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Implementing design criteria too early in the creative process stifles innovation.

Implementing design criteria too early in the creative process stifles innovation.

In the co-design process, two mechanisms were used to focus ideation: first, by limiting the scope of brainstorming to everyday practices (efforts that did not require substantive funding or training, and could be easily incorporated into the day-to-day of schools); and second, by filtering ideas through four design criteria: impact, desirability, feasibility, and integrability. Beyond that, we encouraged participants to think broadly about the potential design of the practice.

Our intention throughout the ideation process was to keep people on task and ensure that the ideas selected would lead to greater integration of wellbeing in schools. In practice, we found that introducing the criteria of feasibility and viability so early in the ideation process stifled the kind of divergent thinking that allows for real innovation to occur. Generally, the proposed ideas for everyday practices were “safe” – they were things that were already happening, had an obvious link to student wellbeing, and were typically teacher-implemented or classroom-based. The types of outside-the-box ideas that we had hoped to see, such as offering more nutritional food in the cafeteria or creating more student-centred spaces, either did not emerge at all or were critiqued too early to be fleshed out.

The WellAhead approach to ideation evolved significantly over the fall. During the first ideation session, held in Penticton, organizers soon realized that participants were filtering ideas proposed with comments such as “we wouldn’t be able to change ___”, “teachers would never ___”, and “___ would take too much time”. Some form of student greeting emerged in nearly every ideation session, and we came to see this as a symptom of the design process favouring safe ideas. This was noted by one of our Community Liaisons in her reflection on the ideation and refinement sessions:

“The refinement process went well – especially the storyboarding, however I feel like we were too concerned about implementation, sustainability and others that it stifled the creativity.”
– Jenny Mitchell, Community Liaison, SD 67 Okanagan Skaha

In subsequent ideation sessions, facilitators placed increased focus on allowing risky, innovative ideas to flourish, and reduced the design criteria to “impact” and “desirability”. As a result, in one of the last ideation sessions in Greater Victoria, the ideas that emerged went far beyond “greeting” to include suggestions that incorporated community members, “toolkits” for classrooms, and more.