Use a Project Framework
For the Studio Rhode Next Generation Library Challenge, we used Design Thinking as the framework for our projects. As part of the application process, interested libraries were invited to Next Generation Library workshops hosted by Apple, RIOI, and OLIS with activities drawn directly from the Design Thinking framework and adapted to libraries. Interested libraries were encouraged to use the IDEO Design Thinking for Libraries Toolkit (http://designthinkingforlibraries.com) throughout the project design process. Libraries reported feeling empowered by the brainstorming activities and encouraged by the resources provided in the workshops and IDEO’s toolkit.
Be Playful with Your IdeaAs part of the Design Thinking process, Studio Rhode workshop facilitators urged attendees to play with their idea. Draw pictures, use imaginations, think big, and have fun. Approaching a project with a playful and open attitude will lead to many possible solutions to a community-identified problem, which a team can then workshop together to develop innovative and achievable project goals
Start with Community Need
Too often, new projects think first about the inputs they could use (resources, equipment, technology) and only after think about what the community needs are. Examine your community closely from the outset to avoid purchasing equipment that sits unused. Use census data, focus groups and community surveys, observations in your library, library-goer shadowing, and other data that you already collect to closely examine your library’s community identified needs. Design Thinking shows us that we may think we know what a population needs, but deeper study can often provide new insights.
Consider Your Limitations (But Don’t Let Them Stop You)
Unrealistic or grandiose projects will not go very far. If you do not have the staff, money, or space to support your initial idea, redesign your project. No one will benefit from a project that is underfunded, understaffed, or without adequate space —not the project team, who can wind up frustrated and overwhelmed, and not the community that the new service or program is meant to serve. Lack of staff, funds, or space should not, however, deter you from piloting innovative services and programs for your community. Visit the section on Planning within Constraints for some ways the Studio Rhode libraries built projects that acknowledged limitations without letting them stifle efforts.
Too often, project teams wait until an effort is over to evaluate its impact. Embedded in Design Thinking, Studio Rhode challenges participants to evaluate a project’s impacts throughout implementation in order to determine the best ways to sustain changes to library programs, space, and services.
Know your Inputs
By starting with community need, Studio Rhode projects have ready access to strong input data. Knowing what relevant inputs already exist in your context will help you define your project goals and activities and will give you a reference point against which to compare the information you gather throughout your project. Create a Plan Before you begin a pilot, develop a plan for measuring the project that includes when and how various data will be gathered, what metrics you will use to inform how you improve the project as well as those that will help you determine the ultimate success of the project, and check-in points throughout. Plan to collect a variety of metrics—surveys, participation numbers, social media reach, focus groups, observational data—that you can specifically connect to project goals.
Do Not Reinvent the Wheel
Use resources that already exist to help you measure the impact of an innovative library pilot project. We recommend Project Outcome surveys from the Public Library Association, as well as the accompanying resources. Project Outcome provides pre-made surveys to measure outcomes in seven different program areas, managed through the free Project Outcome portal. They also provide robust resources for creating your own meaningful measures to track the outcomes of library programs including resources for running focus groups, writing open-ended questions and deciding what kinds of measures you will want to use in the first place. Project Outcome surveys will not necessarily provide a holistic, deep analysis of a library service or program, but they are a convenient and effective tool that can be used to tell part of the story as one component of a metrics plan.
Successful pilot projects not only affect the community using the library, but can also spark changes in library staff and employee culture. Changes in library staff knowledge, confidence, behavior, and awareness of resources are as much potential outcomes of a pilot as changes in the library community. Examining project-related professional competencies and using them as assessments or guidelines throughout the project process can be valuable when determining project success.
Stick With Your Evaluation Plan
Stick to the metrics you’ve outlined that specifically connect to project goals. It can be tempting to collect as much information as possible, but truly consider if, for example, the number of library cards issued in a month actually has anything to do with your project activities. It may, but remember your plan and focus on collecting relevant outputs, outcomes, and patron responses that tell a story about this project. Remember to also follow the schedule you outlined in your measurement plan. You may find if you wait until the end of the project, you are scrambling gather appropriate metrics that will help you discern the impacts of your project. You may not have the information you need, or it may show that you ought to have adjusted your project processes and activities during the pilot window.
Tell an Honest Story
Look at all the relevant data you collected to tell the full and honest story about your pilot project. Both positive and negatives outputs, outcomes, and patron responses will play an important role in determining whether you have achieved your project goals and had the impact you desired. Impact represents change over time, and can be difficult to show, however if you collect a variety of metrics over the course of the project, these should help make a case. If you show that the library offered programs for all ages, attendance was high at your project-related programs, that your patrons increased their awareness of resources and that they reported enjoying programs, that community partners brought in new audiences and that library staff felt empowered to use new resources, you now have evidence that your project had the desired impact of creating a community hub for multi-generational learning. Continuing to gather information about your project will allow you show long-term impact, and starting again from the beginning of the design thinking process can help to refocus the project, or make changes that will improve outcomes. To create impactful, sustainable change in your library, this work must be a continuous and iterative process.