Questions to think about when developing your startup pitch

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I was at the RISE conference tonight for the Social Entrepreneurship Keynote and Non-Profit Fast Pitch. 15 non-profits from Austin were selected to pitch to a panel of judges for 1.5 minute + Q&A session. Congrats to @LemonadeDayATX for winning, and congrats to everyone else for doing a phenomenon job.

As we’ve experienced at AC4D, pitching about your story and idea in such a short amount of time and capturing the essence of what you’re trying to do is not an easy task. So I particularly appreciated the Q&A sessions after the pitches that allow the entrepreneurs to offer deeper insights. The judges asked no easy questions though. I captured them so as our class starts to build our stories and pitches over the next 2 months, we have a good reference of things we should keep in mind about:

  • What’s the single metric you use to measure success?
  • What’s your funding model?
  • What traction have you gained?
  • How do you find your taget audience?
  • How long is the engagement of your participant during and after?
  • How do you measure overtime?
  • What’s your biggest challenge?
  • Who are you and why do you care about this?
  • How are you leveraging technology?
  • Which cities are you expanding to and why?
  • What are your top priorities for the next 12 months and how are you planning on achieving them?
  • What’s the impact so far and how do you know?
  • Where are you getting your funding?
  • Is there a revenue generating component?
  • How do you showcase your success so people know where their money is going to?
  • How did you get this idea?
  • What guidance do you give to your donors in choosing what to give to?
  • How have you achieved impact already?
  • How are you planning to take this off the ground?
  • How far along are you in development?
  • How are you going to prove your concept and deserve this investment?
  • What is the most innovate way you’ve raised money?
  • What would you change?
  • How far along are you in your campaign?
  • What program do you have in order to support your mission?
  • What are the barriers to your growth?
  • How do you plan on people knowing about your website?
  • How do you maintain a lasting impact?
  • How much capital do you need over the next 3 years, and how are you going to get that money?
  • What have you achieved so far?
  • How are your participants sourced? How do you pick?
  • How long is the mentorship?
  • What is the fundamental innovation?

Thoughts on studio learning

The last week of our Q3 studio class was much more informal than previous weeks. It was open work time as we prepared for our final presentations with no structured check-in’s with Justin, though everyone ended up chatting with him throughout the day.

Because of those small changes, I realized a few things about the way I learn:

  • I learn through eavesdropping. Because Justin was walking around to groups in their workspaces or meeting with people in his office with the door open, I was able to pick up on various bits of advice throughout the day (including, “if you want people to pay attention to it and remember it, write it down on a slide. Don’t just talk about it.”) I could integrate what I wanted, I ended up learning more, and he didn’t have to repeat himself over and over again.
  • I’m nosy and want to know what other people are doing. Because of the structure of scheduled one-on-one’s between groups and Petro (which I’m glad we had because we had given feedback during Q2 that we wanted more of that time with professors), groups ended up presenting and preparing for their meetings with Justin behind closed doors. And the feedback was in some ways trapped in that room because 1) we just integrated our feedback into our own process/project and went along our merry ways and 2) we didn’t have the time or discipline to reflect and share that feedback back via blogging, and 3) we simply didn’t realize what we were missing in not sharing all of that back. We spent the rest of our class times working in our teams (often in separate rooms or corners). While we did catch bits and pieces of what others were doing, notably when someone (inside or outside the class) asked a group about it, there could have been a lot more.
  • I wanted coaching about the design process. This clicked for me when I read this in an Edward de Bono article: “I am not suggesting that [lateral thinking] is easy. It requires a lot of careful practice and coaching. But the deliberate steps can be used.” And then when I saw this happen because Kat asked for Jon’s help in walking her through an insight recombination exercise:Feedback is an important part of coaching when you’re trying something new. One net result of the structure of the quarter was that we got a lot of feedback on whatever we managed to pull together to present of our projects, and less feedback on our processes. Coaching is tricky when the process is so messy, but there is value in walking through the methods we are new to in the specific context of the project we’re currently working on—often when the need arises, and in the middle of our individual worktime. It helps gel the individual methods we learned previously floating around in our heads with the context and roadblocks of our current project floating around in other parts of our heads.

