Hacking Social Change

Puppy parties. Matchmaking apps. Game shows.

These are just a few of the creative ideas generated by leaders from more than 40 nonprofit organizations and social enterprises at the Schulze School of Entrepreneurship’s DesignHack! on May 13. This full-day immersion in design thinking, a problem-solving protocol, set out to address the question, “How might we rethink philanthropy to increase public engagement?”

When it comes to community involvement, Minnesota has much to be proud of: The state ranks fourth in the nation in volunteering, with more than 35 percent (1.5 million people) of its population giving of their time and talent, which translates to $3.5 billion worth of service. DesignHack! was created to help social sector leaders further build on this tradition, using insights from their collective past experiences to identify creative ways to make positive impacts.

Attendees were some of the best doers, creators and connectors in our community, many of whom are already taking innovative and bold approaches to philanthropy. They ranged in size from sole proprietors learning how to better reach prospective donors and volunteers, to 15 attendees from the Minnesota Historical Society, who learned how they can creatively work across departments to collaborate and better serve their mission.

Despite the variety of organizational goals represented at the event, participants all applied the design thinking process to identify a challenge, develop ideas to address those challenges, create prototypes to test solutions, and offer feedback, advice and support to build on their ideas.


“Design thinking works best when you bring together teams of people from different backgrounds, experiences and perspectives” said Laura Dunham, Ph.D., associate professor of entrepreneurship, as she kicked off workshop. “That increases our ability to look at the problems from multiple angles as well as to come up with more ideas. Human-centered design has been called ‘radically collaborative.’ So despite the fact we don’t know each other, we have to be willing to engage and immediately come together and start working.”

“Each of you has a unique perspective that the rest of your group doesn’t have,” added AnnMarie Thomas, Ph.D., associate professor of engineering, who led the day’s instruction with Dunham. “There are no wallflowers for this project. Dive in and trust yourself, please.”

Here are the steps of design thinking, from the perspectives of those in attendance:

Understand who you’re serving.
“This process takes you outside of your presupposed conclusions and puts you in the place of the person you’re trying to serve, to question why and how can you do this well. At Le Gen Leaders, we’re trying to help foster kids aging out of the system, to get in their shoes and know what to provide. I think after this we have the framework to really do that.” Scott Eiden, LeGen Leaders

Refocus your questions to find out what your constituents really need.
“The insights we received from the empathy interviews manifested into something real during the DesignHack! People expressed not being able to find time to volunteer, and feeling like small contributions of time or money were insignificant. We developed a concept for an app that streamlines local volunteering opportunities based on personal interest and availability and the feedback we received was really validating.” Zander Tsadwa, Across the Culture

Challenge your ideas and suspend judgement.
“I learned a lot about the ideation process, how to brainstorm in a way that’s productive, how to team build and conceptualize as a whole. We came up with this cool idea that we thought was just fun but it turns out it could actually be worth pursuing, so we’re going to see what we can do with it.” Matthew Ogbeifun, G-TV

Make your ideas tangible so you can seek feedback.
“The training at DesignHack! provided an opportunity to practice reflective thinking in a group setting. This challenged me to be responsive in contributing my share for prototype development and testing within a fast track approach.” Mauris DeSilva, 3D PARS

Know what will you do differently on Monday.
“My motivation in attending was to learn tools that could lead to better, faster, breakthrough solutions to seemingly unsolvable problems in higher education. DesignHack! was an opportunity to learn a systematic approach to what can be a chaotic invention process.” Anne Hunter, Cambio Education