During our ten week program, we help students launch social impact projects.
While nearly every student creates something (an event, a program, a curriculum, a website, a video, etc…) not all are as successful as they could be. We’ve noticed projects that tend to fall short fall into two categories:
1. The topic was too broad.
2. The theory of change was wrong.
Before we go further, it’s important to define what we mean by “falling short.” We don’t grade projects. We’re not measuring how much funding they win, or how many customers they have. Success, in our view, is when students experience a mindset shift and start seeing themselves as creators of a new reality.
Often students addressing a broad topic narrow down quickly. But sometimes, people stay in the abstract for extended periods of time, struggling to find specific ideas or solutions for a given problem. There are many examples, but one that comes to mind is when a student applies to Dual School with a problem like “climate change.” While this is a great starting point, we need to narrow down significantly before we can make any progres. If we can’t narrow down and start making progress, we rarely see the mindset shift we are hoping for.
The second fatal flaw is a little more abstract and harder to spot. We have every student write out their north star, which is what they want the world to look like when their problem is fully solved. This is their dream world. We define “theory of change” as the actions that will lead to that perfect world.
What we find here is faulty logic that can lead students to spend a long time working on something that won’t have the impact they seek to have. For example, if your project idea was to give people experiencing homelessness water bottles so they could get jobs in the future, the logic is probably off. While it’s possible there is some correlation between these things, it’s not a strong theory of change.
As designers of Dual School, we are constantly creating questions, workshops and tasks to help students focus their ideas, and refine their theories of change. Even when it’s front of mind, it’s still possible for projects to slip through the cracks. No system is perfect and every student is experiencing a wide array of stressors outside our program.
For mentors, teachers, parents and more, I hope this guidance is helpful in supporting students on their journeys to launch projects.