How might we make international students feel more included and connected to their immediate community?
A community event (i.e. an art installation) that features ‘dream boards’ – visual collages that represent one’s life and goals for the future. The goal is to bring together both international students and the local community to mutually share their life aspirations, break cultural boundaries, and inspire each other to realize their potential.
A prototype dream board (that introduces the art installation concept and the sentiment driving it)
Global Service Jam is a yearly weekend event where people take a design-based approach to problem solving and creativity. Teams are formed, the secret theme is presented, and the next 48 hours are spent ideating, validating, and prototyping service experiences and solutions.
I decided to participate this year to introduce myself to Service Design – a discipline that I’ve heard of but not experienced yet. There, I met a group of Interaction Design, International Development, and Computer Science students, and we decided to band together before the night went on.
This set the stage for my biggest stretch assignment: Lead a team through an end-to-end design process through design facilitation.
DAY 1: Ideation
Day 1 began with the Secret Theme, a video that introduced the Service Jam and the topic that we will be working on over the weekend (a.k.a. the Theme).
GSJ Themes are purposely vague. They’re intended to trigger a plethora of ideas and probes rather than a single, focused idea.
The 2017 Theme was not any different:
“Hello? Lo? O? O.”
First Impressions Brainstorm
Once the video was finished, I asked everyone to share their impressions of the Theme and where it’s taking them.
With sticky notes and Sharpies in hand, we wrote those impressions and organized them into groups.
These themes emerged during that brainstorm:
These would help form our problem statements the following day.
DAY 2: Problem space
As soon as Day 2 kicked in, I asked the team, “Given the themes that we identified yesterday, what connections are you seeing among them? How are they related to each other?”
This led to a fascinating conversation on loneliness and belonging in big cities.
So I asked the team, “Who do you think experiences this? Who is likely to experience loneliness in a city such as Toronto?”
They considered a wide range of individuals (e.g. people living alone, recent arrivals in the city, etc.) until they slowly zeroed in on a hidden demographic – the international student.
International students face an eclectic mix of challenges. They have exorbitant tuitions, smaller social circles, and cultural differences that must be negotiated. They are written off as people “who will go back to their homeland, anyway”, instead of people who may want to settle in and make the new land their home. They’re also lightning rods for racism both subtly and overtly.
The loudest concern, however, is their immediate need to find employment if they want to stay in Canada after graduation.
This gave us some direction towards a problem statement, which went through 5 iterations as seen below:
- How might we ease the transition to Canada for international students?
- How might we ease the cultural transition to Canada for international students?
- How might we decrease the number of international students dropping out of school?
- How might we increase the number of international students easily finding employment?
- How might we simplify the process for international students towards finding employment for living in Canada?
We zeroed in on the fifth alternative: How might we simplify the process for international students towards finding employment for living in Canada?
So I asked everyone, “Who is this person?”
This got us a protopersona, a first pass on who this international student might be before heading out for user interviews.
The team initially wanted to solve the international student’s short-term need, i.e. post-graduation employment. But bigger questions emerged: How do we get them to jobs if they wouldn’t even network in the first place?
This was a very compelling question and I encouraged them to ask these as they conduct user interviews. My hope was that by asking these really big questions they could have a meaningful dialogue with their interviewees, one that is fuelled by context, curiosity, and most of all, empathy.
Empathy Mapping + Point-Of-View Statement
Once interviews were done, I asked a team member to lead us through empathy mapping. This helped process the data from user interviews and see whether it validates our protopersona.
We found that our data corroborates our protopersona and suggested that we were on the right path. By funnelling these data points on the user’s emotional states, we were able to feel for this persona more and refine our problem statement that speaks to human needs more closely.
This got us two research outcomes:
- A revised problem statement – “How might we make international students feel more included and connected to their immediate community?”
- A validated user persona (articulated through the Point-of-View statement)
DAY 3: Solution Space
Day 3 was about the solution space. As soon as we felt aligned on our problem and point-of-view statements, I asked them to write as much solutions as they can for 30 minutes and then organize them into a risk vs. reward matrix.
The team now had two options: They could pursue a good solution (i.e. low risk, high reward) or an ambitious but very rewarding solution (i.e. high risk, high reward).
I myself would have wanted to work on the latter. But I trust them when they say that a low risk but high reward solution will get us a prototype sooner rather than later.
Soon, I asked them to select the best solution in the low risk/high reward quadrant.
We had a winner.
Our solution was to create a community event that showcases the international student’s hopes and aspirations to the local community. It would be an art installation featuring Dream Boards – visual collages that represent one’s life and goals for the future.
The goal is to bring together both international students and the local community to share goals, break boundaries, and inspire each other to build their potential.
Using newspapers and magazines around the Jam’s venue, we created a Dream Board to show this idea more tangibly.
A handful went to do customer validation, asking people on the streets if an event such as this would be something they would consider participating (I was a passive notetaker and observer during this time).
The people we’ve spoken to thought this was a very timely project. With global politics and attitudes towards “foreigners” seeing unprecedented seismic shifts, this chance to dialogue with the Other is a crucial opportunity. It suggested that people still care about the stranger, and what’s needed is a chance to bond and unite.
As soon as we’ve reached our target number of interviewees, we returned to headquarters, finished the prototype, and presented our work to our fellow jammers.
GSJ was an excellent way to go through the entire design process. Its no prizes set up made for a very safe learning environment that fosters collaboration than competition.
I was also really fortunate to work with team members who are conversant with the design process and receptive to being guided by a practitioner. Pitching my facilitation “services” at the beginning of the Jam was a huge risk. But I also felt I might not have the chance to do so at another design jam, so I might as well go for it.
Here’s that Dream Board, one more time:
GSJ truly highlights that design is all about people – people you design for and people you design with. Your users tell you what matters to them while your team looks to you to help realize a design vision.
It was an educational 3 days for me, and I look forward to more of these in the future.
Credit goes to Samantha Tu and Jane Zhang for the team photos and the brilliant GSJ team video!