Georgia Heath’s first reaction to the idea of making a video of a medical device decorated to look like a talking crocodile to raise awareness about women’s health was “yeah noooo, we’re not going to do that”.
But they did, and it’s the second-most viewed video on the South Australian government’s YouTube channel.
Don’t discount your crazy ideas, the former state public servant and co-founder of smarter cities startup Yup Yup Labs told the audience during her talk on how to make design challenges work at a yourSAy Better Together showcase event earlier this month. The SA government runs the talks periodically to bring new insights and skills into the policy community.“… it was fine, and luckily our minister was a nurse and really appreciated it.”
“One of my favourite moments was a challenge I was working on with a group of young women and we were trying to come up with a campaign to get them to promote pap awareness to other young women,” she recalled.
“So we said what we want to do is get a speculum — a medical apparatus — cover it in glitter, and turn it into a talking crocodile. And we want to make a video of that and put it on the South Australian government YouTube channel.
“Inside my head I thought ‘yeah noooo, no we’re not going to do that’, but we did. And it was fine, and luckily our minister was a nurse and really appreciated it.
“The message was really effective. But it would have been squashed if we’d said, ‘no, we don’t think that’s going to get past the media unit’. We needed to let it really generate before saying, ‘maybe not’.”
The veteran design challenger offered her thoughts on the 10 key things to think about when setting up or participating in a challenge that offer some greater insights into making ideas happen …
- Identify the problem. Heath got involved in her first challenge because she was “frustrated with the limitations I had in terms of trying to get more open data on domestic violence and homelessness issues,” she explained. “But what I think worked really well about that and other problems were the challenges I’ve participated in was a really well-defined problem. It was something that was specific, and so when the community was asked to engage with us we could really go back and quite sharply point at what we were trying to achieve. It wasn’t a challenge for the sake of a challenge. It was a challenge for the sake of achieving a specific outcome that we’d thought about in advance and pre-determined.”
- Find some friends. We often talk about the benefits of multidisciplinary teams, she told the audience, but “how many of you have sat down with an accountant and said ‘how do we solve homelessness?'” Heath says her team included “somebody who had been working in economic development and accounting, somebody from planning and somebody from the customer care call centre” — all people she would normally not have had the chance to collaborate with. It’s had flow-on effects in future challenges, but also in her regular work.
- Brainstorm. While setting up a whiteboard in your house, as Heath has, may not be for everyone, it helps to think about things at a very broad level before getting into the detail.
- Have fun. Making sure you have built-in relaxation time can make the difference between success and failure, she says, especially if you’re working with volunteers who might be giving up their weekend to be there.
- Listen. “We talk about the value of co-design, we talk about the value of including our customers and community in the decisions we make, but how many of you actually get out of the building and actually go and talk to them?” she asked. “It’s one of those things that often gets caught up in the day-to-day processes and we don’t end up having the time to go and really do it properly. But during a challenge it’s a great opportunity to say, ‘look, we’re going to go down to the supermarket and talk to the next five people that are coming out to see whether they think this idea is a good one’.”
- Don’t discount crazy ideas. Design challenges are a great opportunity to put your hand up and suggest an idea you would normally hold back, argues Heath. Instead of instinctively saying no, it might be better to try saying “yes, and …”.
- Aim for achievable, not perfect. Having a strict time limit to deliver means you can’t over-think and over-research things. “What that’s really started to teach me the value of is the permission to just get something out if it’s OK, just get something into the system, and not to focus too much on getting it exactly right. In doing that it gives me permission to try many more things and to try out options that I would have discarded from the start. For those of you who are perfectionists, give it a go,” she said.
- Celebrate. “Taking that time to really stop and say to ourselves, ‘I did that, it was awesome, and I’m going to do it again’ is really really important to help us go through and try challenge after challenge and keep learning and moving through,” she said.
- Foster. “Challenges, if you do them in isolation, are really good for ideas but they don’t necessarily translate into long term outcomes,” she explained. “But you can fix that by thinking right up front about what am I going to do to make sure that this idea is kept going, that it’s incubated, and that it really continues to grow and strengthen?”
- Learn, reflect, repeat. “Challenges by themselves are great, but I think the real value of challenges is getting them to assist us to challenge what we learn every day. If we can take what we learn from challenges and apply that into what we do on a daily basis to apply the new multidisciplinary approach, to apply creativity, to take all of those things we’re learned, it’ll really help us to achieve broader change.”