9 September, 2021

Improvise solutions with design thinking

icon disaster response,flooding,hurricanes
Use design thinking to innovate for smarter disaster response

Floods and power blackouts in the middle of a pandemic. That's Louisiana in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida.

Every disaster is unique and demands its own solution. How does a newly assembled team with limited time and resources quickly choose the best approach to a crisis when lives and property are at stake? Design thinking.

Field Innovation Team (FIT) is a nonprofit that trains volunteers to improvising solutions with design thinking. Its a useful skill in responding to disasters, advocacy and organizing. The 2014 FIT workshop, by coincidence involved a case study eerily similar to the current Louisiana disaster. Teams improvised solutions for community disaster relief in a simulated disaster involving both extreme weather conditions and a pandemic.

This blog describes design thing, Field Innovation Team's approach of teaching it to improvise solutions and free resources for community disaster response. Learn more about the Field Innovation Team (FIT) here.

Disaster planning trains volunteers to apply design thinking to come up with creative solutions

What is design thinking?

"Coming up with an idea is easy. Coming up with the right one takes work. With design thinking, throwing out what you think you know and starting from scratch opens up all kinds of possibilities. Design thinking process are simple.
- Fully understand the problem
- Explore a wide range of possible solutions
- Iterate extensively through prototyping and testing
- Implement the solution

The skills associated with these steps help people apply creativity to effectively solve real-world problems better than they otherwise would. They can be readily learned, but take effort. For instance, when trying to understand a problem, setting aside your own preconceptions is vital, but it’s hard. Creative brainstorming is necessary for developing possible solutions, but many people don’t do it particularly well. And throughout the process it is critical to engage in modeling, analysis, prototyping, and testing, and to really learn from these many iterations." - MIT Management Sloan School

Field Innovation Team

"Globally, responders have common knowledge of emergency situations. However, each community and its responders are dealing with their own unique set of challenges. At times, people can become trapped in the way they have always done things. But when the tried and true is no longer producing the needed results, that’s when innovation is needed the most," explained Desi Matel-Anderson, the founder of FIT. She is also the author of Future Survivor, a three step guide to problem solving.

Desi was the first and former Chief Innovation Advisor at FEMA and Think Tank Strategic Vision Coordinator. She led the first innovation team down to Hurricane Sandy to provide real-time problem solving in disaster response and recovery and ran think tanks nation-wide to cultivate innovation in communities. She has worked on numerous emergency management projects and also lectures on innovation at Harvard, Yale, UC Berkeley. Desi attended the National Preparedness Leadership Institute at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and School of Public Health and has served on the Advisory Board of Harvard’s National Preparedness Leadership Institute.

Desi advises incorporating these four elements in your designs:
Robustness – ability to absorb shocks and continue operating
Resourcefulness – ability to skillfully manage a crisis as it unfolds
Rapid Recovery – ability to get services back as quickly as possible
Adaptability – incorporate lessons from past events to improve resilience

Apply design thinking and improvisation to disaster response

Do Tank workshops on design thinking

The Field Innovation Team (FIT) responds to crises and conducts “Do Tanks” workshop to train others on design thinking and disaster preparedness. Do Tank attendees are placed in simulated post-disaster setting where they learn to work as teams to create solutions in the middle of chaos. The workshops include examples of how innovation, fast prototyping, and agile teams have been deployed by FIT and our partners in global disasters from wildfires to Hurricane Harvey, and the earthquakes in Mexico. Learn more here.  

FIT produces community training guides to health crises such as this one on Zika to help people understand and prepare for the danger.

ShelterSmart - Guide for community based disaster response

Disasters have a way of bringing out the best in us during the most difficult times. People routinely open their hearts and their wallets to help those in need, when confronted by the devastation, loss and destruction. The free 78 page ShelterSmart guide provides detailed information on how communities can respond when disaster strikes.

This guide is for anyone who wants to help a community recover from a disaster. You don’t need to be a first responder or a disaster expert. This guide provides the essential information to aid you in quickly creating an emergency shelter in your area till professional responders arrive.

"Communities know their resources, talent and neighbors. They are there when disasters happen and remain there well after everyone else goes home. It’s important that they be engaged with this process".

TakeAway: Learn design thinking in order to improvise new solutions to tough problems.


Image credit: Phillip Flores on Unsplash

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