EcosystemsforCS Design Thinking and Strategic Planning during COVID

As organizations and communities across the U.S. scrambled to adapt to the impact of COVID, so did the Ecosystems forCS (E4CS) initiative at CSforALL. With support from Schmidt Futures, E4CS are 10 dynamic communities coming together to ensure all young people have equitable access to high quality CS education.

Originally slated as a mid-year in-person convening in Columbus OH, we moved to a series of 5 consecutive virtual workshops. During May and June 2020, the 10 ecosystem planning teams participated in virtual design-thinking strategic planning workshops to further develop skills in creative solutions-based problem-solving. Each planning team represents different geographies and populations from Central Washington State, Worthington OH, Santa Fe NM, Tulsa OK, Saint Paul MN, Mission, TX, Chicago IL, Miami FL, Birmingham AL to Richmond VA.

In their own and across team breakout rooms, the E4CS cohort practiced the process and mindset of “yes and …” design thinking, created personas representing their audience, defined their persona need statement, and dug into aspects of strategic planning including identifying needs for policy, partnerships, funding, communications, community engagement, content, and outcomes.

In partnership with Danica Petroshius and Aileen Ma of PennHill Group, we facilitated interactive discussions among the E4CS cohort to focus on human-centered solutions, deepen their understanding of intended audiences, and consider solutions that stretched their thinking and were practical and broad enough to leave room for innovation.

Some indicated that the virtual workshops were invaluable, and found that the design thinking process enabled them to consider new ideas and outline real possibilities. Participants particularly enjoyed the dedicated time to reboot, work with their planning team, and engage with others in the cohort to learn, collaborate, and problem-solve. Although the preference was for an in-person meeting, the value of virtual workshops also enabled many to include more people on the planning team than had we met in-person. As a bonus, they learned how to use new tools such as Jamboards and processes for virtual learning and engagement for their own work.

Over the next several months, the E4CS cohort will continue to learn from each other, from other ecosystem models as they develop their strategic plan.

Forever a thinker, learner, and optimist.