Danny Hearn

Design mentoring and organisational change in the charity sector

This is the story of how I joined DOT PROJECT and bought design thinking, service design and developed a relational mindset to 100s of charities. I co-created design themed support programmes and mentored charities to solve complex problems and develop their confidence and capability to innovate.

Responding to a changing world

Developing a learning experience

While Design thinking is a powerful toolkit and methodology, I learnt that sustainable change for organisational capability is only possible when creating space for relationships and roles to be understood and appreciated. The relational lens was critical to clearing the path and creating a superpowered team that is ready for the organisational change that design thinking would bring. 

A relationally minded approach that resulted in

  • Co-developing design thinking sessions paired with a relational coach.  
  • Relationally minded spaces for organisations to both understand their roles, relationships and design practice.
  • Modelling behaviours in collaboration, efficacy with a shared understanding of audiences, challenges and needs

Design mentoring and modelling behaviours

What needed strengthening in an organisation for design and service innovation was always slightly different. For charities earlier on in the journey, we focused on creating a shared understanding and mindset shift in how they think about design. I would need to develop a more thoughtful approach than just rolling out the standard design thinking material that the commercial sector uses.

Charities have different needs and are earlier on in their understanding and exposure to design practices. In some cases, they were doing a zoom call for the first time with us. They were often unfamiliar with collaborative working and had evolved into a siloed way of working that was almost incompatible with the type of change needed. When redesigning services, the changes necessary often cut across multiple silos and areas of the overall service. Therefore to avoid creating a disjointed and poor experience, I mentored organisations to develop a shared understanding collaboratively.

Learning experience

At DOT PROJECT, we invested in developing our learning and mentoring by working with a learning experience designer (LXD). We designed new principles to guide the delivery of remote sessions, supporting me to adapt and deepen my mentoring and learning sessions.  

 A summary of outcomes from this effort was

  • Created learning outlines of each session, considering what ‘aha’ moments or varied spaces of thought I needed the participants to experience. 
  • Developed engaging content and video material with ‘microteaches’ to be sent ahead or after working sessions. Ensuring alignment and focus on ‘doing’ rather than presenting in sessions. These videos would cover the basic principles of design thinking and user research. The tone and style were straightforward and distilled the essence of the activities in an accessible way.
  • Mixing collaborative periods, check-ins, music, breakout spaces 
  • Being thoughtful about utilising session time vs working asynchronously.  
A sample screenshot from a video of Danny presenting a case study to showcase the content i've created
A sample screenshot from a video of Danny presenting a case study to showcase the content i've created
A sample screenshot from a video of Danny presenting a case study to showcase the content i've created

Video snapshots of content and material shared with session participants.

Interactive learning sessions and design sprints

Developing learning experiences for remote sessions meant utilising  various collaborative whiteboards.  For some charities, working on a whiteboard for the first time, was a big step into something different. I created structured sessions that blended design activities, content and reflective moments.  These sessions would be spaced out over a few weeks allowing the client to digest and work on design research activities outside of the session.

The focus varied from developing a user-centric mindset, working on a specific problem, mapping audiences and services. In some instances, followed up by empowering clients with the confidence and knowledge to undertake their own research, that the client was mentored to undertake.  I helped them make sense of their research, generate insights and start to form informed assumptions. These activities laid the ground for ideation and prototyping sessions.

image to visualise an online work-board workshop space

Interactive Mural board with content and interactive exercises to help a team reflect and learn what user research is and would mean for their organisation.

Interactive learning workbooks

When working with cohorts to accompany the design thinking learning sessions, I developed a series of interactive ‘workbooks’. The workbooks could be used both in a session but also downloaded or shared to continue outside of the session. It covered a range of content, concepts and practical exercises designed to guide participants from identifying audiences, mapping journeys, understanding problems and ideating solutions.

snapshot of workbook 1
snapshot of workbook 2
snapshot of workbook 3
snapshot of workbook content
snapshot of workbook content
snapshot of workbook content
Show don't tell content
snapshot of content i've created

Interactive workbook with content and activities

Different roles and spaces

I played several supporting roles within DOT PROJECT and wore many hats.  I often jumped into space when I could see what was missing or needed.

Practical roles

Service Design practitioner
Supporting mapping services and audiences for strategy and product development

Content and learning designer
Designing infographics and creating video content to support various design mentorship programmes.

Employee experience designer
Conducting research and experience maps for onboarding and reflecting on employee experience. Interviewing members to unpick and understand in more detail how to improve internal processes

Group Facilitator and guide
Facilitating thoughtful group sessions with charities, cohorts and the internal team for business development. 

Relational roles

Disruptor and challenger
Bringing forward alternative views on product development and strategy pushed the collective to take a more iterative and evidence-based approach.

Technologist and innovator
Putting forward new ideas with technology and process to improve working methods, creating efficiencies and better ways to do things.

Listener and reflector
Deeply listening and reflecting on what I’ve heard and sensemaking flowing conversations.

Space holder
Knowing when to speak and when to hold the silence and sit in discomfort.

Curious friend
Bringing curiosity and asking questions to help people reflect and draw their conclusions.

My final reflections

I didn’t know what I would encounter when pivoting from 17 odd years in the commercial sector into the charity sector. I’m pleased to say that it has been a profound learning experience for me. The people I worked with, often with lived experiences of the cause they are supporting, do phenomenal work that is very humbling.  Being connected with fellow practitioners and the team at DOT PROJECT with unique perspectives and different ways of being have helped me develop my practice.

Thoughtful and relevant mentoring
While the experience I had would prove invaluable, I first had to learn and understand how to adapt and meet charities where they were on their journey. Simply rolling out a pre-packaged approach with insider design thinking content or material wouldn’t make sense to most small charities. I struggled to transition from commercial sector project work in 3-6 month blocks to creating change through mentoring teams in only a handful of online sessions. Small charities varied in confidence and skill in technology, which meant I needed to learn to respond thoughtfully. These challenges empowered me to simplify my practice as a research and designer. I was finding ways to distil the process into something accessible and delivering it in an inclusive way.

Developing new roles
While there is less space to go as deep into design, there was more space to listen, hear and meet people where they were. What I learnt from working in this way was that if we wanted to make a sustainable impact across the organisation, we had to hold a reflective space for listening. In previous roles, I’ve created change with powerful design tools, persuasion and sheer determination.

The work with DOT PROJECT has matured and deepened my understanding of organisational change. I now have a deeper appreciation for sustainable and lasting change, creating space to listen and understand what roles and relationships drive people. In previous experiences, I played roles such as ‘The disruptor’, ‘The challenger’, ‘The defender’, which was divisive but also impactful. In DOT PROJECT, I have been developing new roles from the listener, reflector, space holder and curious friend.

I particularly want to thank Cat, Annie, Kirsty and Alex who worked with me in what was a rewarding, thoughtful and meaningful time and space.