Of course, hindsight is much clearer than foresight. It takes a change, reflection, an outsider, and/or the ability to step back to see how things are currently working. Because we’re usually too caught up in the actual work, and we fall into habits and routines, and things just go unquestioned. It’s a struggle new organizations also have to deal with after a few years of operation—how to best use the people and the space that you have to work with.

As interaction designers, we can look at the “touchpoints” of a studio learning experience:

  • meetings: open vs. closed, location, formality, who’s invited, who can sit in.
  • do you go to the higher-up or does the higher-up come to you?
  • do people feel free to come up to you while you’re working and interrupt and ask questions?
  • where do people actually work? what’s the space like?
  • where are the closed doors? (the physical ones and the assumed ones)
  • how public is your process? how visible is it?
  • what are each person’s expectations about the space, the time together, the process?
  • how do people keep each other updated on each other’s work?
  • what’s the dynamic of teams within the larger organization?

Reflections from Q3

It’s a shame we didn’t do POW reflection videos the last week of Q3, because a lot of things clicked, and I learned a lot during that last week. What you get is a long thoughtful blogpost instead.

Design Research is integral to the Design Process

In my last post, I wrote about our cycles of research/synthesis/design as we worked on Nudge. The stages in the design process were definitely not clear-cut, nor were they scheduled. They flowed one into another, as they should, and they were often overlapping.

This past quarter helped me clarify my belief that design research should be an integral part of the design process. It can’t be segregated to the beginnings and ends of a project with a neat hand-off—or the possibility of facing the chopping block if the team doesn’t have enough time or money. Earlier in the quarter I had lunch with a local designer who didn’t believe design researcher should be its own role. He believed the “design researcher” runs the risk of becoming lazy about not having an opinion about the research findings because they can just hand the findings off to the “designers” who then have to deal with them. When the roles are segregated, I would also argue that the designer also runs the risk of not feeling responsible or empowered to do additional fieldwork on their own during the course of a project—especially when they need those gut checks, and especially if we are to keep people at the core of our designs.

Going Deep

I think continued research/synthesis/prototype cycles are more apt to happen naturally if you are working over a period of time within one specific social issue that you feel passionate about. You will continue to learn more, talk to more people, and have experiences within the relevant field, and the insights you’ll accumulate from following your curiosity will continually inform your design work.

It reminds me of our discussions about social impact during Q1, when we read Emily Pilloton’s take on going local and going deep to have any meaningful social impact.

After two years of tackling design projects for measurable social impact, the one piece of advice I would give to other designers who seek to apply their creative skills toward activism and community engagement is to sit still and focus on one thing.

I mean this not in a cubicle context (”sit at your desk and return emails”), but rather as it pertains to approaching huge, high-stakes design for social-impact projects and enterprises. To sit still and focus on one thing means to commit to a place, to live and work there, and to apply your skills (your “one thing”) to that community’s benefit.

This idea of deep engagement makes me question the consultancy model of design—where you come into something, work for a predefined amount of time, and then leave. It’s what rubs me the wrong way about the recent surge in design “competitions” that call for submissions from creative citizens to solve problems that are remote to people’s lives—physically and emotionally. If you are going to be tackling maternal health in Africa, I may be able to contribute my ideas from Austin, but I am lacking 1) context, 2) skin in the game, and 3) responsibility in the follow-through to what happens to those ideas. It feels more productive to me to either engage a curated group of people (including designers) who have an invested interest in the issue or to co-design with the mothers in Africa themselves.

Commitment to the consequences is important when we’re tackling social issues where our solutions will have real impact (positive and negative). There is a role for the designer, but we must be willing at some point to throw ourselves into an issue space for an extended period of time and to partner with real experts and actual stakeholders. Commitment to anything is difficult in my 20’s when I don’t want to plan beyond next week, but I think it is a step I must take if I want my work to have social impact.

The Role of Technology

I recently read a revealing article by Kentaro Toyama questioning technology’s role in solving social issues. Technology is an amplifier of human intent and capacity. If we don’t nurture human capacity in any specific region, rushing in with technology (best case) doesn’t stick or (worst case) does more harm than good.

