Change is an inevitable part of life. It contributes greatly to our growth not only as individuals, but as organizations. Future Scientist has recently undergone a change here in Panamá. Heidi Rausch has left us to continue her career in the United States. She has left an indelible mark on Future Scientist and her work here in Colón has set the course for success for our future projects. My name is John Michael Coatney and I shall fill the figurative shoes (or rubber boots, depending on the day) that Heidi has left behind. They are awfully big to fill and I will do my best to ensure that things move forward for us here in Panamá.
February was my first month working for Future Scientist and throughout the month I was trained by Heidi on the ins and outs of the job. I learned a lot by her side and she left me with ideas of her own that she wished to continue during my time here in the organization. As I continue her work and start new projects I hope to achieve as much as she did if not more. Hasta luego Heidi, que el futuro te brinde mucho éxito y que te vaya bien todo.
My first task solo as Program Coordinator was to attend an innovation and design thinking workshop in the city of Santiago de Veraguas. The goal of my attendance was to gather ideas and tools for our own design workshop/competition that we wish to carry out in the high school in Portobelo. Apart from this I was to meet potential contacts who could provide support or collaboration for our competition. It was an extremely successful weekend. The knowledge, tools, and processes I gathered will serve greatly in empowering the students in Portobelo to create innovative and sustainable solutions to solve problems in their communities. Aside from this I met several people who could provide support for this event once it is under way.
To give you an idea of my experience I wish to provide you with a summary of all that we did during the workshop. It was a busy three days but they were very productive and I noted a significant change in all that were there in regard to empowerment that the workshop provided in giving us the tools to create real solutions to clearly defined problems.
Day 1 - Immersion
The energy in the air the first day of the workshop was palpable. As people entered the hotel where the workshop was taking place, I noticed people of all ages; however most of those in attendance were high schoolers or college kids. There were a handful of young and old professionals (myself included) who came to learn something new for their respective careers. The beginning of the day was spent introducing the idea of the workshop and how the weekend would play out. Once logistics were through we jumped right into it starting with our first activity.
We started with a teamwork activity called La Torre. We were separated into groups of 6 and tasked with constructing a tower out of colored Jenga blocks. Each member of the group was given a personal goal in the construction of the tower (1. The tower should include all the pink, green and yellow blocks. 2. The tower should be 10 stories tall. 3. The base of the tower should have more blocks than the rest of the floors. 4. The tower should be constructed with 20 blocks. 5. The 7th floor should be a different color from the rest. 6. The top floor should be pink.). The other rule was that we could not talk nor gesticulate to communicate in the construction of the tower. It was a great icebreaker and team building exercise.
We then talked about what is innovation (redesigning the rules; it is effective, efficient, sustainable, and fair to all), the three types of networks (centralized, decentralized, and distributed; an idea developed by Paul Baran, a famous American-Polish engineer), that social innovation is not charity, what is design thinking, the importance of both analytical and creative thinking in design, and the design process (empathize, define, create ideas, prototype, and evaluate).
Next dinamica was called The Party. In groups of 2 we were to design the best party ever. At first they asked us to go back and forth with our partner saying "Yeah, but..." and sort of block and change their idea. Afterwards we were to do the same but instead of saying "Yeah, but..." we were to say "Yeah, and...". They wanted us to see the difference between challenging ideas to better refine and define what is wanted vs. simply a brainstorm of ideas. They then showed us the double diamond of design thinking (see image below). If you Google search "design thinking diamond" you will find a bunch of other reiterations, but they all have the same central idea. This is a great tool in designing a solution to any problem, be it personal or societal.
As a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, empathy is important in understanding how to define a problem. If you don’t know how your users/clients experience the problem firsthand, you don’t really know the problem. Empathizing is such a critical first step in really defining your problem in order to create a solution that truly serves the user and improves their life.
We were then given another tool called "The Problem Tree". It is a great tool to breakdown a problem into Causes (Roots), Central Problem (Trunk), and the Symptoms or Consequences (Branches and Leaves). It is a useful tool in further investigating a problem and seeing all its facets. Another great tool we were given is the 3 H's (head, heart, and hand). It is an empathy tool used in putting ourselves in the place of the person affected by a problem. The "head" is what the person affected thinks, the "heart" is what they feel, and the "hand" is what they do.
After empathizing with those affected by the central problem the next step is to define, or organize all the obtained information to make a point of view. The point of view must be inspiring, challenging and direct. The idea is to create a point of view that demonstrates the problem in the best way possible. This point of view is the final culmination of what it is to empathize with the person who is experiencing the problem you wish to solve.
We ended the day with a healthy helping of new ideas and tools to tackle the next two days that were ahead. After everything we had learned just on day 1 I knew that it was to be a productive weekend ahead.
Stay tuned for day 2