Hi there! My name is Heather Tsavaris, and I’m so excited to be this month’s guest blogger for At the Table. I have been working with the Foundation for more than a year now to understand and promote social well-being in our community and am thrilled to tell you more about a Stanford-led workshop we are bringing to Columbus in August.
To start, three things that may be useful to share about me: 1) I am a proud Buckeye who is so happy to be back in Ohio, 2) I started my career in counterterrorism and now work in well-being, and the jump is not as distant as it may seem, and 3) my husband and I are learning parent-style zone defense since we welcomed our third little girl in June.
A little bit about my experience before coming to the Foundation: I started my career at the U.S. State Department soon after 9/11, studying why people join terrorist groups. Through case after case, it became clear that many of the people seeking to join groups were inspired by messages that told them that they would find purpose and meaning by joining, that they would be able to contribute to a cause greater than themselves if they participated, and that they would have a sense of belonging like never before. I was fascinated that the desire for purpose and meaning, contribution and belonging weren’t unique to young people on the path to radicalization. These needs are actually fundamental to all of us.
Through case after case, it became clear that many of the people seeking to join groups were inspired by messages that told them that they would find purpose and meaning by joining, that they would be able to contribute to a cause greater than themselves if they participated, and that they would have a sense of belonging like never before.
Well-being or flourishing can be defined as “a state in which all aspects of a person’s life are good” (Tyler Vanderweele, 2017) and because of this people are more likely to reach their full potential. This means people not only have their basic needs met, but they also have their purpose, meaning, sense of belonging, and contribution needs met too.
Amazing things are happening here in Columbus, but we know there is still work to do, problems to solve, and communities that could be served better. We could all benefit from improved well-being, which brings me to the fundamental question The Columbus Foundation wants to answer: how might we do this?
Enter: human-centered design. This approach to problem solving is about constantly challenging assumptions of what we think people want and need; instead, it centers on creating solutions alongside those who experience the problem. I am excited about using human-centered design as a tool to solve hard problems, and that includes increasing our community’s well-being.
Stanford University’s d.school is a pioneer in the human-centered design approach, and I have been lucky enough to spend time there as both a student and a coach. The d.school experience is like none other. I vividly remember working on a design challenge focused on how we could create ways for young adults from underserved communities in San Jose to access and succeed in college or vocational education. My team split up: half of us headed to the main library in San Jose to gather perspectives and stories from librarians charged with creating programs that served these young people and the other part of our team headed to San Jose State University to gather the perspectives of young people who were in college there. Other design teams (small groups of about five people and a coach) from our workshop class were dispersed to high schools, community centers, after school programs, etc. to collect stories and insights. After these conversations, all of the design teams headed back to the studio to unpack insights and reveal opportunities from what we learned, and to brainstorm countless possible solutions. Next, we built prototypes of some of our more promising ideas, and, finally, we returned to potential stakeholders to get reactions to our proposals.
That workshop changed the way I, and, likely the way hundreds of other participants who have attended these workshops at Stanford over the years, solve problems. The Columbus Foundation believes it can influence the way our community solves problems, too. That’s why we’re partnering with Stanford’s d.school to bring their Designing for Social Systems program to Columbus.
This August, Stanford’s Designing for Social Systems team will train up to 40 leaders from our community’s nonprofits in the principles of human-centered design, systems thinking, and how to apply these ideas to create more effective solutions.
This is the first time that this program has ever gone beyond the Stanford walls, and we couldn’t be more excited for what this partnership could mean for the way we solve problems here in Columbus!
Our partners in the nonprofit sector are charged with solving some of the hardest problems in the world. Equipping them with the best tools to tackle those challenges will benefit our whole community by setting us on the right path to increase the flourishing of all of our residents.