Academic observers have deconstructed telecenters and other ICT4D projects, enumerating the many reasons why the initiatives fail: ICT4D enthusiasts don’t design context-appropriate technology, adhere to socio-cultural norms, account for poor electrical supply, build relationships with local governments, invite the participation of the community, provide services that meet local needs, consider bad transportation infrastructure, think through a viable financial model, provide incentives for all stakeholders, and so on. These criticisms are each valid as far as they go, and ICT4D interventionists sometimes focus narrowly on addressing them. But this laundry list of foibles ultimately provides no insight into the deeper reasons why ICT4D projects rarely fulfill their promise, even as their cousins in the developed world thrive in the form of netbooks, BlackBerrys, and Facebook.

…In every one of our projects, a technology’s effects were wholly dependent on the intention and capacity of the people handling it…In our most successful ICT4D projects, the partner organizations did the hard work of real development, and our role was simply to assist, and strengthen, their efforts with technology.

If I were to summarize everything I learned through research in ICT4D, it would be this: technology—no matter how well designed—is only a magnifier of human intent and capacity. It is not a substitute. If you have a foundation of competent, well-intentioned people, then the appropriate technology can amplify their capacity and lead to amazing achievements. But, in circumstances with negative human intent, as in the case of corrupt government bureaucrats, or minimal capacity, as in the case of people who have been denied a basic education, no amount of technology will turn things around.

For me, the amazing potential of design is when our ethnographic research unearths opportunity areas where people have the intentions and capability yet aren’t following through with actions. To find areas where human capacity exists and build on it. A prime example is environmental sustainability: we all know we shouldn’t be driving or buying that bottle of water or using yet another plastic bag…but how many of us live actively green lifestyles? I believe that design and technology can bridge that gap.

Thus, the search for ‘elegant’ solutions

One of my ultimate goals for my designs is elegance. After I present a design solution, it would be awesome if the feedback was “why hasn’t anyone already done that?” I realized this after I watched Ruby’s and Kat’s participation in the student design competition at Interactions 11 conference. Through their research they found that hotels in Boulder were already housing people when shelters overflowed during the cold winter (and off-season) months for a discounted rate. Their proposed solution was a website that would make those booking connections easier between shelters and hotels. An additional public display and text donation system helped draw in awareness and participation from the citizens of Boulder, most of whom probably don’t know this is going on in their own city.

Actually, before they presented SafeBed, part of me thought they might not win because the end product of a website to connect the shelters and hotels seemed so obvious, that it might not be perceived as that innovative. (Of course, they did win!)

Edward de Bono of the “six thinking hats” system puts it best when he laments that:

…every valuable, creative idea will always be logical in hindsight. If an idea were not logical in hindsight, then we would never be able to appreciate the value of the idea.

When design works well, the solutions merge seamlessly into our lives, and we stop thinking about their inventiveness (possibly controversial nature) at the time. But we can only arrive at elegant solutions that will integrate into people’s lives if we have empathy for how people behave and a sense of what they’ll be willing to adapt.

It seems pretty simple to arrive at elegant design solutions: use design research to discover existing behavior and intentions that can be amplified by design and technology, and then design! Simple yet difficult. Yet exciting.

Reluctant innovators

The idea of a reluctant innovator has been stuck in my head since I read this blog post on kiwanja (via Erik Hersman’s tweets). These are “people who found themselves in the midst of a problem they felt compelled to solve.” They became innovators, and eventually entrepreneurs—and reluctantly. They weren’t looking for problems to solve; the problems found them.

I think one of the strengths of AC4D’s program is that we have all come together around this social issue of homelessness, and we’ve been able to learn together, share together, and bring our own points of view into the design process. At the same time, I don’t have a good sense of where people’s hearts really lie. I’m sure there are specific social issues nagging at each of us, problems that we want to tackle after school.

I’ve been able to pretty easily put the two social issues I feel most strongly about—living sustainably and improving public education—onto my professional back burners. (And no, I’m not going to combine them for the sake of combining them.) Haven’t really thought through personally or professionally what it means to apply a design methodology and entrepreneurship model to tackling either of the two. Partly because I’m scared to leave the consultancy model of design that I know and love. Good time to start thinking!

