Designing for Equitable Social Change

By Kaley Blask

When we began our journey with the Savannah community this quarter in partnership with Emergent Savannah, one of the first resources we turned to was a report by Design Impact titled Metathemes: Designing for Equitable Social Change. We also had the great pleasure of interviewing the Metathemes authors at Design Impact via Skype in the early stages of our project. Design Impact is a non-profit social innovation firm based in Cincinnati, OH that specializes in collaborative problem solving through a design lens. What this means is that Design Impact works with community leaders, government officials, and nonprofit organizations to address complex problems (such as hunger, homelessness, and access to healthcare) with the help of the design process. Design Impact’s mission statement is this: “We collaborate with passionate people, bring design and innovation practice to the table, and work together to design a better world.”

Metathemes: Designing for Equitable Social Change is a report that Design Impact compiled after recognizing recurring themes in their community work. The metathemes they present serve as a call to action for all those who are working to create equitable change, and they challenge community leaders to ask themselves “How does this metatheme show up in the work I do?” and “What changes can I make as a leader?” The six metathemes they present are as follows:

  1. Bridge Norms
     “Value me for who I am, not who I’m told to be. Challenge me to grow.”
  2. Go Beyond Feedback
     “Move from community voice to community leadership.”
  3. Feed my Soul
     “Tap into my passion, tap into my power.”
  4. Redesign the System
     “Decrease system complexity to increase engagement and dignity.
  5. Give Room to Heal
     “Consider my whole self, including my trauma and history.”
  6. Keep Promises 
    Show up every time. Deliver on your word.”

After reading through this report as a class, we asked ourselves “How might we incorporate these metathemes into our work with the Savannah community?” Initially, we used the metathemes as a way of analyzing our 100 Resilient Cities case study research (read more about that here). The metathemes emerged in all of the case studies we looked into, whether it be city-wide roundtable meetings (Bridge Norms) or zoning amendments to allow for community gardens (Feed my Soul).

After a few weeks of further research and brainstorming, we then returned to the mission statement that we created during the first week of the quarter, which is as follows: “We are leveraging our collective skills to empower the people of Savannah to spark greater civic engagement and foster community resilience.” With this statement as our driving force, we generated over 100 ideas about the ways in which we could work with the Savannah community this quarter that would leave a lasting ripple effect after we are gone.

After selecting our best ideas, we returned to the metathemes to ask ourselves “which of these have we met through our solutions?” For us, we felt that we focused on ‘Bridge Norms’, ‘Go Beyond Feedback’, ‘Feed my Soul’, and ‘Give Room to Heal’. Our final four solutions empower members of the community to express themselves creatively, to build relationships with their neighbors, to become more aware of the community they live in, and to inspire them to become more involved in their community in the future. Stay tuned for our next blog post where we’ll tell you all about our final ideas, and how we tested them out in Savannah.

If you want to learn more about Design Impact, visit their website here and, if you want to check out the entire Metathemes: Designing for Equitable Social Change by Design Impact, you can access it here.We’d like to thank Ramsey Ford and Kate Hanisian from Design Impact for taking the time to talk with our team about their work – what you’re doing at Design Impact has been immensely inspiring to us this quarter.

Leave a Reply