Bellwether Collaboratory: August’s Discovery Lab Beta Workshop

This month, we held another remote Discovery Lab Beta workshop with the team from Bellwether Collaboratory, an organization dedicated to solving complex problems like climate change by using smart data and analytics. They developed a system-mapping tool for social-sector planning, and came to Radish Lab looking for help on how to make it more user-friendly.

Fictionalville word map

There’s an old story about a group of mice who are standing around an elephant. Each mouse can only see one part of the elephant, like its foot, its tail, or its trunk. Because they all have different perspectives and they only know what they see, the mice can’t agree on what the elephant is. The mice, just like people analyzing complex systems, are unable to see how the individual parts connect to create the whole. It was with this story in mind that the Bellwether team created their (aptly named) Elephant Builder 0.1 system-mapping tool.

The app asks users to input nodes and then make connections between them based on how they relate to one another. For example, a small town might start an initiative to improve their public parks. Using the Elephant Builder, an administrator could ask their team “What are positive aspects of our parks? What are negative aspects of our parks?” Team members could then input nodes such as “playground,” “litter,” “crowds,” or “public events” and begin to assign connections between them. From there, they can see how nodes affect each other and they can find positive and negative feedback loops between nodes, enabling them to see the strengths of their park system and how they can best improve it.

DLB workshop screenshot

We had the opportunity to play around with Elephant Builder before our workshop with the Bellwether team, and we were blown away by how intuitive it was for a prototype and how there were so many use cases it could be applied to. The app worked just about flawlessly, so we spent most of the workshop focusing on how to improve the UX and potential ways Bellwether could market it to acquire additional funding for the project. We also shared some examples of digital tools similar to Elephant Builder and gave a few ideas on how they could be used as inspiration for improving Bellwether’s app.

Bellwether came to us looking for help with a unique project, and we had a blast getting to know them and sinking our teeth into an incredible tool. We’re so grateful to have had the opportunity to work with them, and we’re excited to see what the future has in store for Bellwether Collaboratory and Elephant Builder. If your organization would like help with its own project, you can apply to take part in our next Discovery Lab Beta workshop here.

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