge, to working on creating solutions in response to the challenge.

To create impactful solutions — and not just incremental change — we need to gain new perspectives on challenges. We need to analyze qualitative and quantitative data for insights that can point us to better opportunities. With new perspectives, we can conceptualize and create more effective solutions.

This work of sense-making is an act of abstraction: We move from the concrete (gathered information and observations) to abstract (a new perspective), and then back to concrete (new solutions). This abstraction helps us achieve new and meaningful viewpoints and solutions, rather than simply jumping to a quick fix for the visible symptoms of a deeper issue.

Combining the emphasis on problem-finding with the need for abstraction, we can create a new visualization of a design approach.

Our approach is now split into four modes, with one in each quadrant:

  1. Gathering qualitative and quantitative data (concrete-understanding)
  2. Making sense of these data to gain insights and a new perspective on the challenge (abstract-understanding)
  3. Using these insights to inform new opportunities (abstract-creation) and framing what you aim to achieve
  4. Responding to those opportunities to conceptualize and build new products, services, and systems solutions (concrete-creation)

There are many tools and techniques we can use for each of these modes. Which tool a team selects depends on the challenge at hand. Four guiding questions can help frame our work: What do we notice? What’s the meaning? What’s our direction? And what’s our solution?

Read the full article on human-centered and system minded design by Thomas Both at Stanford Social Innovation Review.