News and blog posts from our students and faculty

Category Archives: Social Innovation

Financing Longer Life Expectancies in an Aging Population

“In 1940, the typical American who reached age 65 would ultimately spend about 17 percent of his or her life retired. Now the figure is 22 percent, and still rising.”[1]

As life expectancy in America has increased (about 3 months each year since 1840)[1], so has the length in retirement, and attendant worries about financing life in old age. By 2025, 25% of the U.S. population will be over 60, compared with 16.5% in 2000 [2]. The repercussions are often difficult for retired individuals and their families, but they are also far-reaching in society, affecting wide-ranging fields including politics, healthcare, and finance.

Here at the Austin Center for Design, we’re interested in researching how people finance or plan to finance this long period of retirement, and coming up with design ideas to address this multi-faceted problem. Our team [Lindsay Josal, Maryanne Lee, and Laura Galos] will focus our next 3 quarters on financing the longer life expectancy of an aging population, particularly for members of the working class.

In conducting our research, we will primarily employ Contextual Inquiry to gain understanding and empathy with people in retirement or planning for retirement by observing and learning from them in a “master-apprentice”-style relationship. Specifically, we plan to learn from retired individuals, working-class individuals in their 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s (to gain a sense of perceptions at each age plateau), financial experts, and caregivers of retired individuals.

Our full research plan can be found here.

We believe that addressing the new financial concerns that arise with increased longevity can alleviate some of the financial, health-related, and emotional issues facing both seniors and their circle of caregivers.

Interested in learning more or participating in our research? Do you know someone who would be open to speaking with us about financing retirement? We would love to hear from you! You can contact us at:

lindsay.josal@ac4d.com

maryanne.lee@ac4d.com

laura.galos@ac4d.com

 

References:

[1] Easterbrook, Gregg. “What Happens When We All Live to 100?” The Atlantic Monthly, Oct. 2014. Online. Accessed 11/5/14. http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2014/09/what-happens-when-we-all-live-to-100/379338/

[2] Disruptive Demographics. MIT AgeLab. Online. Accessed 11/5/14. http://agelab.mit.edu/disruptive-demographics

Posted in Design Research, Interaction Design, Motivation, Social Innovation | Leave a comment

Empathy & Action: Reflections on Social Entrepreneurship and the Poor

A few months ago I left a wonderful job, good friends and a lot family in Cambridge, MA to move to Texas. The readings on social entrepreneurship and poverty, which we have been discussing in our theory class for the past two weeks, are at the heart of the reason for my move – I want to learn how to use my skills as an interaction designer to do socially relevant work.

The themes of empathy and action are the most compelling to emerge from this group of readings. As I considered the theme of empathy I was reminded of the saying, “there but for grace of God go I”. For me this sums up an empathetic worldview — I recognize our shared humanity, and look at differences in context and experience to understand the discrepancy our in circumstances. In the diagram, the x-axis represents this theme of empathy. Each article is positioned based on the authors’ view of the role of innate qualities versus context to explain people’s varying circumstance. The y-axis, representing action, describes each author’s relative focus on explaining a situation versus empowering action.

2x2 Diagram

 

Discussion of each author’s position and pdf with diagram and discussion after the break.

(more…)

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Graphic Recording: Hunter Sunrise @AC4D

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UX for Good: Introduction

The wall of missing loved ones – Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre

Hello!

My name is Matt Franks.  I’m a faculty member at the Austin Center for Design.

This post marks the beginning of a series that I hope to maintain over the next few weeks on my participation in this year’s UX for Good challenge – Kigali & London.

What is UX for Good?

“UX for Good is an effort to push design as far as it can go: past forms, interactions and experiences to complex human systems, and beyond attractive, effective and elegant to deeply impactful. UX for Good is out to set the edge, so non-practitioners can see the full potential of design and practitioners can do the most meaningful work of their careers.

Each year, a handful of top user experience designers from around the world are brought together to conceptualize and develop novel interventions that help solve complex, social challenges.”

UX for good aligns to the mission of AC4D in that it attempts to make meaningful change by focusing on problems worth solving. This year’s challenge focuses on a particularly wicked problem: Converting the profound feelings elicited by genocide memorials into meaningful and sustainable action.

As part of this challenge, I will be visiting Kigali, Rwanda for several days of exploration, research, and debate around the topic of Genocide. Kigali is home to the Kigali Genocide Memorial Center.

This memorial is built on the site of mass grave, housing the remains of 250,000 Rwandans who were killed over three months in 1994.

Jason Ulaszek of Manifest Digital and Jeff Leitner of Insight Labs, the founders of UX for Good, give great context into this years challenge:

“Like all such memorials, it is intended as an antidote to genocide itself – teaching us and moving us to ensure we will never again be detached and complicit.

But, for the most part, we remain unchanged. Virtually every visitor to a genocide memorial or holocaust museum can attest to overwhelming feelings of sympathy, sadness and outrage. Schoolchildren and world leaders alike leave speechless. But most visitors can also attest that they did nothing substantively differently as a result.”

For those of you who are interested in the complete design brief, you can find it here.

I’ve been fortunate enough to spend my career surrounded by individuals who I would regard as more capable than myself in so many ways. I’m genuinely excited to be working on a problem whose solution is in no way obvious, and with a team of talented individuals from around the world.

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Making suboptimal markets more efficient for societal change

In Theory of Interaction Design and Social Entrepreneurship, we took a critical look at how innovation and social entrepreneurship is described through a series of articles and discussions.

A Social Entrepreneurship Overview

In Social Entrepreneurship: The Case for Definition, Roger Martin describes social enterprise as the progression of both society and economy, Social entrepreneurship, we believe, is as vital to the progress of societies as is entrepreneurship to the progress of economies, and it merits more rigorous, serious attention than it has attracted so far.

A Suboptimal Equilibrium as Context

Martin further describes the characteristic of an entrepreneur as a person who sees suboptimal equilibrium as an opportunity to provide new solutions.  And to give you a bit more context, the map below illustrates an example of a state of suboptimal equilibrium, where over 50% of a country is facing chronic poverty.

A Social Entrepreneur

So by Martin’s definition, Muhammad Yunus is a social entrepreneur.  And in Building Social Business Models: Lessons from the Grameen Experience, Yunus introduces us to his first lesson by challenging conventional wisdom … Grameen Bank’s business model therefore challenges several standard banking assumptions, including the beliefs that loans cannot be granted without collateral and that ‘entrepreneurship’ is a rare quality among the poor. 

He is also explicit about the need for social profit objectives to be clear especially when creating business models for social change.  Without this understanding and transparency – it’s easy to claim that even micro-financing in a way, throws money at a social problem or even worse takes advantage of the already compromised.

The Progress of Economies and Societies

In Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: A Mirage, Aneel Karnani describes a balance of society and economy progression that makes sense … private sectors can help alleviate poverty by focusing on the poor as producers.

Make Suboptimal Markets More Efficient for Societal Change

So after a year at Austin Center for Design I’ve come to the conclusion – design with and for people to make suboptimal markets more efficient for societies to change and progress.  It’s not brilliant, fancy or even provocative but it’s given me the confidence to move forward in these wicked problems we’ve been in over the past year.  It’s also the same lens I see our own Social Enterprise called Stitch in.

Stitch as a Social Enterprise

Stitch focuses on the suboptimal equilibrium of healthcare. Below are concept models of the current and proposed systems around care management specific to a surgical recovery process.

It challenges our mental models for creating and distributing medical knowledge. For example, in the idea that health knowledge should only come from medical experts or we can only receive medical information in the form of paperwork as we leave care.

So we created a platform to help individuals define their own recovery and share medical knowledge. Stitch alleviates poor adherence and readmission rates by providing a new way to support both medical professionals and patients.

So again, to help economies and societies change and progress, make suboptimal markets more efficient for people.

 

 

Posted in Interaction Design, Social Innovation, Theory | Leave a comment

The Maturation of Discourse around Social Entrepreneurship and Wicked Problems

Social entrepreneurship is a new concept; as I experienced in our readings for theory class, there are still arguments being had about what defines social entrepreneurship. That should give you an idea of how new social entrepreneurship is today.

Today, I’m going to talk about the maturation of the discussion around social entrepreneurship and how it applies to the understanding of what a wicked problem is and how it functions. My hypothesis is such:

The more we understand social entrepreneurship and its effects on the world, the better discourse we can have about the appropriate actions to take around wicked problems.

When I talk about “wicked problems,” I am referencing first and foremost Rittel and Webber’s article Dilemmas in a General Theory of PlanningTo understand this argument better, I suggest you read it—it’s a great working definition and one of the first definitions around wicked problems.

The main three definitions around wicked problems that I will be using are that wicked problems are systemic, are fundamentally changed through any action upon them, and require that the problem-solver take accountability for the consequences of his or her actions.

When I talk about maturity of an argument, I will be using a metaphor around bees and their growth. First, the bee is deposited as an egg in a honeycomb (which represents the acknowledgment but not full understanding of a wicked problem), and then grows into a larvae (which represents testing hypotheses and gathering information). Then the larvae turns into a pupae (representing a deeper understanding of the wicked problem and its many facets), then growing into an adult bee (which are actions that fundamentally change the wicked problem).

