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Enhancing Social Work Approaches and Outcomes with Design Thinking Techniques

Utilizing Design Thinking to Effectively Help Others

By andrewdeen14Published 5 months ago 3 min read
Enhancing Social Work Approaches and Outcomes with Design Thinking Techniques
Photo by Christina @ on Unsplash

Social work is certainly one of the most simultaneously rewarding and challenging industries to do work in. The variety of cases and types of people to be found means that there is a nearly infinite expanse of work to be done — regardless of whether the work is being done in one of the 10 best places to be a social worker. But when it comes to creating a change, a shift in cultures, and in the ways that lives can be positively affected, social work as an industry would likely not be one often described as “creative”.

Sure, the roles filled and the work done required some creativity, but on the whole social workers are not engineers, or artists, or marketing agents. As such, it would likely not be a stretch to assume that design thinking — the popular creative thought process philosophy— is not at the forefront of social workers' minds while on the job throughout a long day, or week of advocacy.

However, just because design thinking is not necessarily a historically common element that is taught or applied in the many action-oriented organizations does not mean that those same professionals and the missions they partner with could not benefit from the application of design thinking.

The following essay considers how the adoption and implementation of design thinking might enhance a variety of social work approaches and outcomes for greater ingenuity, effectiveness, and efficiency. Considering the possible unfamiliarity of connection between the two topics, it may be best to start by elaborating on what is actually meant by “design thinking”.

Just What is Design Thinking?

Design thinking may be broadly defined as a thoughtful way by which people (like BSW or MSW students, professionals, etc) can use creative ideation to reconsider familiar situations or problems. Birthed out of a need and desire for connecting with customers through more creatively introspective questions and processes, design thinking seeks to understand users or customers through consideration of data.

Through the act of taking the time to reconsider how or why processes and techniques are affecting the desired results in a business or product development situation, professionals can better understand the information gathered. The goal in enacting design thinking processes is to come up with ideas and solutions that can be field tested over a series of sub-processes to test for potential greater effectiveness or profitability. The brainstorming sessions that need to occur in order to enact the design thinking process are a necessary part of deciphering how human behavioral elements might be understood and then utilized to create new systems of service.

Some examples of how this might be demonstrated in real work scenarios are in things like research and development, the creation of new models and systems for testing, and the measurement of data as it relates to the new strategies.

There is a model for design thinking that, though there is technically an order of operations, can be approached and reutilized as many times as possible before a desired answer or solution is developed. That model is as follows:

1) Empathizing with a user or customer base

2) The acknowledgment and definition of the possible needs

3) Ideation: intentionally challenging preexisting notions of how to attend to a problem or create a solution

4) Prototyping: creating a working model of those ideated solutions

5) Formal testing

How Might Design Thinking Benefit Social Work?

Being that there are so many different ways by which people might be served the simplest, most general approach to that answer would be to begin with studying and researching a client base.

Taking the time to create a study or interview questions that reach to understand how current processes in a mission model are perceived and received by clients can be enlightening. That information enables a greater ability to sympathize with clients' situations and can then be connected with the second step of defining and categorizing new information into the identification of new needs. This is where ideation begins.

Depending on the feedback gathered from the research, there may be a whole host of new observations and problems that were not previously known. Brainstorming through ideation creates the opportunity for new solutions.

Next comes the testing of those new ideas in the real world and refining those models until fresh results are noticeable in the people and systems that are meant to be positively impacted. Regardless if it is the first or 20th idea that comes from a design thinking session, this model can be reutilized as a tool over and over whenever there is need for original ideas.


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    andrewdeen14Written by andrewdeen14

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