Design thinking is a human-centered process for understanding and solving problems.

For years, enterprises have used design thinking to create and deliver innovative products/services and become more flexible and responsive to the needs of consumers.

Fortunately, the principles of design thinking (researching, problem definition, ideating, prototyping and iterating) can be applied to virtually every scenario, including membership associations.

Design thinking comes from the iterative use of design principles, which will help you understand what members and attendees expect and need from your meetings. Applying design thinking to association meetings can transform them from lists of activities/agendas to fully immersive experiences that drive ongoing engagement, professionalism, and learning.

The following steps will help you apply design thinking to your next meeting.

Step 1: Empathize with members

man speaking in group meeting sessionEmpathy is the first step in design thinking. This involves consulting with your audience, asking questions and observing common issues to understand the topics and seminars that will be most meaningful to them.

It is easy to assume you understand your audience’s needs, but surveys and interviews always reveal something important that might have been overlooked.

Step 2: Define problems

This is where you take all of the data you have uncovered and use it to define the most significant issues while framing them in human-centric ways. For example, data might show that potential customers do not seem to understand the value of your members’ products.

You can then build the meeting around customer education while focusing on creating an environment where attendees will feel comfortable sharing and learning from each other.

Step 3: Ideation

After defining the problem and understanding the needs of your attendees on a human level, it is time to start finding solutions. For planning your event, this means brainstorming ideal speakers for the specific problem and different activities to get members focused on creative solutions.

Step 4: Prototype

This includes building out example meeting agendas and playing with the format to see what will create the most productive meeting. It also means planning out different ice breakers, presentations or group activities.

This is the stage where you narrow down ideas and begin to balance your ambitions with what is actually feasible given your resources.

Step 5: Testing

woman viewing post-it notes on glass boardThere are many prototypes you can test ahead of your meetings, but this also applies to the meetings themselves. Evaluate your own performance, take what works and go back to the stage in the design thinking model that will help you improve.

Design thinking is highly flexible, and sometimes you need to go all the way back to the first step to gather more information to help meet the needs of your attendees.

As you plan your meetings, always keep in mind that the venue will be an essential factor in the success of the event. National 4‑H Conference Center provides a historic and beautiful environment in Washington, D.C. for events of all sizes.

Contact us to take advantage of all our nation’s capital has to offer for your next meeting.