What exactly is Design Thinking?
Robin introducing design thinking to the group at The LeadLocal Adobe.

This is the question nine community leaders had in mind as they walked into The LeadLocal Adobe this past Saturday morning. Anticipation and curiosity hung in the air amidst the get-to-know-you chatter. LeadLocal co-founder, Robin Breault, broke the ice by introducing The Big Shift and the empathy needed to navigate the new economy. She asked each person to write down their working definition of design thinking — to be revisited at the end of the day.

The three teams- from Tucson Unified School District, Pima County JTED and The University of Arizona- each identified a challenge to take through the design thinking process and gain hands-on practice with the tools.

Before jumping in to design their solutions, teams were asked to keep in mind that collaboration is fundamental to leading change. Respecting funds of knowledge in our community and working across networks to span boundaries were discussed as key elements necessary for sustainable solutions.

In order to span boundaries, there has to first be mutual respect. The teams used life maps to understand the unique value each team member brought to the table and practiced active listening.

The team from TUSD discussing their interview data.

After listening to each other, the teams prepared to listen to the stakeholders for whom they would be designing. Using empathy maps and a series of inquiry-based activities, a set of questions were developed for stakeholder interviews. Over a delicious lunch from Time Market (yum!), teams conducted semi-structured interviews. TUSD made a call to interview their Superintendent – an important stakeholder in the solution to their challenge of cultivating relationships and eliminating fear in the district.

With interview data in hand, teams were able to pull out important insights that informed their next step – rapid ideation for potential solutions. After choosing an idea (or a mash up of ideas), teams focused on the power of narrativeand drafted a storyboard to help convey their idea.

A sketch of the design thinking process.

Fueled by their newly created stories (and a little afternoon chocolate) the teams wrapped up the day by designing rapid experiments. How will they know the viability of their solution? Moving through the process of rapid experiments provided teams with clear next steps to test assumptions, learn from key stakeholders, and pivot if needed. Experiments are launching in the coming weeks!


After a day of hands-on learning, each team shared insights and plans to move forward while sipping on a beverage worthy of Saturday. New connections (both neural and network) were formed…but don’t take our word for it. Here’s a glimpse at some of the feedback participants shared:

I liked the focus on real, relevant challenges and collaborative approach to designing solutions.

The whole day was awesome… so unpretentious and fun!

As an added accountability bonus, LeadLocal will be following up and gathering results of each rapid experiment and the unfolding story of each teams’ project… stay tuned.

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