SBHD Explained

Towards a framework for sustainable, participatory design…

Story-Based Holistic Design (SBHD) is a formative framework that looks to improve the sustainability of design outcomes. To do so, the process integrates systems thinking (ST) processes that coincide with the Design (D) processes used in the Human-Centered Design framework. It includes storytelling throughout the framework to help foster a participant-driven process, rather than one that’s merely human-centered. Therefore, it is designed to shift the designer’s role from primarily being direct problem solver to more of one in which they’re a facilitative contributor. The goal is to work with groups that are dealing with significant challenges and help them develop systemic change that they will both implement and support for sustainable, positive outcomes.

Below is a brief outline of the steps of the framework.

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The Story-Based Holistic Design Process

Stage 1 – Create

The first stage looks to evolve the Design (D) process (specifically Human-Centered Design here) and integrates systems thinking (ST) at each step.

Phase I: Understand

In the first phase, facilitators and participants have the tasks of getting to know each other and gaining comfort in working together. As they do so, they will begin to unravel the issue that they’re looking to work on together.

1. Share (Group Discussion & Interviews) (D)

As the aim is for the participants to own the process, both participants and facilitators should spend significant time getting to know each other before moving on to share their understanding of the problem and the circumstances in which they occur. The goal should be to make participants comfortable and help them share their understanding of the problem before the facilitators engage in the same activity.

2. Explore (Ethnography & Systems Analysis) (ST)

Facilitators lead the project team through an active research phase in which a better understanding of the culture of the participants, as well as the systems (ecological, economic, etc.) the problem is embedded in, so that the root cause(s) of the problem might be better understood.


Phase II: Storify

In this phase, the team will work together to develop a shared understanding of the problem from diverse perspectives, with the intent of coming to an agreement of what will be in scope for their go forward design efforts.

3. Define ( (ST)

This process attempts to set the scope and scale of the problem the team has collectively decided to tackle. It also defines the factors that contribute to the problem.

4. Narrate (Storytelling) (D)

This step takes the information from the prior process and converts it into a relatable human story that details the challenge, its causes, the negative outcomes it fosters, and the long-term consequences of non-intervention. The goal is to take the dry science of definition and relay it in terms that people can connect to on an emotional level as storytelling has been found to provide a number of benefits in a group context, including: contextual grounding, bonding with others, validating and affirming experiences, venting and catharsis, resisting oppression, and educating others, group storytelling can create an environment that supports evaluation of experience and promotes problem-solving.


Phase III: Conceive

This phase looks to generate ideas that might improve outcomes while looking to minimize harm.

5. Ideate & Retell (D)

In general, ideation is the formation of new ideas or concepts. In the design context, it is the attempt to generate ideas that might prove useful in solving a particular challenge, or for creating benefits for a specific opportunity. Idea generation processes and tools are used as an attempt to discover possibilities that might offer better outcomes than those currently experienced. In Retelling, we take the new ideas and tell the stories anew as we share how we see the system behaving and the outcomes that are experiences with the proposed changes in place.

6. Contemplate (ST)

This step forces participants to take a step back and consider any unexpected systemic outcomes (positive or negative) that might be fostered with the introduction of changes proposed in the Ideation process.


Phase IV: Create & Evaluate

This phase pairs rapid prototyping with analysis to determine the scale and scope of the change, as well as any potential negative outcomes.

7. Prototype & Iterate (D)

Facilitators lead the team through rapid prototyping, testing, and iteration as the team works from idea to workable solution.

8. Extrapolate (ST)

The team takes another step back and considers the potential positive impacts of the change, as well as any negative impacts that need to be better understood and either accepted or mitigated. Contemplate is more about thinking things through in a mental process. Extrapolate takes the new information gained from prototyping and repeats the process, while looking for ways to take it into specific lines of analysis.


Stage 2 – Emerge

This stage looks to shepherd the innovation past deployment in looking to maximize its value over the long-term.

Phase V: Improve

The last two processes should be ongoing for the life of the innovation, seeking opportunities to extend its usefulness and continually improve outcomes.

9. Enhance (D&ST)

This process asks the owners of the innovation to continually look for ways to enhance the outcomes of the system through the combination of learned experience of the system and new external knowledge.

10. Evolve (D&ST)

This step asks the owners to look beyond the system they’ve created to deliver something that’s largely or entirely different as new opportunities avail themselves.