01/19/2012 04:33 pm ET Updated Mar 20, 2012

How Journalists Can Help Design for Peace

Journalists are schooled in investigating and reporting events objectively and when it comes to conflicts, they report on the progress of wars, gang violence, white color crime and what might have caused these to occur. For opinions, one would usually check the editorial page.

The team at the Stanford Peace Innovation Lab challenges this notion. What if journalists, in combination with their current jobs, could also promote peace and find ways to facilitate peace by soliciting creative ideas on social media platforms?

Change of this type can provide huge benefits, however it can also be a slippery slope. Proactively influencing world events, beyond simply reporting events, makes one complicit and responsible for the consequences. As with the physician's oath of "First, do no harm," before soliciting and selecting ideas it was important to make sure the framing, direction and decision criteria were well thought through. In short, a good design brief was needed.

Recent research at Stanford assisted the creation of the Inspirational Design Briefing method that balances nine Design Quality Criteria addressing Strategy (Philosophy, Structure, Innovation), Context (Social, Environmental, Viability) and Execution (Process, Function, Expression). These findings show that most design briefs are badly balanced and fail to communicate strategic criteria, which results in budget overruns that, in turn, foster poor solutions. When done correctly however, the brief effectively translates business criteria into useful design inspiration leading to superior design team performance and a much higher quality in the final deliverable.

For a specific project, the designer needs to determine exactly what these criteria are. Therefore, adjustments had to be made when conducting crowd sourcing on a challenge as abstract as Peace Journalism. To do this we engaged a selection of creative professional LinkedIn groups. Guiding participants though the creative crowd sourcing process, we posted three increasingly comprehensive briefs in consecutive order, with one week between. The first was a "Pitch" that introduced the strategy of the challenge; the second, a "Mini Brief," established the context; and the third was an "Inspirational Design Brief" focusing on the execution. We posted to multiple LinkedIn groups reaching close to 50,000 members.

Starting out with the brief judged by the team to be the best possible, we iterated between challenging the creative professionals, learning how the brief worked, making adjustments and then challenging the creative professionals once again. Though out this process, we optimized our Inspirational Design Brief while gaining valuable insights into what we could expect using a global commercial platform.

The next step is to conduct a second-level crowd sourcing process using a global commercial platform where we will gather data about the innovation challenge. The analysis will focus on how to apply multiple team/crowd iterations, alternating between diverging and converging challenges to move the discussion from abstract ideas to concrete solutions.

One big insight from the crowd sourcing experiment was feedback on how biased we had been regarding the brand value of journalists. Forty percent of those responding found journalists biased and manipulated by business interests. Not even one supported journalists and everyone expected the objective reporting of facts only and stated that when opinions were expressed they should be clearly indicated as opinions. Though their judgment of journalists was harsh, their ideas on how journalists could proactively promote peace were surprisingly constructive.

Preliminary data gathering rounds have been conducted to create a good design brief for the challenge and the process of setting up the challenge continues. As Tanja Aitamurto reports on her blog post, citizen journalists have had a strong impact on the developments in the Arab World, and this may inspire us to contribute as well.