Some of the many challenges we discussed and explored before choosing a final topic for Leadership Studio.

How do we choose the right challenge for the annual Leadership Studio design sprint? Choosing and scoping the LS project topic is a rigorous process that begins months before the event in August. The DFA National team first brainstormed as many potential ideas as possible, creating a huge list of daring, complex, and meaningful challenges. The team then researched each idea to determine feasibility, prevalence in Chicago and beyond, and whether it was truly tackling a current social challenge. DFA staff stayed attuned to current events in the news and spent time talking with experts in a variety of fields, exploring all potential themes.

Accessibility in urban areas emerged as a viable option due to the vast amount of organizations in Chicago excited to partner with DFA to explore the challenge. The team then dove into primary and secondary research. The process began with an extensive internet search to learn more about equitable access in cities. The team gained a basic understanding of current accessibility challenges through reading articles and watching videos.

DFA summer intern Lucas has spent this summer immersing into the accessibility community to build relationships and narrow the focus of the challenge.

As with all human-centered design projects, the most important step for shaping this year’s topic were the informal conversations. Speaking with people living with disabilities about their daily lives and also with experts in transportation, policy, and the arts provided insight to focus the theme into three areas where design can make a difference. DFA spoke with 50+ stakeholders and people living with disabilities overall. Visits to the Shirley Ryan Abilitylab, Shedd Aquarium, Chicago’s Disability Pride Parade, the Chicago Park District’s Wheelchair Softball Tournament, and a variety of other accessible spaces provided the opportunity to learn more about universal design and built solid relationships with community members.

Keeping this open-minded and inclusive approach expanded the DFA network and invited the accessibility community to directly engage with DFAers at LS17. We are so grateful to all the partners who are a part of Leadership Studio this year. Without them the event would not be possible!


See results from scoping efforts of this challenge at the DFALS17 Project Expo on August 5th! Teams will share the results of their design sprint to ensure the inclusion of those with differing abilities into the fabric of our communities. RSVP here!