It’s been a week since my last blog post and the world is still managing lots of change brought about by the pandemic. Organizations with rigid, less agile models are now finding that they can, in fact, be flexible when given no choice. And that my friends, brings us to the age-old institution of education! A brave group of social workers, librarians, teachers, entrepreneurs, and corporate techies have been having some hard and very good conversations about how we can reconnect youth to learning experiences via technology

So how does one start cracking this tough challenge? Break the challenge down into small manageable bites, go easy with all the new tech tools everyone must learn just to communicate, and inject humor whenever possible. For the basic framework of group activities, I used the 4C’s from AJ&Smart’s Workshopper’s Guide, Collect, Choose, Create, and Commit, plus some other cool templates from Strategyzer. 


We all joined on a Zoom call and used a whiteboard platform called Mural. I made a short video to explain how to use Mural and then gave an assignment for everyone to go and create post-it notes before the session. This gave teammates ample time to explore and experiment on the platform ahead of time. They could leave silly messages and get a preview of the exercises we would roll through during the course of the sessions. During the session, I ran two screens on two separate laptops so I could see the view of participants and have a Mural screen open to write on and keep everyone oriented on Zoom. I also scripted the first sessions directions as I knew the complexities for everyone (including me) doing new things on new technology might get me off task. The script had time markers as well so I could make sure we kept moving at a pace that kept everyone’s attention but also allowed for meaningful conversation. 

Our first task was to Collect Data about those involved.

This may very well be the step that makes or breaks your ability to craft a valuable solution so don’t skimp here. Collect time is your team’s opportunity to get to the truth of things about their problem. It may be hard to hear and to challenge your own bias, but let it and listen. It’s the only way to get a human centered solution. Let’s face it, no one has time for solving the “perceived” problem these days anyway. DO NOT ASSUME YOU KNOW ANYTHING. I cannot stress this enough even if I use all caps. If you skip this step, you will miss all the rich details, nuances of the problem you are solving, and any clues that will lead you to insight and innovation. 

Here’s how it works. 

Get your team together and have a structured interview with your subject matter experts. In this case those were the front line folks (educators, social workers, administrators) and any people at the end of the process. The Collect phase helps your team build empathy with those impacted by the problem to be solved. Simple empathy maps will help you organize a basic interview and get important data. It will also give a full picture as to why people are behaving a certain way. 

You may be thinking, “but I already have data, can I skip the interview?” Data tell us what people do and that’s truly helpful, but it’s only half of a story. You need to know why they do what they do.  Create some hypotheses and state your assumptions as a team before interviewing your subject This will help you work against your own bias later when testing your solution. 

We used an empathy map like the one below from Strategyzer. The template kept us on track as we listened and asked interview questions.

We learned a great deal from a program director who works with youth in crisis had first-hand knowledge of the issues impacting kids lacking access to technology. She had been helping as many as she could with school work but still needing to get help with school work. Children were completely cut off from teachers, parents were stressed to the max, and all parties were feeling the economic digital divide grow bigger and bigger. The pandemic was causing public education to lose its ability to offer its greatest gift – the equalizing power provided by access to learning.

I cannot tell you what a daunting task we all realized we were up against. Human potential, human spirit, and the hope to elevate oneself above their current status seemed to be hanging in the balance. Next time, I’ll be sharing how we narrowed down and prioritized where to start working and how to chip away at the creation of an equitable, engaging, and empowering technology program for youth.