Mommy's Corner Pitch

Last Saturday, Saranyan and I pitched our idea for Mommy’s Corner (think the craigslist of trading).  We got some great questions around the legality of our site and the logistics of making a trade.  Stay tuned for solutions around how to make a trade run smoothly.

Here’s the deck for our pitch.

Here is the current version of wireframes for the site:

The evolution of Nudge

Nudge is a communication service to connect case managers and families experiencing homelessness in-between face-to-face meetings. We believe that strategically increasing the amount of low-key communication will enable case managers to serve clients better, enable clients to reach out for help, save time on both ends, and increase the support available to families. This increased support will help families stay on-track as they move toward achieving their goals.

My biggest takeaway from the quarter:

Research is no excuse to delay designing.Design is no excuse to stop researching.

Ryan and I have been through multiple, overlapping research/synthesis/prototype cycles during the process of Nudge. Part of this was due to logistics: since the beginning of the quarter, we have been wanting to partner with a local organization who works with families experiencing homelessness, but our ability to meet with one only came through during the last week of the quarter. After procrastinating for a few weeks at the beginning of the quarter waiting on interviews that kept getting rescheduled, we plunged in and started designing in the spirit of rapid prototyping. After all, we did have all of our knowledge from the class’s 8 weeks of research, my previous conversations with teen moms in shelter, and Ryan’s discussions with people in AA to inform our best guesses. We had gotten to a point where we had a framework for a theory of change—help people strengthen support networks to increase success and prevent return to homelessness. So we stopped talking, and we started making.

And we kept talking to people. We were doing many steps in the design process simultaneously: research, synthesis, design, development. During the process, I felt like we were getting sidetracked, and I questioned whether we should still be doing “research” and scheduling interviews. For instance, we couldn’t talk to any families, so we talked to some people at ARCH and in transitional housing. This confused us for awhile because these clients—who have experienced chronic homelessness, addiction, and intensive case management—have very different needs than families who are temporarily homeless. But we wouldn’t have figured that out without having done those interviews. Each time, we came out with more “clay” to work with. True, we needed more time to synthesize those experiences, but the culminating insights were valuable. And when things started clicked during the last week of the quarter, and I was finally able to fit our Nudge product into a compelling story framework that made sense with our research and the needs of the people we’ve been talking to, it felt pretty magical.

Each time we did anything—whether that was an interview, moving forward with our coded prototype, or drafting our story—it felt like we could get deeper and more specific. At one point or another, our project has evolved through the following themes: co-design, safety nets, asset protection, stress release, support systems, mood-tracking, and communication. Our focus has now landed on the specific need of “communication of case managers and families experiencing temporary homelessness in-between face-to-face meetings.”

It reconfirms for me the value of rapid prototyping—even if it’s oftentimes difficult to just start. Also, the quick cycles of research/synthesize/prototype feel akin to agile software development. Lastly, it reminds me that the design process is messy, individual, and unique to the needs of each project and project team…I’m starting to embrace that messiness and have to keep reminding myself that there is no right “answer” to where we should be in the process. The only wrong answer is to do nothing.

Up next for us:

  • Talk to and co-design with families
  • Pilot Nudge with case managers and clients (or some other group: high school teacher and students maybe?)
  • Answer lots of really hard questions as we try to wrap a business model around Nudge
  • Talk to people in the mobile space or who have worked on mobile projects. Please email us if you have any suggestions.

Ah, that ol'Designing For Debate

Throughout the year, various classmates and I have had discussions around imposing our own middle class values on other people through our designs.  First, this came up when deciding what our main project for this year would be.  If we were to work with those experiencing homelessness, would our perspective be one of rescuing/saving/helping the people we were working with?  Inherent in that view is a value judgment that my way of life is better, and in turn, it’s easy to think “I am better.”  Besides this debate, several times we have discussed designing abroad and the value and/or detriment of these design solutions.  Is it imperialistic?

