Design thinking at work

By now, most of my MPA@UNC classmates have heard me talk about the Onslow County Suicide Prevention Task Force, convened in 2015 after four local teens died by suicide in just six weeks. The multi-disciplinary Task Force–comprised of leaders from local government, law enforcement, public schools, the military, hospitals, health department, and nonprofit organizations–set out to raise public awareness, coordinate community initiatives, advocate, and educate in order to reduce the number of suicide deaths and attempts in Onslow County. Over the past year, I’ve taken on an increasingly larger role as part of the Task Force, transitioning from intern (during my PWE) to a permanent employee at one of the stakeholder organizations.

Recognizing that a task force is typically a time-limited organization, by early 2016 we began to discuss how to facilitate the evolution process. We needed a more formal, lasting structure to achieve the level of advocacy and program development necessary for a successful public health prevention strategy. In May 2016, (shortly after PUBA 777 Week 4 design thinking coursework!) the timing was right to begin redefining our name and mission. We were also concerned that very few people understand the complex system people encounter during a mental health crisis in our community, so we set out to develop a system map. Given the multi-disciplinary nature of the Task Force members and the need to approach this process in an iterative way, design thinking was a perfect framework for the process. We even started the meeting with some brainstorming and free association just to help everyone shift away from a “reporting and deciding” mode and into a “creating and discovery” mode. That first meeting did not yield any lasting products; however, it did set the stage for a half-day offsite working group the following month that refined the mission and proposed a new name.

As the Crisis Prevention Coalition of Onslow County, we forge solutions to prevent mental health and substance abuse crises. We raise public awareness, leverage existing resources, coordinate community initiatives, educate, advocate, and strengthen the crisis care continuum.

Most importantly, we were able to work through a “first pass” at the system map. (The ugly version is pictured at the top of this entry; the working version from is below.) It is still very rough and I’m exploring various ways to develop a clear and concise visual that captures all the information, but it is a start. This will be a very iterative process, and I’m excited to see how it evolves in the coming months.

Our discussions identified several key concerns and priorities, including the need to inform, educate, and involve more people in crisis prevention . . . a perfect set-up for my PUBA 777 community engagement project.


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