Frame Innovation

Written for Introduction to Design for Social Innovation, taught at Carnegie Mellon University by Dimeji Onafuwa & Silvia Mata-Marin

Question regarding an exercise that used Kees Dorst’s 9 Steps to Frame Innovation to outline a complex/wicked problem: What worked, what didn’t? Is this a useful framework for social innovation? Can you use to frame other kinds of design projects?


I think the steps were helpful in forcing the designer to think through all the different factors that may be contributing to a wicked problem; it’s a useful process to go through. However, as I didn’t read the book myself, some of the steps are not clearly defined in my head, and others seemed to overlap, which made it difficult to go through the steps in a linear fashion (as “steps” imply). For example, it was hard to identify in which step the historical/economic contributors that make the problem so complex would fit (Paradox?). Also when going through the steps (as related to gun violence in Wilkinsburg), a lot of our responses to the questions were repeated and became redundant. The distinction between root causes and consequences is not defined either (as I understand it), which made it difficult at times to sparse out all the different factors and made the process at the beginning a somewhat muddled and foggy one. (Perhaps this is the nature of wicked problems?) We did though eventually whittle our ideas down to three causal factors, which helped to better frame the problem and brainstorm a few solutions. One missing component (and maybe we just didn’t get to this) was to think about unintended consequences of the proposed solutions — how they may play out in the long term. We’ve already heard of examples in international development that failed despite best of intentions, so forecasting would ostensibly be a critical part of the process.

Maybe my mind just works better spatially, but because the components of a problem all feed on each other, I think the ‘problem mapping’ that we are doing in Transition Design makes more sense as a method of breaking down a problem into all the different contributing factors while at the same time being able to link related causes.