Not only did we look at what The Shift does. To understand the project’s context fully, it was also necessary to look at other projects and their similarities and differences. This could help to see how the project could be improved but also enabled us to find out why this project is unique and why there might be no universal or already existing solution that could fit our aims and objectives.
We started an online desk research and identified serveral other projects that showed similar characterstics: Focused on e-learning and open-source.
Analysis > Synthesis and Visualisation
Iteration is an essential method of design thinking. The analysis, or breaking problems apart, followed by synthesis, merging the findings into pattern is repeated througout the journey to a solution for several times.
‘These are the seeds of design thinking – a continuous movement between divergent and convergent processes, on the one hand, and between the analytic and synthetic, on the other.’
(Brown, T. and Katz, B., 2009, p.70)
At this time of our process it was time to start putting our huge amount of information together. During our group meeting we started brainstorming and writing all the information that we have gathered from observation and desk research on small sticky notes. We used different colours in order to group information together. This helped us to make sense of information, and to structure our insights and findings.
Insights on colour-coded post-it notes (Source: Author’s own)
We took pictures of our paper notes and for each group we started to play with the data. For example, we had a group of information that we called similar projects. The group contained the keywords from our desk research about other e-learning projects. We then arranged this information differently: One time we structured it by how similar the projects were compared to The Shift project. Another time we structured it regarding the project’s location: global or local. We did a few attempts to form different patterns and recorded the outcomes with our cameras.
Same information, different patterns and hierarchies (Author’s own)
This process of synthesis and convergent thinking was even driven a bit further when we digitalized all our paper notes into a large Google Docs document. Having digitalized the information, this allowed us to easily modify the colour coding, to rearrange the patterns and to come up with new groups. This method was very useful to us, because we could also come up with new meta key criteria such as ‘skills‘.
Visualisation and categorisation of information (Source: Author’s own)
Within this group we could then collect all information that we have found about the topic skills, no matter if we previously collected this information when we researched the target audience, or external stakeholders or similar projects. Since the digitized paper notes were colour-coded too, the outcome of gathering information under new key criteria headings showed us a visual proportion of where the data was coming from. This allowed us to draw conclusions or make hypothesis regarding how important bits and pieces of information are to which aspect of The Shift project.
Rearranging information for different categories to show proportions (Source: Author’s own)
Besides using post-it labels to visualise information, patterns, connections and commonalities we also started to visualise the chronological information that we had about The Shift. We used a simple project management software to create a rough timeline sample, which in first place helped us to have a better overview over the general structure of the project that we were working with.
A timeline draft for The Shift project (Source: Author’s own)
We needed to know more about the NEETs and so we prepared a sheet of questions that we would like to ask to the them. When the questions were methodically refined enough and matched our objectives, we made a field trip to an education expo and job event called Skills 2012 London. This is where we could make direct contact with The Shift’s target group and ask them more about their background, their reasons for being out of education, their motives and goals as well as their opinion about the e-learning platform that The Shift is planning to introduce.
In case the interviewed NEETs would agree, we took a photo of them in order to visualise our survey, to make it more personal and to make it easier to make guesses who they are and what they want.
We also had the opportunity to interview the project manager of The Shift, Phil Hall. In a group discussion we first collected a number of questions that were most important to us at this stage.
Summary of our Understanding Phase
In a first phase of our design thinking approach we collected qualitative data and theory-based information from primary and secondary sources. Furthermore we made use of practice-based methodologies and conducted interviews with individuals, groups and experts and observed our target group in order to familiarise with the project.
After this analysis of the project we tried to make sense of the collected data and to synthesising it into patterns. We had now reached a good understanding of each parts of the project but were yet to develop a solution regarding our aims and objectives.
Now it was a good time to start another analysis > synthesis iteration cycle. Similarly to our approach to visualising our desktop research on post-its, this time we used a group exercise in class to visualise and categorise the information that we collected from our interviews with the NEETs. We collaborated with the students of other MDes pathways. In practice, mixing heterogenous teams from different disciplines is another essential aspect for design thinking projects as different perspectives on the same matter help to create a variety of insights.
Classifying the NEETs (Source: Author’s own)
Again we made use of colour-coding in order to organise our insights. This way it was easier to find commonalities, connections and patterns. According to our findings, we grouped the NEETs and their attributes into five different categories.
