The Integration Design Consortium

We’re in an exciting time, one in which a lot of leaders, educators, families, and students are engaged in advocating for a more equitable education system. Even still, young people are falling through the cracks.

It’s not their fault. We often hear about how students are failed by a broken education system, without fully acknowledging that we are the architects of the system. The onus is on us to change because getting to the outcomes we want for young people will mean transforming the way we operate. This isn’t easy and the answers aren’t straightforward. But now is the time for all of us—from educators to philanthropic foundations—to reclaim our imagination and creativity in service of our students.

In an attempt to do things differently, Carnegie Corporation of New York has partnered with the Business Innovation Factory (BIF) to design and run the Integration Design Consortium (IDC). The IDC is an experiment for the Corporation: rather than funding programmatic proof points, the IDC is giving leaders permission to test various integrative approaches to support students throughout their journey in the education system. It consists of five teams2Revolutions, Bellwether, Education First, FSG, and The Teachers Guildworking from the classroom to the statehouse to explore the structures, mindsets, and processes that can create a more equitable education system. Instead of funding these teams in isolation, Carnegie Corporation of New Yorkwith the help of BIFis supporting the IDC as a collaborative learning network, allowing teams to share insights in real time.

Teams working at the Integration Design Consortium convening

WHERE WE’VE BEEN

Since June 2017, BIF has been leading the shared learning agenda for the IDC—collecting learnings and uncovering insights from across the teams to share with the field more broadly. The collaborative structure of the IDC has allowed us to observe both what is happening in the individual projects, as well as how the five teams are engaging with one another.

We’ve used the collective structure to experiment with different ways to engage the teams—including gathering project updates and sharing them with the teams, convening teams in person for collective sensemaking, and managing self-organized, cross-project exploration groups that focus on specific areas of overlap. Testing these various ways of engaging the teams will help us understand how we might spark collaboration, inspire reflection, and encourage pivots based on real-time learnings. Ultimately, these insights can be used to create field-facing learnings and tools that can reduce fragmentation in education.

WHAT WE’VE LEARNED SO FAR

It’s been over a year and a half since we first embarked on this grand experiment, so we wanted to share some emerging questions, reflections, and curiosities we’ve had over the past eighteen months.

Patterns of Fragmentation and Integration

At our second convening that took place in January 2018, we wanted to identify the key levers to integration based on the teams’ project experiences. These real-world examples provided a breakdown of the aspects that are most vital to creating a poor or an excellent state of integration, potentially helping us see how complex systems are changing over time. 

Changing Systems Requires Continuous (Un)learning

Monthly calls with teams have allowed us to peek under the hood of the individual projects and identify common themes that point to potential learnings for the field. One insight that we’ve recognized is that there is some amount of unlearning that needs to happen in order to rethink how the system can work.

These calls have served as a touchpoint for project updates but moreso, they have allowed us to ask other questions, such as: What has surprised teams? What challenges have arisen in their projects? What have they been learning that informs us about the nature of fragmentation? Having this kind of visibility into teams’ internal reflections as they are in the midst of planning and implementing their projects has fueled the collection of insights—like the significance of unlearningin real time.

The Power of Relationships

At our very first convening, Todd Kern from 2Revolutions said that change happens at the speed of trust; and at our latest convening, David Garfunkel from FSG talked about the importance of building relational fieldsor the strength, depth, and quality of how we relate to one anotherto create lasting change for young people. In both cases, it was clear that the connection between people is key when doing system change work.

The IDC is by no means the first to say that relationships are important. However, what has been apparent to us as we’ve been doing this work is that relationships should be the goal, not just a means to an end.

WHAT WE’RE THINKING ABOUT NOW

Going Slow to Go Fast

True systems change takes time; we need to know when to move slow and when to move fast. But we’re incentivized, through both structures (like grant cycles and metrics of evaluation) and culture (such as a bias towards action), to actand measure our impactnow. If we reframe our idea of short-term success to bias more towards learning as opposed to measurable outcomes, we can give ourselves the time we need to create the change we want to see.

Moving slowly might mean taking time to 1) build trust and relationships, 2) understand the underlying social forces at play, 3) develop new skills and practice new ways of thinking, and 4) craft a clear, compelling narrative that motivates people to act.

Taking time to build relationships and understand the underlying social dynamics at play might mean taking a look around to see who is in the room (from leaders, to students, to constituents) and valuing both their roles as well as their lived experiences. Doing this can help create a sense of ownership over the work and help people shift from self-advocacy to collective advocacy. While this increased trust isn’t always necessary for the work, it does usually strengthen it.

INTERESTED IN THE WORK OF THE IDC? LEARN MORE!

To learn more about the IDC and see the latest learnings from the teams, visit the website at www.integration-design-consortium.org.

You can also find more information about integrative approaches and how the learning agenda operates in Carnegie Corporation’s new report: From Fragmentation to Coherence: How more integrative ways of working could accelerate improvement and progress toward equity in education. This resource—meant for practitioners at all levels of the education system, including those in the public, nonprofit, and business sectors offers practical insights into the causes, consequences, and potential remedies of fragmentation.

