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Designathon: Can You Go the Distance?

By Mary Jo Katras, Program Leader — Family Resiliency

This December, teams from cooperative extension services across the country attended a 3-day eXtension Community Issue Corps “Designathon” in Detroit, MI to take good ideas and make them great ideas.

The eXtension Foundation announced the national launch of the Community Issue Corps last summer, which solicited proposals from eXtension Communities of Practice, Learning Networks, and User Communities interested in planning solutions to local issues in new and different ways. The Health Insurance Literacy team from the Financial Security for All Community of Practice, of which I am a member, submitted a proposal titled “Developing and Testing Mobile Delivery of Health Insurance Information.” Our proposal was one of ten accepted to be part of the Community Issue Corps 2016, so on December 7, we began the four-stage designathon.

Design Thinking and Concept Mapping

“With a concept map, a viewer can see both the forest and individual trees” (Hugh Dubberly).

Dr. Paul Pangaro guided us through the first stage: design thinking and concept mapping. This process challenges a team to explore possibilities, question concepts, identify new and existing relationships among concepts, and create a visual representation of the project — a concept map. It helps to reveal new and innovative steps and provides overall clarity to the project intent and potential impact.

Mary Jo with the Health Insurance Literacy team's initial concept map.

Peer Feedback

In this stage, teams informally presented their concept map to peer reviewers. This process gave teams, who may have only described their projects verbally, the opportunity to explain their project visually. The challenge of explaining the visual mapping of one’s project multiple times to a peer results in more and more clarity of the concepts and how they are mapped. It forces teams to have engaging discussions and make difficult choices on what stays or what goes on the concept map. In our team, the multiple peer reviews created an iterative process that resulted in a stronger concept map.

Key Informants

In the third stage of the designathon, our team had the opportunity to meet with twelve different key informants. Each key informant had expertise in a specific area, including evaluation, social media marketing, funding, and instructional design. The key informants served as a sounding board for ideas, helped us think through different parts of our proposal, and offered resources we could use to strengthen our concept maps.

Project Pitch

At the end of the third day, each team had to give a 5-minute presentation on their project and walk other teams, peer reviewers, and key informants through their concept map. These pitches could be used in “the real world” for seeking support, funding, and resources needed to carry out the activity.

The team's final concept map.

Key Takeaways for Family Development Staff

  • Map out the concepts of your project — how do concepts connect? What are other possibilities? Let your team flow with ideas!
  • Ask others to review your work — Peer feedback is powerful!
  • Seek out experts in the field — You ideas will be challenged and refined while you simultaneously forge new partnerships for future work.

Next Steps

The designathon was a valuable experience for our Health Insurance Literacy team. It challenged us to think through our project in a visual way that forced us to wrestle with questions of design, evaluation, and outcomes. As part of the Community Issue Corps, we will be sharing the implementation and progress of our project via an eXtension webinar, through social media networks and eXtension blog posts, and at state or national conferences.
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