Each author can be defined in one of these spaces—in this argument, I exclude all of the authors from falling into the “Actions that affect and fundamentally change the system” camp, because while the discourse around social entrepreneurship has matured greatly, it has yet to reach a defined process to tackling wicked problems.

Karnani represents the hypothesizing and testing phase of the argument around social entrepreneurship. Karnani’s argument that “The only way to help the poor and alleviate poverty is to raise the real income of the poor,” is straightforward and prescriptive, but according to Rittel and Webber, is not a complete answer in and of itself. According to Rittel and Webber,

“Does poverty mean low income? Yes, in part. But what are the determinants of low income? Is it deficiency of the national and regional economies, or is it deficiencies of cognitive and occupational skills within the labor force? If the latter, the problem statement and the problem “solution” must encompass the educational processes. But, then, where within the educational system does the real problem lie?”

While Karnani’s hypothesis about simply increasing the poor’s income to alleviate poverty is true in some facet, it will not in and of itself alleviate poverty. There are many more facets to poverty that expand beyond income, and these must also be considered as solutions as well.

Wyatt represents the deeper understanding of the societal threads around social entrepreneurship; in her article, Design Thinking for Social Innovation, she talks of a woman who purposely does not buy water from a treatment plant, even though it is close to her village. Why? Because the water treatment plant requires her to fill a 5 gallon jug of water, which she cannot easily carry, from the plant to her house (roughly 3 miles). Other women who have other family members to help them can buy treated, healthier water, but she cannot due to the fact that her family members work out of the village. She urges for a more systemic view of the wicked problems social entrepreneurs are trying to solve and says, “Design thinking—inherently optimistic, constructive, and experiential—addresses the needs of people who will consume a product or service and the infrastructure that enables it.”

What she does not address in her article, however, are what the consequences are even of design thinking now that the water treatment plant has irrevocably changed the nature of the problem (the problem was access to clean water, and now is access to someone who can carry the clean water). Rittel and Webber argue that,

“With wicked problems, however, every implemented solution is consequential. It leaves “traces” that cannot be undone. One cannot build a freeway to see how it works, and then easily correct it after unsatisfactory performance. Large public-works are effectively irreversible, and the consequences they generate have long half-lives. Many people’s lives will have been irreversibly influenced, and large amounts of money will have been spent–another irreversible act.”

So, where our our consequences in thinking about the idea of social entrepreneurship. The person who has built the most comprehensive definition of social entrepreneurship is Dees, who says that by definition, social entrepreneurs are:

  • “Recognizing and relentlessly pursuing new opportunities to serve that mission.
  • Engaging in a process of continuous innovation, adaptation, and learning.
  • Exhibiting a heightened sense of accountability to the constituencies served and for the outcomes created.”
Compared with Rittel and Webber who state that wicked problems are:
  • Have no stopping rule.
  • There is no immediate and no ultimate test of a solution to a wicked problem.
  • The solvers of wicked problems are liable for the consequences of their actions.
The parallels are clear; both Dees and Rittel and Webber see that because wicked problems have no stopping rule, social entrepreneurs must be relentless. Wicked problems have no immediate and ultimate solution, and so social entrepreneurs must be consistently innovative. And finally, they both agree that social entrepreneurs carry with them the weight of accountability on their shoulders for their actions in regards to wicked problems.I have created a diagram outlining more in detail the other authors and their positions as the discourse around social entrepreneurship and wicked problems deepens and matures.

See the full PDF here.

Social entrepreneurs and wicked problems are inextricably linked; we cannot talk about social entrepreneurs without referencing the complex social problems that they are taking action on.

As our understanding of wicked problems deepens, so does our understanding of what it means to be a social entrepreneur; we realize that while our business may not “solve” a wicked problem, it will surely change it in an intangible way, and that the best way to “solve” wicked problems is to have many social entrepreneurs working on issues and collaborating to address all of the multiple facets of a problem.


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Highlighting The Work of Non Profits

For quarter four I am pushing through to build out my wireframes with Story Share in a second iteration. It has been an interesting process on going through this design state, again. In quarter 2 I was able to get a taste of what it is like to do user testing with thermostat wireframes. It is interesting to find each time I go through the process that the first concept or iteration to me feels like the best one. Each iteration after that becomes the reality of the world imprinting its true functionality.  Through testing and talking to industry professionals this project is beginning to tighten up in direction and concept.

Below is the second iteration of wires that I will be using for testing this week. The goal of this wireframe is to allow new users to arrive at a space and understand how to achieve a specific goal. This intro slide focuses the user to make the choice of investigating the Story Share app as a new user or to sign in as a previous user. In this scenario the user is new to the space and looking to volunteer. Ex. 1 is of the main page and Ex. 2 is the following screen of a user story.

