Lessons Learned: Lean Impact : Innovating for Social Good

MargaretDesign Tools, Legal Product Design, Prototyping for PolicyLeave a Comment

The upcoming book, from Ann Mei Chang, Lessons Learned: Lean Impact : Innovating for Social Goodpromises to hold many lessons for design work for policy and systems. This article on the Lean Startup blog, Startup Lessons Learned, begins to profile what the book will share about how to innovate in the social sector using lean and human-centered methods.

The author, Ann Mei Chang, details what the status quo with social system innovation is, and why there needs to be a new approach — especially in drafting and testing policy:

The traditional approach to global development, and much of the social sector, is to run fairly large size programs that are usually designed in detail upfront, then executed accordingly – something I call an enforced waterfall model. It’s very risk-averse. A foundation or government agency puts out an RFP, and non-profits or contractors then submit a detailed proposal. Then once an award is given, the grantee is expected to spend the next three to five years dutifully implementing on the program as designed.
There’s very little room for experimentation, for risk taking, for iteration. You have to stick to the letter of the proposal. That’s not a great way to innovate. At the Global Development Lab we were pioneering some different ways to tackle problems, to structure our funding so that we could give out smaller grants for people to experiment, give them a lot more flexibility to do so, and then give them increased grants based on their successes. This happened both through development innovation ventures–we called these DIV–which was an open innovation window where we took ideas from anywhere and across sectors, and also through our grand challenges, which we called directed innovation. Those would focus on specific problems where we felt like the solutions we had were insufficient and we were seeking to tap into the worlds’ greatest minds to come up with better solutions that could move the needle.
The other problem I would say is that because of how the social sector is structured, we often have a mindset that everything needs to be done fairly big. We create these proposals, we run these big programs. Innovation in general and particularly with lean approaches, should start small. Experimentation isn’t something that takes a lot of money. That’s more of a mindset shift: even if we don’t have a lot of flexibility, we should take what flexibility we have and for example, just get out of the building. Go talk to your customers. Spending a day doing that can glean enormous insights, even if you’re not able to completely transform the way you work. Injecting what you can by running a few small experiments or talking to customers can make a big difference.
Read the rest at the article to see how small prototypes can have social impact, and how we can work with prototypes in government bodies.

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