While this debate is not new to the design community, it is also important to remember that this is not a new debate in general, and many, many people have weighed in with their opinions.  During my two years living in Ecuador, and the past semester trying to grasp what it’s like to experience homelessness, I’ve struggled to withhold judgment of people and situations that I don’t truly understand.   The best I can do is continually remind myself to try and see the world from other people’s perspective.  While this often comes from spending time with other people, it also frequently comes from tapping into historical perspectives and readings.

I ’d like to share two readings that have affected and shaped my own opinions on debate, and have allowed me to see doing good and poverty from a differently.

  1. To Hell with Good Intentions” by Ivan Illich.  Illich warns of volunteers in Mexico, but most interesting, I find his view of the American spirit.

  1. La Vida by Oscar Lewis.  Lewis was an anthropologist who studied families living in poverty in Mexico, Puerto Rico, and New York. He developed a controversial theory called “cultural poverty,” which he distinguishes from material poverty.  The theory sees the positive, rather than negative in in the value system of those living in poverty.  Below, you’ll find excerpts from the introduction to the book La Vida where he intensely studies one family living in poverty.

My hope is that these readings also help reframe how you, the reader, thinks about the “we are imposing our values” debate.

Excerpts from the introduction of La Vida:

The people in this book, like most of the other Puerto Rican slum dwellers I have studied, show a great zest for life, especially for sex, and a need for excitement, new experiences and adventures.  Theirs is an expressive style of life.  They value acting out more than thinking out, self-expression more than self-constraint, pleasure more than productivity, spending more than saving, personal loyalty more than impersonal justice.  They are fun-loving and enjoy parties, dancing and music. They cannot be alone; they have an almost insatiable need for sociability and interaction.  They are not apathetic, isolated, withdrawn or melancholy.  Compared with the low-income Mexicans I have studied, they seem less reserved, less depressive, less controlled and less stable.

The Rios family is closer to the expression of an unbridled id than any other people I have studied. They have an almost complete absence of internal conflict and of a sense of guilt.  They tend to accept themselves as they are, and do not indulge in soul-searching or introspection.  The leading characters in The Children of Sanchez seem mild, repressed and almost middle-class by comparison.

In writing about multi-problem families like the Rios family, social scientists often stress the instability, the lack of organization, lack of direction and lack of order.  Certainly there are many contradictory attitudes and inconsistencies expressed in these autobiographies.  Nevertheless, it seems to me that their behavior is clearly patterned and reasonably predictable.  Indeed, one is often struck by the inexorable repetitiousness and the iron entrenchment of their behavior patterns.

It has been my experience over many years that the psychiatrists, clinical psychologists and social workers who have read the autobiographies and psychological tests of the people I have studied, have often found more negative elements and pathology than I am willing to grant.  This has also been the case with the present volume.  Their findings may reflect some bias inherent in the test themselves, but perhaps more important, it seems to me, is the failure to see these people within the context of the culture of poverty…

In spite of the presence of considerable pathology, I am impressed by the strengths in this family.  I am impressed by their fortitude, vitality, resilience and ability to cope with problems which would paralyze many middle-class individuals.  It takes a great deal of staying power to live in their harsh and brutalizing environment.  They are a tough people, but they have their own sense of dignity and morality and they are capable of kindness, generosity and compassion.  They share food and clothing, help each other in misfortune, take in the homeless and cure the ill.  Money and material possessions, although important, do not motivate their major decisions.  Their deepest need is for love, and their life is a relentless search for it.

Unfortunately, because of their own negative self-images, the Rios family do not always present themselves in the best light.  Even in the recorded days, their particular style of communication and the crudeness of their language make them appear less attractive than they really are.  When Cruz screams at her three-year-old daughter, “I’ll pull your lungs through your mouth!”  and the child continues to disobey without apparent fear, it suggests that perhaps the child is quite secure in her mother’s love.  When Felicita sings a “dirty” song to her children instead of a traditional lullaby, the reader may be so disconcerted by the sexual imagery that he forgets the healthier aspects of the scene, children dancing and clapping happily to their mother’s music.  And if the children’s hurts go unattended, it is equally true that in the long run their mother’s lack of concern is not entirely inappropriate in an environment where toughness is necessary for survival.  Soledad may seem like a harsh, cruel, inconsistent mother by middle-class standards, but one should also note how much time, energy and attention she gives to her children and how hard she tries to live up to her own ideal of a good mother.  With much effort she has managed to provide them with a home, food and clothing, even with toys.  She has not abandoned them, nor permitted anyone to abuse them, and she is devoted to them when they are ill.

