Food Insecurity and Design Thinking


This past February, Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College introduced a micro course in conjunction with Waynesburg University called Food insecurity: Consequences and Solutions for Rural and Small Communities. The School of Design’s Mark Baskinger, Bruce Hanington, and Stacie Rohrbach were on hand as contributors to Heinz’s course to introduce students to design thinking and research practices as students were placed directly into a community to explore food insecurity issues and to propose programs/services that directly addressed the issues they uncovered. 

The focus on food security came from Leah Lizardo and Rick Stafford. Lizardo, co-founder and CEO of 412 Food Rescue, is currently an Entrepreneur in Residence at Heinz College and Stafford, Distinguished Service Professor at Heinz College, is a food subject matter expert in rural farming, who currently owns and runs a working farm in Summerset County, PA. They developed the class with Waynesburg University in order to create opportunities for collaboration around experiential learning and community-based issues. 

“To have true experiential learning,” said Jackie Speedy, Associate Dean at Heinz College, “you have to get students out of their comfort zone and introduce them to the people impacted by the problem and working on the front lines.

“This collaboration with Waynesburg University was a unique opportunity to explore the common problem of food insecurity from both the rural and urban perspectives.” 

Within this context, Professors Baskinger, Hanington, and Rohrbach introduced students to human-centered design thinking and research practices. As student’s immersed themselves in Greene County PA, the design faculty guided the class through visualization exercises, collaborative analysis, and insight synthesis. They also encouraged students to use their insights to find design opportunities and develop innovative prototypes to be presented back to the cohort and to the community stakeholders.

“Design thinking was critical to this course in both the field research and also providing a framework for ideating solutions -  both of which required empathy and a human-centered focus,” added Speedy. “In the field research, the design team gave the students tools to approach the constituents with empathy.  In the portion of the class focused on the ‘solutions’, with the facilitation by the design faculty, students were able to leverage their discoveries to ideate and identify solutions that addressed the issues identified in the field.

“Without thinking of the people first, any solution conceived would be at risk of being irrelevant," continued Speedy. "Through this process, students learned how to gather ethnographic research with empathy and to have that empathy inform their human-centric solutions.” 

“The students were a joy to work with,” said Rohrbach. “The five teams were highly engaged in the topic and eager to learn how to take a design approach to problem-solving. They were receptive of the information and approaches we taught and clearly stated benefits they learned at the close of the session.”

Commenting on the design faculty’s facilitation, Professor Stafford said, “Stacie, Mark, and Bruce were great. I count myself as one of the people they educated over the two Saturdays! Just what we hope for in the classroom and in any ‘experiential learning’ exercise.”

“It was rewarding to witness the students from both Heinz and Waynesburg deeply engaged in the process of research and the creative generation of ideas, especially in a real-world context where human-centered design and policy can make a difference in the community,” said Hanington. 

“We considered it a privilege to work with this group of bright and motivated students from both institutions.”

Learn more about design education at CMU >>

Learn more about Heinz College >>

Date Published: 
Tuesday, April 16, 2019
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