chapter 6

 

what we've

learned running

the GNI DA

The program was highly revealing, showing us many common challenges and struggles found in media companies. We also discovered plenty of opportunities for innovation within media organisations around themes such as: clarity of mission, executive buy-in, encouraging collaboration and many others.

  • A list of key findings and themes from the GNI DA.
     

  • The challenges and opportunities we’ve discovered within news and media organisations.

GO DEEPER

“How could the drops of water know themselves to be a river? Yet the river flows on.”

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

This program was hard work. We found plenty of opportunities to solve specific problems in media but we also came across challenges common in media companies, including having a defined mission, as well as executive buy-in. We also saw how partners struggled with translating data into real human insights, or finding ways to collaborate. 

Clarity of mission

Many partners — big and small — often struggle because the company hasn’t found a clear mission, or is unable to articulate it. Are we a publisher? Who’s our audience? What’s the value we’re creating for our users? Sometimes it helps to ask clarifying questions in reverse: What are we not? Encouraging your team to ask simple questions can go a long way in getting directional execution right by taking small steps to test your assumptions of who you are and what the next leap looks like.

Executive buy-in

Overt support by leaders matter. We’ve seen participants glance across the room, seeking approval or a signal of discomfort by their leaders when it comes to risk. If you expect the best out of your team, set clear expectations of your staff — and allow them to test the limits of what’s possible. Help them understand that failure is a possibility, but there’s merit in the rigor of the design thinking process, which is replicable for other challenges in the organization. Leadership’s role is to provide the right air cover for staff to take an idea forward. Executive buy-in also matters when you push a prototype into its next stage — without the right support, it won’t find the next step.

Informality and openness

Media organizations tend to be hierarchical. But layers create friction to collaboration and listening. We noticed that it was important to find ways to create a sense of informality and openness throughout the sessions. Have people wear name tags — even the senior executives in the room. Find ways to treat everyone at the same level, without deferring to the most senior person in the room by default. Give quieter participants an equal opportunity to speak.

In terms of the physical space, even seemingly small touches can go a long way in creating a fresh perspective, such as using bright and colourful rooms. Having visible, vibrant prototyping materials also help.

Real human insights

“The most difficult thing I found was to cluster the findings. It’s a lot of work to truly understand the human meanings, but it was the most rewarding and useful as it drives everything.”

“Liked trying to connect products with the user, actually finding out their needs first and letting that drive the ideas.”

Some participants found it difficult to convert user research or data analytics into meaningful human insights. With various sets of inputs, it was challenging to see relevant themes and patterns emerging from within a mountain of interview statements. Typically, we tend to lump together information based on easily recognisable categories — tech platforms, age groups, etc. — but the key is to determine the connections between these pieces of information at a deeper human level.

Facilitator involvement

Students are only as good as the people they learn from. A successful workshop largely comes down to the facilitators’ involvement, and this means far more than just teaching. You often need someone who’s able to transcend the challenges of media today with fresh eyes — and open ears. The best ideas are out there.

Facilitators also need to be able to guide participants through every stage of a workshop — from teaching high level concepts to working alongside them during sprints. It’s important that facilitators are capable of reading the room’s energy, adapting to the needs of the participants, and ultimately understanding that no two sprints are alike. Positive, driven, empathetic, and knowledgeable facilitators are key in the success of a design sprint.

Prototype, test and iterate

“[...] we did four prototypes, failed a few times but it meant we had a stronger understanding of what was actually valuable for our audience. We got excited by our early ideas, but had to face the reality that it wasn’t working which helped us learn more.”

“[We] enjoyed prototyping and testing. It helps us to create ideas, test it, and revise it. It’s very helpful to test whether the idea is worth producing.”

No self-respecting journalist will accept a factual error, or a typo. This is a value honed through decades of media. So when it comes to the prototyping, testing, and iteration stage of any design sprint, ‘failing fast’ can be a difficult concept to teach. Failure isn’t in the media DNA.

But design sprints are meant to push our ideas out into the real world in ways that challenge them, test them, contradict them and ultimately, transform them into truly valuable outcomes. This process of failing fast is often discouraging and difficult, but it yields the best results for both the end user and the organization.

Audiences expect media companies to run at light speed. Likewise, the content created needs to be similarly agile. While each sprint looked different, the outcome was implementable, validated solutions that might otherwise have taken six months to reach.

New design mindset

Being innovative in newsrooms isn’t simply a case of learning new skills and moving on. It requires a whole new mindset. When participants were pushed outside their comfort zone, and shared relevant, real-world examples of innovation through hands-on experiences in design thinking methodologies, they emerged with a changed perspective on tackling problems. This results in solutions that are more innovative — and valuable — than before.

Encouraging collaboration

“We don’t work as a team enough. I now feel more like an integral part of our organization.”

Great media organizations don’t operate in isolation — they’re engaged with the world and feed off of the environment and people around them. Yet when we try to solve problems, we often take a solo approach rather than taking advantage of the brilliant minds around us. Collaboration is vital to solving problems, both with those within the organization across departments as well as with the end users themselves. By bringing fresh perspectives from within and outside of our newsroom, we can expand the repertoire of everyone involved, resulting in more robust and desirable solutions.

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