Introducing the new ITK Stakeholder Identification Canvas!

Introducing the new ITK Stakeholder Identification Canvas!

Learn more about ITK’s newest tool and the equity lens embedded in it.

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As part of Team Toolkit’s collaboration with the MITRE Social Justice Platform, we are excited to announce the addition of a new tool – the ITK Stakeholder Identification Canvas!

The ITK Stakeholder Identification canvas helps your team ideate a more comprehensive & representative set of relevant stakeholders to your project. In addition, this tool embeds an equity lens to help your team be mindful of the needs and priorities of the larger community, which may not be immediately apparent.

As a refresher, recall that equity-driven design thinking encourages us to create not just inclusive and diverse solutions, but to create equitable solutions. Equitable solutions are available to all (e.g., equal access), and they also help equalize who benefits from the solution (e.g., many groups benefit, not just one).

Equity-driven design thinking helps ensure we design at the margins or at the “edge,” where those with the greatest need exist. These are the groups who are left out because they don’t have a seat the table, a voice, and/or the means to advocate for themselves.

For example, edge groups may not have power or resources; they may represent only a small portion of the overall set and are not included in the “average audience”; and/or the project doesn’t engage with them because the project team believes there isn’t enough time if they want to meet project deadlines. It’s critical to include these edge groups because not only does their inclusion often yield a better solution for many, it’s also often the case that these edge groups are the ones most likely to suffer the greatest burden or consequences of inequitable design.

So, what happens if your team is looking at the wrong “edge”? What if your team thinks they’re designing at the margin, but there’s actually more groups they should be considering?

That’s where the ITK Stakeholder Identification canvas comes in!

The ITK Stakeholder Identification canvas encourages teams to broaden their thinking by asking not only about primary stakeholders, but also about secondary and tertiary stakeholders. This helps teams build a more comprehensive set of groups to consider.

Potential secondary stakeholders could be groups that play a connector role. These stakeholders could be gate keepers, or they might provide permission, resources, or access to enable (or block) your project’s success. And of course, it’s critical for the team to identify the actual audience of focus that will receive the outcome or benefit that your project seeks to create, which may be a different group than your primary stakeholders.

In addition, the embedded equity lens asks teams to consider potential tertiary stakeholders that may be even less visible. In the “Build Empathy” section, teams are asked to consider who or what will be benefitted or burdened. This section also asks teams to consider who or what may be missing, with a sub-prompt to also consider historical actions. By asking about “what,” rather than only “who,” this expands the set of potential stakeholders to include organizations, communities, ecosystems, the environment, and more. Oftentimes, answering these questions will further broaden your team’s thinking to consider systemic and intergenerational impacts.

Lastly, it wouldn’t be an equity-centered tool if there wasn’t at least one question about biases. Fortunately, this tool has 3!

The “Notice Bias & Assumptions” section includes three prompts to encourage honest self-awareness on the team about how their perspectives may be limited or non-representative of the audience of focus. Answering these questions will also help identify if there are gaps in the stakeholder set, which means there is further information gathering or research that needs to be completed by the team.

The ITK Stakeholder Identification canvas is best used early in the process, but it’s an important step whenever you need to consider who or what is involved, interested, or impacted by your project. For true project success, it’s essential to consider and involve not only those who are actively involved in your project, but also those whose interests may be positively or negatively affected by your effort.

Get your copy of the ITK Stakeholder Identification canvas here. We hope you find it useful, and let us know what you think in the comments below!

Interested in learning more about other ITK tools with an embedded equity lens?

Brokering Consensus On Failure

Brokering Consensus On Failure

This week’s post is by Gabby Raymond

My husband, Ben, and I are at that happy stage of life where we are looking to buy a house together. What started off as a joyful hobby now feels like a full-fledged part-time job full of anxiety, anguish, and frustration. Those of you who have bought a house, especially in a market as hot as Boston is right now, probably know our pain. For the unenlightened, our house buying experience has been akin to proposing marriage to someone after your first blind date – equal parts fear, excitement, and “wow, this could cost me dearly if it goes poorly.”

