A Grand Challenge Design Summit Unites Participants, Catalyzes Thrust

Three goals pack these Touchstone Events with power.

A Design Summit brings together like-minded organizations and leaders who will embrace the Grand Challenge and spread it. This event is more like a retreat than a typical conference. It is the first gathering of your tribe.

Unlike a conference, where getting out of the hotel and seeing the local sites is a welcome diversion for road warriors, a retreat seeks to keep people together so they can go through the experience collectively—a Design Summit has insularity.  The intent is to create a time away from day-to-day life where a new movement can be launched. It should create a container  where insights can emerge, where innovation and possibility are in the air. In such a space, the electricity of new and vital relationships permeates the sessions and hope is cultivated. Most importantly, all of the 10 Key Elements of a Social Movement are in full swing.

The goals of a Design Summit are three-fold:

  1. Frame the crisis: What is the wicked problem we are addressing, why, and how? Is this the right strategy to address it?
  2. Introduce the strategy: Discuss with a wide array of stakeholders for feedback at this early stage of the Grand Challenge.
  3. Launch the movement: Grow the impact of participants, whether they are just launching their own work or are operating independent mature initiatives, this event should amplify and accelerate their work.
Just as thousands of individual birds come together to form a powerful mass moving in unison, in a Design Summit disparate individuals and groups are all inspired to move in the same direction towards a vitally important common goal.

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Design Summit = CATALYST

If there is one word that defines a Design Summit, it is CATALYST. Design Summits precipitate a higher order of impact, uniting all the participants in a unified thrust that brings together every dimension of the Grand Challenge Systems Model for Change. It moves every participant forward, giving them new tools, new relationships, and new models to accelerate and improve their efficacy. At the same time, the summit unites them through the common agenda for greater collective impact.


The Four Ws of Every Design Summit

WHEN? A Design Summit normally takes place over two days, with an overnight to sleep on tough issues. The subconscious has an opportunity to contribute through dreams and the insights that arise. That overnight experience provides a space where big ideas can be born, with shared meals a catalyst to human bonding and thoughtful exchange.  These extra-event activities should take place close to where the daytime activities are, so groups can work together in the evenings on joint projects. No minivans back to different hotels at 5pm!

WHERE? This crowd runs on passion and impact, not luxury.  It requires a retreat setting that lends itself to groups small and large coming together in both an organized and intentional way but also spontaneously, especially after hours. Better a place with, yes, all the basics but sparse amenities: What excites this crowd is working together on what matters most, not 5-star accommodations and a spa. Without frills, the most valued aspects of your Design Summit will be the time spent together.

WHY? The Design Summit is purpose-built to fuel the spirit, lift the heart, and create bonds among all participants as well as collect important feedback from stakeholders who view it from their perspective. Value comes, too, in the actual progress you make while together that you could not achieve otherwise, and in the serendipitous conversations among those who care deeply, in the spirit of activists sharing a joint cause. In the pressure cooker of a Design Summit, these relationships forged while together transform into passion to do something altogether new and meaningful, in the weeks and months ahead..

WHAT? The Design Summit program includes participatory briefings on how the Grand Challenge works along with opportunities for participants to provide feedback, including a focus on equity, metrics, funding strategies for partners, and communication and outreach to grow the movement. By participatory I mean that these are not just information-dissemination sessions. Meaningful content is presented, but each presentation leads to discussion in which participants are encouraged to engage, share their perspectives, challenge or add to what has been shared, and generate joint passion in addressing the issues. The discussions should always be open-ended and longer than the presentations.

The program also includes opportunities for cross-promotion of partners’ activities, leadership development, case studies on efficacy, investigations into how to work together to create mutually reinforcing activities among all participants.  New initiatives develop that contribute to and accelerate the larger effort.

The agenda includes community-building exercises, working together in close quarters on topics of great personal and professional relevance, meeting after dinner in small groups, and learning by helping each other overcome the day-to-day challenges each faces. Participants spontaneously cultivate new projects during the retreat, including new working groups that address important opportunities and challenges that have come to light.

Touchstone Events
The Design Summit is one kind of Touchstone Event. Note that it is a different animal than the much smaller Design Studio, which happens at an earlier stage and has a more preliminary purpose. I use Touchstone Events throughout the Grand Challenges I facilitate.

Let’s Make the Abstract Concrete

So what do some of these abstract elements look like in concrete examples? Let’s take three fundamental principles and put some flesh on the bones.

First, going into a Design Summit, organizers must get everyone aligned with the Common Agenda, that central organizing principle that drives the Grand Challenge forward. For Stop Stigma Together, the Huntsman Mental Health Institute’s Grand Challenge, the common agenda is to eliminate mental health and substance abuse disorder stigma nationwide. For Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation the common agenda is to measurably improve the health of America’s four million nurses and, by extension, the country’s.

Second, inviting the appropriate partners to the Design Summit is critical, those who can not just extend the work of your Grand Challenge but run with it. For Stop Stigma Together, in attendance were CEOs and staff from the nation’s largest associations of psychologists, psychiatrists, and social workers; key organizations like The Human Rights Campaign, smaller NGOs that had demonstrated efficacy in their chosen fields like Shatterproof, the Jed Foundation, and Black Girls Smile; and policy shops that included The National Council for Mental Wellbeing and Inseparable, plus leaders from marginalized communities. While many of these had been involved in the much smaller Design Studio, they had also all determined who among their wider circle needed to be part of the solution–and thus be part of the Design Summit.

Finally, know what level of support and resources will be needed to maximize the impact of your efforts. What I mean is, match the invitation list to the stakeholders required for the initiative to be a success. In the case of Stop Stigma Together, it is a national initiative. Therefore, we need organizations that are operating at the national level. It is going to require a significant public relations campaign; therefore, we need an organization like the Ad Council, and they are included. There is a historic bifurcation in the United States between mental health and substance use disorders, therefore, we are going to need leaders from both categories present and we are going to have to be explicit about it.

If you’re curious about what such pre-planning looks like in the nuts and bolts, here is the Pre-meeting prep material for the Stop Stigma Together Grand Challenge.

If you’re curious about what kinds of things happen at such an event, this is the actual agenda from the three-day Grand Challenge which had more than 170 participants.

Now you’ve seen what goes into this important aspect of the Grand Challenge. The Design Summit is really the launch pad for all future action. What will your Design Summit look like? Who will attend? Hopefully this gives you some ideas so that you can adapt your challenge to this model.

Solving social problems is inherently SOCIAL-it happens in community. I’m looking for researchers, academicians, and those on the front lines who are battling overwhelming issues. The community will include leaders in all aspects of society: nonprofits, corporations, government agencies, independent agents, and thought leaders.

If you’re passionate about Grand Challenges or would like to be, visit my Medium account, where I am publishing on Grand Challenges. Let’s work together to address these sticky, systemic, complex, and wicked issues once and for all, for the sake of future generations of life on Earth.

Do you want to know more?
Email me – seth@visionaryleadership.com.

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