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Civic Research

Mapping a Problem Space

Image Credit: created by Jonathan Fuentes

D4SD is a civic design initiative hosted by the UCSD Design Lab's Protolab that brings together innovators, mentors, experts, and citizens to address San Diego’s most challenging issues through human-centered design. These ideas are later shared in a summit where people can share and bring their ideas to life. 
This year’s theme was “How to make San Diego more sustainable”. Within this theme there were 4 subcategories for project submissions: Health Mobility, Environment and Housing. For an amatuer designers these ideas are very open ended and it can be difficult to create a solid concept to ideate around. This led to the development of my civic research team. Our goal was to create a resource for participants to introduce them to local problems and how other places have addressed similar issues, to start their creative process.


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I was tasked with filling out the Mobility section of our problem space. After interviewing students, analyzing past projects, and reading a variety of articles, my team noticed there were always recurring issues within the 4 subcategories.

For example within Mobility there were always articles relating to The Last Mile, Equitable Access, Autonomous Vehicles, and Safer roadways. So after explaining what the issue was, I created some examples of How Might We statements with links to resources that could illustrate the concept in more detail. All of this was organized into our team's Wiki and we spent the next few months discussing the scope of our project and the resources we had in common across subcategories to link our pages together.


Originally we intended to share the Wiki page with the participants; however we realized that this was one of many technologies D4SD was using. Instead we opted to create a new page on the D4SD website to consolidate our findings. Below you can see an overview of the final product

While our participants did engage with the resource later in the competition, we had to push tracking engagement aside as the challenges of COVID-19 arose. This led to us developing a virtual experience for D4SD, that consisted of 4 Design Jams (aka workshops to walk beginners through the design process) and a final virtual Summit where everyone was able to present their ideas. I helped by co-hosting the Design Jams’ breakout rooms, which allowed 5-8 participants to collaborate and ask for my guidance as a Design student.


After D4SD had a successful summit, my lab’s PI Professor Steven Dow asked me to be an intern this past summer to follow up on this experience. The goal is to write a research paper that reflects on the tools created for the virtual event and its implications for the future of the Human Centered Design process. My role started with me assisting in interviews of participants, mentors, and subject matter experts. Then I conducted an analysis of these interviews by correcting transcriptions and making thorough annotations of the work.

With this data, a few post Docs in my lab have plans to write and submit a paper on the experience. I have learned so much from my time at the Protolab and am incredibly grateful to have had mentors who have given me hands on design research experience.