Read more about the five projects teams in their own words:

  1. Supporting Community-Driven Solutions to Achieve Equity and Improvement in Education | Rachel Lopkin | 2Revolutions
  2. Redefining Professional Development: Educators as Leaders and Learners | Larry Corio | The Teachers Guild
  3. To Improve the Lives of Students, Two Communities Learn to Relate Differently | David Garfunkel, Peter Senge and Jessica Pizarek | FSG, Systems Leadership Institute and PolicyLink
  4. Helping Education Leaders Build Coherence into Reform Strategies to Support Teachers and Student Learning | Jenn Vranek and Cristina Muñoz | Education First
  5. How Greater Continuity Can Help the Millions of Students Rotating Through Social Services | Hailly T.N. Korman | Bellwether Education Partners

 

By: Reid Henkel and Isabelle Yisak


Amazon: The Elephant in the Room

As an innovation junkie, Amazon is the elephant in a whole lot of rooms I find myself in these days. The number and variety of the rooms in which the elephant seems to be hiding in plain sight are remarkable.

Amazon either already impacts or is poised to disrupt many traditional retail industry segments ranging from books to food to consumer tech to prescription drugs. No retail segment is immune. And now Amazon has announced it will aggressively extend its platform more broadly into healthcare sending shudders through the entire industry. Amazon also weighs heavily in public sector economic development discussions with the announcement of two new locations in the DC beltway and NYC for its burgeoning headquarters functions and the devastating local impact of so many lost entry-level jobs as many bricks and mortar retailers either go out of business or downsize due to the growth of online commerce.

It’s beyond me how so many public and private sector leaders have ignored the elephant in the room for so long but one thing is clear, no one can ignore Amazon any longer. The question of what to do about it looms large for every leader. One thing for sure, it’s a good time to be an innovation junkie.

It’s been a retailers dream start to the holiday season this year according to Internet Retailer with total retail sales estimates between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday of $143.8 billion. On-line sales commanded 15% of total retail sales or $21.6 billion. Amazon is estimated to have sold 29% of the online total for a whopping $6.25 billion. Not bad for five days of work!

Both the online percentage of retail sales and Amazon’s share continue to grow showing no signs of slowing down. Just because in-store retail sales also grew over the Thanksgiving holiday don’t be fooled into thinking traditional retailers are safe. We’re at the top of a long cycle of economic growth and when the next inevitable downturn starts retail is always one of the first industries to take a hit and it always gets hit hard. The transformation of the retail industry to online and mobile is still in its early days and the impact on communities and the retail workforce will accelerate over the next five years.

Amazon isn’t just the elephant in a lot of work-related rooms, the pachyderm has also found its way into my home, literally. Never mind the growing number of packages I trip over on the porch when I get home after work but the other night on the local news I watched a segment of a weekly series called Tuesday’s Child featuring a heartwarming story about a local child available for adoption named Alexa. Every time Alexa’s name was mentioned throughout the segment another less human Alexa in the room piped up making her presence known and reminding me that Amazon really is in the room!

Perhaps the best evidence that the elephant is on the move and can’t be ignored is today’s Amazon healthcare announcement. The healthcare industry has been on emergency Amazon watch for the last several years. Every Amazon announcement has been parsed to handicap the odds that Amazon would try to work its disruptive magic on the heavily regulated healthcare industry. Every comment from Jeff Bezos about Amazon’s healthcare intentions sends industry stocks reeling. To say healthcare institution leaders are nervous is an understatement.

There was no ambiguity in today’s announcement from Amazon about their healthcare industry intentions. Amazon announced the launch of a new healthcare service platform called Comprehend Medical. It’s a predictable platform play by Amazon to stampede aggressively into healthcare.

Comprehend Medical is touted as a healthcare service platform which will aggregate patient EMR data, apply machine learning and artificial intelligence, and then provide institutional health care players and professionals with the information and tools necessary to make better more economic healthcare decisions. And oh yeah, it will also integrate the world’s largest product commerce engine. Incumbent healthcare institutions and companies have good reason to shudder at the sound of the elephant’s footsteps approaching.

Disrupting healthcare won’t be as easy as disrupting bookstores or big-box retailers for Amazon. There are many institutional interests and regulatory moats making it more challenging. As Amazon sees it, our current healthcare system is vulnerable and ripe for disruption. It leaves too many individuals and families behind and delivers a fragmented, confusing, overspecialized, unaffordable, and painful experience for far too many consumers. Healthcare institutions and professionals are too slow to disrupt themselves and to take advantage of new emerging technologies to transform customer experience. Our healthcare system as currently comprised is also unsustainable financially. The elephant likes what it sees with lots of room to forage for value creating opportunities that leverage Amazon’s superpowers.

I am curious to watch how Amazon architects its Comprehend Medical platform and service offerings. I’m concerned about privacy issues, control and use of individual healthcare data and believe that the long-term winning play is more like Apple (focus on consumers) than Microsoft (focus on the institutional market). It will also be interesting to see how Amazon handles the growing public backlash to its market size and influence including the risk of increased regulation or antitrust actions to slow the behemoth down.

