The Implementation of Design Thinking Recommendations in Social Organizations: A Multiple Case Study of Short-term Design Projects in Nonprofits

Alejandro Tellez Becerra

Student thesis: Master thesis


The vast majority of nonprofit organizations lack the financial or human resources to leverage the design principles to solve organizational challenges or boost their social impact. Commonly, small nonprofit organizations access the benefits of the design practice through short-term, pro-bono collaborations with designers that, most of the time, finish just after the solution has been prototyped and tested. However, the implementation of those solutions remains as a sole activity of the nonprofit staff. As a result, there are several design collaborations in nonprofits where a solution was designed, but it never came to fruition as it never achieved full implementation. This study aims to identify factors that designers should consider when participating in short-term design collaborations with nonprofits in order to secure the implementation of the given recommendations. The present research study adopts a qualitative research method in the form of a multiple case study. Based on a review of the literature on the main discourses of design thinking, design in social organizations and organizational design legacies, and the construction of a conceptual framework based on interviews with experts in the field, semi-structured interviews were conducted with the participants of four short-term design collaborations in Belgium and the United States of America. Five factors were identified to have a strong influence on the possibilities of implementing the design recommendations produced in short-term collaborations between designers and nonprofits. The analyzed factors were the area of intervention of the design project, the outcome definition process, the level of engagement of key decision-makers, the level of organizational understanding, and the external stakeholders’ analysis. Therefore, those factors should be considered by designers before and during the design process. Furthermore, designers could benefit from adopting or adapting techniques and tools from other disciplines to enrich the design process and therefore improve the possibilities of achieving a successful implementation of their recommendations. Lastly, further research is needed to identify additional factors that could influence the implementation of design recommendations in short-term projects.

EducationsMSocSc in Organisational Innovation and Entrepreneurship , (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2019
Number of pages206
SupervisorsSverre Raffnsøe