 

 Once a user finds a volunteer opportunity they are interested in they are brought to a more in depth level of the app. While viewing the story the option to volunteer with the event becomes a major icon listed at the bottom part of the screen. If a user decides that this is an event that they want to be apart of they tap the “help out with this project” button. Keeping this action as a consistent feature to new users is a form of a reminder to sign up. Basic information is collected as seen in Ex. 4 and email notification for registration is sent to the user. This is to engage the user but not overwhelm them with a barrage of front end questioning.

The ability to allow users to read through projects and navigate the space without being registered is important. By doing this people who are exploring this app can see what level of importance it might have to their needs and goals. Advocacy is a primary function to the purpose of creating stories for Story Share. Creating a continuous feed of information for particular volunteer opportunities can show the on going challenge that many non profits and their clients go through. My goal is to allow users to share stories in order to continue the advocacy of the clients they are helping.

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BringUp selected for the 2nd round of the $50K Arch Grants Global Startup Competition

Although Will Mederski and I may have been in radio silence around AC4D recently, that doesn’t mean we haven’t continued to work on BringUp.

This past fall we got our software about 2/3rds complete with help from 2 students from MakerSquare. The automated parent signup process now works, and you’re welcome to try it out by texting the number  27  to 512-861-8455.

This winter, we submitted BringUp for the 3rd Annual St. Louis Arch Grants Global Startup Competition (www.archgrants.org) This organization provides $50K grants to about 20 companies willing to relocate their headquarters to the St. Louis area, along with lots of free accounting, marketing and legal assistance. It’s free money, no strings attached. Will and I are proud to announce that BringUp has made it to the 2nd round of the 2014 competition!

The 2nd round is a bit of a lighting round, as we had one week to prepare a 3 minute YouTube video, as well as an additional presentation. Luckily, Will and I were readily prepared from the work we did last year at AC4D. Creating this material on top of SXSW and a bad case of strep-throat was no problem at all. Please check out our video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v25N0fNBCCs

Posted in AC4D In The News, Social Innovation, Startups | Leave a comment

Empowering Volunteers

Story Share is a project that focuses on providing the best volunteering opportunities to high school students. This project allows high school students to curate their personal profiles in order to share their schedules so that organizations that need volunteers can be alerted to their availability. One primary goal of this project is to create a website that can record volunteer work so students have a working portfolio that can easily be used for their professional or collegiate ambitions. During the next quarter, my plan is to test and revise the user flows for a working website dedicated to this service.

-Student meeting with counselor to go over college admission requirements.

The website is derived out of design research collected at the Onion Creek Flood in Austin, TX. On October 31, flood waters caused damage to communities in South Austin and surrounding towns. From the events that unfolded, it became important to me to build a site that works as an online resource for advocacy, response, and safety. The intention of the project is to create an organic interchange between community members who wish to volunteer and those organizations that are in need of volunteers. One under-recognized demographic of Austin’s community are high school students who are seeking volunteer opportunities. This project aims to help them become a voice of advocacy in a time of need.

This site is intended to function as a valuable tool for high school students in that it creates a place where students can find volunteer opportunities. By testing design functions of the site with various users’ insight can be learned to find the most effective forms of how to communicate this site. Many students are unsure of what, where, or how to even get started in volunteering. Story Share recognizes that this is a problem and seeks to offer a solution.

 -Initial design layouts of Story Share website.

Motivating factors for High School Students to volunteer are:

  • College Admissions.
  • High School Requirements.
  • Curriculum requirements for Academy of Global Studies.
  • Student clubs.
  • Personal interests.

By allowing students to include photos, stories, and schedule volunteer times the chances of the students to find opportunities that work for them become more realistic. Story Share plans to allow users to share experiences social media sites in order to help draw volunteers towards events that need more participation.

If you or someone you know is interested in helping with the efforts of making this into a reality please contact Kurt at kurt.hanley@austincenterfordesign.com Assistance in the form of time, advice, or contacts is extremely valuable for the success of this project.

Thank you.

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Charting Times of Change: Money Practices and Behaviors in Myanmar

Earlier this week, GigaOm published an introduction to some work I’ve been a part of in Myanmar, exploring money practices and behaviors in rural and low-income households. Conducting design research in other countries, especially those in development, is a reminder of the applicability of the design process and of the work we do. So few people (or institutions) strive to understand “why,” and despite a heightened foreign interest and influx of opportunity in this newly opened market, so few products and services have been designed appropriately, or adapted from other markets to consider the needs and values of the people they serve.

http://gigaom.com/2014/03/04/as-myanmar-opens-up-will-mobile-money-emerge/

I hope you enjoy the read.
We’ll be sharing out our findings in early April.

Posted in Design Research, Methods, Social Innovation | Leave a comment