The Design Studio enables stakeholder teams to rapidly prototype their ideas for initiatives through highly creative cycles of building physical models and testing them through peer feedback.
You will need a space with moveable tables and chairs, adequate for the number of participants you are working with. For the modeling, you can use artifacts from nature, clay or play dough, materials from participants’ handbags, or Lego® bricks. Each has a slightly different effect, some being more abstract and others more structured, but all of these options work.
The facilitator prepares the studio space by cleaning the tables and hanging posters on the walls. The posters feature reminders like “move”, “create”, “be fearless”, “take initiative”, and “look for possibility”.
Encourage participants to think of an idea for an initiative they would want to work on. Each person writes down an idea on a card. Go around the circle and have people briefly share their ideas while holding up their cards. The others should listen closely for concepts that align with their own. Then let participants self-organize to form groups of 4 to 7 participants each.
Now encourage the groups to go into modeling. Remember that this is a creative space. The rules are different here from, for example, a dialogue circle: Participants are encouraged to get up and move around to hunt for what they need. Being creative requires initiative and boldness. Participants should move things instead of talking about moving things. If you have an idea, put your hand on an object and move it. When the object comes to a rest, step back and look at it. Does it make sense there? If not, move it. If you’re not sure, leave it—and contemplate it. Learn from using your hands. Learn to think with your hands. Learn to talk with your hands.
Facilitators actively coach the groups as participants build a first round of models of their initiatives. After about 30 minutes, move on to the first round of feedback. In the feedback round, each group has 10 minutes to present its model and receive feedback. Remind participants that feedback is a precious gift and that they should avoid defensiveness at this time. The feedback is given in the form of questions. The questions should ideally refer directly to the model and should be designed to help the team’s wisdom, insight, and genius come forth. One team member takes notes on all the questions. Then the group redesigns its model considering the questions. Team members should feel free to completely destroy and rebuild their models.
The best breakthroughs can come at the last moment when everyone is collectively willing to take a leap and let go!
You can choose to do multiple iterations of design and feedback, or you can have the groups shift into writing up their ideas after the first iteration. When you decide the time is right, work with participants to design a process for taking the ideas behind the models out of the studio to be tested with stakeholders in the real world.