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Wicked Problems: A Case for Design Thinking in Research Administration Change Management, Part 2: The Design Thinking Process

By SRAI News posted 04-14-2022 01:26 PM


Wicked Problems: A Case for Design Thinking in Research Administration Change Management, Part 2: The Design Thinking Process

This is the second in a three-part series about how research administrators can apply design thinking principles to solve their “wicked problems” and will delve further into the design thinking process. Part 1 introduced design thinking, and next month Part 3 will provide a case-study example of design thinking in action. 

As we discussed in Part 1 last month, Design Thinking is a human-centered multi-disciplinary process that allows us to better understand the unmet needs of the people we’re creating for to create the best user experiences possible. There are five main phases in the process: 

  • The first step is Empathize, where we ask, “What is?” The key is to learn about the audience you want to serve to understand their needs, as the first step towards innovation. With empathizing, the goal is to objectively uncover and understand as many viewpoints as you can about your users and their needs, goals, and pain-points. 
  • The second step is Define, where we ask, “What could be?” The Define phase is where you decide on a clear and specific problem to solve based on your observations in the Empathize phase. With defining, you are taking what you learned about what the users’ problems are and synthesizing that into a problem statement that is clear, specific, and focused on addressing the users’ needs. 
  • Next is the Ideate phase, where we ask, “What if?” Here the goal is to come up with as many ideas as possible. Think outside the box, no idea is wrong. This phase particularly celebrates divergent thinking and temporarily suspending the constraints we live with. 
  • The fourth phase is Prototype, and the question is “What wows?” In this phase, you build real, physical models of your ideas. The goal is to make your ideas tangible to gather feedback from users. Whether these prototypes are paper, lo-fi or hi-fi prototypes, the point is to create them and put them into your user’s hands.  
  • The final step is to Test and ask, “What works?” Testing with real users allows you to uncover specific usability problems with your prototypes, and continue to adapt, refine, and repeat the process. When testing, focus more on learning thanfailure or success, and ask yourself, “What can we learn from this? What does it inspire us to do next?” 

          As you can see, Design Thinking is iterative, often circling back to previous steps and then forward again. You might get to the prototype step and then realize your ideas don’t work well in practice and refine the prototype or go back to another idea. To test your ideas, you might need to go back to the beginning and redefine the goal.  

          Now that you know more about the process, you can try out and adapt this approach to suit your specific challenges and address your own “wicked problems” in research administration.

          Authored by

          Kimberly Pratt, MA, CRA, Research Development Specialist (formerly at Abigail Wexner Research Institute)
          Ohio State University

          Yolande Hall, MS, Lead Sponsored Projects Officer
          Abigail Wexner Research Institute, Nationwide Children’s Hospital