You’ve seen it happen. A motivated, well-meaning group of leaders decides to provide a ministry, program, or outreach that will change the lives of a particular segment of the population. They gather the resources, train the providers, deliver the intervention . . . and it falls flat on its face. What happened?
There may be multiple causes for the failure, but one could be that those delivering the intervention never stopped to talk to those who were the designated recipients. Perhaps the project failed to meet a real need, duplicated another service, was offered at the wrong time, or failed to understand the values of the recipients. There are times when the intervention might even be offensive.
In recent years, several processes have been developed—total quality management, asset-based community development, and design thinking, for example—that begin with those who know more about the concern or problem than anyone else: the people who live with it day in and day out.
When we begin by engaging in conversation with those most impacted by a situation, several things happen. First, we are talking with the people who know more about the need than anyone else. They live with absence of services, lack of support, intolerable conditions, and minimal resources. They can define the real issue.
Second, those closest to the problem may already have ideas about how to address it. Although all of their solutions may not work, their ideas and suggestions may be clarified, evaluated, and turned into workable courses of action.
Third, those who deal with the issue day to day are not without resources. They may be challenged financially, but they will often have skills, relationships, and insights that will prove invaluable in addressing the need. They know the culture and how their peers will respond.
Fourth, those on the front lines of the problem will buy into a solution when they help to identify and design the solution. The know that their knowledge has been respected and valued in the process.
In the Doctor of Ministry in Creative Leadership at Central Seminary, we include a course in design thinking. Design thinking is a methodology that helps innovators understand and develop creative ways to solve a specific issue whether congregationally-centered, business-based, or community-oriented. The process emphasizes end-user involvement, collaboration, and participative decision-making. We think that design thinking provides our students with an effective way to be both creative and innovative leaders.
For more information on the program, contact Ircel Harrison at firstname.lastname@example.org.