Design Justice Network
A membership growth project that resulted in a chance to examine the Network's structure and capacity.
Client: Design Justice Network
Team: Alyson Fraser-Diaz, Dasha Zlochevsky, Leah Brown
My Roles: Strategist, Visual Designer
The Design Justice Network (DJN) is an international community of people and organizations who are committed to rethinking design processes so that they center people who are too often marginalized by design. They work according to a set of principles that were generated and collaboratively edited by their network.1 They envision futures where design is used to support care, healing, liberation, joy, and deep sustainability.2
The Steering Committee (SC), the group that functions as the main organizational decision-makers, most of whom founded DJN, approached us with the initial goal of increasing their membership.
They were eager to get the project done in anticipation of a major conference they could use as a catalyst for membership growth.
Tools & Methods
We employed various research methods at different stages of the project. These included interviews, surveys, audits, stakeholder maps, future backcasting, market analysis, competitive landscape.
Synthesis & Insights
Through methods such as synthesis walls and clustering, we made sense of the information and developed insights. Some were actionable while others required revising the goals of the whole project.
Reframe & Pivot
The lack of internal clarity around goals was a major challenge. This forced us to change direction multiple times. The pandemic was another circumstance that forced us to reframe the project.
In the end, we delivered a package of actionable engagement ideas, along with the challenges we encountered reframed as a chance for self-reflection, and a roadmap to sustainable growth.
We began the project by conducting ample primary and secondary research. On one hand, we did a stakeholder map and in-depth interviews with SC members and other DJN members, and sent out a survey to current members with the aim of understanding the organization’s structure and levels of engagement. On the other hand, we conducted a communications audit where we examined all of the ways in which DJN communicates internally and externally. We also did a competitive landscape analysis looking at similar networks and organizations that operate with memberships.
Insights & Proposals
By making sense of all the information from the research phase, we concluded that many people, current and potential members, found DJN and The Principles to be inspiring. However, there was a lot of confusion as to how the network is structured and how/where to get involved and be active.
People also identified the website to be the main communication point to the network but found it hard to navigate.
We proposed design interventions that addressed these insights. They went from a communications strategy to activate and more efficiently use their digital platforms and channels (social media, slack), to improving the information architecture and language of the website, to investing in a membership portal, to an in-situ installation, to using some of the research methods we employed as tools to engage their members.
When we presented the intervention ideas, it became clear that the lack of clarity that many members expressed feeling was also something that permeated the SC too. The goal of membership growth was not a realistic one for them since they didn't have the capacity to propel and sustain that growth at the moment. Improving the experience of membership and engagement felt more feasible for them, and they favored the in-situ installation idea.
But then, the pandemic hit, and life as we knew it changed. All the in-person events were canceled, including the conference they were looking to use as an amplifier and catalyst to (re)engage people.
All these circumstances forced us to reframe and rescope the project, from the problem statement to the goals to the final deliverables.
How might we grow a deeper connection between DJN's members to support their needs, while also building systems to make membership sustainable for the organization?
Outputs & Outcomes
In the end, we presented proposals to engage their members in the immediate context of the pandemic, while also offering actionable ideas to implement in the long(er) term. They ranged from low-effort actions to bigger changes that came with investments in systems, resources, and time.
We divided the final deliverable into three opportunity areas: Story Telling Installation, DJN Zine, and a document with detailed Strategic Recommendations. In this document, we used the challenges in agreement in goals and communication we encountered as an opportunity to ask questions about intentions and capacity with the aim of facilitating alignment within the SC and the Network itself. We also offered a comprehensive roadmap to implement, maintain and scale our proposals should they choose to follow them.
"We have deep gratitude for the work you have been doing in reflecting back to us what the shape of our network looks like from the perspective of people who aren't on the steering committee and that is really valuable to understand"
- Steering Committee member
"The strategic recommendations were extremely helpful, especially the questions you posed about intentions- we had kind of backed into membership as a way to earn money to sustain us. So the research and analysis have been extremely helpful in thinking about if membership is our priority."
- Steering Committee member
"You have broken down what it means to have a network and have members and how to treat them on a lot of different levels so it feels manageable and less daunting in a lot of ways"
- Steering Committee member