From Research to Design: Six Key Insights from the Operations and Design Team

By AlexHeadshot of smiling woman with curly blonde hair in blue dressandra Rodney, Student Innovation Leader, Operations Team

At the Innovation Hub, the Operations and Design team is providing support to the five domain teams. Over the course of this project our team has switched gears from a focus on “research” to a focus on “design”. Why the shift? We purposely wanted to move the conversation to a focus on design-thinking in order to help team members break free from other research methodologies and approaches to problem solving. In this way we can encourage creativity by breaking free from our habitual practices and developing new ways of thinking. By encouraging a focus on design, we are contributing to helping the hub teams “undo” our learned problem-solving patterns and making way for innovation in both process and result.

Our team has been busy behind the scenes! We supported the Fostering Connectedness team in coming up with their design plan, and gave feedback to all of the teams (including Access for Every Student and Whole Student Development) on their interviewing skills. We encouraged interviewers to ask the kinds of questions that allow them to generate deep insights from students so that we learn what life is like from their perspective. Now that the domain teams have finished their insight gathering, we have been reviewing all of the project data to look for overarching themes.

Based on students’ lived experiences, as expressed in their interviews, our team identified the following six insights that stood out  in the data, including key needs and the underlying values associated with those needs:

  1. Students value being cared for and helped through their journey at U of T. They have a need to feel supported by staff, faculty at and other students at U of T. Every interaction with others at U of T, however brief, has the potential to make an impact on students’ lives.
  2. Students value inclusiveness. They feel the need for more inclusive and safe spaces and inclusive organization (i.e. building inclusive activities into all aspects of university life both symbolically and physically). This might mean planning in-class activities that help students meet each other, dedicating physical spaces for marginalized communities or  taking commuter students into consideration when sharing information and planning events.
  3. Students value academic achievement but they express a need for help negotiating the tension between academics and other aspects of being a student (e.g., being prepared for a future career, extracurriculars, making connections with others). Students know that these other aspects of university life are important but they don’t know how to fit it all in.
  4. Students value guidance. They have a need for someone to show them the way, help them navigate their choices or provide them with the right kinds of information at the right time. This may take the form of someone who offhandedly provides a student with an “insider tip” about what they can do today to ensure future success or may involve a more formal mentorship process.
  5. Students value preparedness for the career world beyond U of T.  They express a need for help with way-finding (figuring out what career path is right for them), work experience and job finding after graduation. These features are built into some but not all programs at U of T and if they are not, students feel torn between academics and optional career-prep activities (see need number three above!).
  6. Students value belonging. Because of the size of the U of T population, students express the need to find community connection. Often this is found in smaller (homogeneous) groups but is harder for marginalized students, commuter students, international students or students who are focused primarily on academics. Students want to feel like more than a number and want to feel a sense of pride in being a U of T student but they often do not.

So what’s next for the Operations and Design team? We’ll be writing up our observations of the five domains’ insights into a longer brief. Be sure to continue following the Innovation Hub blog to see the final product!

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