Since training to become an ITK facilitator, I have found plenty of opportunities to apply ITK tools to my everyday life. After a particularly stressful open house where Ben and I were debating the merits of replacing our home search hobby with a home improvement hobby, we began to worry we would never actually buy a home. Over dinner and some beer, I told Ben I wanted to try out a Premortem with him. His first response was, “Premortem, is that when you kill me before we start?” After a good laugh, I described the tool to him: we’re preemptively trying to understand what failure looks like by describing a particularly bleak future (the bleaker the better), identifying the causes, and coming to a consensus on what success looks like. Sounds easy, right?

I realized after the open house that Ben and I had done a poor job communicating our individual goals because we were too worried about disagreeing. We needed to get everything out on the table. I set us up on different computers in different rooms to use MURAL, an online whiteboarding tool, to fill out a Premortem canvas. I used MURAL’s incognito mode to make sure we didn’t bias each other’s contributions. After 10 minutes of quiet working time, we cozied up on our couch together to discuss our canvas. Right away, we confirmed something we already knew – we were both tracking to the needs, desires, and goals of the other person. However, there were a few things that were surprisingly different.

Our biggest divergence was when answering the most important question on the canvas, “If the only thing we do is ______, it’s a win.” His answer – have a place to live. My answer – make an investment. It was a great dialogue point for some of the stress and anxiety we’d each been feeling. He was worried about the stability of having a house versus being at the will of a landlord. I was concerned that after years of saving up for a down payment we would purchase a house that would go down in value and flush our investment down the drain. Neither of us had vocalized those concerns directly, so it was helpful to talk openly.

We wrapped up the Premortem canvas by describing three failure scenarios and risk mitigations. It was refreshing to go from doom and gloom to planning for future successes. After the Premortem, we took our key house features and plotted them on a Cost x Importance matrix. Just like the Premortem exercise, the differences in our answers led to great conversations about tradeoffs and compromises.

Ben and I found our whiteboarding exercise to be valuable, both because we confirmed that we agree on the important aspects of our house search and because we came to a consensus on what success looks like in the big picture. We used MURAL’s incognito mode to foster clear dialogue without the concern of compromising in the moment or biasing each other’s opinions. In the end, framing of the conversation was just as important as the content.

We haven’t bought a house yet, but we know what we’re looking for… at least a little better than we did before!


Mise En Place

Mise En Place

If you’ve ever watched an instructional cooking show, you have probably seen the chef or host say something along the lines of “Now we add two tablespoons of cinnamon…” as they reach for a small conveniently placed bowl that contains just the right amount of the necessary ingredient.

What you don’t see is the production assistant hunting through cupboards and measuring out all the ingredients before the camera starts rolling. The prep work is the essential step that makes those shows watchable and makes the recipes look a lot easier and faster than they are in my kitchen.

Those little bowls of pre-measured ingredients are part of a culinary technique called mise en place, which is French for “everything in its place.” It turns out, mise en place does more than make cooking shows easier to watch. It can also make your ITK session more effective.

A seeded Lotus Blossom

For example, when I’m preparing to lead a Lotus Blossom session, I might fill in a few of the boxes to get things started, like in the accompanying image. Think of it as a seeded lotus blossom. This helps accelerate the discussion in several ways. First, it demonstrates how to use the tool by providing some examples of the types of things participants might put in the various petals.

It also begins to plant some ideas and gives the group a starting point. I don’t fill in much – usually just two or three petals, enough to convey the basic practice and to help get the conversation started.

And of course, if any of the seed ideas are worth keeping, then we’ve already got some materials before the session formally starts.

Similarly, when I lead a Premortem, I like to do a little pre-Premortem. I’ll go through the canvas and answer some of the questions a few days before the event begins, maybe with the organizer of the event. If the group organizer has not done a premortem before, this gives me a chance to explain it to them in advance. They also get to put some of their ideas together in advance of the session, which can help the whole group hit the ground running.

So give it a try. The next time you’re going to use one of the ITK tools, do a little prep work and measure out a few of your ingredients. I think you’ll find it helps make the whole experience move along smoothly.

photo credit: Calum Lewis on Unsplash

Announcing Our Book!

Announcing Our Book!

Today’s post is by Allison Khaw!

Can a diverse group of seven engineers and designers write a book?  Can they write a book about innovation, teamwork, and problem solving, in a collaborative fashion, while working in a virtual environment?

The answer is yes.

