Phoenix Design Summit: Facilitating for good

While we often have the chance to facilitate ideation and strategy sessions for our clients, I recently got to bring those skills to a different context. I had the fortune of facilitating for social good a few weeks ago at the Phoenix Design Summit, an extension of the AIGA Design For Good initiative focused on using design to ignite, accelerate and amplify social change. Previous summits have been held in Birmingham, Aspen, and Savannah.

The Phoenix summit was focused on three different areas that significantly impact our future (broadly) and youth (specifically): Education, Health & Wellness, and the Arts. Three teams of designers and local champions spent three days using design thinking to tackle these challenges. I worked with Team Activating Arts, eight volunteers including designers, arts advocates and conscious entrepreneurs.

On Day 1 all the teams took field trips to organizations and sites related to their topic. We visited three different Arts-focused organizations around the metro area including Free Arts of Arizona that provides healing art experiences to abused and homeless children, the Phoenix Center for the Arts which offers arts and theatre classes in a fantastic old building in central Phoenix, and the ASU Art Museum where we visited the Miracle Report exhibit and Emerge: Redesigning the Future.

The team captured observations, insights, questions, and passions on sticky notes as we debriefed on the visits and identified common strengths, challenges and opportunities for overlap. One idea present at every site we visited was a commitment to the incredible value of art making. Everyone we spoke to emphasized the process of art being just as important as the end product.

On Day 2 we reconvened and set out to make meaning of the mess and clarify the team’s vision: Wouldn’t it be sweet to create systems for Arizona Arts organizations to bring together their unique talents to create opportunities?

Of all three teams, ours clearly had an advantage in delivering a solution that truly modeled community engagement because we had a representative from the Phoenix Center for the Arts on our team. This truly made the difference in being able to create a plan with a champion who has the passion and means to implement it. As the team spent the second day brainstorming what kinds of problems they could solve, they were able to focus on activating alliances and engagement among various arts organizations and citizens with the help of our key stakeholder, Joseph. The end of the day brought convergence and a rapid Pecha Kucha-style presentation by each of the 3 teams about their progress so far. Team Activating Arts offered both long term strategies and short term tactics that were actionable for the local arts community.

Day 3 was all about action and implementation. A key element (and challenge) of the Summit was the concept of community engagement. While our creative team was overflowing with solutions, they understood that the outcome of the summit would be most valuable if it enabled the community to generate their own solutions (rather than a small group of designers determining what they should be). So the team devised a 3-part strategy for facilitating community engagement with Phoenix arts organization that is being spearheaded by Joseph, someone with the resources and passion to see it through.

Part 1: Organize a Phoenix Art Summit in October to engage the local Arts organizations and community (this summit will be hosted by Joseph and is modeled after the very summit we participated in!)

Part 2: Create an umbrella organization for all of the Arizona Arts organizations that allows them to share valuable resources and collaborate more efficiently (potential output of summit)

Part 3: Promote Everyday Art in Phoenix (the team went wild ideating dozens of specific activities for this initiative and even implemented a few of them for their final presentation)

By day’s end the team had created a summit agenda, a detailed “how to host your own summit” workbook and guide for Joseph to use in planning, and a Phoenix Art Summit website to collect information from interested individuals and organizations. In this way the team’s solution resonated with what we heard during our site visits, that the process of art making is just as important as the product. The Art summit is a process, a creative vehicle for generating outcomes that are meaningful and engaging to those they seek to impact, align, and serve.


I was extremely impressed with the team’s relentless creative efforts over the three days. I was also inspired as they committed to continuing to help Joseph in the future and being authentic participants in nurturing a cohesive arts community to support the youth of Phoenix and Arizona. If you are in the Phoenix area and in interested in the arts, please check out these organizations and sign up for summit announcements. And perhaps I will see you in Phoenix in October!

*for more eye candy and images of stickie notes, please visit the summit Flickr page here.


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