DIP: Digital Studios for Social Innovation Networks

PIs: Elizabeth Gerber, Matthew Easterday
Northwestern University
Award Details

This proposal studies how virtual design studios can be used to support networks of people learning how to become the civic innovators of the future. Supporting learning from design and complex problem solving activities includes providing support for successfully solving problems and achieving goals as well as providing support for reflecting on those experiences to grasp the collaboration and communication skills and begin to learn strategies and tactics for innovating. This proposal is studying several strategies for how technology can help people learn to innovate: in setting common goals, developing problem solving strategies, developing action plans, getting help or feedback on their ideas, and developing leadership skills. The project will work with two national networks of civic innovators: one, the Design For America organization, which the researchers have previously collaborated with, applies engineering methods to solve civic problems. The second, the Roosevelt Institute Campus Network, works on policy innovations to civic problems.

The intellectual merit of this project comes from iterative refinement of the Loft digital studio learning platform, and design-based research examining six design propositions related to scaffolding networked innovation communities. The research will use participant observation, interviews, and document analysis to examine how the tools are scaffolding learning processes, and pre-post assessment of a subset of learners and their design skills. The work plans to use a set of embedded cycles of investigation at a macro-level of 2-3 month cycles and a micro-level of 1-2 week cycles in responding to the implementation of the Loft in the two pilot audiences, DFA and RICN, including intensive analysis of use of the platform in four Chicago area chapters of these two organizations. The broader impacts of the work are in characterizing how networked innovation communities can be supported, and in providing tools that such communities could use (all software being developed by the project is being released under an open-source license.)

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