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Q & A with Matthew Bird, Our Youth Employment Challenge Community Advisor

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Today, we’re excited to introduce you to Matthew Bird, our volunteer Challenge Community Advisor. Matthew will be particularly active during our Research phase, where he will be sharing his insights and inspiring conversation through original Research posts, as well as building on research initiated by the OpenIDEO community.  We asked him a few questions to get to know him a bit better:

What first drew you to get involved in OpenIDEO?
The methodology. As a child, I was always more interested in stories than in numbers, in the qualitative than the quantitative, in the frisson of having glimpsed something new and different. This is why I always enjoyed traveling or reading a poem or novel or listening to music or doing anything that lets you see and experience the world in a different way. This is why I wanted to study cultural psychology in graduate school. To understand human capability, to explore the arc of human psychology. But as we get older - and lets face it, as our minds become less plastic - what we gain in having experienced affects our ability to continue to experience differently in the future. However, human-centered design provides a methodology that allows us to continue to approach the world with the wonder of an exploratory child. And if we can harness collectively this creativity for social good - all the better. After all, we as humans are social before we are individual. 

What are your research and teaching focus areas? Where does design thinking fit into the whole equation?
My research seeks to understand how we can harvest local, especially cultural, solutions to shared social problems. In particular, I view this challenge through the lens of cultural psychology - which says that one cannot understand the "form" of human mental functioning" without also understanding the "content" of socio-cultural practices. Human psychology is less "universal" than we think. What there is is a universal arc of potential we're still exploring the boundaries of as our socio-cultural contexts continue to evolve alongside our biological mechanisms. Where does design--thinking fit in? It provides a practical way of going into those local contexts where mentalities emerge from practices, and to diagnose not only what it is that the mind already wants but what it will or can want without yet knowing it. 

What about the Youth Employment Challenge excites you?
The chance to tap human potential in two senses: Tapping human potential to collectively identify solutions for how to, in turn, ensure that we tap the human potential of global youth. 

What are your future plans (or hopes and dreams!) around design and social impact?
There is so much more that can be done, i.e., it still has more potential. The hopes and dreams are obvious, to change peoples lives for the better. But then there is the less sexy part. How to build design thinking more deeply into the entire process of identifying, developing, and evaluating solutions. We can still redesign this whole chain - something OpenIDEO seems to have initiated.

But there is a an existing social impact industry and eco-system, which includes researchers such as myself, e.g., I and some co-researchers are currently evaluating the impact of tablet-based financial education tablet among the poor in Colombia. There isn't time now but we the partners - the Colombian government, Fundación Capital, Innovations for Poverty Action, Citi Foundation - could have embedded design thinking into our project from the beginning.

This isn't to say that we did not and are not using elements to arrive at and evaluate our intervention, rather, we could have done it in a less ad hoc, more systematic way. Maybe we would have arrived at the same intervention - then again maybe it could have evolved into something that we've yet to imagine. But we'll never - such is the nature of the human imagination. We just need to keep on going, imagining, pushing forward. 

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