It’s always best to recognize the elephant in any room. Ignoring elephants is an unwise strategy in an era where cycles of disruption are shorter placing a premium on reinvention, new business models, experimenting with emerging technologies and transforming customer experience. Everyone loves innovation until it affects them. Today, innovation affects all of us. If we try to ignore it, wait it out, or lean against it we leave ourselves increasingly vulnerable to disruption. The only winning strategy to avoid disruption is to innovate from a position of strength while we still can and not from a position of weakness when it is too late.

We also have to be clear-eyed about the impact of innovation on real people and communities. That doesn’t mean we should block innovation and the promise of leveraging exciting emerging technologies for good, it means that we need to recognize the impact on real people, institutions and communities and enable them to leverage emerging technologies to get better faster and to reinvent themselves in order to stay relevant in a rapidly changing world.


Reimagining the Disability Services System in RI

BIF kicked off a new project with The Sherlock Center on Disabilities and five service providing agencies in RI to reimagine the services offered to adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities in the state.

Driven by a deep sense of commitment to better serve individuals with disabilities, they seek to transform the current provider-driven service model into one that puts personal agency and self-determination at its core.

“Our highest hopes are to re-design the system of supports for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, “said Mary Madden, Conversion Institute Facilitator at the Sherlock Center,” and to impact the quality of their lives in very real terms. The BIF Summit has set the stage for a powerful shared learning experience, moving us out of our silo and into the realm of possibility.”

Speaking to her personal motivation for participating in the work, Maya Colantuono, Technical Assistance Specialist at Sherlock, shared the following: “My 10-year-old gets around in a power wheelchair and uses an app on her iPad to communicate. These differences have not gotten in the way of her having the same childhood experiences as our other children. As she moves toward the adult service system, it is our imperative to ensure that she continues to be a fully engaged and valued member of our community.”

Leaders from participating agencies acknowledge that current service offerings are not sufficiently providing the individuals they serve with the supports needed to have and build a great life. They are committed to a more inclusive and person-centered transformation of the system of services for people with disabilities in RI. As one participant put it during the project kickoff meeting, the shared aim is to “get past our agencies to create more agency” for individuals with disabilities to lead and take charge of their own lives.

Participating agencies are Perspectives Corporation, Whitmarsh, West Bay RI, Looking Upwards, and The Cove Center / The Groden Network. Funds from RI’s Department of Labor and Training are being used to finance the work.


Personalized Medicine by Design

Business Innovation Factory (BIF), in collaboration with The School of the Possible founded by Dave Gray, Hatch founded by Yarrow Kraner, and Overlap founded by Michael Dila, is launching a project to explore the opportunity for a transformational personalized medicine business model.

Leveraging a network of networks we will start with a four-month exploratory phase of work to establish a deep customer experience foundation upon which we plan to design, prototype and commercialize a new model that empowers individuals and families to improve their own health and wellbeing. Our intention is to start-out-loud and to work iteratively and collaboratively to inform the development of a repeatable and scalable model. Our intention is to catalyze a personalized medicine movement.

Our U.S. healthcare system is leaving too many individuals and families behind. It delivers a fragmented, confusing, over-specialized, unaffordable and painful experience for far too many of us. Healthcare institutions are slow to disrupt themselves by leveraging new emerging technologies to transform the customer experience, and the healthcare system as currently comprised is unsustainable financially.

Healthcare is ripe for disruption. It is up to all of us to make sure that we disrupt it on behalf of those being left behind by today’s system. It is up to us to imagine a new healthcare system that puts individuals and families first. We need a new system in which families have access to the information, tools, and resources necessary to improve their own health and wellbeing. We need a new healthcare system that puts us at its core.

In the exploratory phase of our Personalized Medicine By Design project, we will establish a strong foundation of understanding of today’s healthcare customer experience. Any transformational personalized medicine business model must start with an understanding of the job-to-be-done from the customer’s point of view, not primarily from the perspective of today’s healthcare institutions and system. We will not be admiring the problems of today’s healthcare system, they are well known. We are seeking to understand how individuals and families experience the current healthcare system and their pain points as a jumping off point for imagining how we might transform, not tweak, it. A rigorous human-centered exploration phase will inform the design and prototyping of a transformational personalized medicine business model with healthcare consumers and families at the core.

We won’t start with the question, “how can we improve today’s healthcare system.” Building on a deep understanding of healthcare customer experience as an actionable foundation for design we will start with the question, “Can we imagine a new healthcare system that is in service of helping families better manage their own health and wellbeing?” We won’t get bogged down worrying about scalability and how to change the current system until we have demonstrated at a small scale that there is a better way that is financially viable. Let’s figure out what we want to change to before we obsess over how to change the way it works today. It’s time to create the conditions to imagine, design, prototype, and commercialize a transformative new patient and family-centered business model unconstrained by how healthcare works today.

I have been waiting for the stars to align for personalized medicine and to lead this BIF project for a long time. Over my career, I have engaged in and have every black and blue mark imaginable from working in and trying to change every aspect of how today’s healthcare system and business models work. Our passion at BIF is making transformation safer and easier to manage. As a leader in the healthcare industry, a strategy consultant, a government bureaucrat, and as the founder and Chief Catalyst of BIF I have led teams working on the mindsets, muscles, and tools to enable business model transformation and healthcare has always been my home industry.

