Can Design Thinking Help Combat the Effects of Terrorism?

PHOTO BY Beverly & Pack

PHOTO BY Beverly & Pack

It's April 15th, 2013. An explosion erupts at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Suddenly an overwhelming amount of data and communication is bombarding Boston Emergency Medical Services. Data that, Mike Colanti,* Associate Director for the City of Boston’s Office of Public Health Preparedness, and his team are charged with quickly processing and reacting to. Months later, Mike enlists the Design Thinking DC (DT:DC) Meetup group, to explore how the human-centered design process can innovate better solutions for first responders and emergency personnel.

A couple weeks ago, I was lucky enough to attend the DT:DC event on this topic and dive into the innovation challenge. After digging into the preliminary ethnography work completed by the team at the Office of Public Health Preparedness, we helped Mike reframe his initial problem statement of "effective communication" to include newly uncovered needs around nurturing, family well-being and sense of self, as well as around protection. Mike was encouraged by the anthropological-view the teams at DT:DC took to tackle his challenge and was impressed by our ability to create solutions and possibilities to meet newly identified needs he may not have realized existed. 

Prior to joining Peer Insight, I spent five years designing new products and services for emergency response personnel. I have incredible humility for the men and women in uniform who put their life on the line to save ours. I also have seen many missed opportunities to solve unmet needs in this area because of an initial challenge or problem statement that was too rigid. We all have assumptions going into the design of a new product or service and it is important to test those assumptions to decide whether to pivot or persevere continually through a lifecycle of a project.

While it's quite a challenge to design a brand new, innovative service in two hours, the teams at the DT:DC Meetup did an incredible job stretching Mike's thinking with the design thinking process. I hope that Mike, and the rest of the city of Boston, can view the alarming attacks on April 15th as a catalyst for innovation and continue to reach out to local communities for help!

*Mike Colanti was not speaking on behalf of the City of Boston or in any official capacity. Any views/opinions expressed are solely his own.

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