Picture this: 40 college students sitting perfectly poised behind perfectly placed name tents around a perfectly round table. Now picture this: forty college students scattered about a room throwing post-it notes with scribbles for handwritting onto a bunch of walls, shouting out ideas.
The latter is the approach ASBSU has done its best to employ at our Student Assembly meetings this year in hopes of inspiring big ideas to solve big problems on campus this year. It’s a five-step process of creative problem solving called “design-thinking.”
Our Student Assembly team is made up of roughly 40 Boise State students (both undergraduate and graduate representatives) from different colleges and organizations across campus and together, they work to represent the student voice as a whole. Given the diversity of this team’s lived experiences, they help make empathizing—the first step in the design-thinking process—a bit easier. We start by gathering insights about our users (students) and spend a lot of time (a few months in-fact) getting to know and understand what they want and need from their college experience. We interview them, ask for their stories and learn about the students we serve. Then, we bring all these findings back, and based on what we’ve gathered we enter the next phase of design-thinking and begin to define the problem. The outcome of this is something we call “how might we statements.” For example,“how might we provide students on campus with more fresh food options?,” “how might we help students to better succeed in and outside of the classroom?”or “how might we serve the student mental health epidemic?” These help us to narrow our focus for the next step in design-thinking which is to ideate. Ideation is where we generate as many ideas as we can to answer our how might we statements, the idea is to transition from identifying a problem to finding a solution. During this phase, we withhold judgment and throw down as many ideas as we can scribble onto our post-it notes.
What’s next for our team is the final two steps of the design-thinking process: prototype and test. In coming weeks, our Student Assembly team will create a prototype of their solution—something that our users can interact and respond to—perhaps it’s an experience, a play or a model of their idea. Finally, our Student Assembly members will test their prototypes to solicit feedback and continue to ask the question “why,” infusing empathy the entire process so that we never stop learning about our users- after all, we’re designing for them!
By now, my hope is that you’re starting to think that your student government team does a lot more than just sit around a big perfect circular table and deliberate. Sure, we do a lot of that too—we hear bills and resolutions and help sponsor on-campus projects—but we’re always interested in how we can better listen to the student voice in order to tranform it from insight into action.
At the end of the day, our Student Assembly team does a lot of the work that our nine executive officers cannot do alone: they seek out the student voice and they volunteer their time coming up with ideas to better serve students. This year, after intensive empathy work, they have chosen to tackle mental health, food insecurity, diversity and inclusion and the idea of offering an on-campus farmers market to students. We hope the change from a strict Robert’s Rule meeting to a design-thinking workshop continues to inspire our Student Assembly team to feel a sense of empowerment, contribution and responsibility to the roles they applied for and serve diligently and compassionately.