Ethics Lab hosts ‘designer turned activist’ Krystal Arnett Henson

Krystal Arnett Henson visited Ethics Lab last week to speak with students about her experience as a “designer turned activist.” Henson is the founder of WalkingDot, a DC area program that teaches human-centered design to everyday citizens. WalkingDot teaches problem solving through empathy and design and connects volunteers with their local communities—mobilizing and empowering individuals to use their talents for social change.

Students were most interested in Henson’s recent work to create ways for citizens to easily become involved in the growing activist movements (even if they considered themselves introverts as Henson herself does).

First she created Postcards From The People to encourage citizens to make sure their voices are heard. The online resource provides postcard templates that citizens can use to write and mail their state and federal representatives about issues they care about. Henson partnered with artists and designers to create the artwork for the postcards, which are free to print at home.

Volunteer artists and designers also team up with Henson to create event and issue-specific illustrations for the postcards, including a recent campaign supporting career officials in the EPA.

After quickly becoming known as “the postcard lady” in local grassroots circles, Henson connected with two other local activists to start Postcards For Virginia, an effort that aims to get out the Democratic vote in Virginia for the recent statewide election.

Postcards For Virginia started in May of this year, in anticipation of the June 13 primary. The initial round of postcards were general “get out the vote” messages that didn’t endorse any specific Democratic candidate. Leading up to the June election, approximately 400 volunteers mailed 7,200 postcards to fellow voters. When the June election broke the Democratic turnout record by 220,000 voters they knew there was a real opportunity.

“People are paying more attention,” Henson said of the June election. “We need to reach out to these folks. If we don’t engage people now, nothing is going to change.”

The team utilized the growing grassroots network by attending meetings to share the project as well as using Facebook and Twitter to connect with volunteer writers. The project quickly became a way for people locally and even across the country to connect in person or online as a community. Organically the project grew beyond their expectations and in the end Postcards for Virginia’s volunteers personally wrote and paid for more than 136,000 “get out the vote” postcards leading up to the Virginia general election this November.

Henson spoke to our students too soon after the historic outcomes of the November 7 election to offer specific insights, but her team is working with the social and behavioral scientists at CitizenBe to conduct a research study on the impact of the project.

Ethics Lab students are working on a project using social media and animated slides to create five “postcards.” Students asked Henson about her path from professional designer to activist, and sought out advice and insight on how to best communicate their messages – particularly those with a call to action.

“Find a way to connect—quickly. You’ve got five slides to tell a story but only one to make me care enough to click. Lead with the most powerful thing you have and end with how I can do something.”

In addition to her work as an activist, Henson has been a practicing designer, across multiple disciplines, for over 20 years. She has taught graduate level design at the George Washington University’s Corcoran School as well as the Corcoran College of Art + Design where she served as Chair of the Interior Design department.

“You don’t come to Ethics Lab to take a class. You come to change the world.”

Former student and all-around rockstar Nandini Mullaji addresses the Georgetown community about Ethics Lab at Think BIG, a TED-style student speaker event.

Empathy Mapping for #tbt

Adapted from the 2014 run of our Introduction to Bioethics MOOC, this guided exercise walks you through empathy mapping, a collaborative tool individuals and teams alike can use to gain a deeper insight into the wide variety of ways in which a person might interact with an experience. In this particular exercise, you’ll get into the head space of a patient whose consent is required for a particular medical treatment–and work through what that patient might be thinking, feeling, hearing, saying, and doing if they were in this medical situation.

Check out the link above for step-by-step instructions on trying this exercise yourself. Share reflections, pictures or audio of your session or your conclusions, and more with us by tweeting @EthicsLab, or sharing on our Facebook page–we want to know how it goes!

Ethics Lab to Host IBC Post Session on June 11

The lab team can’t wait to welcome a new cohort of participants from this summer’s Intensive Bioethics Course to the lab for a research ethics post-session.

