Post by Guy Mordecai
Last Wednesday we got lost in the ideation process. Just the day before we received a lot of feedback on our raw point of views. Perhaps I should say – “too much feedback”. The quantity, variety and depth of comments we received indicated we have a lot of work ahead of us.
I felt like we’re banging our heads against the d.school’s whiteboards. As frustration started bubbling up, I resorted to my set of “reverse engineering” solutions, and tried to “hack” the design process. At first I suggested we’ll leave our POV for a moment, think of a big, crazy idea, and then trace our way back to a matching POV that would help us make sense, and then restart the process with a fresh POV. Luckily, this little trick did not work. We also tried to think of “How Might We’s” based on the same reverse logic, but when the basics are unclear – every possible direction we tried appeared to increase our frustration. Then we decided to RESTART the process, in the very beginning. We shifted to an insightful philosophical discussion around social justice and market dynamics. Although I was educated with solid social values, I decided to play devil’s advocate for a while. Armed with the Business School hat, I started arguing that with all the sympathy to EPA people, the process of gentrification and eventually gradual disappearing of this community is inevitable as the market dynamics are stronger. Aparna and Federica clearly did not agree with me, let alone I did not agree with myself, but we have come to an interesting understanding that if this community wants to be saved it must, first and foremost, be self-sustaining, self-sufficient and generate local “assets” or “talents” to face the economic tides of the Silicon Valley. We also realized that the great majority of the community actually does not have a choice. Unlike some fortunate members who own an asset they bought cheaply 20 years ago, and can now choose to cash-out and rebuild their lives elsewhere, most residents do not have any intellectual or physical property that would allow them the choice of any sort of social mobilization, other than a very sloppy downward slope. This insight led us to argue that this lack of choice on one hand, and the brutal market dynamics on the other hand, would require the community to be responsible for its fate.
Armed and pumped with energies after this discussion, we went back to our interview with Heather, a director at AbleWorks and a member of EPA for the last 25 years. Repeating the highlights of this empathy work and unpacking again specific parts of the interview led us to understand the central problem of the NGO community and EPA in general – they are all in a lose-lose situation. Success is being measured (and perceived) by managing to leave the community, and almost any other case is considered as a failure. In this climate, the city cannot actually develop its local assets to allow growth of financial and social capital for the benefit of the entire EPA community.