Worldview – factors that describe or account for the way a young person thinks about wider society
Passions – things young people care about and get excited about Employment landscape – factors that describe or account for a young person’s understanding of the work opportunities available and how to access them
Motivation – factors that provoke a young person to action or inaction
Background – factors that explain where a young person is in their life today, for example education history, family background, access to technology
Since we were now in the ideation phase, we started brainstorming for creating possible solutions. This brainstorming session was very similar to our re-design your wallet experience, because we were urged to work quickly and to come up with as many possibilities for a solution as we could think of. Furthermore, due to the fact that we worked in teams, this brainstorming exercise differed from a usual brainstorming experience where you draw mind maps on a sheet of paper. We had to follow strict rules which were:
• No criticism of ideas
• Encouragement of wicked ideas
• Building on ideas of others
• Stick to the topic
• Only one person is speaking at a time • Quantity is important
(OpenIDEO, 2011), www.openideo.com, p.1)
We made competition between our groups. While we played music in the background, the group which would come up with the most ideas would win. This way we were sure that we would create a vast amount of possible solutions, which we could then build upon.
Outcomes from our rapid brainstorming session (Source: Author’s own)
Presentation of Initial Solutions
We finished our ideation phase when we presented our initial solutions directly to The Shift project management team. For this purpose each group picked their favourite brainstorming outcomes in order to refine those idea(s) further.
By presenting the initial solutions directly to our client, we could get a immediate feedback and The Shift team could follow our progress. For this presentation we summarised our aims and objectives as well as our initial research that we had done so far. We described our methods of data collection and research and then formulated problems that we have found. As a response to the identified problems, we suggested our initial solutions as a recommendations or suggestions to the project management.
Our main findings were, that The Shift project is enormously complex due to its stakeholder structure. We visualised The Shift’s structure by differentiating between three main project groups: The Shift project team, the external stakeholders such as businesses, governments and other organisations, and the target group of The Shift: The NEETs. In order to show the massive complexity involved, as well as the various overlappings, we visualised the different categories within those three main groups, similar to an onion layer model.
Three Layers of the NEETs. (Source: Author’s own)
At the same time we began working with a colour-coding. We used the existing colours of The Shift’s logo and applied them for those different groups. From now on, yellow represented the external stakeholders, blue was the colour for the project team and green the colour for the NEETs.
A bit of colour-coding for The Shift (Source: Author’s own)
We concluded that this project structure was adding a high level of complexity to this project and that this is a major problem for a consistent communication strategy.
Visualising The Shift’s complex project structure (Source: Author’s own)
Besides this structural challenge, we also found this problem is getting worse because it is time consuming to understand the project, since the information is presented unstructured and unorganised. We summarised these weaknesses in a SWOT analysis for the project. In our view, the lack of structure was a possible threat to the project success. It would be possible that the project communication could suffer immensely and therefore the project could fail to reach a larger audience.
On the other hand, we also identified strenghts: The project was already very sophisticated in a way that it created a lot of information. In addition to that, communication tools like Facebook and Twitter were already in place.
The opportunities we could identify were high priority to us. If we could ensure the project to be communicated efficiently it would be very easy to demonstrate the project’s success and to ensure people understood the project outcomes. This way the project could possibly reach a significant amount of stakeholders.
In order to tackle this problem, we suggested three different initial solutions. We recommended to develop a communication positioning statement which clearly expresses what the shift project is and what it does. (Source: Lockwood and Walton, 2008, Building Design Strategy). We considered this important to communicate the Shift’s project structure clearly. Furthermore we suggested that this communication positioning statement should be implemented according to SMART principles: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time related.
This was closely related to our next suggestion: To communicate the project in a chronological way. We identified that The Shift lacked a clear time frame and – whereas some internal time schedules were existent, they were not communicated across all of those involved in the project.
We showed our initial time line concept that we developed during our desk research as a possible solution. With the feedback of our client we then became aware that they were not too keen on working with milestones and strictly timed plans.
Initial solutions (Source: Author’s own, Swiss clock taken from chrome.google.com, Logos are trademarks of their respective owners)
Another solution that we had in mind and that we recommended was to create a central place to access project information, which should be simple and coherent. We did not further specify this central place/space, it could be anything. However, our idea was to have a place that is accessible for all involved into the project and where all the main information of the project gets communicated in a clear and easy to understand way. This place could then act as the hub for a multi-channel communication strategy to target the needs of smaller audiences.
