The Fox DESIGNchallenge / February 25th was a great day!
Each year I organize and lead the Fox DESIGNchallenge, an annual student innovation competition to solve complex civic problems. The Challenge is sponsored by the Center for Design+Innovation at the Fox School of Business in collaboration with the Design for Social Impact program at the University of the Arts. For 2015, we partnered with the Southeast Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), the nation’s 6th largest transportation network, to tackle the challenges facing Mass transit in a culture dominated by the automobile and it’s American myth of freedom, convenience and modernity.
For 6 days, culminating in an all-day innovation workshop, 150 students (MBAs, scientists, engineers, artists, designers, technologists and geographers…) from 4 universities and Philadelphia public high schools worked together to answer the question:
How do we restore our historic connection to our transit system, and achieve the economic, social, and environmental dividends from a less auto-centric future?
This Challenge represents interdisciplinary problem solving and civic engagement at its finest. Mass Transit is a subject that crosses all boundaries and impacts all residents in the Philadelphia region. This is an opportunity for major change.
The Challenge events began 2 weeks earlier with a panel discussion at UArts featuring discussants from SEPTA, city agencies, planning and private development. This lively forum laid the groundwork for understanding the need for changing perceptions, policies and infrastructure and the context of mass transit in Philadelphia from a residential, economic, environmental and social perspective.
Armed with a basic understanding of the issues, we kicked-off the competition with a round of speed dating interviews with “experts” on the 20th. This provided students with an intensive immersion in the problem, delivering 10 personal points of view in 1 hour. This was followed by four days of fieldwork with transit themed tours of SEPTA facilities and transit stations across the city.
On the 25th we reconvened under the glass vault of the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, visually surrounded by Center City, Philadelphia. Dave Kelly of IDEO says,
"Regardless of whether it's a classroom or the offices of a billion-dollar company, space is something to think of as an instrument for innovation and collaboration. Space is a valuable tool that can help you create deep and meaningful collaborations in your work and life."
If ever there was a space to inspire innovation and collaboration, it is working under the glass dome of the Kimmel Center. This beats any classroom or corporate office!
20 teams spent the day translating research, observations and interests into stakeholder needs, user insights, team problem statements, brainstorming sessions to generate potential solutions and prototyping sessions to make their ideas physical. By the end of the day, teams presented their ideas to the judges and the winners were selected.
Problem solving like this is empowering. For the participants in the Challenge, the process of envisioning change for their city is transformative. In many ways, the transformations they proposed for SEPTA are secondary to their personal transformation from passive inhabitants to active change agents. For the high school students, this is even more profound. How often does someone ask a teenager from an inner city public school “What would you do to make things better?”
If you are interested in learning more about the Challenge and the proposed ideas, check the blog in the coming weeks. I will be adding more soon.
To learn more about the Challenge in the media: