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?

Introducing the updated Problem Framing Canvas!

Introducing the updated Problem Framing Canvas!

Learn more about the equity-driven updates to one of our most popular ITK tools.

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As part of Team Toolkit’s collaboration with the MITRE Social Justice Platform, we embarked on taking a fresh look at our ITK tools with an equity lens.

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, for those who have the greatest need, who are traditionally left out of the design process. When we design at the margins, we design for everyone.

One way we can do this is by considering who has been traditionally “left out” and to design solutions that level the playing field. In addition, equity-driven design thinking encourages us, as the designers, to take a critical look at our own assumptions and biases that we inherently bring to the table and implicitly embed as part of the final solution.

First up was one of our most popular tools: Problem Framing canvas.

Visually, you’ll notice that we’ve partitioned the Problem Framing canvas into three areas: Look Inward, Look Outward, and Reframe.

Look Inward speaks directly to the additional step, Notice, in equity-driven design thinking. In this section, participants are guided to look not only at the problem they are facing, but also how they themselves might be part of the problem. We’ve added questions to encourage groups to explicitly discuss assumptions and biases, and as part of the Reflect step in equity-driven design thinking, participants are asked to imagine which of these assumptions may be designed, reframed, or removed.

New questions have also been added to dig deeper into who experiences the problem. We ask participants to consider the lived experiences and consequences that users who have this problem face, which may otherwise have been overlooked. We also added equity-related factors for why this problem hasn’t been solved, such as lack of authority or a situational inequity.

Look outward also speaks directly to the Notice step in equity-driven design thinking. In this section, we encourage participants to broaden their thinking to find more insights and inspiration by learning from others who may or may not have this problem.

We’ve added questions to encourage participants to consider who has been left out, as well as to examine who benefits when the problem does or does not exist. We’ve also added an equity-related factor for why others don’t have this problem, which is that it’s been transferred.

Reframe culminates the Reflect step in equity-driven design thinking by asking participants to synthesize their insights and discussions into a succinct problem statement. We’ve streamlined the suggested “How Might We” statement to help groups create more powerful, action-oriented statements.

Lastly, we’ve introduced new “Question Bank” and “Facilitation Tips” sections in the Instructions to further assist problem framing discussions. These additional questions can provide more richness to the discussion, as well as deeper inquiry into the problem.

One final important point – Although we’ve updated the Problem Framing canvas with an equity-driven lens, this tool can be used to guide discussions on ALL problems, not just equity-related problems. By embedding this equity-driven lens into the questions and the tool itself, this naturally leads to discussions that will help create more equitable solutions since they bring equity to the forefront, rather than relying on a participant to bring them up.

We hope you find the updated Problem Framing canvas useful, and let us know what you think in the comments below!

Need to build consensus quickly? Try leveraging the Power of Prep

Need to build consensus quickly? Try leveraging the Power of Prep

In the world of innovation where moving fast is essential, knowing how to effectively build consensus becomes a superpower.

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Oftentimes, the most powerful outcome of an ITK session is the team building consensus together. Teams are often in a place of confusion or feeling stuck in their problem-solving process when they turn to Team Toolkit for help. Although project leaders and teammates may not have known consensus is what they needed, once they achieve this, there’s a tangible forward shift that occurs in project momentum: When a team is in agreement with each other, the team naturally switches into action because next steps are clear, and the team is motivated to move forward.

So what does building consensus look like? How might we do this effectively?

In a classic scenario of building consensus, teams may gather with blank ITK tools, then answer the question prompts and discuss together. By using blank tools, everyone begins at the same starting point and can generate their own individual responses. The main facilitator creates space for all teammates to speak up equally, and through sharing ideas and perspectives, consensus is built. While this is an effective strategy to build consensus, it may not always be the fastest route to convergence.

When your team needs to build consensus quickly, we recommend leveraging the Power of Prep. The Power of Prep occurs when one or more teammates pre-fill an ITK tool with responses that are intended for discussion. Depending on the team’s situation, these pre-filled answers could be intended to draw out the quieter voices, to confirm unspoken agreements, to explicitly acknowledge controversial areas, or more. By giving the team something to start with, this helps focus and accelerate the discussions.

Keep in mind that the ultimate purpose of pre-filling the ITK tools is to spur discussion, so always use your good judgment and discretion when putting down responses. For example, you don’t want to betray a teammate’s confidence in what they shared privately with you or widely reveal information that’s meant to be close-hold or restricted. Or, if you are the senior person in the group or are in a position of authority, make sure your inputs don’t discourage your teammates from speaking up. 

Before you begin, here are some additional Power of Prep Tips:

  1. Consider why your team is stuck and put down responses that you think will activate discussion
  2. Get unattached to what you’ve written down
  3. Now get very unattached to what you’ve written down
  4. When kicking off the session, clearly state that what you’ve written is for discussion rather than your individual perspective. Try something like, “I put this here, not because I think it’s right, but to get the process started.”

