Prototyping serves multiple purposes in the human centered design process. By constructing a prototype of an idea, designers are forced to think through details that help them understand how their ideas actually work in practice. Prototypes create opportunities for users to experience an idea, which yields very different reactions than simply explaining a concept. Designers can also observe users interacting with prototypes, revealing issues that users might not relay in feedback sessions. Prototyping is also a valuable tool for empathy work. Reactions to prototypes present opportunities to discover further insights about user needs.
When developing prototypes for complex solutions such as the Governance Collaboratory, we found it valuable to identify the major variables contributing to the final design. We identified five key variables, combinations of which can result in dramatically different designs for the Collaboratory: 1) focusing on intra- vs. extra- governmental problems, 2) starting with a general problem space vs. supporting work on a specific idea/solution 3) working with individual innovators vs. founding teams, 4) organizing design teams of insiders vs. outsiders, and 5) spending time at Stanford vs. in the field. Considerations for each are described below.
Focus on change from within governments or from citizens and civil society: How do the needs differ for innovators working to reform government institutions vs. activists and technologists forging change through strengthening civil society and increasing pressure from citizens? Working outside of the confines formal institutions, activists and technologist mirror entrepreneurs. Reformers, by contrast, must navigate complex internal politics and bureaucratic structures. Can the same program design meet the needs of innovators working on both sides of the government divide?
Starting with a general problem space or a specific idea/solution: While the design process requires sufficient scope for developing innovative ideas, most innovators come with a sense of the solution they want to pursue. Is it realistic to attract innovators who have only identified a general area of opportunity, or should the Governance Collaboratory work with innovators who have but are not wedded to a specific idea/solution?
Individual innovators or founding teams: There is an important distinction between the design process, which yields innovative ideas, and the organizational structures necessary to bring those ideas to scale. In many entrepreneurial ventures, the founding team is the single most important factor for success. If the goal of the Governance Collaboratory is to develop a pipeline for innovations in governance, simply supporting teams through a design process won’t suffice. How will we manage the transition from design to implementation? Will we need to support teams instead of individuals in order to build sustainable interventions? Or are there other means of facilitating the ability of governance innovators to build the support structure they need back home?
Design teams composed of individuals from within organizations vs. outsiders: Design teams constructed from individuals outside an organization bring a fresh perspective, multi-disciplinary expertise, and enable experimentation on the margins, while core teams often must focus on near term deliverables. Creating design teams from within organizations, however, ensures the buy-in from the organization and may provide much deeper expertise into how to solve a problem. What are the tradeoffs for these different approaches to building the design team for governance innovators?
Allocation of time between Stanford and the innovator’s home country: Time at Stanford will enable governance innovators to remove themselves from their local environment and focus on developing their ideas. Our empathy work supports the value of extracting individuals from their daily routines as well as the credibility that comes from developing a network in Silicon Valley. Yet, the human centered design process requires innovators to be proximate to their users, both to conduct empathy work and to test prototypes. Will short trips to the local environment suffice, or should our innovators spend a substantial fraction of the time in our program back home?