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An Interview with Measured Summit Organizer Cheryl Heller

Originally posted on impactdesignhub.org

A quick download of “The Measured Summit: Measuring the Impact of Social Design on Human Health,” happening next Tuesday, January 24th, in NYC. What is the Summit? Why is it happening? Who will be there? Our interview with the Summit’s lead organizer, Cheryl Heller, will help you get queued in to what’s going on.

IDH: First off, why this topic specifically, and why now?

Cheryl Heller: People are spending an enormous amount of money, human resources and time on what they variously call “human-centered design” (or design thinking, social impact design, social innovation design), and nobody has created a convening for measuring the impact. No one has really come together to try to talk about the difference it makes and how we can really go beyond anecdotal evidence.

There’s a reason, which is our master’s program teaches people how to use social design is in its fifth year. We have a lens on it now and a greater understanding of how far it reaches and what careers people are entering with it. We feel a great responsibility to start to measure the impact that this type of education and work can have and to bring more rigor to the discipline.

IDH: Can you put into perspective how you view the special relationship between public health and social design?

Heller: We’re defining social design broadly. We focused this first summit on health because it needed to have a focus. Our plan is to make this an annual event and look at education next year. Public health is one aspect. At this summit, there are people who are going to talk about clinical health, some about homelessness, and others about well-being more broadly. Health is definitely a place where people are thinking about design.

IDH: There are also a lot of relationships within public health where design can start to come in and actually have that measured impact that everybody’s looking for.

Heller: Yes, precisely. But not to the point of everything becoming transactional. We all sense the contribution it makes but we don’t have anything other than anecdotal evidence to talk about.

IDH: Who’s coming to the table, and what was the idea around the selection criteria?

Heller: These people were chosen for their broad perspectives, for the different ways they come at health, and for the kinds of projects they’re working on. They’re all practitioners, they’re all people who are involved in doing something. What’s important is to never have a conversation with all the same kind of thinking in the room. We have people involved in measurement, funding, design, business, and data science. For me, it’s always the 360 that we need to bring together in the room. Here are a few of our guests and why they are showing up:

  • Michael Murphy, from MASS Design, is talking about measuring the systems around the built environment.
  • Maggie Breslin, one of our DSI faculty, is working on a project called, “The Patient Revolution” to create tools to help people have more informed conversations with their doctors and greater agency in their health.
  • Kippy Joseph, from the Rockefeller Foundation, is going to be talking about how to measure resilience at the health systems level.
  • Jonathan McKay, from Praekelt Foundation, is gonna be talking about a huge program that they’re introducing in South Africa — and several other countries in Africa — that potentially can help millions of people digitally, through a program called, “Mom Connect,” that connects mothers to resources and help through text messaging services.
  • Rosanne Haggerty, from Community Solutions, is very well known for her work in homelessness, specifically working with one person at a time.
  • Heather Fleming, from Catapult Design, is talking about how this applies to product design.
  • Tracy Johnson, responsible for human-centered design at the Gates Foundation, is working to embed that approach in the way the organization does grant making and brings about social change.

The summit’s website goes into more detail on the participants.

IDH: What else do you think makes this particular summit unique? Did you structure it in a way that makes it special?

Heller: We’ve got a group of people that we’re calling ‘provocateurs’ who are interesting and practitioners of various kinds in their own right. They’re going to be sitting in the audience with the role of synthesizing questions from the audience so that there really is a dialog between the keynote speakers and the people who’ve come as guests. We’re trying to imagine the whole thing as a design conversation so that what we end up with at the end of the day is a list of the questions that we need to ask when we begin to measure the impact of design.

IDH: How do you imagine keeping the momentum going after January 24th?

Heller: We are going to be producing a digital journal that will include audio recordings, video, and a synthesis of what happened. We will also create a very simple brochure that will be the beginnings of a template for measuring the impact of design. And there will be a film as well.

In addition to what we produce, we are intentionally going to connect what comes out of this event with another convening happening in April in D.C. And, in a year’s time, we’ll have another conference about measuring the impact of design in another discipline.

Click here to learn more about The Measured Summit.

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