In the first post of this two post series we outlined some of the reasons why inclusion might be considered a wicked problem. In this second post we offer some thoughts on how design thinking, a deliberate and thoughtful solution-seeking approach for addressing complex problems (Brown, 2008), is well-suited to address unsolved challenges in inclusion.
- Inclusion looks different for nearly every child, and special education has long understood a good way to address this: individualised education plans for children. How would design thinking add to this? By including a layer of empathetic need finding in the process. When educators and allied health team members can reframe the way they observe children from a clinical expertise lens to include the broad question of “how do our children and families want to feel?” (an empathetic frame), interesting and innovative opportunities for improvement tend to present themselves.
- There is no one right way to “do” inclusion. Design thinkers embrace the notion that there are multiple ways to solve a problem and the best way to discover what works is by embracing radical collaboration and fostering a culture of prototyping. Radical collaboration refers to involving people in the solution process who are most impacted by a program, but are rarely asked to the table to discuss it (such as children and parents). A culture of prototyping refers to being open to trying new ideas on a small scale in safe spaces and obtaining feedback on whether they work or not. Prototyping helps prevent weak ideas which sound good from going to scale and helps good ideas get better.
- At every turn, challenges to inclusion are based on other previous problems. Design thinking asks “why” at every turn. Why does a particular situation exist? And what are the reasons for those reasons? By unpacking the “whys” of a situation one can discover the roots of an issue and design more meaningful solutions.
- Everyone feels we can’t fail. Design thinkers like to say “fail fast to succeed sooner.” What design thinking brings to the table is a process by which teams of educators, allied health professionals, parents and children can conceive of and test new solutions to longstanding challenges and let them safely fail miserably with everyone learning along the way.
In sum, inclusion, done successfully, requires a judicious mix of planning and implementation by a myriad of partners, from educators, to allied health professionals, to parents. To truly fulfill the promise of full access and participation of young children with disabilities in early childhood education and care services, we must be both purposeful and empathetic, collaborative and personalised, radical yet feasible. Design thinking, as a process and a mindset, may hold some of the keys to unlock these challenges.