Social Innovation

By Dana Holden, December 15, 2016

Grade Level

  • High School


  • Design for the Other 90%

Subject Area

  • Arts
  • Language Arts
  • Science
  • Social Studies
  • Technology

Lesson Time

2 x 90 minute lessons


Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum’s Design By The People: Designing a Better America exhibition explores design innovations that support and improve the living conditions of communities throughout the United States. Inspired by the exhibition, in particular homelessness innovations (Quixote Village) and a mobile app for expectant mothers (Text4Baby), this lesson aims to create critical, creative and global thinkers. As educators we are part of creating well-rounded citizens. To this end, these two lessons highlight school and local community issues for which students will be tasked to design potential solutions. The intention is to spark conversation about how communities can give back to their own people and look beyond personal issues in order to create a more sustainable and positive environment.


Students will be able to: • Identify and understand different community needs; • Analyze their place within society and develop skills in empathy, collaboration and leadership; • Design and create an innovative product that solves a school or wider community issue.


• Cooper Hewitt By The People Exhibition SLIDE 48 (text4baby app) 15 (homelessness) • Computer • Projector • Videos: o D School Stanford – How not to brainstorm How to brainstorm o “How might we?” o Paul Polak – water story


Materials for student prototypes and presentations: Paper, colored paper, pens, colored pencils, scissors, glue, pipe cleaners, garbage bags and any other materials you feel your students need in order to create their designs. Prototypes only represent real materials and do no need to be expensive or the actual material the students would use to make the real product/design. BACKGROUND: • Research your local area about existing community issues in order to assist and guide students to identify a real issue so that they can fully engage in an authentic and sincere way with the content and their communities. • Ideas and places to get you and your students started: Community Solutions – National Design Award Winner’s, Rosanne Haggerty, website: Homelessness innovations: A list of Homelessness help services: National Alliance to End Homelessness website: Some examples of Social Innovation by Stanford Graduate School of Business: Background information on Social Innovation:


• Innovation • Design • Empathy • Community • Wider community • Homelessness • Social action


LESSON 1 1. What is design? Get students to brainstorm what they think design is and why. Is it fashion? Drawing? Architecture? Yes, it is all of these things, but it is also the ability to design an object, experience or solution for an identified problem. This could be designing a chair that an office user can sit in all day and be comfortable, it could be an app that streamlines a user’s lifestyle. Essentially it is user based and user driven. If we think about design in the context of today’s lesson, it is about designing solutions for homelessness in contemporary America. (By The people: Designing A Better America exhibition items include Text4Baby and Quixote Village) 2. VIDEO: Clean water (see resources) 3. Whole Class Discussion: What issues were identified in the video and how were they overcome with the use of good design? 4. Research: • Homelessness: o Research existing designs for homelessness (see background materials for what suits you and your students) and share with the class. o Research homeless population numbers in different cities in the United States. o Research different problems that homeless people face, including: Shelter; Food; Water; Health and sanitation; Mental health and welfare; Job searching. • Other community issues: o Like the above issue, you can choose an issue or range of issues to research that pertain to your school and community context. 5. Present research to the class and discuss. 6. Framing the conversation: D School Videos – How not to and how to brainstorm (see resources) “How Might We?” video (see resources) 7. Design Groups: In groups of 4-5 choose a community issue for which each group will design a solution. Use the research collected by the class as a starting point and then as students refine their designs, consider use of appropriate materials, context and so on until they have developed their design. LESSON 2 1. Prototyping: Students create a prototype of their design to show the class for feedback. In this process they will get to see what problems they might have with their design, what they haven’t thought of and what is working well that they can keep and potentially extend in the next iteration. 2. Presenting: Present designs and concepts to the class for feedback and testing. Students take notes and use to refine their ideas in the next stage of prototyping. This may include refining their “How might we?” question or user. 3. Group review and iteration: Review the feedback as a group and how to move the design forward. Students construct their new design or concept and develop and create a new and final presentation for the class. Students need to ensure that they state their “How might we…?” question and focus on the product or concept, not how they came to this solution. Students can use power point, posters, palm cards, a skit, a speech or any other way that you choose to work with your class for assessment. Time limit is at your discretion for assessment purposes. 4. Presentation (Assessment): Students present their design work to the class. 5. Feedback: Students receive feedback from teacher and the class. DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What issues do we face as a school community? What issues do we face as a wider community? How do current social innovations assist Homeless people? How can we as citizens of our city/town work to create a solution for our own community? How can we adapt/modify/improve our design to be practical for real world use?


Students will demonstrate the ability to: • Articulate a community issue and work through the problem to create a solution. • Participate in whole class and small group discussions to solve a problem. • Work independently. • Present their idea/design to their peers.

Enrichment Extension Activities

You could take this task further by developing prototypes further and connecting with community organizations to receive feedback on ideas. This task could be done for a range of community issues.

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