Social Interventions are actions taken to reconfigure social habits, unspoken agreements or arrangements that, prior to the intervention, add to the durability and normalcy of a social problem.”

—The Design Studio for Social Intervention

There are days when I feel like I’m going to run out of a building screaming if I hear another word of “movement speak”. You know what I’m talking about. We get insular. If I talked to my mom like I talk to people in social justice spaces, she’d look at me like I’ve lost my mind.

Part of the work of organizing and communications strategy is to break out of the box. There are some awesome examples out there of how this can be done through culture jamming and other tactics that connect your work to pop culture.

Last week in New Orleans, I connected with fellow technical assistance providers of Communities Creating Healthy Environments from Design Studio for Social Intervention, which is doing something super fresh for social movements.

DS4SI, which designs and prototypes alternative ways to approach and address complex social problems, was taking their Action Lab process on a test drive at the CCHE and Roots and Remedies gathering at University of New Orleans last week. I was psyched because I am secretly a design geek wannabe. Stations were scattered with magazines for collage, action figures, Play-Doh and blank diagrams were set up throughout. Even the information on the walls felt interactive. I snuck into the sunlit Action Lab whenever I could, as did others (someone took a power-nap under a table there at one point). The flow and energy of the space was very, very nice.

In the simplest terms, the Action Lab engages participants in a 4-step process for developing a “social intervention” for your campaign. The steps included: Context (of your issue and work); Symbol (that breaks out of the box); Leap (how you’ll put your symbol into action); and Test (how you’ll measure success). See the slideshow below of my own reproductive justice Action Lab results below.

I loved the fluidity and cleanness of the process; the tactile elements; having a designated space to think outside of the choir (e.g. collaging trashy magazines and tabloids), to develop a creative, tangible symbol, AND to set and test my own metrics for success. All these things are a best practice for how one might go about developing their messages as well.

Anyhow, I went poking around the DS4SI website and found more treats. One that I’ll share here is their “Five S” Methodology that looks at Structure, System, Scale, Symbol and Sensation to design your own social intervention.

The methodology asks one to look at all sides of a complex issue, including cause and effect, physical space and structures, the size of the issue. I like to think of it as a Rubik’s Cube (not that I’ve ever solved one). Every perspective offers a clue, or an entry point, to the mechanism of the puzzle. In that way, the Five S’s expose the most structural points of convergence in your work. Check it out!


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