Why Design Thinking Is the Future

By Marc Boisclair, March 14, 2017


Given how incentive companies have welcomed DT into their own strategic thinking and corporate client programs, there’s no reason it can’t work equally well for associations, faith-based groups and the SMERF community. “The point of design thinking is to make sure all the messages align,” says ITA’s Wenthe. Associations, like corporations, represent a brand, she says, and they need to know who their people are. Planners can use DT to educate board members and executives about why attendees should engage in and remember a meeting and, by extension, their organization. “If you did a product launch at your annual meeting, are you following up with information attendees can use later in their own work?” asks Wenthe. An in-depth, post-meeting evaluation quiz on what people retain and digest helps associations understand their attendees’ expectations and limitations. “If they can’t pass a quiz afterward, then you didn’t do something right,” she says.

RevvCrew is a two-year-old consultancy that uses design thinking to help associations grow membership and non-dues revenues. Co-founders Keith Chamberlain and Garth Jordan honed their current DT skills while on staff at EDUCAUSEwhich represents some 58,000 higher education IT professionals working in 1,900 universities and colleges. In 2011, they developed a blueprint to transform the group’s four disparate regional meetings into a single planning template that would work for each region. “They each had their own infrastructure, their own politics,” which proved expensive and time-consuming, says Chamberlain. The goal was to save money, time and energy and refocus the meetings on the attendees. “We went from stale, hourlong speaker talks to 45-minute roundtable events with content facilitators,” he says. For the first time there was continuity in each event for the planners, vendors and attendees; the meetings (now known as EDUCAUSE Connect) and the messages were in sync. Since that first year, Chamberlain says, attendance and revenues have risen.

Design thinking can also be used by any planner as a tool to educate attendees on how to improve and broaden their quality of life, especially given the number of young people in the workplace. More millennials and Gen Xers are filling meeting seats these days, and they tend to view career and life choices differently from their older co-workers—a trend not lost on some DT enthusiasts.

“They want to be a part of something much larger than themselves, about what it’s really like to work somewhere,” as opposed to what the association brand exudes, says Michelle M. Smith, CPIM, CRP, vice president of marketing at O.C. Tanner, an incentive firm. Smith cites the influx of Gen X employees now reaching middle management and higher and their concerns about economic equality, social responsibility and protecting the environment as a reason to develop congruency in all aspects of the corporate and structure, including meetings. “Try to think about user empathy throughout the meeting,” says Smith. What do attendees want to get out of this meeting, and how can you deliver that in a delightful, surprising and meaningful way? “The message should be uplifting and confident,” adds Smith, “because their purpose is bigger than the task of their daily job.”

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