A toolkit for social entrepreneurs

There’s been an awful lot of chatter about design thinking lately in our office. On the international front, innovation and design thinking are being used to address development challenges in different parts of the world.

Design thinking is really just an approach to innovation that ensures the needs of the user are at the centre of business or organizational efforts, whether it be profit-seeking or social purpose. Through ideational or evaluative processes, design thinking produces an integrated innovation that has taken into account not only the demand or need but also the potential solutions. Design thinking ensures that these are truly innovative solutions and not simply inventive. (What’s the difference between innovation and invention? Find out here.)

IDEO has developed an open source Human-Centered Design (HCD) Toolkit that speaks directly to the needs of organizations working in the international development sector. The HCD toolkit is available to download free. The guide aims to help aid and humanitarian organizations, field staff and volunteers, translate community-identified need into tangible, sustainable and innovative solutions.

The toolkit was developed by IDEO in collaboration with the International Centre for Research on Women (ICRW) and Heifer International and was intended for organizations working specifically in Africa, Asia and Latin America. But its lessons and framework are important and transferable for social organizations working at the community level, ensuring the successful transformation of identified needs, into innovative solutions.

Human Centred Design: Feasible, desirable, viable

The HCD identifies a simultaneous process of evaluation based on three lenses:

1. The first is a “desirability” lens, an examination of what the “needs, dreams, and behaviours of the people we want to affect with our solutions”.

2. The second lens is one that examines feasibility both organizationally and/or technologically.

3. Finally, financial viability must be evaluated.

Where these three lenses overlap, innovation bursts forth. Or at least begins to emerge. HCD aims to elicit solutions that are desirable, feasible and viable; all of which are essential factors for successful social innovators.

Because we all love a good acronym – HCD, Human-Centered Design, also represents this toolkit’s articulation of the need for social enterprises and NGOs to Hear the needs of constituents, Create innovative solutions, and Deliver these solutions with financial sustainability in mind.

So if your organization is looking for some additional resources or tips on how to more effectively, efficiently and sustainability leverage your community-based knowledge, the HCD toolkit may be worth a free, open-source perusal.

Hadley Nelles

Hadley works on the social innovation program at MaRS, helping social innovators and entrepreneurs connect with support services to turn their ideas into action. See more…