In the traditional view, anthropologists have said that culture provides human begins with a design for living, wit
h a ready-made set of solutions for human problems so that individuals don’t have to begin all over again each generation.  That is, the core of culture is its positive adaptive function.  I, too, have called attention to some of the adaptive mechanisms in the culture of poverty – for example, the low aspiration level helps to reduce frustration, the legitimization of short-range hedonism makes possible spontaneity and enjoyment.  However, on the whole it seems to me that it is a relatively thin culture.  There is a great deal of pathos, suffering and emptiness among those who live in the culture of poverty.  It does not provide much support of long-range satisfaction and its encouragement of mistrust tends to magnify helplessness and isolation.  Indeed, the poverty of culture is one of the crucial aspects of the culture of poverty.

The concept of the culture of poverty provides a high level of generalization which, hopefully, will unify and explain a number of phenomena viewed as distinctive characteristics of racial, national or regional groups.  For example, matrifocality, a high incidence of consensual unions and a high percentage of households headed by women, which have been thought to be distinctive of Caribbean family organization or of Negro family life in the U.S.A., turn out to be traits of the culture of poverty and are found among diverse peoples in many parts of the world and among peoples who have had no history of slavery.

The concept of a cross-societal subculture of poverty enables us to see that many of the problems we think of as distinctively our own or distinctively Negro problems (or that of any other special racial or ethnic group), also exist in countries where there are no distinct ethic minority groups.  This suggests that the elimination of physical poverty per se may not be enough to eliminate the culture of poverty which is a whole way of life.

“Throughout recorded history, in literature, in proverbs and in popular sayings, we find two opposite evaluations of the nature of the poor.  Some characterize the poor as blessed, virtuous, upright, serene, independent, honest, kind, and happy.  Others characterize them as evil, mean violent, sordid and criminal.  These contradictory and confusing evaluations are also reflected in the in-fighting that is going on in the current war against poverty.  Some stress the great potential of the poor for self-help, leadership and community organization, while others point to the sometimes irreversible, destructive effect of poverty upon individual character, and therefore emphasize the need for guidance and control to remain in the hands of the middle class, which presumably has better mental health.

These opposing views reflect a political power struggle between competing groups.  However, some of the confusion results from the failure to distinguish between poverty per se and the culture of poverty and the tendency to focus upon the individual personality rather than upon the group – that is, the family and the slum community.

As an anthropologist I have tried to understand poverty and its associated traits as a culture or, more accurately, as a subculture with its own structure and rationale, as a way of life which is passed down from generation to generation along family lines.  This view directs attention to the fact that the culture of poverty in modern nations is not only a matter of economic deprivation, of disorganization or of the absence of something.  It is also something positive and provides some rewards without which the poor could hardly carry on.

The culture of poverty is both an adaptation and a reaction of the poor to their marginal position in a class-stratified, highly individuated, capitalistic society.  It represents an effort to cope with feelings of hopelessness and despair, which develop from the rationalization of the improbability of achieving success in terms of the values and goals of the larger society.  Indeed, many of the traits of the culture of poverty can be viewed as attempts at local solutions for problems not met by existing institutions and agencies because the people are not eligible for them, cannot afford them, or are ignorant or suspicious of them.  For example, unable to obtain credit from banks, they are thrown upon their own resources and organize informal credit devices without interest.

The culture of poverty, however, is not only an adaptation to set a set of objective conditions of the larger society.  Once it comes into existence it tends to perpetuate itself from generation to generation because of its effect on the children.  By the time slum children are age six or seven they have usually absorbed the basic values and attitudes of their subculture and are not psychologically geared to take full advantage of changing conditions or increased opportunities which may occur in their lifetime.