In fact, that’s exactly what seven of us on the MITRE Innovation Toolkit team did this past year!  Fresh off the press, our book is called The Toolbox of Innovation, and we—Jen Choi, myself (Allison Khaw), Gabby Raymond, Dan Ward, Kaylee White, Niall White, and Jessica Yu—couldn’t be more excited to share it with the world.

As the first line of the book says, it was an experiment.  We didn’t know how our book would turn out, or if it would turn out.  There was only one way to know the answer, and that was to sit down and start putting words on the page.

We used a writing style similar to the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books that were popular in the eighties and nineties, except that we placed our characters in a real-world setting.  You—the reader—are the protagonist of the story, which revolves around a passionate team applying innovation methods to develop a product that will delight its users.  Depending on the path you take through the book, you’ll learn about intrapreneurism, self-advocacy, problem framing, prototyping, failure, and more.  If you encounter a dead-end in your current path, simply turn around and make a different choice.

Throughout the writing process, we focused on ways to be more collaborative and creative.  We took on the scenes we were most passionate about, learning firsthand that messy first drafts are inevitable.  We edited each other’s scenes without feeling like we needed permission.  As our book took shape, we incrementally built our cast of characters and mapped out the myriad plot threads.  We also learned about self-publishing and the effectiveness of fiction in teaching real-world lessons.  Ultimately, it was an exercise in shared leadership as well as a refreshing opportunity to embrace risks.

It was an incredibly rewarding experience, in more ways than one.

One of my favorite parts of our book is its playful nature.  You’ll find scenes involving Bigfoot, failure cake, juggling, and alternate endings, not to mention a suspiciously large number of potato chip references.  (You’d think we were sponsored by a snack food company—nope, our characters just really like chips!)  Each of the co-authors brought a different perspective to the table, and we’ll be finding ways to share our experiences and lessons learned, starting with this blog post.  We want to help you perform your own experiments, in all their glory.

Now, what are you waiting for?

If you want to find out more, go to The Toolbox of Innovation
If you are undecided, mull it over and then re-read the previous line
When you’re ready, turn to the first page of the book, and take the story where you will.  It’s your adventure, after all—you get to call the shots.

Disaster Recovery

Disaster Recovery

So your recent session was a bust. You tried to do something but it crashed and burned. Let me be the first to say “Congratulations, and welcome to the club!”

This situation is pretty much inevitable. Stick around in the innovation space long enough, and eventually something going to go pearshaped. And by “long enough,” I mean a day or two. Or less.

See, when the work you’re doing involves introducing novelty that has impact, some of that novelty is pretty much guaranteed to not have the impact you anticipated. It might even impact you right in the face.

For the Innovation Toolkit in particular, every facilitator has led a session or used a tool where the result ended up in the Crummy column instead of the Awesome column. It’s sort of a rite of passage around here. We’ve all had our flops and flubs and disasters, where the participants didn’t participate, the tool didn’t fit, the metaphorical souffle didn’t rise. It happens to the best of us.

Like I said, welcome to the club.

But I also said congratulations, and that’s important. In order to have a failed attempt, you must first make an attempt. So if you failed, that means at the very least you tried something… and that’s worth celebrating. In fact, it probably means you tried something new, which is very celebration-worthy in my book. We need people who are willing to try new stuff – stuff that might not work – and so we celebrate those who take the leap.

Then again, maybe your latest failure is because you got lazy and phoned it in. Maybe your failure was entirely your own fault. That may sound like a dubious thing to celebrate, and it’s frankly my eleventh-least favorite type of failure, but upon closer inspection we may discover something to celebrate there too.

Maybe the reason you didn’t put in the effort is because you’ve put in so much previous effort, you’ve had so much previous success, that you got a little complacent. Resting on your laurels may not be admirable, but it does mean that at some point you earned some laurels. So that’s cool. And let me tell you, those post-success-failures can be a really helpful wake-up call… and that’s why I say congrat’s on noticing the problem and waking up. You are now more aware of what you need to do than you were before. Congratulations.

The other thing to keep in mind is that virtually no failure is completely worthless. You probably created some value, even if it’s not as much value as you’d hoped to create. You probably learned something, even if it wasn’t what you wanted to learn. And there’s a really good chance you helped someone, even if it’s not quite in the way you wanted to help.

At the very least, you survived, so that’s something. Congratulations… and welcome to the club.

(Image credit: Quino Al from Unsplash)