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Change Maker Spotlight: Adaptive Design

Attempting to make systemic change can be an incredibly difficult task. Even more so if this change is going against a long held belief about how things should be done. Change makers are probably already familiar with design thinking and adaptive leadership. Using these methods can have mixed results, design thinking can provide innovative ideas but fails to address underlying challenges for implementing these ideas. Adaptive leadership provides change makers the tools needed to address challenges in implementing a new idea but fails to provide the right environment for creative thinking.

Mary Bernstein and Marty Linksy are working on adapting these two models to take the best features from both to make a new change-making model called adaptive design. In their model there are two major approaches.

In the first approach practitioners move rapidly through both design thinking and adaptive leadership models.

Usually the practitioner will begin by using design thinking to drum up excitement and analyze the organization capacity for change. At this point the weakness of design thinking can be supplemented with the employment of adaptive leadership. Once they practitioners work through their adaptive skills, they can conclude with design thinking methods.

The second approach involves melding the two methods together to form one new model (as seen in the image below).

In this model there are four phases that practitioners use:

* The first phase, empathetic observation, users will gather information about the true needs of the beneficiaries and then apply the empathetic understanding to the organizational environment. “Political Mapping" is a great tool for this phase, identifying all the stakeholders and then deciding what are their motivating factors for each stakeholder and how it might affect implementing change.

* The second phase involves practitioners deciding what are the technical issues and what are issues involving adjusting to new changes in the organization. In this phase practitioners will work through what values and apprehension might affect stakeholders. Practitioners should use concrete language when pinpointing challenges and to frame each challenge as a creative opportunity. In this phase a practitioner begin to define the issue at hand and to frame their challenge.

* The third phase of the adaptive design model, practioners will partake in ideation. The goal is to build creative confidence. In an ideation stage, practitioners will be able to generate as many ideas as possible.

* The fourth and final stage involves creating and testing a protype or intervention process to see how it works and if it can be sustained in the organization.

Adaptive design is a promising method that could help organization in creating innovative solutions but also allow them to be mindful of the psychological and organizational pushback that accompanies change.

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