I worked at Eli Lilly and Company in the 1980’s and will never forget the opportunity to witness first-hand how genomics might transform healthcare when I got to attend the opening of the world’s first commercial-scale recombinant DNA manufacturing facility. I was wowed by Lilly’s fete of tricking e-coli into producing human insulin at scale. Fast forward to today when the cost of mapping our own personal genome is rapidly approaching $100 and companies are already being launched that will offer us the opportunity to map and store our genome for free if we allow them to monetize our most valuable data set, our double helix. What if we made sure that we controlled our own healthcare information and who and how others can access it?

As a road-warrior strategy consultant, I worked with the visionary Mark Levin, founder of Millennium, who was early with a personalized medicine vision to transform the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry in the 1990’s. Mark’s idea was brilliant but the technology hadn’t advanced enough for a transformational business model to take hold. I never forgot the boldness of his vision and have always believed that it would ultimately come to pass. I believe that personalized medicine is now a viable business model with the potential to transform healthcare. We can already see its transformational potential in the diagnosis and treatment of many forms of cancer. The changes we can now see in personalizing cancer care and treatment will expand to other diseases and care paths. The promise of personalized medicine is within reach and hugely disruptive to every aspect of today’s healthcare system. What if we made sure that personalized medicine business models were designed with individuals and families at their core?

As a geek wannabe, I’ve always lived in the space between emerging technologies and new business models. Emerging technologies including genomics, big data, artificial intelligence, Internet of things, blockchain and all things digital are at a stage where they can actually be deployed in service of new human-centered business models. They are all capabilities in our sandbox ready to be combined and recombined to enable a personalized medicine vision. I was troubled when in 2011 the National Research Council declared that personalized medicine was an antiquated term and should be replaced by the more technology friendly label of precision medicine. I’m certain new technologies will continue to fill our business model sandbox enabling us to more precisely diagnose and treat disease. Today, these new technologies are out ahead of the business models to deliver their value at scale, and their development is predominantly shaped through the lens of today’s healthcare institutions and not customer experience. We need to transform from a sick care to a wellness model. To transform healthcare we will have to put the personalized back into precision medicine.

Our collaborative exploration of personalized medicine opportunities will put individuals and families at the center of our design process. It will bridge the exciting space between enabling agency at the consumer level and leveraging emerging technologies to transform customer experience and outcomes. Join us. We’ve created a Personalized Medicine by Design Facebook group to welcome other purposeful networks like School of the Possible, Overlap and Hatch, companies and institutions that want to play and any individuals interested in project updates or engaging in our exploration process. Let’s transform healthcare together.

Personalized Medicine by Design Facebook Group


Experimenting for Education Equity

Year after year, we see new big hairy audacious goals emerging for our education system. For example, by 2025, we want to see 60% of Americans attaining a higher education degree. Currently, the national average is 46.9%, up from only 9 basis points in 2008, calling the question:

What is it going to take for us to move 13 percentage points in 7 years, given our track record?

The same question emerges when you look at school readiness, 3rd-grade reading levels, and high school graduation rates versus goals. Unfortunately, we have to get our heads around the inconvenient truth:

Unless we do something dramatically different, we can’t get there from here.

So what is that different way?

In BIF’s Student Experience Lab, we understand that the problem exists on two fronts:

  1. The education gaps in attainment (from readiness to degree attainment) are largely the output of inequity.
  2. Transformational activities to close these education gaps are few and far between, and those that do emerge are local and fragmented throughout our education system.

The result is that even our efforts to close the equity gap is inequitable. This is why in the fall of 2017, BIF teamed up with the Carnegie Corporation of New York to explore this very design challenge:

How might more integrated approaches to education transform outcomes, specifically for the children who are being left beyond today? How might we reduce fragmentation in our innovation efforts to spread and scale breakthrough solutions? How might we accelerate collaborative innovation to reduce education gaps across the country?

Obviously, this is a project that is near and dear to me personally, and all of us at BIF. It is structured in a unique way, enabling us to both mirror the problem, create a petri dish for experimentation, and collaborate with some our favorite innovative designers in education. This is how it works:

Five organizations — FSG in partnership with PolicyLink, EducationFirst, Bellwether, 2Revolutions, and IDEO’S Teachers Guild — received grants to run two-year projects, each one geared at reducing fragmentation in education and accelerating integrated approaches to equity in education. These five organizations form the Integration Design Consortium. BIF serves as the connective tissue of the IDC — connecting, convening, and collecting learnings towards our combined learning agenda. We also serve as the Chief Instigator, running small experiments to understand how we might spark collaboration, inspire reflection, and insight pivots based on real-time learnings. The objective is to create field facing learnings and tools that can enable greater integration in education.

Being 6 months into our grant, we are in a position to begin to share some of our emerging curiosities.

