From problem to prototype: creating change in 48hrs at the Global Service Design Jam
The Toronto Jam for Good.
Every year, an amazing thing happens. Hundreds of people from around the world virtually come together to tackle a challenge and make an impact. It’s called the Global Service Design Jam. Over 100 cities participate worldwide in the world’s biggest design-hosted innovation event and Toronto joined the fun.
For 48 hours at the end of March, the Toronto chapter, which focused on a ‘Jam for Good’ theme, brought people and organizations together for one purpose, to use design-based approaches to solve a critical problem. We had:
- 40 participants
- 22 mentors
- 10 speakers
- 9 organizers
- 7 judges
- 7 sponsors and
- 1 dance troupe, all building toward a singular purpose
What was the challenge? Simple: define a problem, and solve in 48 hours, focused on one of four domains: Citizen Inclusion, FinTech for Good, Climate, or Mental Health.
To be leading this group is a privilege but it’s no coincidence. There’s a reason why all these people gave up their weekend to come to the Jam. They came to learn new skills, meet new people, but mostly, to bring some good to the world.
You might be asking yourself what is a jam? And how do we jam?
What is the Jam for Good?
The jam gets its name from a group of musicians that just start playing together without a plan, but create a new rhythm together while having a whole lot of fun.
The jam is a decentralized event that occurs yearly in 100+ locations all over the world simultaneously. Jammers, with the help of experienced mentors, are guided by a design-led approach to research, ideate, build, and test a working prototype in order to solve a particular problem.
Participants defined their own problem, in order to tackle something meaningful. Here are just a few of the challenges that were defined in the Toronto Jam for Good:
- How might we accelerate the adoption of compost bins by condo dwellers in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in landfills?
- How might we help skilled newcomers to Canada find employment in their field?
- How might we guide new Canadian international students toward financial empowerment?
What and how are important questions but they don’t answer why we jam.
We jam for good.
Everyone who participated, in Toronto and around the world, brought and carried a shared purpose with them through the jam.
From Friday to Sunday, from listening to thinking to doing, from storming to norming to performing, from strangers to team mates to friends to potential business partners, from problem framing to customer research to prototyping and testing, from 9am in the morning to working through lunch waiting desperately for pizza to staying late for one more user interview; a shared purpose drove each of us—participants, mentors, speakers, sponsors, and organizers alike—to make it through how we jam for why we jam.
Creating a lasting impact.
You should have a healthy dose of skepticism around anything that claims to create lasting impact within only 48 hours. We’ve written about it ourselves—it’s called Innovation Theatre, and a one weekend jam or hackathon only scratches the surface.
But what the Jam For Good did for the innovation and service design community was create connections, provide an environment to learn across skill sets and disciplines, and tackle some real challenges, in the 48 hours and beyond. Many of the teams are choosing to carry forward past the 48 hour mark, with ideas such as:
- A mobile solution that helps people connect with mental health professionals
- A lunch tupperware pickup and washing service for restaurants to help reduce takeout waste
- A model for a composting bag station in condos
- An HR app that annotates newcomers resumes with more information on international universities and companies
- A solution that helps aggregate a checklist of important financial steps newcomers need to take upon arrival in Canada
And beyond the weekend, all teams said they were committed to working in their newly formed groups in order to move their prototypes forward. Four of the teams in attendance were awarded mentoring workshops, provided by jam sponsors:
- Claro Partners & 5Y
- CSI’s Climate Ventures and
- The Moment
The idea of the jam is not just to create a fun environment; it’s to tackle and start building prototypes to problems people feel connected to. It’s meant to empower people with the mindset and skills they need to create change they think will make an impact in people’s lives. We’re committed to helping leaders make change in the world, and this is one small way we can contribute.
Why did The Moment jam?
As an Innovation Design studio, we are practitioners of service design, design research, business design, and other approaches that fall under the umbrella of Innovation Design. Both Greg Judelman and myself Robert Hicks were there to offer our skills as mentors and judges, and help participants move their ideas forward.
The Moment’s purpose is to empower people to lead change and co-create a thriving human future. The jam was a fantastic opportunity to bring our design leadership into an environment that was convening change makers to create impact. The work we do at The Moment is aligned to how we jam, but more importantly, to why we jam.
The weekend wasn’t all sunshine and roses; we hit some tricky moments, and no one wants to spend their weekend in an Innovation Theatre workshop. But people came–and stayed–because we were all driven by a common sense of ‘why’; we were here to find solutions that would create a positive impact.
As Viktor E. Frankl says so eloquently, “Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.”
Do you have a strong ‘why’ in your life? A ‘why’ strong enough to get you through any challenge?
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