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College of Social Work

Innovative Solutions

July 31, 2018
By Chris Woodley,

The innovation firm IDEO defines human-centered design as a creative approach to problem solving that begins with people and ends with innovative solutions tailored to meet their needs. Recently, the College of Social Work’s i3 completed a pilot program that provided free, human-centered design training for social sector providers serving Medicaid-eligible children and their families.

The nine-week program, which is part of i3’s grant with the South Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, began in early May with four statewide social sector organizations. Columbia-area organizations Able South Carolina, Family Connection of South Carolina, and The Hive Community Circle, and the Eastern Carolina Homeless Organization in Myrtle Beach. The program finished on July 11 and each team is currently working on refining solutions. Each organization will come together in Hamilton College Room 226 on Aug. 10 for a Learning Exchange to present their process, solutions and experiences with the program.

“The goal of the pilot program was to develop an innovative solution for a problem each organization chose,” said i3 Project Manager Margaret Meriwether. “Organizations either worked on improvements to a service or their service process.”

The participating organizations are exceptional and go above and beyond, while trying to make a difference for the people they serve.

- Margaret Meriwether, i3 Project Manager

Human-Centered Design is a proven method to stimulate workplace innovation and build organizational capacity. Organizations conduct person-centered research, generate creative solutions and create prototypes of their ideas to share with stakeholders. Meriwether explained how one organization utilized the method with their clients.

“One of the organizations created a success card for clients in transition,” said Meriwether. “During meetings, the clients were given a card with a positive achievement they accomplished. It sounds simple, but it made the clinicians focus in a positive way during their interactions, while clients walked away with a concrete achievement.”

Thanks to a partnership with Acumen, a leading provider in human-centered design training, i3 also used an online component as part of the pilot program. The component featured an introduction to human-centered design and the four phases of the program: inspiration, ideation, prototyping and implementation.

“The online courses were more than sitting at a desk with readings and videos,” said Meriwether. “The activities had a significant time commitment, such as conducting research and interviewing people. Two of the benefits of participating were that people became more engaged with their jobs and working relationships were strengthened.”

MSW student Martha Fenske, a graduate assistant for i3, added how human-centered design is a great fit for social sector organizations.  

“In the tech world, most people think of human-centered design as creating something, such as an app,” said Fenske. “But it’s driven by people, so it makes sense that we’re targeting social sector groups to help with their services. Throughout the process, we encouraged teams to talk to the communities they serve and use the feedback. It’s imperative for these organizations to implement human-centered design and fun to watch them grow their ideas.”

Meriwether added, “The participating organizations are exceptional and go above and beyond, while trying to make a difference for the people they serve.”

An anonymous comment from one of the course evaluations stated, “Our final product allows our organization the opportunity to continually use empathy by way of interactions that are focused on the persons we serve.”

Community members are invited to the Learning Exchange, which will be held in Hamilton College Room 226 from 1-3 p.m. on Aug. 10. The event will provide a forum for each organization to be recognized for working on innovation solutions to improve the outcome of children and families in South Carolina.

The Learning Exchange is also an opportunity to hear about the larger cohort for the upcoming statewide human-centered design training program, which will begin on Sept. 9. Currently, i3 is looking for interested organizations who are committed to putting in the time and resources in a program to learn essential strategies and skills to adopt to changing community, economic and policy contexts.   

Social sector organizations interested in participating may contact Margaret Meriwether or visit the i3 Human-Centered Design for Child and Family Services website for more information and to register. Participation is free, but space is limited. 

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.