Design hops – working in ways which enable learners and community members to set the direction of what we provide

By Esther Elliot (Edinburgh West Workplace and Community Chaplain, Workplace Chaplaincy Scotland) on 20th Nov 2020

I work for a charitable organisation providing emotional and spiritual care and support to people in a variety of workplaces in the west of Edinburgh. I signed on to the Design Hop recently advertised by SCVO because I had a sense that I needed to up my digital game in order to be more effective in my role in the current context. I was really unclear about what, how or why that might be and, to be honest, that vagueness didn’t lift when I read the advertising for the training. It felt like all the right words, just not in sentences that immediately offered a quick solution.

It turns out that’s the whole point of the digital design process that we had the opportunity to learn about and practice on the Design Hop! Vagueness is good and useful. It acts as a barrier to multi-initiative zeal (and zealots). It slows the pace of work that is relational. Most importantly, it acts like a constant nag to ask questions and put the needs of the service user first.

My background is in adult education. I am trained in coaching and asset-based community development. I am used to working in ways which enables learners and community members to set the direction of what I provide. I believe it’s the right thing to do. They are the experts on themselves, not me. I am used to using tools which enable people to sift through the vagueness they are experiencing over something they want to do or understand more. I’m used to helping people drill down, and then do something to make a start, however small. I’m used to working on projects which are not neat and tidy and linear. The Design Hop gave me a chance to use that belief, that model and those tools to design a digital service. I asked potential users what they wanted and needed and what would work for them. I questioned my personal assumptions about the people I work with. It turns out the things I thought were crucial were not really all that important. An experience I know only too well from the practice of coaching people! I’m in the process of designing something small which can be put out there and tested and easily changed.

The Design Hop has also given me and my vagueness some space in an on-line community of people willing to share their expertise and experience without selling it to me as the best solution. So, I guess one of the biggest things I learnt is that there are lots of people out there willing and able to help charities do their work better in the current context without imposing or directing. Less “should”, more “could”. Which, in my opinion, makes the world a better place!