Design Thinking in the Wake of the 2016 Election

On November 18th we hosted a workshop session here at the d.school to allow for the sharing of post-election feelings and to figure out a range of ways to take action as desired. We sent out a broad invitation to our students, faculty, staff, and greater community.

As the Teaching and Learning team at the d.school we were motivated by both the desire to figure out how to take action as articulated by many in our community as well as by an activity we’d run with our students on our November 3rd Pitch Night where we asked them to vote on topics they wanted to see the d.school take on in one form or another. About 220 students voted and Equity and Engagement rose to the top, literally:

This post is to share the details and flow of the post-election session that we ran so that others might do the same. Mark Grundberg, Mario Lugay, Stacey Gray and I designed and facilitated this together. We welcome your questions, are happy to help you plan your own sessions, and, if you do try one yourself we’d love to know what you did and how you modified it, etc. so please share back.


Use design thinking to take action post-election

Total duration: 2hrs. (not including prep and clean-up)
Participants: ~40

1. Enter

10 min.
Enter, mingle, read, have coffee and a cookie. 
Room setup: Open. All furniture pushed to the side. Music on. Some readings and resources posted on the walls for those that might not want to mingle.
Goal: To welcome everyone, get them acclimated to the space, allow for stragglers, support both introverts and extroverts in the sometimes-awkward welcome moments.

2. Welcome + Why

5 min.
Room setup: Participants in a single large circle, standing shoulder to shoulder. Music off.
Activity: Articulate that we are here because we want to both give a space to share feelings as well as spend time figuring out how we each might want to take action. Also, we want to affirm everyone’s feelings, articulate that we all have had different experiences and continue to hold a range of varying beliefs, and that this is a safe space for sharing.
Goal: Get the group centered and ready to go.

3. Cross the Line

15 min.
Room setup: Open, with a line of blue tape down the center of the floor. Music off. 
Activity: Participants all start with a toe on the line in the center. One facilitator reads off a series of ‘either / or’ prompts, and participants move to the side of the room that best represents them. Everyone has to choose. No staying in the middle. For example, if you like coffee you go to the left side of the room. If you prefer tea, you go to the right. We moved through the following series of prompts:

Coffee | Tea
Lover | Fighter
Energized | Tired
Let it Stew | Hash it out
Run with the Pack | Lone Wolf
Supporter | Organizer

Goal: This both gets people warmed up and moving around the space, and also begins to highlight that we all experience the world differently. It’s fun to see how the group merges and diverges. Here are all of the prompts ready for you to print.

4. Rant + Share

Room setup: Participants told to create a space for themselves to sit and write quietly. Music on quietly — no lyrics.

7 min.
Activity: Freewrite / Rant — particpants all given a single sheet of paper and a pen. The paper has the following instructions-

RANT Let it all out. The good. The bad. The emotional. Write solo. This doesn’t need to be coherent. How are you feeling? What are you thinking? What are your hopes and dreams? Fears? Anything goes.

7 min. 
Share whatever you feel comfortable sharing with a partner. Partner’s job is just to listen actively, not to comment.
7 min. 
Switch who is sharing and listening.
4 min. 
Capture three or four things that you heard from your partner and write them on a sticky note. Post those things (with no names) on a large group board. 
Goal: This activity gives folks an opportunity to express whatever they want with no expectation that it will go farther than a sheet of paper. Building on the solo rant, everyone can choose to share some subset of what they wrote with a partner. This gives them the opportunity to decide how and what they want to express with others. It also gives the listener an opportunity to fully hear someone else’s perspective. Here is the RANT sheet ready for you to print.

5. Topic Finding in the Style of an Unconference

20 min.
Room Setup: Ten blank white boards set up around the perimeter of the room. Music on. 
Activity: Participants are told to use this time to find a topic they’d like to take action around. If anyone has a topic they’d like to explore (e.g. reproductive rights or empathy for the earth) they are welcome to write it on a white board and talk about it, advocate for it, etc. with other folks that find it interesting. Folks that want to mingle and discuss a range of ideas can do so. Everyone is allowed to both post ideas as well as meander and discuss topics with others. By the end of the time period everyone should be situated next to a topic with a small group of people that are also interested in tackling that same topic.
Goal: Allow folks to advocate for what they want to work on, and / or find a topic that interests them, as well as find others that want to work in a similar domain. This is team-finding by interest overlap.

6. I, we, WE

20 min.
Room Setup: Small groups are gathered around white boards as created in the previous activity.
Activity: Brainstorm / mind dump ideas, thoughts, or feelings on ways to take action on your topic area into three buckets: I (things I can do as an individual), we (things we can do as a small group), and WE, things we might do as part of a larger collective or movement. Use sticky notes. One idea per note. Say it, write it, stick it up. 
Goal: To get ideas for action into categories and to start to generate new ideas. Some things that come out might be on the level of places to make a donation to or where a group might go to volunteer, others might be brand new ideas to the world, or larger movements someone would like to lead. Anything goes at this point.

7. How steps

5 min.
Room Setup: No change from previous. Participants still in groups at white boards.
Activity: For two-three items in your I, we, WE buckets, list out the first three steps you might do to begin taking action. These steps might be as simple as “1. Look up name of senator. 2. Call senator’s phone number. 3. Listen to message on other end so I know what to expect when I call back.” Make it sized to be actionable.
Goal: In the I, we, WE activity some groups might have concrete and actionable items and others might have larger, vaguer, less defined items in their buckets. This activity should help the teams in the latter bucket get to a place of feeling like they know exactly what to do to get started on one or more of their ideas.

8. Share out

5 min.
Room setup: Participants standing at their stations such that everyone can see everyone else. Essentially we freeze in place so we can share out.
Activity: Each team is given about 30 seconds to headline: 1. The topic that their group worked on and 2. the “How steps” for one or two of their action items.
Goal: The share out both wraps up the activity and also gives some visibility into the range of ideas and themes that were explored by the whole group. It’s also an opportunity for individuals to hear about the work done by others that they might want to connect with beyond the session.

9. Collective action of giving

10 min.
Room Setup: Participants sitting in a circle on the ground. Two sticky notes and a pen given out to everyone. Folks are told to have their phones on them. Have a big board or white board ready.
Activity: Close your eyes and think about what brought you here today. Think first about something that might have upset you. Now, think about an organization, cause or individual that is an antidote to that, that if fully supported can bring about changes that you support. Now, open your eyes, pull out your phone and support that organization, using a contribution as a proxy for that support. On one sticky note write the dollar amount you will donate (zero is ok). On a second sticky note write the name of the organization. After you’ve made your donation post the name of the organization on the big board. Facilitators collect the dollar amounts and make a grand tally. At the end of ten minutes we look at the breadth of places that we contributed to together and see what impact we had financially.
Goal: We all are both leaders and supporters, givers and receivers at different times. By focusing all of us into the giving mode at the same time we get a feel for what it feels like to come together as a collective.

10. Thanks + Debrief

5 min.
Room Setup: Participants standing in a circle with everything pushed to the side.
Activity: Thank everyone for their participation and ask for any closing thoughts or questions. 
Goal: Make everyone feel valued and let them know that this session was just a first start for their opportunities for action. Also, let them know that we can be a resource for them moving forward.


Please reach out if you have comments or questions. Our session went well and it’s worth noting that from our group of about 40 people we raised $980. Thanks to everyone that participated.