Method Profile: DC Design Seeks First to Understand with Avid Listening

Welcome to our next method profile! Our previous entry focused on using ✦collaboration✦ in social enterprise. In operating any venture, everything flows from your approach, and identifying a proper method helps you effectively fulfill your team’s initiative.

Together, we’ll be profiling interesting social enterprises to discuss an anchor method in their strive for social good. The term “anchor method” is to express the intentional and grounded nature of the approaches propelling a social enterprise forward.

This post is an outside observation of a company for inspiration in social enterprise initiative improvements.

In today’s post, we’ll look into social impact design firm DC Design leveraging avid listening. The company uses Human-Centered Design in their cooperative development of social solutions.

Knowing the Company

First, let’s get a grasp on “avid listening”. DC Design’s operation shows the company eagerly seeks the perspective of community before diving into solution work. We’ll explain how this is different from validation for an MVP (minimal viable product) later. Truly, when forming this method profile ‘seek first to understand, then to be understood came to mind. DC Design is the epitome of that notion, which we will refer to as “avid listening”.

DC Design creates long-lasting system changes for governments, foundations, nonprofits, companies, and the communities impacted. Social entities request assistance from DC Design with perhaps an idea for improvement or an incomplete observation of an issue. The company prefers to understand the context of the situation first. Emphasis is placed on talking with people who have first-hand experiences.

“…whoever has experienced a certain pain point, certain difficulty, a certain challenge, their voice needs to be heard. They need to be part of the design team. It’s not ‘designing for someone’, it’s ‘designing with someone’.”

–Durell Coleman, CEO of DC Design

During their Hack Foster Care Summit, DC Design rounded up a collection of perspectives to help foster youth. Technologists, social workers, nonprofit leaders, foster youth, and foster youth families were presented the opportunity to combine their insights, and design solutions for difficulties within the foster care system. The main focus being on access to tech.

Participants were handed the strategies of the company’s Design Thinking Process as a guide. Through the insights of the participants, the event inspired how to secure the outcomes needed for the proposed solutions. 

Context Brings Dimension and Depth

DC Design does not seek fifty versions of one perspective, they seek fifty versions of fifty different perspectives. Of course, this exaggeration is to illustrate the idea DC Design operates from.

“We bring together people with diverse, sometimes conflicting perspectives, to show them how to solve systemic problems as a team.”

–Durell Coleman, CEO of DC Design

DC Design takes time to speak with multiple people who hold a role related to the issue at hand. When viewing their content, you will often come across the word “stakeholders”. DC Design seems to use this term for the people with the first-hand experience and social investment in the issues being explored. For example, the variety of participants at the Hack Foster Care Summit.

Each perspective uncovers nuanced aspects of an issue.

This is a separate idea from validating an already formed idea, like when finding an MVP. The company does need to validate their ideas, but the point is that they choose to understand context before an idea is formed.

DC Design focuses on letting the context be set by stakeholders. Then, the company seeks to understand and connect the dots with help from a collective of insights. DC Design calls this approach the Multi-stakeholder design.

Listening and Understanding

At first glance, the company’s approach of talking with the community may not seem special. Asking the community to tell their story is becoming more common in the social enterprise space. DC Design’s edge comes from the ability to sit back, listen, and observe a multiple of narratives to create a fuller picture. The desire to have straightforward interaction is serving the company well.

DC Design also has a Fill In The Blank Interview guide to help other social entrepreneurs improve their skills of revealing narratives through interaction and empathy.

In an interview, Durell Coleman, CEO of DC Design, spoke about company operations in a way that fittingly describes their role as avid listeners:

“…one of the things that we’re constantly saying is, ‘we are not the expert necessarily, but someone else is.’ We embrace a concept called co-design where it really comes down to those who have lived with a given challenge; they are the experts on what it’s like for them to go through that challenge, that issue. But what we do, is we come into this with a set of design perspectives and a design philosophy, a framework that can help take those experiences that other people have had and turn those into ideas and prototypes that can actually be tested out in the real world and acted on.”

Applicable Takeaway 

An anchor-based on avid listening can provide the real solutions needed in social enterprise. One beneficial experiment is to question what context you are operating within, and questioning who created that context.

DC Design’s eagerness to listen first completes this profile.

People Helping People Podcast is seeking methods clearly supporting an effective impact. Observations and discussions on happenings in the social enterprise community is a significant part of our contribution to social good. Continue to check-in for more conversation-starting content.

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