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Charter School Organizational Re-Design

We want to educate children in a more holistic fashion, so we've employed HCD principles in a charter school re-design.

We've been working with a charter school in Philadelphia for almost three months. This school serves low-income students from across the Philly metro and has existed for about 10 years. Our process has been very participatory and utlizes many HCD principles, and we've organized a group of 20 stakeholders for the planning process.

With our group of 20, we conducted 45 min to 1 hour, 1-on-1, semi-structured interviews—16 interviews in total across 2 ½ days.  We asked a series of questions such as, “How would you describe the culture of your school?” and “What do you think are the internal and external obstructions to reaching your goals?”  

What was interesting about this technique was that we were able to identify common themes among the different stakeholder groups.  The data was compiled into a comprehensive format to present back to the larger group, and an absolutely fascinating larger-group discussion ensued!  They asked us back only a week later to facilitate an even larger conversation to dig deeper into the issues that were raised through the interviews.

Additionally, we requested as many people as possible from the organization complete our survey to re-write the Mission & Vision of the school.  These were open formats, where participants could write freely.  This helped us identify individual understandings of the current goals of the school.

As part of the larger group meetings, we facilitated an interactive drawing session, an activity we called the influence diagram.  The point of this activity was to help us understand what a mess the organization is with regard to the actors, influences and resources interacting with the school (its functional and contextual environments).  The incomplete version of this is attached to the story but illustrates how complex the organization is.

Finally, we conducted a financial analysis and looked at student achievement scores—simply for due diligence purposes.  It helped us triangulate the qualitative data.  The first four processes, however, help tell a more complete story of the numbers.

As we concluded the “Deep Dive” component of our process, saw a clearer picture of the problems facing the school.  This has given us a picture of “Where we are” as an organization.  Throughout this entire process, we were facilitators.  We didn’t have the answers ourselves but rather the stakeholders of the schools.

Next Steps

The next step will be to conduct an “Idealized Design” session.  This will be a 1-day (6-8 hours) session, where we expand our group of 20 to as many stakeholders as possible.  I believe there are 200+ invitations out to participate, including to state and local politicians, other education practitioners, and more parents, teachers and school employees.

We want to have as many voices represented in the design session as possible.  Our goal at the end of this is to design without constraints, which is a point of departure from the HCD Toolkit.  (The constraints come in the final design.)  At this point, we will ask what participants want in an ideal charter school.  We will no longer focus on the problems or the complaints—we just want to know what people want.

Once we have an understanding of where we want to be, we will be able to look at where we are (from the Deep Dive) and compare that to where we want to go (Idealized Design).  From there we will resume the design steps laid out in the HCD toolkit of prototyping and conduct a gap analysis.

The end result will be a new strategic plan—it just won’t be quite a conventional way of getting there.

How did you use the HCD Toolkit and / or human-centered design as part of the project?

The users generated the ideas - we just facilitated the process.

Interviews, Interactive Design, Etc.

What was the biggest challenge that the project faced? Did you overcome it?

The original intent of this project was to create a new strategic plan for the school. During my interviews, I heard "I've been through this before..." so it was a tough sell just telling them that "This time was different" and to "Just trust the process."

People didn't understand how to draw an influence diagram on their own, so we had to figure out how to do it in the larger group.

Discuss this Story

sean hewens

Nick -- great stuff. Would love a bit more info about how "design without constraints" is a departure from the HCD Toolkit. Do you view this as a different Method that should potentially be added to HCD Connect? Or do you think it's a full departure from HCD methodology?

1 Comment

I definitely don't see it as a full departure of the HCD methodology. In the "idealized design" phase, we just ask participants to imagine that the system (this case, the Charter School) was destroyed last night--similar to what Bell Labs did in the 1950's--and ask them to design their ideal state.

Only in this stage do we not considered the complete feasibility or viability of the design. (We hope we're covering desirability in the participatory nature of the process itself.) Those constraints come in the final design, when we do "ends and means planning."

Does that make sense?