Here’s a great Albert Einstein quote:
“If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions.”
Einstein believed that the quality of solutions you come up with will only be as good as your understanding of the problem.
One of our core aims ever since we started Digital for Good, is to do always aim to have the most impact. As Barry recently wrote, many of the most impactful things a tech person can do for a charity won't be very sexy. Putting our and our volunteer's limited time to good use is important for our charities, which operate under limited resources and can't afford to learn from mistakes.
And it's easier to avoid those mistakes, if we take our time to learn about the problem together.
Spend time understanding the problem
Most of the charities come to us with request to develop a solution for them. And one of the first things we recommend, is to take a step back and spend some time together on better understand the problem itself.
How does this look? One of our volunteers, Katie Dickerson, has recently been working with an Edinburgh charity on these very first stages of the project. The charity came to us with with a problem - they would like a client management system to track their interactions with their service users and store their data safely. Over the years of operation, they've accreted a set of tools to manage their users that has become both unwieldy and insecure. Their first instinct was to develop their own system, that adapted to their way of working.
So to be able to recommend a solution and organise a team of volunteers around it, we asked Katie to speak to the charity and map the current process. She spoke with two of the charity staff to try to understand more about how they currently book clients onto their services and how they track and maintain customer data. Taking time to understand what the frustrations are from the charity's side, as well as what issues the current process could be causing their clients. After a few follow ups, Katie came up with diagrams that illustrated the current process fully and clear problem statements for the current process.
We now had a set of documents that allowed us to communicate exactly on what the problem is. This is extremely valuable. Not just for the team of volunteers that will refer to this documentation countless times, but also for the charity, which rarely gets the opportunity to step back and assess the problem clearly.
Service designers come to the rescue
As Katie learned, it can be really hard to take a complex process and try to break it down in a simple way. That's why most of us jump to solutions right away, especially if we're not used to the discomfort of looking at our own biases and assumptions. But it's really useful to put in the work so we can really understand what the issues are. Especially if we're hoping to save time in the long run.
Katie, and other service designers like her, can guide us through these exciting and challenging stages of the project with more ease and peace. Service designers are trained to look at complex situations and identify specific problems in them.
And once we have a clear understanding of the problem and our team is aligned around it, it's finally time to start coming up with solutions.