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Fragmentation by Design

One the challenging aspects of our public education system, as with our government, is that it is fragmented by design. We grant local autonomy to states on many issues, and even further down the pecking order to districts. On the one hand, this enables creativity in responding to context (and much of the challenges in education are about context). Even in the classroom, teachers are often given the autonomy to respond to immediate learning needs in new and different ways. This enables “depth” as it relates to impact on individual students, but it prevents “breadth” in the scale of that impact. It is almost like we’re missing a “hyperloop” in our systems that enable us to quickly move learnings up, down, and out of the system hierarchy. Further, it is indeed a hierarchy which prevents the outward bound mobility of learnings and innovation. When we imagine systems that are well integrated (e.g. platforms), they tend to be flatter with basic protocols (e.g. common languages) that enable users to plug and play, adopt and adapt. This dynamic has us curious:

How might we enable horizontal information flows across a system that is fragmented by design?

Reducing the Hunt

It is rumored that by the time Sir Isaac Newton was 12 he had read every book on mathematics. This is less a statement about his intellectual prowess (albeit undeniable) and more a statement about the availability of information. Today, we are overwhelmed by the abundance of information. This is as true for us as individual players in our education system (teachers, superintendents), as it is for us as organizations exploring and testing innovative approaches in education. We know that innovative methods are out there, but we don’t know where to find them. Further, we are handicapped by our evidence-centric society, that frowns upon “experimentation” in education (i.e. experimenting with our children’s futures), and before innovations can spread or scale, they are put through the “evidence-based” time-consuming process of collecting proof, such that they can be deemed a “best practice.” This slows and curtails the ability for organizations and the system as a whole to get better faster. We’re not the first to ask this, but it remains a question that needs to be addressed:

How might we reduce the hunt for individuals and organizations seeking innovative methods for reducing inequity, thereby accelerating the integrated spread of innovations across the education system?

Catalyzing Learning Organizations

This leads us to a related curiosity:

How might we create the conditions that encourage organizations to learn and adapt in real time to emerging learnings and insights?

Peter Senge framed the notion of a learning organization in The 5th Discipline. It is a framework for understanding how organizations can unleash productivity and success by creating the conditions for adaptive and continual learning. Unfortunately, this is not the norm in a society that is still very much governed by industrial era models — which use business models as the organizational straight jacket in service of organizational efficiency and specifically constrain versus nurture expansive thinking by employees and business units. As a result, we have education institutions which create 5-year strategic plans with lofty success metrics (note the before mentioned degree attainment goal), measuring progress yearly, but not adapting in real time to what is working and what isn’t working.

There are three challenges here:

The first is that we lack the signaling systems and metrics to act in dynamic ways. The second is that learning is a generative act and requires a vulnerability which is often considered a high-risk proposition for organizations. For nonprofit organizations, this dynamic is exasperated by funding models. We are funded to achieve certain outcomes through a specific approach. The conditions are not good for real-time pivots; we perceive, right or wrong, that this demonstrates a weakness, a lack of expertise. Finally, learning networks don’t exist in the wild. Learning networks enable organizations to learn together and from each other, getting better faster. But they are most often catalyzed by an outside force, like a funding partner, and they are exclusive. This exasperates the conditions where some organizations learn and others don’t, and where the benefits of such a network are limited by the funding timeframe to sustain it.

Networking Business Models

Finally, if we can learn and adapt, our growth response is limited by our own organizational capabilities. Collaboration is still understood as coming together and learning together, rather than coming together to network our capabilities to deliver value in entirely different ways. The latter is hard, hard work, and requires a few key ingredients. It requires leadership who is willing and able to experiment with new approaches, and lend the organizational brand and reputation to outcomes that can not be attributed back to a single player. It requires the ability to dedicate a few capabilities, on a small scale, to a new delivery model without disrupting the efficiency of the existing delivery model. And, it requires a new revenue model which will work across organizations.

However hard, it is also essential for integration of a system. If a business model is a network of capabilities woven together into a sustainable financial model, a system is a network of business models that have learned to collaborate. Until organizations learn how to do this, integration in our education system won’t work, and innovations that fundamentally transform outcomes will remain localized and dispersed. Leading us to wonder:

How might we create the conditions (incentives, resources, leadership, and know-how) to build organizational collaboration and integration?

Above, I framed this all as emerging curiosities, because that is what they are. They aren’t necessarily new insights about the education system or guidelines for closing the equity gap. In the spirit of working out loud, they are the thoughts and wonders that come to us as we explore the intersection of equity, integration, and education.

We do not do this exploration blindly; we are standing on the shoulders of giants who have explored it before us. Many frameworks have been developed that answer and address some of what we are finding. As such, we intentionally look at the work through the lens of these frameworks — from Adaptive Leadership and Coherence Frameworks to Learning Organization Theory and the PELP Framework. Our goal is to suss out what can be bundled into these existing frameworks, and what can’t be answered — helping us define new insights and opportunity spaces to accelerate an integrated approach to equity in education.

In the coming weeks and months, we’ll be sharing many outputs from this work — from podcasts and interviews with the other IDC grantees to videos capturing our learnings and curiosities. We invite you to help us get better faster —engaging with us along the learning journey. Help us identify more blind spots that might be an important puzzle piece; go a bit further and help us put some of these learnings into action, sharing what happens along the way.

It is, as our partners at the Carnegie Corporation of New York often say, a grand experiment.

And. Experimentation in service of education and equity might be the best alliteration, and purpose, ever.

Thanks to Jessica Brown.

 

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Finding our Equity Why

Twice recently I’ve been asked to reflect on “my why.” The first time, at a student-led professional development on unconscious bias from Diversity Talks and the second, at a meet-up of EduLeaders of Color RI. I am grateful for these two gatherings because I’ve been putting a lot of pressure on myself to find words to describe my investment in equity and justice in education (and broadly). Additionally, I’ve been trying to think of ways to bring others on that journey — both friends and opponents.

In short, I’ve been searching for a point of view to ground me and provide direction as I imagine the future of education. As the conversation around diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) picks up steam, I have felt even more pressure. It is one thing to talk about these topics with folks that “get it”, are increasing their consciousness, and are actively building equity into their practice. It is another to be in conversations and settings where equity is just a casual topic or bolt-on.

My why: I am angry that students and educators (especially those who are Black and brown, LGBTQ, lower-income, English language learners etc.) are flattened by a system that doesn’t allow them to be their full selves. I love my communities and want to be in the business of co-designing and building an education system where they can thrive—one where equity is at the core.

Most of the conversations and actions in the education sector are not structured with the same ‘why’ in mind. Equity is often a bolt-on added to existing conversations, practices, or programs. This has produced inconsistent, narrow-focused point solutions or top-down mandates across schools, organizations, and policy.

These efforts do not:

  • Combat the root causes of inequity and oppression that are stitched into the fabric of the education system (and our society)
  • Raise the achievement of all students, while narrowing the gaps between the highest and lowest performing students or eliminate the racial predictability and disproportionality of which student groups occupy the highest and lowest achievement categories [Glenn Singleton, 2015]
  • Transform experiences for students, educators, and families

To do that, we need something more. We all need personal and institutional ‘whys’ around equity. And our why has to be stronger than our why not.

Luckily over the past year, the Student Experience Lab has had a project that has helped me imagine what an education system with equity at the core might look like. Throughout the Teachers For Equity project, we developed and tested a model that used a system-focused, teacher-driven approach to advancing racial equity. I have previously written about the conditions that make this model powerful: educators were close to their communities, focused on equity, and were designing with NOT for other educators and students.

Our prototype’s why: We want to transform the values, norms, and practice of the classroom and activate teachers to change not only what is taught, but how it is taught, how teachers and students engage, and how school communities learn and grow together.

Download Our DEI Toolkits

Transforming values, norms, and practices that are rooted in systemic racism is not work that happens easily. It is work that put equity at the core and required every educator to have a strong personal ‘why’. They needed something that rooted them in the work when facing pushback from colleagues or when they did not immediately see results in student achievement.  

As they uncovered, explored, and modified their whys we were able to move from a lens where equity was merely a bolt-on. We were then able to surface other key conditions of an equity-centered education system:

A commitment to building racial consciousness. There is no such thing as achieving complete cultural competence, this work requires being actively adaptive and responsive. In Teachers For Equity that required two things: content and reflection. The content was the “easy” part. There are plentiful resources to get educated on racial dynamics and histories—what’s harder to uncover is what is stopping us from engaging with these histories or conversations about race. Deep reflection on our own racial identity and experience is essential for understanding structures and mental models that perpetuate racial disparities. By creating opportunities for courageous conversations, our racial consciousness grew from a deeply personal place—and I believe our lives and work will be impacted forever because of it.

A transformational point of view. Transformation often feels intimidating. When we are challenged, it is more natural to go to what is comfortable, technical, or measurable. However, just like getting to the core of our personal racial narratives changes the work, so does getting to the core of the system. Combining a strong ‘why’ with a systems focused lens made educators more confident providing leadership to address root issues of educational equity.

An acceptance of losing competence. All of us like to be (or to be seen as) smart, capable, and competent. Throughout this process we had to work through losing competence— discovering all that we didn’t know about race, having vulnerable conversations, and redesigning a system founded on oppression. When facing uncertainty, we had to avoid disengaging or pivoting the work so that we can speak and act with more authority. Spoiler alert: we were not always successful.

A human-centered culture. Teachers are the closest to students and their needs, yet they are often the last to be considered when designing new, equity-centered models. The goal to advance equity must be supported at every level, but most importantly, teachers must be supported in building equitable practices in order for significant impact to take place. This requires institutions to build in time, space, and a culture of design that allows teachers to create and reflect on equitable values, norms, curriculums, and practice. It can also be aided by intentionally pushing the boundaries of professional-personal divides that hinder vulnerable, courageous conversations. Vulnerable sharing doesn’t mean sharing every detail of your life, but wanting and giving permission to bring in your authentic personal experiences to the table as we work to solve some of the toughest issues facing classrooms and education.


Throughout this project, we saw powerful glimpses of these conditions in action. They enabled us to go beyond surface level solutions to think more holistically about how school and communities could better learn and grow together.