People with a culture of poverty are aware of middle-class values, talk about them and even claim some of them as their own, but on the whole they do not live by them.  Thus it is important to distinguish between what they say and what they do.  For example, many will tell you that marriage by law, by the church, or by both, is the ideal form of marriage, but few will marry.  To men who have no steady jobs or other sources of income, who do not own property and have no wealth to pass on to their children, who are present-time oriented and who want to avoid the expense and legal difficulties involved in formal marriage and divorce, free unions or consensual marriage makes a lot of sense.  Women will often turn down offers of marriage because they feel it ties them down to men who are immature, punishing and generally unreliable.  Women feel that consensual union gives them a better break; it gives them some of the freedom and flexibility that men have.  By not giving the fathers of their children legal status as husbands, the women have a stronger claim on their children if they decide to leave their men.  It also gives women exclusive rights to a house or any other property they may own.

When we look at the culture of poverty on the local community level, we find poor housing conditions, crowding, gregariousness, but above all a minimum of organization beyond the level of the nuclear and extended family.  Occasionally there are informal, temporary groupings or voluntary associations within slums.  The existence of neighborhood gangs which cut across slum settlements represents a considerable advance beyond the zero point of the continuum that I have in mind.  Indeed, it is the low level of organization which gives the culture of poverty its marginal and anachronistic quality in our highly complex, specialized, organized society.  Most primitive peoples have achieved a higher level of socio-cultural organization than our modern urban slum dwellers.

On the level of the individual the major characteristics are a strong feeling of marginality, of helplessness, fo dependence and of inferiority.  I found this to be true of slum dwellers in Mexico City and San Juan among families who do not constitute a distinct ethic or racial group and who do not suffer from racial discrimination.

When the poor become class-conscious or active members of trade-union organizations or when they adopt an internationalistic outlook on the world they are no longer part of the culture of poverty, although they may still be desperately poor.  Any movement, be it religious, pacifist or revolutionary which organizes and gives hope to the poor and effectively promotes solidarity and a sense of identification with larger groups, destroys the psychological and social core of the culture of poverty.  In this connection, I suspect that the civil rights movement among the Negroes in the United States has done more to improve their self-image and self-respect than have their economic advances, although, without a doubt, the two are mutually reinforcing.

change and play

My project this quarter has been focussed on using play and community to build confidence and change behaviors. I have been looking at life-skills and youth aging out of foster care. The research we did last quarter changed my perspective on homelessness. I was unaware that women and children were the fastest growing population, many young women aging out of foster care.  I felt a need to try to DO SOMETHING…

At the moment this has taken the form of an online tool that incorporates concepts of “play” and community to encourage the youth to get involved. As a designer I feel immersed in play regularly, but I am not a game designer trained in the theories and mechanics applied in the industry. So, I have been trying to absorb as much as possible looking at other models and watching videos. Yesterday I watched the video at the beginning of this post and thought again about why I chose a “play” model for my project.

  • influence and status—Everyone needs to feel like a winner, which helps build confidence. The video spoke about this in the way I am hoping to implement it. The youth will have “bragging rights” as they complete tasks, but there is no failing. It is focussed on their accomplishments.
  • communal dynamic—It is easier to accomplish things with peer support. This is a model that many fitness programs have been successfully built upon. I am hoping to build upon this and connect the youth back to the community and caring adults.

These are some of the theories, but I think that “play” encourages people to take risks with less fear and without being as overwhelmed by expectations. It is that license to be silly or try something new.

How has “play” or community connections played a role in making changes in your life? What rewards have you created for yourself based on behavior? Would you take 20 minutes out of your day to log on and answer questions to help your community? Does your answer change if rewards are involved?

Design research themed links of the week

I’ve come across some cool Design Research stuff in my web-surfing of late.

    This is slightly unrelated, but a link I want to archive. From Ryan, a list of papers that “represent a summary of the past thirty years of service design literature: http://howardesign.com/exp/service/

    On-the-Fly Programming Lessons

    This is what programming looks like. I didn’t expect a lesson tonight, but it sort of just happened in the course of our project-planning conversation.

