Arch + Eng, Art, Design, Education, Sci + Tech, Social Impact

Dispatches from the Field: Design for America

While only twenty projects are moving forward as Semi-Finalists in this year’s Fuller Challenge cycle, due to generous support from our sponsors in 2014 we have extended our Catalyst Program offerings to an additional selection of outstanding project teams, one of which is Design for America, an innovative organization addressing national challenges in education, health, economy.

“Everyday when we get up, we are inspired by Bucky’s profound insight – humanity is driven to understand and be understood.” —Liz Gerber, Faculty Founder and Design Lead

Poverty. Illiteracy. Pollution. These challenges cannot solve themselves. We need networks of civic innovation teams embedded in communities with the appropriate knowledge and resources to identify, design, refine, and implement sustainable solutions. But creating, training, and orchestrating these teams and networks is challenging and difficult to scale. Traditional university instruction is too rigid, often with insufficient time-frames for solving, complex real world problems. Extra-curricular environments provide flexibility but insufficient guidance. Mentoring is effective but expensive. Collaboration increases access to resources, but requires communication. Design for America and the Digital Loft are a visionary, comprehensive solution to training, connecting, and orchestrating networks of teams so that they can tackle societal challenges. We designed our organization and supporting cyberlearning and communication platform to scale the number of civic innovation teams by providing on and offline training, mentoring, and feedback throughout project work. Teams are not only able to share and adapt local innovation for national application, but also to utilize the intellectual capital of individuals across geographic, disciplinary, and perspectival borders to solve local problems. There are currently DFA studios in 17 US cities, and a waiting list of 200 universities who want to join.

Design for America trains and connects student-led teams as they learn and lead an innovation process that emphasizes empathy, experimentation, and interdisciplinary teamwork. The process focuses on developing unique insights leading to local innovations that can scale globally. Outside the classroom, yet still within the resource-rich university environment, 5 member teams work until solutions are implemented. If locally successful, ideas are spread broadly through the innovation network. The Digital Loft is an online platform that connects civic innovation teams by providing interlinked instruction, case studies, feedback, and social networking. The Loft supports learning and collaboration by: providing participant-generated and curated case-library linked to badges to teach the innovation process. It uses crowd-feedback to increase the frequency and quality of feedback, recommender systems to semi-automatically create case-based instructional material, self-assessments to motivate goal setting and project planning, social media to facilitate participation and support, and recognition and credentialing to facilitate help-seeking and connections to resources.

Learn more about Design for America: