Traditional ways of tackling wicked problems include the following:
- top-down government policy-making and funding that are too broad and complicated to deal with the real issues
- companies’ being motivated by revenue generation and mass production to maximize their profit margins
- standard project-based frameworks with finite engagement periods that are too short and too shallow to create long-lasting social impact
Kolko suggests that it is possible to mitigate wicked problems through what he calls social entrepreneurship—entrepreneurship that aims to create social capital by adding value to the community rather than focusing only on creating economic wealth.
Skills for the Social Entrepreneur
Many in the target audience for this book—comprising design educators and designers—might be a bit perplexed by the broad range of skills they would need to be effective social entrepreneurs. Kolko discusses not only skills and techniques, but also how different a social entrepreneur’s posture should be—and why—to ensure greater social impact through design. Although he describes some conventional skills such as interviewing and sketching ideas, the degree of immersion and the responsibilities that social entrepreneurship requires are far deeper and wider than those of conventional design activities.
Kolko states that—unlike for typical design activities—the key to social entrepreneurship for designers is establishing empathy for the population with whom they’re working. Since the problems designers tackle as social entrepreneurs require a long-term commitment and immersion, mere understanding is not enough. Designers should not design for users who are not part of the design process, but design with users who are part of the target group. Designers also need to be flexible, confident in embracing constraints, and able to tolerate ambiguity, because unlike understanding, empathy is frequently illogical and circumstantial. Designers have to deal with not only the pragmatic, but also the conceptual and the fleeting to create truly good experiences.
Kolko introduces the participatory design technique as a powerful tool for the designing-with approach. In participatory design, a designer should act as a facilitator, extracting creative information from users and, in the end, translating it into actual products and services.
Kolko proposes several essential skills and techniques that allow a designer to best attain this goal:
- Be an approachable, compassionate, and passionate facilitator who enables users to comfortably participate in the design-with process.
- Generate new service or product concepts by synthesizing the data and disconnected ideas that users provide and iteratively testing their inferences.
- Visualize concepts through sketching, role playing, and storytelling—even when you have only limited information.
Kolko presents some important tips relating to finance—although they may not be sufficient for would-be social entrepreneurs:
- To ensure sufficient income, you must be able to evaluate project value effectively.
- Organize a project with limited resources, and establish a proper financial model to keep it running.
The author discourages too much dependence on grants. Readers should realize that only devoted realists with the proper business acumen are likely to succeed as social entrepreneurs.