Phase 1: Asking “What is?”
If I were given one hour to save the planet, I would spend 59 minutes
defining the problem and one minute resolving it.
- Assemble a team that represents multiple perspectives and includes all types of stakeholders invested in finding a solution (e.g., partners, riders, community, funders)
- Determine if you are solving for the right question by examining the question through the lens of different perspectives
- Interview and observe relevant customer groups in the community to understand their experience related to the use of or need for new or different options
- Perform other research to understand the environment and context surrounding the question, such as data from focus groups, surveys, secondary research
- Organize the research to identify patterns and determine the most compelling insights from the research
- Define your “customer” as broadly as is necessary to ensure you are examining all aspects of the question. In the transportation field, the customer can be a rider (whether paying or not paying), a funding partner, or other beneficiary.
- Approach interviews and observations without preconceptions.
- Be attuned to common themes and insights that emerge from your research, interviews, and observations.
The partnership benefits of Phase 1
- Developing common understanding and purpose among a diverse group of members
- Valuing the perspectives and talents of all group members
- Tapping into the networks of each group member to connect with various customer groups
How Phase 1 can increase the odds of a successful solution (aka, de-risk the project)
- Hearing directly from customers and stakeholders through interviews and observations
- Obtaining an accurate picture of customers’ journeys (literal or metaphoric) to inform potential solutions
- Research findings may identify previously unknown issues and guide future opportunities for group collaboration.
- Widely share the stories, customer journeys, and insights that emerge from your research. Sharing what you have discovered with stakeholders and even a larger group may gain early support for potential solutions; you may also hear additional insights about the challenge.
- Note for facilitators: Provide an overview of the value and processes of Design Thinking so that team members understand their role as a team member. Such an overview will allow the team to focus on clear objectives that do not “involve a giant learning curve.” If some team members cannot commit to the entire four-phase process, consider using their limited time to tap into their customer networks and for input at key decision-making points.
Tools and Worksheets
Example of Phase 1 activities: Marin Co., California (2012-2013 Job Access Mobility Institute team):
Challenge question: How can we expand mobility options to enhance economic development and job access for low-wage workers living or working in Marin?
Research: The Marin team interviewed low-wage employees who worked in Marin County, using homeless residents supported through Homeward Bound of Marin, and tapped into other primary and secondary data about job seekers, low-wage workers, college students, and employers.