Market Your School With Design Thinking: Best Practices For Ideation

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School marketing is hard, but it’s possible—and important. We live in an age of choice, where people and organizations are continuously vying for attention and attendance. This is especially true when it comes to schools, enrollment and standing out from the pack. No matter the title, it has become essential for all school faculty members to ask “what makes our school different?” and “how can we portray care and competency to new audiences?” The process of school marketing is not straightforward, and it never truly ends. That’s where design thinking comes in.

Design thinking enables teams to address problems with lasting solutions through a human-centered and strategic framework. The design thinking framework, as defined by Stanford’s is as follows:

  1. Empathize
  2. Define
  3. Ideate
  4. Prototype
  5. Test

This is an iterative process where all phases continue to inform each other, and in this series, we will explore how each phase of the framework can impact the planning of a school marketing initiative. We encourage you to read out of order, think nonlinearly, or implement this strategic frame in whatever manner makes the most sense to your community or project.

Unpacking Ideation

Brainstorming is widely considered the fun part, that’s why so many people skip directly to this phase. This is where it really starts to feel like you are making progress, where you’re solving the problem and it feels like nothing can stop you. In fact, you can bet that ideation is a part of nearly all problem-solving meetings, kickoff meetings, etc., regardless of the industry or who is leading the meeting. Although brainstorming is widespread beyond the education marketing space, that doesn’t mean that it is always done well and with the proper amount of intentionality. Here are a few evergreen, industry-spanning tips to create an effective culture of brainstorming:

  1. Clearly Define. Make sure that everyone in the room or involved is on the same page through a clear definition of the problem and the rules of the discussion. i.e. assume best intentions, raise your hand, don’t speak over anyone, etc. You want to make sure that everyone is as comfortable and in the loop as possible to encourage participation from all parties.
  2. Yes and… We don’t believe in saying “no” in a brainstorming session and have seen the benefits of letting people ride ideas and use creativity in realtime to leapfrog from one recommendation to, perhaps, a more dialed in one.
  3. Room Control. We love elaboration, in fact, that’s a large component of prototyping, however, brainstorming is not the time for people to explain their full idea; nor is it the time for someone else to try and pushback with an alternative angle. Depending on the scope of your problem and the size of your brainstorming group there can be some wiggle room here.
  4. The Great Equalizer. It’s important to include and hear stakeholders from all sides of the problem at hand. In the case of the school: teachers, admin, school board, parents, students, local businesses, etc. You can even try various methods of redistributing power and leveling the playing field—a very effective one is making the CEO, or your team’s leader, write down the brainstormed suggestions on the board.
  5. Capture All Ideas. You never know when one idea that seems like a passing thought at the time may jumpstart just what you need after the session. Write everything down—this also helps everyone to feel heard and like they made a valid contribution.
  6. Sort It Out. Share out the collected ideas and put them into organized sections for ease of use in the coming phases. Be sure to hold on to all ideas, even the ones on the fringes—you never know what will come in handy.

An effective ideation session is largely dependent on trust, inclusivity, listening and being heard—key tenants to keep at the core of facing challenges for your school and your community.

For more, see:

This is the third post in a series on marketing your school with design thinking. For more in the series:

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Mason Pashia

Mason is the Creative Director at Getting Smart. He is an advocate for arts education, strategy, design thinking and poetry.

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