A hands-on learning experience and an introduction to Human Centered Design (HCD) through the direct application of principles to real-life challenges. Each participant was a changemaker – they wanted to see what design thinking could offer beyond traditional communications research.
MDC and a few friends gathered last Sunday evening to talk about listening as part of our social impact practice. Kelley Gulley from Irvine Foundation imparted her takeaways from Irvine Foundation’s listening tour to hear about what life is like for the hundreds of thousands of working Californians living in or near poverty.
It was a small gathering of friends and colleagues; Lauren, a creative director at Apple; Charmaine, a real estate developer, a few of us from REDF, a social enterprise investor; Sande, a foundation communications director – even a partner or two. And it made us “proximate” or smack-dab next to others we didn’t know. I was the only one who knew more than one person in the group. Each of us a little bit uncomfortable. This turned out to be best positioning to think about how we can employ empathy and understanding of others we don’t know in our change-making.
It’s this idea of the smallness that I would like to surface. Many of us attend conferences and networking events; it’s usually the individual and personal encounters we take the most from. Rarely, in our professional and social lives, we step outside our usual circles to meet and learn about strangers in such an intimate manner. Yes, we have lunch with folks we know; invite our friends to dinner; even have lunches with potential collaborators. But few times do we come into such close contact with others we don’t know, in such small social setting.
Second, our group brought together a mix of fields, for-profits, nonprofits, and foundations. In fact, a few of us had never spent an evening like this with others from another field. Unfortunately, it isn’t often that nonprofit and foundation folks have dinner at someone’s house together; nor do we social impact communicators usually have a chance to be so proximate to corporate folks in a work-related discourse.
Finally, in a similar way, Kelley’s articulation on the listening tour challenged us to consider California realities beyond our own, what it takes to reach out beyond our own comfort zones and insider perches. We noted the major commitment Irvine Foundation embraced – using ample resources, staff time, and attention – to get closer and understand Californians, as it adjusts its agenda to their stated needs.
As a consultant, all too often, as we offer our Human Centered Design workshop, I hear, “I’d love to take the workshop, I just don’t have the time.” Or “ this is a little too zany for our board to consider.”
I would posit that some of our practices, although still useful, are actually way behind current practice of most companies.
Design of products and marketing approaches are focused on reaching customers as deeply as possible. Much of our research practice still lives in sterile conference rooms with one-liner tests and reaction dials. Silicon Valley creatives are going into communities, observing and speaking to people where they live and work, using their own humanity to understand others’ needs. It seems way past due for us in the social impact world to do the same – and some of us are, but most of us are still not.
So what does this all mean? Now that many of us have worked through the data phase, as we move into focusing on racial equity, let’s look more deeply at our practice and how to incorporate human centered approaches. And in small groups, let’s talk about it – putting our own selves in front of some new folks. This is the direction where I’m travelling. I invite you to join me.
You’re sitting in front of an executive who told you she “needs to write a blog post.”
Thank you to frank 2017 organizers (University of Florida’s College of Journalism and Communications) for bringing a bit of arts back into our communicator world. I mean, it makes sense, right? Especially now, our approach to change behavior relies on our ability to engage our audiences. Words are good–but the way we communicate best is through story and metaphor–live action, movement, design and art. I often find myself trying to convince my nonprofit clients to spend money on creative endeavors for social media, on film and visual arts; no secret that we’re competing in a crowded world of corporate branding and their social cause marketing–and it’s good.
At frank, I got a good dose of arty engagement and look forward to returning. Here are some ways that Frank worked for me and could work for your next conference:
• Gotta, gotta have an MC! Lizz Winstead was inspirational, sharp, and hysterically funny.
• 15 minutes stylized Ted Talks were the way to go (for at least for some of the time). I loved hearing and watching all the different personalities, styles, and ways each presenter approached their material. You can see all the talks here.
• Music and video– ok, everyone did bring their powerpoint, but nothing like “Hello from the other side,” giving your brain a little prod before listening to the next presenter.
• Theater people! Loved hanging around with the theater folks; loved that Changeville, a music/social change festival was happening at the same time.
This was all the doing of the frank organizers. Thank you. Maybe next time, we can throw in a little dance???
This story was created for Thrive Foundation for Youth as part of a eight part video and written word series on effective youth programs across the country.
By Rob Waters
I visited Chicago in January when it was very cold and two issues were dominating the local news. A stream of stories focused on police shootings of young black men in a city where 70 people—mostly black males—were fatally shot by police from 2010 through 2014. And the city’s school district, faced with a deficit of nearly $1 billion, was hatching plans to close more schools while the governor and some legislative leaders threatened a state takeover.
This #MDC Network produced video, directed by Paige Bierma, tells the story of how mentor Shavonnee Clark gave Maria Barajas support, how Maria grew stronger, and become the 1st in her family to go to college. The video was part of a series produced for Thrive Foundation for Youth, to highlight successful paid staff, youth mentoring programs it's funding across the country.
Recently, #MDC Network worked with Dr. Peter Samuelson, Director of Research and Evaluation at Thrive Foundation for Youth, to develop the communications products for his research on nine principles of effective youth services organizations. We produced a report for researchers and evaluation and an executive summary slideshow for youth program administrators and workers. The slideshow is enjoying some of the foundation's highest engagement.