Transformation is comprised of actions taken to change the core of how things are done. The conditions above may seem small/intuitive, but because they target the core of the challenges we face around racial equity (mindsets, feelings, and actions), we saw them enable powerful actions. On a large scale, actions like these can make significant changes in student outcomes. They can help us fulfill our “why” and transform how we deliver more value. For me that looks like using these conditions to create more opportunities for students, educators and leaders to be their authentic selves. It is a commitment to have an explicit focus on equity in my work in education.

At BIF, this experience provides guidance as we continue to design with equity at the core. This prototype imagines the future of education. One that is more equitable. One that our students and educators deserve. One that we hope to collectively work towards.

Tell us your equity why! How does it impact how you create and deliver value? And if you don’t have one, how are you going to find it?


Part 1: The Diversity, Equity, Inclusion Imperative

Part 3: The Equity Opportunity in Healthcare

 

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The Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Imperative

A few years ago, while working on a project for Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, I faced one of the more challenging experiences in my professional work — and, even now, reflecting on it gives me goosebumps.

Here’s the context:

BIF had been asked by Cincinnati Children’s to help them explore and design next practices that would reduce infant mortality in the surrounding community — Avondale. Avondale, at the time, was ranked highest in the country for infant mortality, largely stemming from (a) preterm births and (b) a majority population that was at high-risk for preterm births. Sadly, the reason why stems from race — black women experience more preterm births and infant deaths than any other population. I will come back to the role that race (or racism more specifically) plays in preterm births later.

Our team had spent months immersed in so many powerful, wonderful, and often sad stories. We interviewed pregnant teenagers (and non-pregnant teenagers). We interviewed formerly incarcerated women. We interviewed moms and pregnant women, whose abusive husbands had landed them in shelters. We interviewed pregnant moms and their pregnant daughters. We interviewed non-pregnant women. And we interviewed dads.

We synthesized all of the findings from these interviews, landing on a handful of opportunity spaces and brought diverse community stakeholders together into a participatory design studio. And that’s when it happened.

I had just wrapped up a presentation of our findings, including a podcast of women talking about their experiences (note: listening without visual cues is so core to empathizing without judgment), and had opened up the room to observations and questions. One community stakeholder raised her hand and said:

“You’re white. I’m sure it goes without saying. But if you had knocked on my door, my family and I wouldn’t have told you sh*t.”

There are many things that flew through my mind in the nanosecond I had before I needed to respond.

  • She just questioned the credibility of our findings, at a moment when I need buy-in in order to move forward
  • She’s not wrong; I’m sure there are definitely things we didn’t hear
  • What if we didn’t just not hear things, but what if, given our white privilege (and the biases that come with it) we weren’t able to truly witness their experiences?
  • Holy crap, are we about to talk about race, for real, in public?

I remember my voice shaking in my response, and (having played this scene over and over again in my head), I know I said something along the lines of:

“Yes, I am white, and as such, I can never fully understand what it means to be a black woman. We’re trained to listen, and we do our best to listen with open hearts. And I’d like to honor these women and their time by considering what they did tell us.”

The conversation continued, but I never forgot that interchange.

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Here’s why it matters.

I’ve been working in innovation long enough to see trends cycle through the social sector. Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) has been and might continue to be, one of those trends. It has been on everyone’s radar at one time or another in every decade since, well, before I started working. For example, in 1992, I did my field training in Kenya and required reading was Moving the Centre, a book that invited researchers to consider moving their own race and class privileges out the center of their mental models, in order to explore new ways of working that would leverage diversity. Why do I feel that the invitation didn’t get much traction?

I believe the answer lies in the traditional approach. In BIF speak, institutions approach DEI as a “bolt-on.” This is what we know how to do. We take our existing culture and bolt-on a DEI committee. We take our existing marketing strategy and bolt-on specific activities to reach “underserved communities.” We take our existing products or services and we tweak them to serve “new” audiences.

I think there are perils with this approach:

  1. People are truly hurt, and injustices are created, when we don’t truly shift our lens, mental models, or our behaviors to address DEI systemically.
  2. We miss huge opportunities to serve everyone better.
  3. Bolt-ons aren’t sustainable and will continue to perpetuate trends.

I think the real invitation is to consider how our institutions move from bolt-ons to next practices and new business models. Here’s how.

Shifting our Lens

At the beginning of the Cincinnati research, one phrase kept getting me hung up: Baby Daddy. Women had baby daddies and not husbands. Women had multiple baby daddies. As a white girl from Connecticut, it was hard to say baby daddy comfortably. But here’s the thing that I was comfortable doing:

Asking myself why.

And what surfaces is a bias. Aren’t we supposed to grow up, get married, and have one father for our children? Isn’t nuclear family the right kind of family? The irony, of course, is that I am divorced with two kids. I will never have a nuclear family, and I have learned it takes a village. I host Sunday Dinner — supper with my family, my partner’s family, random teenagers, lonely neighbors, good friends. Why? Because I understand that we don’t get by on a nuclear family. But nuclear family is stuck in my mind — it is part of the whiteness culture that is prevalent in this country – as the universally accepted right way.

Cincinnati Children’s Hospital won a Mayo Transform Award for Neighborhood Feasts, a concept that forged communal relationships between physicians and community women.