With our three suggestions in mind we had to focus and refine our suggestions. This is where another method of design thinking came into play: Rapid prototyping. It is important to turn the solutions into simple prototypes or minimum viable products, in order to visualise the ideas so that they can be tested. It does not matter if the protoypes are already very sophisticated. It is more about receiving feedback and being able to make assumptions if the intended solution could work in practice and if it would be possible to realise it. Through each step of building, testing and refining the prototype, a final solution emerges. (Plattner, H., et al (2009), p.123)
We picked the idea of communicating the project in a chronological order, with a view of providing more structure to The Shift. We thought it might be good to experiment with different approaches to timelines and to build corresponding prototypes of them.
Having this in mind, we sat together and discussed what we wanted to include for our timeline. As we had the feedback of the project management from The Shift, that they would not favour a strict time management solution, such as setting up milestones or a detailed project plan, we searched for a different approach. We were still looking for a clear and simple idea how we could communicate the project in a chronological way. We then looked at literature about project management, different stages of projects and another book about visualising information, which finally offered an inspiring solution.
It was the book The back of the Napkin by Dan Roam, which features an interesting case study of how to solve a business issue by visualising problems and solutions. Actually, we opened this book to find more information how we could visualise timelines in general, but then we discovered his ‘framework of showing’ (Roam, D., 2008, p. 136), we instantly thought this could be very useful to The Shift, because it was in line with our problem findings as well as our suggested solutions.
Roam suggests in his guide on ‘developing ideas’ to ask a few simple questions that are answered through visualisation. The questions are Who/What? (portrait) How much? (chart) Where? (map) When? (timeline) How? (flowchart) Why? (plot)
We thought that these questions are exactly asking for what needs to be explained and clarified about The Shift project in order to communicate efficiently between stakeholders and others involved.
Source of inspiration: Dan Roam’s book on visual thinking (Roam, D., 2008, p. 136-137)
It was not clear yet how this could be merged into a timeline and how these questions are could actually be answered. However, we started off prototyping. We drew different, very general mock-ups. For our prototypes we did not go into detail, we only arranged the questions that we had identified into a way that seemed like a plausible and logical solution of how to communicate the project structure to an audience. For creating these prototypes we actually made use of another brainstorming on how a timeline can be visualised as well as looking at how existing projects communicate large amounts of data in a structured and chronological way.
Our outcome were six different prototypes of three different approaches. The first approach was almost like a management handbook diagramm. Very clean, simple and abstract. The second approach was similar but suggested a timeline that is visualised as a roadmap. The third and last idea we had was inspired by The Shift’s logo. We quite liked the idea of using their existing branding and so that we could achieve a coherent message that they would be happy to implement, as it does not differ very much to what is already existing. Furthermore this could give The Shift’s logo additional meaning that would be easy to communicate.
Iteration towards a timeline prototype (Source: Author’s own)
Each of these three ideas were developed with and without a colour-coding of the different phases of the project. We thought it might be good to see if the colour-coding adds to the understanding of the project communication or if it is perceived as being confusing. We then build all of the prototypes in Google Docs.
Very basic visual prototypes (Source: Author’s own)
With our digital prototypes ready, we were read to go a step further and test them. Therefore we created an online survey with SurveyMonkey.com (Appendix). Up front we agreed on a few simple questions to ask where participants could choose between the six prototypes available. For example, they would have to answer which of those prototypes was the easiest and quickest to understand. We also asked which one is the clearest and which of the prototypes they got the most out of. At the end of the survey we asked them for open feedback and whether there was anything missing or unclear.
We had a response rate of 18 participants. The overall feedback towards the prototypes was that they seemed to be clear and understandable. Only one person responded that he or she was missing milestones. The feedback regarding the colour-coding remained ambiguous. Some stated it was confusing them. Others demanded for even more colours.
The survey showed that the road map visualisation (Prototype 2 A & B) got the least positive responses. The absolute winner was the first approach (1A), without colour coding. Not far behind, the timeline inspired by The Shift’s logo was receiving a lot of positive feedback as well (3A & 3B). Therefore we assumed that we should focus on these two solutions to further refine them.
When we finally presented the prototyping outcomes in class, we got another feedback which was decisive to our final solution. It became clear that we were on track of working entirely in a deductive way. However, design thinking is about combining deductive, inductive and abductive reasoning. (Martin, R., 2009, p. 74). Whereas he claims ‘deduction and induction hold privileged places in the classroom and, inevitably, the boardroom as the preeminent tools for making an argument’ (Martin, R., 2009, p. 63), he goes on and states that this toolbox is incomplete and must be extended by abductive logic.
Deductive logic could be generally described as a top down reasoning approach where general findings are an explanation to the specific and detail. Inductive logic obviously is the other way round, bottom up, and argues from the specific to the general. Designers, Martin argues, live in the ‘world of abduction; they actively look for new worlds.’ (Martin, R. 2009, p. 65) It is a logic of what might be, exploring probability and possibility and depend on breaking out of patterns using plausibility and intuition as means to come to conclusions.
In this sense, we were perfectly working in an abductive logic when we came up with our initial solutions. From our feedback on the prototyping, however, it became clear that we were stuck develop- ing our idea in an deductive way. We were heading for developing our idea top down, suggesting a solution and pressing the (project’s) content within that solution.
It was clearly not going to be the best outcome for The Shift project. Therefore, we had to change our reasoning way to an inductive one. We now had to develop answers to Dan Roam’s questions for The Shift project first, in order to build our solution from bottom up. Only this way could we verify that our suggested solution would be viable.
After this enlightening feedback, it was uncertain if our idea would match. Still, we knew what to do and started to work on each of the questions that we thought, were essential for The Shift project to be answered, in order to come up with a clear and coherent communication strategy.
Luckily we were now in a position that we had everything we needed at our hands. The extensive research and understanding phase that we went through as a first step provided all the answers that we needed.
In our research, we identified three main groups, the shift project team, the externals and the target audience, the NEETs. For answering who The Shift is, we needed to explain those groups with one simple chart. At the same time it was necessary to tell, what each of these groups wants:
Who are the NEETs? What do they need?
Our research showed that the NEETs are young people aged between 16 and 19 who are Not in Education, Employment or Training.
Core NEET – young people with social and behavioural problems in- cluding those who come from families where worklessness and unemployment is an accepted norm.
Floating NEET – young people with of lack direction, motivation and tend to have spells of being NEET in between further education courses or employment with no training.
Transitional/Gap year NEET – young people who have often chosen to take time out before progressing onto further or higher education opportunities and are
(Source: The Greater London Authority)
Visualising the NEETs (Source: Author’s own)
From our interviews and further desk research we could also state their wants:
Visualising the wants of the NEETs (Source: Author’s own)
Who is The Shift Project Team? What are their aims?
We built on a already existing Shift project organigram. However we found that the original diagram was not showing all the information. Therefore we redesigned their existing diagram into a new one. The new diagram has a few advantages over the old one: It shows the pictures of the main persons involved in the project. It shows relationships and importance by the size of the bubbles. Furthermore it clarifies connections and overlappings between different parts of the shift project team.
New organisational diagram for The Shift (Source: Author’s own, faces blurred-out)
We also identified their aims and objectives through expert interviews, as well as through reading their documentation and summarised them as follows:
The aims and objectives for The Shift (Source: Author’s own)
Who are the External Stakeholders? What are their wants?
As with the NEETs, we used categorisation as a tool to display clearly who the Stakeholders are and how they differ by geographical location.
Visualising the categories of different external stakeholders (Source: Author’s own)
We were also able to state what they exactly want. This data was coming directly from our post-it visualisation excersise that we had uploaded to Google Docs.
The most important ‘wants’ of the external stakeholder (Source: Author’s own)
Why The Shift?
For answering this question we wanted to emphasise why the existence of a project such as The Shift is very important. We were able to build on information that we got from The Shift project’s Power Point presentation. Instead of showing plain words and numbers, we decided to visualise the vast amount of NEETs in the UK, and thereby create a feeling for the importance:
Visualising the importance of The Shift (Source: Author’s own)
As it became clear in the expert interview and the talks to the project management team as well through reading the internal tender application / project brief, the academic backing and findings regarding this unique and new learning approach with an artificial bot was one of the main reasons why the project got funded and developed.
We therefore visualised their believe that the lines between humans and the virtual world has become more and more blurred. With the following image:
Gamification and the blurred lines between humans and virtual world (Source: Author’s own)
At the same time the image stresses the fact that gamification, which The Shift team perceived as something which is much more familiar to young learners than other online learning and face to face learning experiences, is key to the project.
How The Shift changes learning?
The underlying answer to this is very complex and technical. The Shift seeks to build a motivational informal online learning environment which encourages NEETS, specifically those who are interested in Art and Design to learn entry-level digital skills through creative activities and gaming.
At each junction of these learning modules the Ravensbot (the artificial bot) suggests and facilitates where to go next. These prompts offer signposting and the choices are modelled on a decision-tree structure of multiple next steps throughout the learning journey. The potential choices are generated by a pattern-matching database, which has been organised by the team from an academic, designer, facilitator and technical perspective.
To come up with an easy to understand visualisation was – in our intention – key to communicating the project effectively. We therefore reduced the existing, very specific and very technical information and came up with an image that communicates the key ideas behind the question in three essential steps.
It communicates clearly that the learner is at the very centre of this idea and backed by human support by employers, mentors and tutors, which we displayed according to the colour-coding that we have introduced. It also shows the artificial bot, which provides virtual help.
The simple steps to explain how The Shift project works (Source: Author’s own)
There are three simple steps to explain how the bot should work. (1) The learner asks a question at the online learning environment. (2) The bot can access a database and generate a choice accordingly to a pattern-matching mechanism. (3) This mechanism gets further and further refined throughout its use and with the help of human support.
Rather technical: The original diagram from The Shift (Source: The Shift, 2012)
Where is The Shift now and what is going to happen?
Ultimately we also developed a conventional timeline to answer this question. We knew that The Shift project team was not too keen on working with timelines and milestones. This is why we reduced it to a minimum. Still this graphic is essential to understand where the project is right now and where it is going. It communicates the three essential stages: Research, Prototyping and Implementation as well as a bit on details regarding the project’s workshops and further detail for the prototyping and implementation phase.
Our version of a timeline for The Shift (Source: Author’s own)
After becoming aware that we would need to answer the questions from Dan Roam’s book for The Shift project structure in order to combine them with our prototypes, we managed to quickly build on existing information from our research and understanding phase. We used methods like data visualisation, categorization and a lot of simplification in order to achieve a desirable outcome.
With this outcome at our hands, we could now throw one of our prototypes into the bin. It became clear that communicating these insights in a timeline that visually looks like The Shift’s project logo, was not going to work. It would be a ridiculous act of squeezing information in a place where it could not fit. Building on the existing logo and all its attached advantages seemed to be rather wishful thinking for now.
However, we had another prototype (1A) at hand. This one, was also a winner of our survey and this prototype seemed to be very well structured and clear so that we would be able to combine the graphics and information that we developed in our refining progress with this original project communication structure. The outcome of this combination will be explained in the following chapter.
Our final solution was a communication strategy template for the shift. The underlying structure was generated in our prototyping exercise. We then had to refine our solution and create the actual content for this communication template. After we did this in our refinement stage, we then merged both things together.
Our final solution: A communication strategy template for The Shift (Source: Author’s own)
Reasons for our Solution
We believe that the communication strategy template communicates The Shift project at a glance in a simple, coherent and explained manner.
Its strength is that it builds on the opportunities and strengths of The Shift project that we previously identified in our SWOT analysis. Furthermore it builds on all initial solutions that we have recom- mended. First of all the template’s structure was created in a way that it communicates in a chronological manner in two directions:
From the top to bottom, the template forms a logical explanation of this project. It begins with the very first idea of who is actually involved in a project, and what do those parties want? The next question would be, why this project should exist? What is the reason for this? Only after this is clarified it is possible to ask how The Shift project intents to help the NEETs out of their misery. When these basic questions are answered it is time to explain how the project progresses and what are the schedules that are lying ahead. This timeline is also the second approach to communicating the project in a chronological manner. However, it is important to stress the fact that, this explanation would be nonsense without answering the previous ones first.
Two-way chronological structure of this template (Source: Author’s own)
This template does not only communicate in a coherent and chronological way. It also forms a simple message and combines everything one needs to know about the project in one central place. With this insight, it is possible to say that actually all of our initial ideas were included into our final solution.
It is necessary to say that this template is not only a piece of paper. It is really not about these graphics and the possibility of printing flyers from it. This template is actually transferable to almost every medium that can be used for communication. Our intention was to come up with a framework that could be used for the communication strategy, and not a single handout, flyer or a website.
Instead, the template could be applied to all of those communication channels. One could use it for making a Powerpoint presentation to external stakeholders. Furthermore this could be used to build a website or even an internal document for employees. It is clear that the content might need modification to fit certain target audiences. However, the structure should remain the same.
Our solution really is the framework and the idea behind it and it was verified through prototyping, testing and iteration that this solution could fit the project – in theory. Now the concept would have to proof in practice. Whether The Shift project team will incorporate our suggestions and whether they will proof successful or not, for me the project was a good learning experience.
It was tough to cope with a complex project and learning about design thinking at the same time. Working on a live project and experiencing all the difficulties while going through various cycles of analysis and synthesis was really helpful and will benefit similar work with future clients.