University Economic Development Association

The second session of the UEDA Ecosystems Design Network (EDN) workshop series empowered ecosystem members to begin transforming initial insights, learnings, and “How Might We?” questions from the prior week’s Insight Session into viable solutions, prototypes, and early implementation strategies. Mirroring the prior session’s format, UEDA Ecosystems members shifted between sustained ecosystem-specific conversations within their breakout rooms to guided “main room” sessions where cross-ecosystem observations, insights, and questions were voiced to enhance the inventiveness, effectiveness, and design approaches of all ecosystems involved. Day Two’s Ideation Session also featured presentations from individual members of the UEDA EDN Steering Committee, who spoke at greater length on the subjects of human-centered design, “Ecosystem Journeys,” incremental progress, and creative ways to solicit constructive feedback while prototyping ecosystem design ideas.

Insights Recap & HMW Questions

UEDA Vice President, Jim Woodell, began the day’s session by revisiting the human-centered design principle of “nonlinear paths,” assuring participants that revisiting earlier steps in the design process is welcomed and, at times, advisable before proceeding to next steps. Woodell also reminded members that Ecosystem Miro boards remain permanently accessible to all participants beyond the conclusion of the January webinar series and should be considered an ongoing and flexible resource for compiling insights, ideation, and strategies for implementation.

Brainwriting Brainstorm

In response to a prompt from the UEDA Steering Committee, all ten ecosystems entered Day Two’s Ideation Session with one feasible and potentially impactful “How Might We?” question to address in the course of the day’s activities. With this shared preparation in mind, Woodell invited members to participate in a “Brainwriting Brainstorm,” in which ideas should “no longer be conceptual or insight-driven,” but concrete, actionable, “deliverable,” and possible to design, build, or create.

Across various ecosystems, members focused on generating action-driven notes and tasks related to addressing their “How Might We?” question(s). In one ecosystem breakout room, action-oriented notes like “Create a searchable website of assets” and “Coordinate with state and national partners” were distilled over the 30-minute session into a host of smaller-scale and incremental tasks like “Create a LinkedIn group,” “Offer video highlights of partners,” and even community- or region-specific outreach tasks. Other ecosystems developed concrete and action-oriented tasks surrounding ways to showcase student entrepreneurship, develop small business financing programs, and address other community-building concerns.

As breakout sessions concluded and members returned to the main room, Woodell reemphasized the human-centered design mindset of ongoing iteration, adding that “constraints aren’t necessarily bad, because they force the selection of only one or two options, or the pursuit of only one key piece of a project,” maximizing focus, impact, and efficacy.

“Gut Check” Activity

Transitioning to the next session, Woodell asked participants to focus on constraints and barriers within their ecosystem. Citing one ecosystem which had already articulated the constraints and barriers of “Funding” and “Scaffolding,” Woodell stressed that by honestly assessing possible barriers, ecosystems can actually focus and narrow their designs to implement a practical and pursuable idea.

In one UEDA ecosystem breakout room, barriers were discussed in relation to the goal of creating a single website or online forum where ecosystem development work could be housed. Various members addressed the challenges of choosing a platform, determining moderators/content contributors, and finding ways to keep the content dynamic, compelling, and valuable to “key players,” entrepreneurs, and leaders across domains. By addressing possible constraints and limitations with respect to platforms, hosting, moderation, institutional sponsorship, etc. the ecosystem – and others addressing divergent ecosystem concerns – arrived at a more crystallized view of necessary next steps and outreach.

Convergence and Other Possibilities

In a new session focused on “convergence and other possibilities,” Woodell led EDN participants through a series of unique and creative methods to narrow their emerging design ideas. Woodell showcased ways to combine or integrate multiple ideas into a single project, as well as opportunities to “get visual” by using maps, flow charts, graphics and other collateral to “create a concept” and gauge receptivity from stakeholders, who could be invited to participate in co-creation. Woodell also emphasized the value of “developing design principles” – a set of constraints that guide action – to ensure that work remains within the scope and capacity of each ecosystem and uses connections and resources to make real, measurable, publicly verifiable progress.

Prototyping, Implementation, and Beyond

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Turning consideration towards “What Happens After Today,” Woodell argued that the greatest upside of human-centered design thinking is that it facilitates ongoing opportunities for refinement and prototyping. Even when prototyping programming or an initiative, Woodell remarked, “you still develop concrete materials”: a storyboard, PowerPoint presentation, a journey map, relational map, a set of video profiles, or an interview series. Regardless of the approach each ecosystem embraces, the “goal is to try different pieces of your idea individually” to test viability, stakeholder response, public response, or some other meaningful metric.

In the final main room discussion regarding prototyping, Woodell encouraged EDN participants to remember that “prototypes are low-resolution projects,” which simply need to possess enough “minimum viable product” to convey important information to evaluators and give the ecosystem answers to its questions regarding the prototype’s effectiveness and appeal. Pivoting to considerations of rapid prototyping and implementation, members of the EDN Steering Committee expressed the desire to develop more programming in 2021 to assist ecosystems with prototyping and implementation as a continuation of the curriculum. Woodell reminded workshop attendees that the prototyping phase often involves absorbing feedback and embracing the prospect of returning to discovery or ideation phases when it’s ultimately beneficial to the ecosystem design.

In the day’s final breakout session on Prototyping, Implementation, and Next Steps, each ecosystem spent twenty minutes formulating actionable next steps. In one ecosystem interested in developing an ecosystem message board, next steps included creating a comprehensive list of assets, determining membership types, resource guides, and determining the best presentation/organization method to present ecosystem design plans to stakeholders (journey map, process flow chart, or otherwise). Other ecosystems considered the creation of a 3-D map or other dynamic resource archives to link and inform stakeholders, community organizations, and entrepreneurs.

Next Steps and Ecosystem Chronicles

After thanking UEDA Ecosystems Design Network members for their participation in the day’s workshop, Woodell led members through a list of next steps designed to inform and inspire prototype building, the solicitation of stakeholder feedback, and early implementation. Woodell encouraged members to pursue the following approach, using the cumulative work from both webinars as the foundation for action:

  •         Converge on one idea or concept
  •         Break it down into elements
  •         Determine which element needs prototyping
  •         Determine a format for your prototype
  •         Create your prototype
  •         Test your prototype
  •         Embrace additional discovery or additional ideation
  •         Implementation

Concluding the Ideation Session, UEDA’s Manager of Strategic Engagement, Margo Fliss, highlighted the value of incremental, iterative progress in design work, recommending the book, The Mom Test, as a valuable resource for inspiring innovative thinking regarding the solicitation of honest, constructive feedback from individuals or organizations invested in ecosystem success.

After expressing the hope that UEDA will continue to offer substantive work in assisting ecosystems to develop design models, prototypes, and implementation strategies that strengthen their regions and communities, Woodell invited ecosystem facilitators to send “Ecosystem Chronicles” videos capturing their experiences, insights, and takeaways from the webinar series. Multiple ecosystems interested in continuing the conversation, remained in the main room following the official conclusion of the workshop. Woodell and other members of the UEDA EDN Steering Committee assisted EDN members by sharing further resources related to ecosystem mapping and mission model canvases for use in the prototyping phase.

Click here to learn more about the first day of UEDA’s Ecosystems Design Network workshop series, or view video testimonials from participants.

If you’re interested in participating in future sessions or becoming a member of the UEDA Ecosystems Design Network, learn more here, or contact us to register your ecosystem in pursuit of strong, interconnected, and equitable regional development.


UEDA Member University Participants