Once I acknowledged and moved beyond the notion that there is a right or wrong way, I grew a sense of wonder. Communal families are more expansive; there are more people to play so many roles — regardless of age, gender, or relationship. They are inclusive and accepting. They are more adaptive and responsive; less fragile. There are so many implications for this and how these strengths could be used; it inspired my thinking about how we can re-image support systems; and also, it inspired a key opportunity area:

How might inclusive relationships and communal events change the power structure between patients and doctors (a power structure that often dissuades women from engaging in their care)?

Designing for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

The second opportunity is to not just seek inspiration from – but to also design business models for –  diversity, equity, and inclusion. In a forthcoming blog, you’ll hear about our friends at Trinity Rep who came to BIF because they were facing an inflection point in their very identity. As a community repertory theatre, it is charged with reflecting the challenges and issues that exist in the community around it. But a racially charged scene on the stage catalyzed a racially charged response from the community; causing them to question what it would mean to not just have a DEI initiative or do DEI programming, but to transform their business model and put DEI at the core? They asked themselves if this could transform their community.

It’s a compelling question and one that is important for all institutions. If public service put DEI at its core, how would communities look different? How would public services look different? For example, the immigrant debate rages so loudly in this country, through a mindset of who stays and who goes; it is a conversation about exclusion. Through this lens, we are failing to recognize the opportunities found through inclusion. This could mean many things, but my mind goes immediately to the power of entrepreneurship. As entrepreneurs, immigrants ground and fuel our small businesses, and through it, our economy. When we design for inclusion and equity, we’re creating institutions that unleash, rather than limit, people’s potential.

The opportunities in education are also enormous. If higher education designed for diversity, it would have a system that was more flexible and affordable. In short, we would have higher education models that are better for everyone. If K-12 education designed for diversity, we would have classrooms that taught us how to collaborate with “unusual suspects” for critical problem solving (hello – major skill requirement of the 21st century), higher graduation rates, and more people actually engaged in developing the skills, competencies, and capabilities that can move this country forward. In our next post in this series, we’ll share findings from our SXL Teachers for Equity project, which points to the fact that racially conscious classrooms forced teachers and students alike to be more authentic and open — the very conditions for learning and evolving.

In healthcare, I have seen first hand (and designed) opportunities for putting DEI at the core of what we do. DEI forced us to question the 9–5 schedule of primary care. It forced us to consider the importance of “connected knowledge,” given how many people are part of raising a child. It forced us to consider the power and importance of first-generation changemakers, for creating and spreading new habits and values related to good health. It forced us to consider how we move from sick care to family well being. And new business models emerged as a result that could better serve everyone.

In short, when we design for DEI, we create more opportunities to be true and worthy market makers.

Sustaining the DEI Shift

The Cincinnati project was one of BIF’s first forays into the use of a community critique. Early on in our research and synthesis, we invited a handful of “experts” in infant/maternal health and community health to hear our findings. I discussed the role that race was playing in women’s experience. One of our critiquers, a white male physician from Brown University, asked me point blank:

“It sounds like you want to address racism.”

The way I heard it, it sounded less like a question, and more like an observation of the preposterous.

“I think we need to,” I said.

I felt small, then. But I’m not feeling small anymore.

Since then, studies have proven conclusively that infant mortality is a direct result of racism in this country. When I say that people are hurt regularly by racism, this is what I mean. We lose babies. And we don’t just lose them as babies, we lose them as children, young adults, adults. We lose the potential they can offer the world. Can you imagine how our communities, cities, country might be different if that creative potential was unleashed and tapped rather than lost? Can you imagine how your institution might be different? More creative? More innovative?

If we fail to create a sustaining shift, if we continue to treat DEI as a bolt-on, we’ll fail to prevent that hurt and injustice. We’ll fail to seize opportunities to make things better. For everyone. We’ll miss opportunities for innovation, and market making.

This is why BIF has taken on a series of DEI efforts — both in the projects that we take on and how we embrace it internally.

This is the first in a series of blog posts focused on how our real-world experience labs are using diversity, equity, and inclusion to design innovative new business models. Coming up next, you’ll see how we’re transforming classrooms and learning by activating teacher leaders in order to design more equitable and diverse experiences. From our Patient Experience Lab, we’ll share how “witnessing our patients,” establishes trust, and fundamentally improves health and well-being. Our Citizen Experience Lab will share how communities become stronger and more resilient through inclusion. Finally, we’ll share the courageous conversations we’re tackling internally, to ensure that our own culture and values are a reflection of sustaining the shift to DEI, knowing that what we design will be better the more diverse our designers are and our culture is.

We invite you to join these conversations, and to explore how putting DEI at the core of your business model exploration can surface opportunities for transformation.


Part 2: Finding Our Equity Why

Part 3: The Equity Opportunity in Healthcare

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#BIF10 Storytellers Featured in TIME.com Series

This summer we’ve been honored with the opportunity to publish a series of articles in the Business section of TIME.com. For the series, BIF’s Chief Catalyst Saul Kaplan and our wonderful Brown University intern Nicha Ratana have created a series of interviews with BIF10 storytellers that explore their approaches to innovation and the importance of the BIF Collaborative Innovation Summit.

Here’s the series so far: