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At Generator's First Global Service Jam, Design Happened

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Over the weekend, nine people gathered at Burlington maker space Generator for the first Vermont edition of the Global Service Jam. The activity prompts participants to engage in "design thinking" practices to solve a challenge. Leading the local group was Cybele Ozorio, an "innovation process consultant." She moved to Vermont last year from her native Brazil, where she led Service Jams for five years.

Service Jams are one of three types of events organized by Germany-based WorkPlayExperience, a "service innovation and customer experience consultancy," according to its website; the others focus on government and sustainability. The first Service Jam took place in 2011.

Each year, participating jammers around the world receive an intentionally vague challenge. This year's came last Friday evening in the form of a cryptic video message. It began with a snapshot of a group of people holding a saw, then transitioned to a fuzzy screen that flashed the words "Yes," "No" and "Maybe."

Participants interpret such "challenges" in their own ways; the resulting "solutions" are usually as varied as the groups that create them.

Over the weekend, Ozorio guided the participants — who organized themselves into two teams — in developing service-based solutions to the challenge. She taught them the principles of design thinking, a multistep strategy that creatives use to generate and hone their ideas. The process emphasizes empathetic interviews, ideation, prototyping and testing.

Friday evening's session consisted mainly of icebreaker activities, along with the unveiling of the challenge. On Saturday, jammers began figuring out their direction. One group formed around the idea of educational voting opportunities for children. Its members interpreted the challenge as confusion about options on a ballot. The other team settled on the idea that Vermont's branding as a farm-to-table state creates negative associations for some consumers who find they can't, or don't know how to, use their entire farm share.

On Sunday, the groups presented their final projects to three Generator members. The first group presented a prototype for a kit that could be distributed to classrooms. Kids would bring in sample ballot items from current elections and create comics and art projects as a means of understanding the issues. The second group presented a prototype website that would act as a hub for CSA consumers and farms. Farms would input the contents of their weekly CSA, and members would get info about how to use different vegetables and how long they last, as well as recipes and games that would encourage them to use all of their weekly shares.

Generator director Chris Thompson applauded Ozorio on the program. "You've just given everybody a tool for making new ideas — it's a gift," he said. Outreach director Rachel Hooper added that the projects were "exactly the kind of work we hope to see [at Generator]."


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The original print version of this article was headlined "Jamming at Generator"

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