    As context, I know HTML/CSS. I tried learning PHP online last year but didn’t get very far. I tried to learn Flash last summer from a book but only got to chapter 2. A couple weeks ago, I started a Ruby on Rails tutorial online, and got as far as “Hello World” in the Terminal.

    What’s missing from the books and the online tutorials is that they all skip the context and the framing. I need a mental model of how this all works. And I need a teacher(s) who is willing to meet me where I am instead of me trying to catch up to where the book wants me to start. It also helps to work with real examples and something you’ re trying to actually build.

    For me, a mental model includes: what the file looks like and where it’s stored and how Rails plays together with HTML in the same file.

    As Ryan was walking me through his sketched mental model of how Model-Views-Controller theory works, I was able to sketch out my own model, and we were able to trade metaphors. Then Chap showed me some programming in real time on his laptop and flipped through the various screens he had open in response to some of my questions. Now, some of the puzzle pieces I had picked up trying to DIY are starting to make sense.

    So I’m going to try to take advantage of the people in our class who are already great at programming and learn some stuff. And it’s cool that we don’t have to sit through a typical class on programming when we will learn it through trial and error as we build our own stuff. Side-by-side programming is better than teacher-projector-group learning in this case.

    And in validation of the work Ruby and Alex are doing on their (as-of-yet-unnamed) peer teaching project idea, Ryan totally went from sleepy to chipper as he was “teaching.” He even gave me a pop quiz, made me tell the process back to him, and slightly annoyed me—which are all signs of a good teacher!

    P.S. (or maybe P.S.A.) Have you backed up lately? My back-up external harddrive failed last week, and now my laptop is acting up. Very funny…

    AC4D in Dell's Social Innovation Competition

    All of our students have entered the Dell Social Innovation Competition, an annual event that offers students a venue to present innovative ideas to solve social or environmental problems, anywhere in the world. You can view their entries below; please give them a vote if you like their work :)

    Nudge Us – Christina Tran & Ryan HubbardNudge Us is a service that encourages individuals to reach out to each other, thus strengthening communication within a community. Through text message prompts asking clients how they’re feeling, Nudge Us collects data on individual’s well-being and looks for patterns. Patterns of low or high moods trigger Nudge Us to send text messages to pre-identified contacts nudging them to get in touch with the client. As time progresses, clients will not only start to become more self-aware of their own moods, but also build good habits of reaching out to others when times get tough.

    Ebay for Benefits – Saranyan Vigraham & Kat DavisWe want to provide a platform, where low-income families can trade resources in kind. This platform would provide an opportunity for a low-income family to list resources that they want to trade like food stamps, baby formulas, diapers, etc in exchange of stuff that they need. Without necessarily having to illegally sell their benefits for money, this platform will encourage fair trade of goods.

    OneUp – Women and Homelessness – Kristine MuddOneUp is an online tool empowering youth to choose action plans and track their progress. This will help them build their confidence. OneUp is building on motivation and goal tracking programs that have proved successful in the health and fitness areas, but tailoring the concept to specifically address the needs of this population. It provides easy to execute action plans in relevant knowledge areas. OneUp will help the youth begin to recognize their achievements as it highlights achievements and steps as they are completed; providing rewards that can be displayed on social networks. OneUp offers the ability for the youth to invite peers from their social network as motivators for their specific action plans.

    Teach, Learn & Earn – Ruby Ku & Alex PappasThis project aims to tackle homelessness by focusing on people’s existing skills, shifting the emphasis from what they need to what they have to offer. We intend to provide a platform for these individuals to get paid to teach classes, such as sewing, painting, or bike maintenance. The infrastructure will include a website where they can easily post classes online and recruit students from the community, as well as implement a program to provide training and support. By doing so, we strive to create an environment that will fulfill their financial needs, changing their self perception, as well as the public perception of homelessness.

    Pocket Hotline – A Virtual Call Center for Social Programs – Scott Magee & Chap AmbroseWe’re building a platform that helps leverage remote volunteers, helps organizations externalize and redefine their processes, but more importantly directly connects the community to those in need. Pocket Hotline is a mobile app that routes calls from the front desk of social programs to the cell phones of remote volunteers.