In the process that is Design Thinking, students are asked, initially, to empathize with the problem at hand. Articulate the problem. Look at it from different angles. Gain new perspective on the problem.
Empathy is not an easy point of view to take on so, while reading the news the other day, I found an example that really stands out for me. It so happens that my first cousin is CEO of the Ottawa Hospital and in his position feels that he is responsible to oversee 21st century medical care for those patients and families who are served by the Ottawa Hospital service. Jack is also married to an amazing cook! This information will be important soon. In the Ottawa Citizen article dated July 17, 2016, the managers and CEO of the hospital announced sweeping changes to the food served. “Interesting,” you may say, “What would prompt these changes?”
Top level managers including Jack, were given hospital food to live on for a week. Talk about empathy. Imagine the distress when you are regulated to eat at 8am, noon and 5pm with no snacks or other treats. And the food is …less than palatable. Eggs were referred to by one patient as “a yellow puck of sadness.” Here, managers experienced exactly what patients see, smell and taste at the hospital. Now that’s empathy.
No amount of statistical analysis of product vs. waste or photos of suggested meals would have had the same effect that this 5-day experiment had on the outcome.
In many design thinking challenges, students must put themselves in the shoes of the person experiencing the problem to really empathize with the situation at hand. Tasks that are authentic problems encountered by students are the best fodder for each step in the design thinking process. Students who are close to the problem and can “get in touch” with the experience will have a deeper learning outcome in each phase of the design thinking process.