Core mindsets underpin the processes and methods used in collaborative civic projects, enabling teams to unleash their creative problem-solving abilities for tackling complex design challenges. These guiding principles foster new directions, stimulate progress when stuck, and pave the way for success. Embracing these mindsets is crucial for becoming a proficient design thinker and innovative problem solver.

1. Do it

Develop a strategy that involves sketching, using visuals, and creating prototypes. When facing challenges, utilize tangible materials like markers and construction paper to explore and test your ideas. There’s no need to gather input from every possible user or explore all ideas before getting started. Taking action and creating tangible products will accelerate your learning process and provide a solid foundation for further development.

Consider whether the current approach balances discussion with actual creation and building. Evaluate the possibility of testing early ideas immediately rather than waiting for them to be perceived as “right” or perfect.

2. Start small, grow big

At the beginning of a project, avoid focusing on finalizing all details and involving every stakeholder. Rather, make context-based decisions and gradually involve individuals and stakeholders as the project undergoes multiple iterations. Expand your team and aspirations progressively throughout the project’s development.

Explore what can be achieved with a small team and a preliminary set of ideas, then identify strategies for expanding and refining the concept as the circle of collaborators grows.

Hi – this is Randy Plemel, I run a small consultancy Expedition Works, where we specialize in solving difficult problems for many people, including civic designers. Take a look at what we’ve done, and how we can help.

3. Short term, for long term impact

For lasting results, focus on immediate and short-term actions that can maintain their impact over time. Solely concentrating on long-term impact may cause stagnation, as projects, concepts, and prototypes become too complex to finish, hindering the ability to learn and progress in stages.

What are our goals for tomorrow, a month from now, and five years into the future?

4. Keep people at the center

Always consider the target user, as each activity offers a chance to discover unique, hidden, or unaddressed needs. Maintain a user-centric approach throughout the entire development process.

What would the affected people say about our design?

5. Invite diverse perspectives to the table

Designing for people excels when it unites individuals with diverse perspectives and disciplines, as the unique problem-solving approaches of various participants can result in innovative solutions.

Invite users or industry experts to provide fresh perspectives on your project. Their unique insights and experiences will unlock new ways of thinking and creative solutions to challenges.

Oh hi there 👋
It’s nice to meet you.

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6. Stay curious

Throughout each stage of the design process, ask new questions frequently. This leads to novel discoveries and sparks inspiration.

What questions could we ask to inspire new ways of thinking?

Many of these mindsets were developed as a first draft working with the Knight Foundation on a Rockefeller Grant during the Reimagining the Civic Commons project I did with Njoki Gitahi and Jacqueline Cooksey.