115: Understanding People & Systems





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  1. Stakeholder Mapping
    • Diagramming network of stakeholders for a given system
    • Purposes:
      • Focus on people above other factors
      • Guides plan for future research
      • Documents research findings
      • Builds shared understanding
    • Preparation steps:
      • Identify research topic
      • Recruit diverse team of collaborators
    • Implementation steps:
      • Generate very broad list of stakeholders
      • Draw a symbol of a person for each different type
      • Write speech bubble summarizing each person’s mindset
      • Draw lines with arrows connecting stakeholders
      • Label lines to describe relationships
      • Circle & label related groupings
    • Helpful hints:
      • Include broad range of stakeholders
      • Strike balance between breadth and relevance
      • Don’t represent groups of people in one symbol
    • Sample process: 
    • School applications:
      • Can use this mapping tool to map out dynamics that involve students, their clients, their parents, and teachers
      • Can use this mapping tool to map out stakeholders related to complicated school-wide initiatives such as designing professional development, school-wide supports (quads, after school tutoring, advisories), culture-building initiatives
  2. Persona Profile
    • Creating profiles that summarize mindsets, needs, and goals of key stakeholders
    • Purposes:
      • Focus on people
      • Deepen empathy
      • Summarize research findings
      • Challenge preconceptions
    • Preparation steps
      • Identify body of research
      • Determine set of archetypes to build in detail
    • Implementation steps
      • Write detailed description of each archetype
      • Give realistic names to archetypes
      • Include representative portrait of each archetype
      • Describe their distinguishing characteristics, needs and goals
      • Summarize mindset with a memorable quote
      • Compare 1-page summary for each type.
    • Helpful tips:
      • Avoid disrespectful stereotypes
      • Supplement text with illustrative diagrams
      • Improve visuals with an expert designer
    • Sample process:
      • Purpose: Conducting field research and looking for useful data patterns and conveying these in relatable forms.
      • Steps:
        • Contextual Inquiry (Looking)
        • Affinity Clustering (Understanding)
        • Persona Profile (Understanding)
    • School applications:
      • Can use this to create profiles of that represent key clusters of student needs so that they can be carefully considered during project planning
      • Can use this to create profiles for different types of collaborators and types of learners so they can be carefully considering while planning scaffolding activities for agency and collaboration
  3. Experience Diagramming
    • Mapping person’s journey through a set of circumstances or tasks
    • Purpose:
      • Summarize current state of a situation
      • Deepen empathy
      • Identify critical touch points
      • Inform subsequent design activities
    • Preparation steps:
      • Identify body of research
      • Select experience to document in detail
      • Determine a format (flow chart, map, timeline, etc.)
    • Implementation steps:
      • Hone in on a few key tasks
      • Decide which individuals to represent
      • List people, places, and things they encounter
      • Illustrate series of typical experiences using selected format.  See above.
      • Highlight critical points in journey.
    • Helpful hints:
      • Focus effort on existing situations
      • Use diagram to mark typical break points
      • Study behavioral patterns for potential insights
    • Sample Process:
      • Purpose: Gaining and evaluating firsthand knowledge.
      • Steps:
        • Walk-a-Mile Immersion (Looking)
        • Experience diagramming (Understanding)
        • Rose, Thorn, Bud (Understanding)
    • School applications:
      • Can be used to develop deeper understanding of how students navigate through projects – may illustrate possible stuck points which can suggest strategies to scaffold
      • Can be used to develop deeper understanding of how students of a specific grade level navigate through a typical school day and learn insights that can lead to useful advisory lessons
  4. Concept Mapping
    • Depicting relationships between various concepts in a given topic area
    • Purposes:
      • Identify research subject
      • Recruit diverse team
      • Create list of concepts related to topic
        • Think broadly, include people, places, and things
    • Implementation steps:
      • Arrange concepts in an orderly way
      • Draw lines with arrows to connect related concepts
      • Label the lines with words describing relationships
      • Circle and label related groupings
    • Helpful hints:
      • Use a very large whiteboard or working surface
      • Put concepts on sticky notes to make them movable
      • Use map as a living document – update it often
    • Sample process:
      • Purpose: Deepening knowledge in a domain and collaborate to generate fresh ideas
      • Steps:
        • Concept Mapping (Understanding)
        • Statement Starters (Understanding)
        • Round Robin (Making)
    • School applications:
      • Students can use this strategy to describe how their understanding of concepts related to key topic(s) are evolving throughout a project
      • Teachers can use this strategy to illustrate connection between standards and identify bridges to other contents that can lead to integrated projects


The strategies for understanding people and systems help designers better understand their stakeholders – who they are, how they are related, what are their needs, how are these related, etc.  Teachers an use these strategies to make better sense of their observations of their students.  This deeper understanding can help them cluster their needs in ways that make planning more efficient.  Teachers can teach students these methods in order to learn more about themselves (such as their academic and collaborative interactions) and to make sense of stakeholders in the context of design projects.


Preparation Steps
  • For teacher use (understanding students):
    • Decide research topics (examples: student team interactions, student study habits, day-in-a-life of a student, student experiences/perceptions of projects, etc.)
    • Select method(s) that will help gather most useful information related to research topics
  • For student use (researching stakeholders for project):
    • Brainstorm research topics in projects that lend themselves to strategies aimed at understanding people and systems
    • Design resources that help students prepare and implement methods.  See above.
Early Implementation Steps
  • For teacher use (researching students):
    • Implement selected strategies for understanding people & systems
    • Follow up with more design steps.  See above for ideas.
  • For student use (researching stakeholders for project):
    • Scaffold activities aimed at understanding people & systems (preparation and implementation)
    • Follow-up with more design activities.  See hyperlinks above for ideas.
Advanced Implementation Steps
  • For teacher use (understanding students):
    • Share findings with students and have them reflect on whether or not the findings have any validity.
    • Develop interventions, calendars, strategies, activities, and routines that address verified findings.
  • For student use (understanding stakeholders for project):
    • Have students reflect on strategies for understanding systems and people – how did it work?  what assumptions were challenged? what new things were learned? what new ideas were inspired? how can this approach be used in other settings?



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