Reflections on Reimagining: Eight things we learned from launching a design lab to prevent domestic violence

Andrew Kolbenschlag Jennifer Lin Reimagine Lab Fellows

Reimagine Lab started with the assumption that bringing together a diverse group of leaders from across California to apply human-centered design to domestic violence prevention would lead to promising new solutions.

When we announced the selection of Reimagine Lab fellows in early 2018, we were excited to test this assumption and to see what the Lab would spark within the fellows and within our own work. When we attended the first design lab in April 2018, the mood was cautiously optimistic; most of the fellows were just getting acquainted. United in their shared vision for the future — a California free from domestic violence — they, like us, were trying to anticipate what the next six months would bring.

At the final lab, just six months later, we saw a group transformed. The air buzzed with vibrant conversations — about the work of the day’s lab; the ideas they were still fine-tuning; their families and jobs; the get-togethers and events they were planning together; but mostly, about the work left to be done. It was obvious that these 16 people, who had come together around a vision for a better future and a desire to help make it a reality, had shared an important journey. And it wasn’t finished.

The experience has been a journey for our team at the Foundation, as well. Today, as we publish the Reimagine Lab Learning Report and a video that shares the Reimagine Lab experience — and as the next phase of Reimagine Lab begins to take shape (stay tuned!) — we invite you to share in our journey.

In that spirit, here are eight process lessons we learned from launching a design lab to break the cycle of domestic violence:

  1. Bring in outside perspectives to generate new ideas. Reimagine Lab was intentionally designed to engage leaders from outside of the domestic violence field in partnership with those who have made ending violence their life’s work. This meant we had to cast a wide net across different sectors, and the 16 fellows selected came from backgrounds in health care, the legal system, law enforcement, housing, media, LGBTQ advocacy, and domestic violence. The diversity of backgrounds and experiences was instrumental in the Lab’s success. Veterans of the field brought invaluable expertise and rooted the conversation in the lived experience of survivors and families impacted by violence. The “outsiders” brought new energy and ideas, and together, they explored new ways of thinking about a long-standing problem.
  2. Create a common starting place. Everyone came to Reimagine Lab for the right reasons — to be part of the solution — but our partners at Gobee Group quickly discovered that an implicit understanding of the problem wasn’t enough. An open discussion around power and privilege helped the fellows reach an explicit shared understanding of the dynamics behind domestic violence. A healthy push-and-pull between perspectives was at the core of the intention behind Reimagine Lab, but only with trust can it result in real-world solutions.
  3. Set a bold vision. The invitation of Reimagine Lab was to go big and allow for expansive thinking and solutioning beyond the day-to-day work. Envisioning a world free of domestic violence means reimagining our reality as we know it. The Lab aimed to create the space for fellows to think outside the box and make new connections — not only in the goal, but in how we work toward it. It’s challenging to set aside old ways of thinking. But we knew that this problem required bold solutions, and in this process, we realized that the best way to get there was by fully committing to a bold vision and clearly communicating that commitment to the fellows.
  4. Adopt a learning stance, and resist defining the outcomes. This was an uncomfortable process for us — and for the fellows. We knew that prescribing outcomes would defeat the purpose of Reimagine Lab, so we had to learn to be comfortable with uncertainty. Shaping the process and being open to outcomes empowered the fellows to take ownership of the ideas they produced. It wasn’t always our first instinct, but we learned to trust the process: to put the right people in the room and let them do the work. It is essential to be willing to learn from what goes well and not so well and to share the experience as part of co-creation.
  5. Engage users for resonant and real solutions. A key part of human-centered design is engaging with real people to understand how challenges show up in their lives. The fellows identified and reached out to specific “user groups,” made up of volunteers from communities relevant to the fellows’ projects (such as, black men and boys, incarcerated youth, and trans women). This helped the fellows to ground their solutions in the lived experiences of individuals and communities across California. However, this critical step raised the questions: Did we reach enough users? How can we reach those in groups we don’t yet have contact with? We are working to find new ways to engage communities to ensure that everyone has a voice. 
  6. Push beyond what is known to what is possible. This is the aim of human-centered design — and it also might be the hardest part to achieve. Some early ideas in Reimagine Lab focused on what would work and less on what might be possible. These ideas were more focused on programmatic interventions, and the Lab challenged fellows to push toward system-level changes. To encourage this shift, fellows were trained on strategic foresight, a discipline related to futures studies, involving alternative future exploration and analysis of trends.
  7. Know when to step back. As a funder, we entered Reimagine Lab with the intention of limiting our role in its execution. We selected the fellows and issued the charge: to develop promising new solutions to break the cycle of domestic and family violence. And then we stepped back. The challenge came in the nuance of the day-to-day running of the lab. We struggled at times with feeling disconnected from the work. We felt uncertain of how much feedback to give, out of concern for interfering with the process. We eventually struck a balance that felt right, and we’re still working with the fellows to create the appropriate role moving forward.
  8. Invest in leadership. In bringing together this group of fellows, we trusted them to develop innovative, new solutions. But what we didn’t realize at the beginning was that we were also investing in these participants as leaders and change agents. The fellows were energized by the lab and empowered by the connections they made with each other. We realized that every fellow leaving Reimagine Lab would now be an advocate; those returning to work outside the domestic violence movement would bring a domestic violence lens to their work, whether it be in tech, housing, or law enforcement. And all the fellows would take with them new experience in thinking outside-the-box and sparking disruption.

These lessons raise new questions and new opportunities for this work moving forward. We’re committed to the journey, and we are confident that working together, we will keep pushing forward to a California free from domestic and family violence.

We will be sharing more information about the next phase of Reimagine Lab in the coming weeks. To stay up-to-date on Reimagine Lab and other Foundation news, sign up for email updates.

The insights above were drawn from our experiences in the Lab and reflections with the Foundation’s Reimagine Lab team. As part of the Breaking the Cycle of Domestic Violence initiative, the team has worked closely with Gobee Group to make Reimagine Lab a reality. We’re excited to share our journey with you. Stay tuned for more Reimagine Lab updates in the coming weeks and months.

The Reimagine Lab team: 

Lucia Corral Peña, Senior Program Officer

Jennifer Lin, Program Officer

Apana, Program Manager

Andrew Kolbenschlag, Senior Public Affairs Associate

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