As part of my job working with an affordable private school, I helped run Design for Change, an international competition that provides youth the opportunity to use design thinking to create a better world, using the concept of “I can.” Working with a group of 8th and 9th class students, we visited an old age home and held a rally in the school and community raising awareness about taking care of the elderly.
The entire process reminded me of a few important principals of collaboration and management.
Work in Small Groups: I’m a big fan of wide-scale collaboration, but for certain situations, in-depth brainstorming and collaboration is better in a small group. At first I tried to facilitate a brainstorming session with the entire 8th class of 40 students, only to be met with disinterest and chaos. Once we brought the number down to a group of 6 for initial brainstorming, and 15 for implementation, it was easier to manage and more productive, for the students and for me. We missed the valuable perspectives and participation of the other students, but I had the core group of students regularly present their findings and activities to the whole class to keep them involved in the process.
People do listen to the naysayer: After a long conversation of brainstorming and coming up with a great solution for child labor awareness, one student argued that our idea wouldn’t work and that we should choose a different one. I tried to explain the concepts of “I can” and trying something that could fail, but the message was already lost and the other students quickly also decided that their idea would be impossible. We went back to the drawing board and came up with another great issue, but I was disappointed that one naysayer would easily change the hopes and perspective of the group.
Let there be awkward silence: As the students worked to come up with slogans for their rally, they were having trouble generating ideas. There was a lot of awkward silence. Breaking the silence, one student jokingly sang a slogan to the tune of a famous Telugu song. The students laughed, but I encouraged them to try adding lyrics. There was a lot more awkward silence, the students being too shy and hesitant to go down this path. But less than ten minutes later, they had one full song and wanted to write two more. There is a tendency to fear the awkward silence moments in collaboration, but letting them happen allowed for creativity and forward-movement.
Facilitate, don’t micromanage: I’m not the best at being hands-off when managing projects and people (though it’s something I recognize and constantly try to work on). Since this was a project for students to take action, not adults, I tried to be as hands-off as possible. When the students would ask me what to do next, I would turn the question back to them, and they almost always had an answer. Constantly asking for help with what to draw or write, I wouldn’t give them much of an answer even though I had my own ideas. They created great posters and slogans all on their own. They didn’t need my help in ideation or implementation (even though they thought they did), only to facilitate meeting times and liaise with school management. There are times when it’s important to be more hands-on as a manager, but I rightly identified this as an opportunity to be more hands-off, and the project and participants were better off for it.
A little support goes a long way: The students I worked with aren’t often encouraged to think critically or creatively, and never work on projects where they are in the driver seat from idea to implementation. Throughout the process I made sure to emphasize that they could do whatever they wanted because it was their project, and I trusted them. They soon became so excited about the project that they eagerly stayed after school multiple days, asked me to come in on my days off, and worked on days that I didn’t even come to the school. All it took was an introduction to the opportunity and a show of support, encouragement, and trust in their abilities, and the students really ran with the project and made it their own.
Here is a Prezi overview of Design for Change at my school, with photos and videos.