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Our design approach is a partnership between our team, your team and those people who the work is in service of; together we build and deconstruct ideas, solutions and mindsets. This requires reciprocity and trust; we all do our best work when we feel that we are in it together.

Meeting you where you’re at

Some clients come to the table with a clear definition of challenge and desired outcome. Many more begin a conversation by sharing with us where they’re at and welcoming us into the journey with them. We engage in many ways, some paid, some not, some only as paid as they can be, some a prelude to being paid through joint grant-writing or approach to funders.

If we engaged only with the groups or people who were “ready” in terms of dollars, capacity or design maturity, we surely would not meet the communities and people who we can do our best work with.
What we mean by “design”

Design is a problem-solving approach and a set of methods that allow us to be people-centered, generative and optimistic in our work. The designer’s toolkit doesn’t just center us on what’s broken, but rather empowers us in an asset-based approach to problem-solving.

So what do we actually design? We design service systems, communications tools, system maps, and specific touchpoints—all in service to the mindsets, values or structures that they make tangible.

Change work is hard.

Our clients are all tackling the work of bending hardened structures towards equity. Some are working from within; others are advocating from the streets; some sit atop hefty decisions. Whatever the vantage, the challenges are considerable.

Here is how we’ve found design to be helpful.

Understanding where to focus

There’s a lot of stuff that’s inequitable, but where are the points of highest leverage? What are the conditional elements that can unlock additional solutions? It’s hard to know what to tackle first. The things that can feel most urgent can actually be symptoms of a more serious underlying need.

And the work that is most critical is often the cross-disciplinary, cross-silo work that folks will need additional support to make happen. Bringing multiple people and organizations together around a shared understanding of the issues is hard when each bring their own point of view.

How design can help
System mapping helps make complex and often invisible relationships legible. It can make implicit or unseen elements explicit,  surface the habits and mindsets that seem baked into an organization or system, and make evident gaps, points of leverage or key players.  

Case study ︎︎︎

Building a shared vision of change

Change work is communal. It requires a ton of folks be on board and see their part. A shared vision of change can be a critical motivator.

It translates vague, aspirational words into clear terms and crystalizes the work to be done. It makes tangible what success can look like and mean for people.

Great visions are created jointly, held by many, and easily told. They are stories that many see themselves in, the first step in the collective action necessary for change.

How design can help
Design is a storytelling tool. Crafting the story makes it stronger, tests its strategic resilience, finds points of wobble and clarifies the core. Bringing it to life makes it sing, helps people see the beauty of the end goal and understand how they are important in steering towards it.

Case study ︎︎︎

Engaging community effectively

Whether a system leader or a grassroots organizer, change makers need to engage their communities.

This may mean articulating a coherent message across silos, crafting intentional space for feedback and dialogue with constituents, or co-creating solutions in partnership with community members. When done right, engaging your community moves from a box-checking activity to one that effectively shares decision-making power.

How design can help
Well-designed facilitation and experiences can authentically bring community members into change processes. By working with (not at) communities, teams can make ideas stronger, find more powerful collective voice and take an asset-based approach to their work.

Case Study ︎︎︎

Keeping people at the center of your work

We’re all in this to make more just experiences for people. But when you are good at your work, so often you are pulled farther from these people, into the halls of administrative buildings, behind a desk, off the streets, out of the classrooms.

It can be easy to feel removed from the people who originally motivated the work.

But when people are blurred into data points solutions are distanced from those who they most need to work for. Folks can start thinking like the systems they work within, reverting to the norms or regs that make the system tick.

Keeping people at the core of the work frames the challenge in ways that instead can move systems, change mindsets and recenter the problems to solve.

Design can help
Human-centered design puts the needs of people up front. We use design research to make tangible the realities that any work must meld with. We sit at kitchen tables, in tiny pre-school chairs, in the corner of physician exam rooms to understand people in their own spaces and their own terms. And we bring these truths to the folks leading change.  

Creating more equitable service systems

There are so many good-hearted, strong-willed people doing the work of running service systems. In all our work, we see folks going above and beyond to meet the needs of those they serve: running down to the transportation office to check on a SPED bus for a parent or calling around to find the person who can help with rent assistance.

The challenge is that this makes for fragile systems. It makes for systems that reward the persistent, the enfranchised. How can a system be equitable when it relies on catching the right person in the right mood?

Building the structures, processes, interactions, tools and trainings to ensure equitable service delivery creates more just systems.

Design can help
Service design considers the experience we want to deliver to people and organizes people, departments and resouces to enable these services. We design the front-end touchpoints and interactions and the back-end systems necessary make them real.

Our mission is to use design to reduce structural inequity in America. Agncy is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.  © 2020 Agncy Design Inc. 
Boston, Massachusetts