When you choose to use the Power of Prep, you must be unattached to the pre-filled responses. If not, then you may feel personally criticized when your teammates share their disagreements with the responses. This will cause you go to into a defensive mode, which blocks you from actively listening to others and being receptive to new ideas. Not exactly the most conducive behaviors to building consensus!

In addition, clearly stating that what you’ve written is for discussion rather than your individual perspective allows your teammates more freedom to speak critically about the pre-filled responses. If your teammates were afraid of disagreeing or critiquing your individual perspective, they may hold back their true thoughts which would keep the team stuck and ultimately negatively impact the final product.

So the next time you’re looking to quickly build consensus, consider leveraging the Power of Prep and let us know how it goes in the comments below!


Check out the MITRE KDE Podcast on the power of “Yes, And”!

Check out the MITRE KDE Podcast on the power of “Yes, And”!

Innovation, much like improv, isn’t easy, but it can be a powerful way to bring people into a conversation they might typically avoid or feel excluded from. In MITRE KDE’s latest podcast episode with the Innovation Toolkit Team, Jen and Josh walk listeners through the power improvisation can have to start these conversations and how they refined their unique approach. Discover the lessons Jen and Josh learned and how you, too, can apply them to your organization!

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Over the summer, Team Toolkit ran an experiment to test whether using “Yes, And” could help cultivate curiosity and innovation, and we were amazed by the results. We knew this was a powerful workshop practice, but we had no idea how effective it would be in the everyday work meetings, especially in our current virtual work environment!

Curious to hear more? Check out the MITRE Knowledge-Driven Enterprise (KDE) podcast episode “Jen Choi and Josh LeFevre and the power of “Yes, And”

The MITRE KDE Podcast series is hosted by Software Systems Engineer Cameron Boozarjomehri, who interviews technical leaders at MITRE that have made knowledge sharing and collaboration an integral part of their practice.


Want your engineering team to be more innovative? Try this proven improv technique!

Want your engineering team to be more innovative? Try this proven improv technique!

Co-Authors: Awais Sheikh, Dan Ward, Niall White
The pressure to be “innovative” is at an all-time high for projects, organizations, and companies across all industries. Unicorn companies (startups valued at $1+ Billion) are sought after wide and far, and leaders everywhere are encourage their staff to be more innovative. However, how does one actually become more innovative? What if being innovative was not just the domain of a select group, but skills that anyone could learn?  

One of the key elements to birth innovation is creativity, which is usually associated with the arts rather than science and engineering. However, creativity is not confined to only one domain, and there are ample ways to cultivate curiosity on even the most left-brained teams.   

One powerful technique is borrowed from the world of Improv, where the best improv performers build their scenes using a technique called Yes, And. Yes-And is a cornerstone practice in all sorts of improvisational creation, whether it is comedy or jazz or painting happy little trees. The basic idea is to affirm a previous contribution (yes), then build or expand on it (and). Team Toolkit hypothesized that teaching Yes-And could help cultivate creativity and innovation. We decided to test our hypothesis with a group very familiar to us at MITRE – Our fellow engineers! 

Team Toolkit invited a half-dozen colleagues to join us for a series of four online workshops where we practiced Yes-and, and also explored how to apply this practice to our everyday technical work. They said yes… and so we dove right in! 

Our workshops introduced the concept and practice of Yes-And, as well as the benefits, perils, and lessons from this approach. We practiced improv exercises, stretched people outside of their comfort zone, and had a lot of fun! In between the laughs, we also learned about what it takes to truly practice Yes-and. Active listening is crucial to hear what our colleagues are saying, so we can respond to it. We also learned that the more vulnerable we are with each other, the easier it becomes to share our ideas.   

We discussed how these concepts apply to our work as engineers. Sometimes our “expert culture” can prevent us from actively listening to our colleagues in meetings. By practicing Yes-And, we force ourselves to not only listen, but to build on each others’ ideas to create better solutions.  

The results of our experiments confirmed our hypothesis that Yes-And can be taught, and that it can also help improve the quality and impact of our work.  

However, what surprised us the most was the personal impact that our experiment had on our participants. Here are some of the things they had to say: 

  • Life feels significantly less hard after each session.” 
  • “I was at first dubious about the need for using video, but seeing how the ITK folks use their video changed the way I think about it. This workshop raised my awareness of how I communicate with my group and gave me some tools to increase the amount of positive collaboration. “ 
  • “I am going to take a more active role in shaping the team to be more like what I want it to be: inclusive, curious, etc.” 
  • “If you’re wondering how to build a more inviting, creative, and respectful culture, you should absolutely attend this workshop.” 

Who knew that one Improv practice could transform people’s views, actions, and outlooks! 

So, if you’re looking to cultivate innovation in your organization, definitely try practicing Yes-and and encourage your teammates to learn this skill. Let us know in the comments below how your experience goes!