Facilitated by lab designers and led by lab co-founder and Director of the Kennedy Institute of Ethics, Maggie Little, the session will be held from 9am–1pm. It is capped at nine participants (just three spots remaining for this year!) and last year’s cohort was a good mix of physicians, clinicians, and ethics board and IRB leaders.

We tweak the format a bit each year, but both the morning and early afternoon sessions involve some lecture material on the ethics of clinical research, and collaborative creative sessions led by our designers. There is no need to come prepared with a specific ethical quandary; we provide prompts for discussion, though those discussions are always enriched by learning more about the lived experiences of the professionals who participate in the session.

You can read a bit more about last year’s session here!

At the end of February, core team member Nico Staple traveled to San Francisco. A highlight of the week was a “field trip” to the Exploratorium, a hands-on museum of science, art, and human perception. A focus of the visit was the museum’s Tinkering Studio, best described by the sign at its entrance:

TINKERING

Think with Your Hands

Making things and developing ideas by hand helps us construct understanding. Slow down, settle in, and make something personally meaningful—from playful contraptions to surprising connections between mechanical systems and natural phenomena.

Inside are custom-made tables, space dividers constructed of poster tubes, stop-action animation stations, an enormous ball maze built with only toothpicks and glue, a dedicated workshop, and much more. One of the coolest items in the Tinkering Studio is a vending machine that dispenses an assortment of crafting supplies in quantities suitable for the everyday tinkerer. As the studio says in a blog post on the machine, “Tinkering is all about using what you have around and messing about with everyday materials, but for some projects, you need a special little bit of something that is hard to find.”

Nico and team were fortunate to get a special tour of the museum by Mike Petrich, Director of the Making Collaborative. Mike explained the philosophy of the Tinkering Studio and its role in encouraging visitors to slow down and transition from the chaos and the highly stimulating main exhibit floor to engage with ideas and materials personally and in a tactile way. This sentiment is echoed in this passage from the studio’s website:

The Tinkering Studio is based on a constructivist theory of learning which asserts that knowledge is not simply transmitted from teacher to learner, but actively constructed by the mind of the learner. Later, constructionism suggested that learners are more likely to develop new insights and understandings while actively engaged in making an external artifact.

This philosophy tracks well with the studio model we use in Ethics Lab classes, where students move fluidly back and forth between raw content assimilation and creating a tangible thing that is valuable in the real world.

The lab team drew great inspiration from the Exploratorium and is eager to continue tinkering back on campus!

As a continuation of the partnership that kicked off in June 2015, Ethics Lab hosted students and teachers from Kent Place School and Trinity Hall for a two day Ethics in Action design jam to develop projects that tackle ethical issues related to food.

Over the course of two cupcake-fueled days, students presented personas, mapped persona ecosystems, prototyped products and services, and responded to critiques.

The design jam was a blast — check out more photos and coverage on Storify.

A snapshot from EthicsLab’s week in New Jersey, helping to lead Ethics in Action at Kent Place Schools. On day one, teams of participating high school students are introduced to design thinking, ethical decision-making frameworks, and some core issues in the ethics of food.

 

image credit: Lisa Yokana

The studio learning method we’ve been developing at Georgetown asks students to create authentic products for authentic end-users, not just because that work has the potential to create and impact in the world beyond the classroom, but also because that work, if done well, requires students to engage in deep research and exploration of the project context. It’s a powerful way of learning.

Nico Staple, explaining the studio model to an audience of secondary school educators at Kent Place School in Summit, NJ

We are so excited to be partnering with the Ethics Institute at Kent Place Schools in Summit, NJ, on a new program for high school students and educators called Ethics in Action.

Selected high schools will send teams of students and teachers first to Kent Place, for a four-day summer immersion internship, and later to Georgetown, for a two-day intensive session in the lab. These students will learn, work and become Design Fellows, ready to engage in solutions to actual challenges faced in their respective school communities around the issue of food.

Read more »

On May 28th, 2014, nearly forty high-schoolers from Kent Place School visited EthicsLab. In just two hours teams conceived, designed, and produced seven short videos on a range of bioethics topics aimed at specific audiences. Check out this incredible student video on autonomy!