MDC Network founder covers ten ways to beef up a social cause pitch deck.
By Melissa Daar Carvajal
As cause organizations move into the realm of creating projects pitched to social impact investors, their communicators must craft pitches calibrated to an investor–a largely different audience with whom we usually communicate. In this world, projects are sought which demonstrate an expected return for investment – and social causes can easily be distant and misunderstood.
MDC strategist Anastasia Ordonez lays out some critical thoughts on how to run a successful campaign.
I’ve witnessed the following story play out a number of times in my professional career: Smart nonprofit staffers work hard over the course of a few weeks or months to shape a great campaign idea into a solid action plan. The campaign appears ready to go. But then, new questions are raised, different opinions are heard, and a good strategy becomes tangled in doubt, concerns about effectiveness and a call for further research. The communications strategy is shelved, and the campaign drains resources or loses momentum.
To misquote Voltaire, this is how perfect becomes the enemy of good.
First in a series of stories for Thrive Foundation on eight grassroots youth programs throughout the nation.
By Rob Waters
It’s not hard to spot the three-story brownstone where The Brotherhood/Sister Sol, a 20-year-old youth development organization, looks after and helps to raise some of the luckiest young people in Harlem. Walk by at the right time, shortly after New York City schools let out in the afternoon, and the place is buzzing with activity. Elementary-school kids bound up the stairs, pass through the multi-colored front door and run out the back into the Frank White Community Garden, a site the organization manages on behalf of the neighborhood.
MDC's Jay Dunn describes his approach to this photo series on moments of grace.
In my experience as a photojournalist, those who have the least are usually the ones that give the most. In villages far from here, for nothing more than a smile, I’ve been offered the only chair, and more than a few moments of grace.
Whether it is here in Salinas, or in unfamiliar surroundings, I always try to dignify our common humanity, for we all need the same things, clean water, decent shoes, a chance at a better life.
MDC's Rob Waters and team created this post for the campaign launch of the Center's ACEs questionnaire. To date, thousands of pediatricians and health professionals have downloaded this screening tool.
We as pediatricians and parents have an opportunity to find out what’s happening with our children and to intervene to get children the help they need to heal. But we have to ask the right questions.
First published as an opinion piece in the SF Chronicle, MDC's Melissa Daar Carvajal reflects on a middle school election that became a national controversy.
By Melissa Daar Carvajal
"How did you vote in the election?” I asked my two boys, students at Everett Middle School, where the student government election has garnered an extraordinary amount of attention. “I voted for my friends, Jorge and Juan,” said one. The other one voted for Karina because she offered to give him candy if she won. Considering that they are sixth-graders, I held back the lecture on going beyond name recognition and bribes in deciding your vote.
MDC Consulting Network produced StoriesfromSalinas.org for the Packard Foundation. MDC's Melissa Daar Carvajal shares some our learnings that can help streamline and guide your efforts.
You’re already convinced that content is king – and as a foundation – there’s a plethora of grantee stories available for prospecting. While producing content is well proven to be worth the effort (more on that in another post), it’s more complicated for foundations, takes more effort and requires more planning than expected. Like most things, it’s takes a village.
MDC's Melissa Daar Carvajal pens a letter to advocates on messaging to gain employment for people with an arrest or conviction on their record .
Apple’s recent reversal of its firing of several construction employees shows some progress. Years of activists organizing to change employment attitudes towards people with records appear to be finally making a dent. With more than 70 million people in our country having an arrest or conviction on their records, a wider circle (including some Republicans) is finally recognizing that “nothing stops a bullet like a job.”
Yet, in our recent campaign to motivate local employers to hire people with a record, we were struck that “second chance hiring” and “fair chance hiring” frames used by advocates to encourage hiring people with records did not match up with what we heard from employers about their interests and motivations in hiring.
By Melissa Daar Carvajal
“So you don't have any black friends and that's okay. Not having colored friends doesn't make ...” Person's quote from Public Religion Research Institute survey via TheTakeaway.
First day of school. Remember it? You’re not happy to end your summer, but really, kind of excited to be challenged, see school friends and meet your new teacher. For us parents, we get jacked up too. And here in San Francisco, we get the advantage of having one of the highest achieving urban school districts in the country, but that’s not what pulls my strings. It’s when I look at our schoolyard, San Francisco characters – old and young - diverse, and talented, joining together in a public school community. It’s the kind of gathering that makes you feel proud or “orgulloso” of #goingpublic in San Francisco.
The images are still jarring. Tiny Ruby Bridges in 1960 arriving to go to school accompanied by the three US Marshalls under a torrent of taunts by a sneering crowd. Ruby walked in, took her seat in the classroom, and sat down to learn – making her mark in the world.
Ruby took that scary journey because it was those books, those teachers and that school that she wanted - to have the same rights as the other children in her nation. It is that kind of human spirit that makes great change. And it’s that kind of great spirit that we should be channeling in our outreach about recent education reforms across California school districts– but we’re not - yet.
Published in the San Francisco Chronicle, January 28th, 2014.
by Melissa Daar Carvajal
As I drive by the Google buses every day on my way to drop off my kids at Fairmount Elementary, I am reminded of my work as the community relations manager for Bigstep.comin the late '90s. Those times, when an explosion of new tech companies and their employees brought change to the Mission District, are very reminiscent of now.