Demystifying The Theory of Change

Design Research Lead

Team of 4 collaborators

Sep - Nov 2017

A step by step process to utilize the framework 

of the theory of change in the simplest way possible.


As a CSR project, SAP CSR team collaborated with Minerva school at KGI, a university education startup from Silicon Valley. Minerva School at KGI is not like schools we see every day. Each semester students move to a different city, they don't go to school, school comes to them which means they have no real facilities, and they take all of their classes online via real-time with professors from all over the world. 


Minerva came to Seoul for a semester and wanted their students to work with companies, organizations, and startups for their Civitas program, which is a program where students use what they have learned in order to benefit the city they are currently in. SAP Korea's CSR team partnered up with 12 students in order to co-design solutions social startups were facing. Whether it be their business models, their team collaboration or communication, together our mission was to use the human-centered design approach to co-design an actionable solution that works.

Learning by Doing

I first had to understand who these Minerva school students were in order to get a sense of what these students were capable of. I knew that during their freshmen year, they learn design thinking for a prerequisite. However, knowing and knowing how to do something is a whole different thing. One, in order to give them the best learning experience and two, design something that actually works, aligning what they knew and how we (SAP + Minerva) are going to work together had to come first.


The first thing on my mind was "So, how much do you rea----lly know?. In order to first answer my question, I taped a long line across a whiteboard with masking tape and wrote on the far left "fastest" on the far left "takes the longest". I asked the students to first write some of the research methods they knew and after stick what they think takes the most time and the least. After this exercise and a little talk about their past experiences with DT, I was able to get a grip on how much time would be needed into sharing the how-tos of design research.

The second question I had was "Were these students capable of good teamwork?"

Being individually smart and intelligent can be easy, but being intelligent within a team to collaborate is a skill set. Most of the time Minerva students study individually online and in their rooms. Physically working in teams is not done a lot. I had my own assumptions about their teamwork and collaboration skills.

I grouped the 12 students into 3 groups of 4. Considering their majors and interests in specific fields, I grouped them so that each of them had something different to offer. I wanted to see if their different expertise and interests can be of help when it came to ideating creative solutions.


I gave them an empathy challenge by asking them to interview three very different social entrepreneurs at various stages in their startups. Students were to find out what these social entrepreneurs were having problems with. They were to interview, define, and ideate a solution that helps these social entrepreneurs. As a team through half of the project (the whole project was 8 weeks), they had to dig deep and immerse into their current situations to find and design opportunities that can be of help to them.


At this point I could see teams that were having a hard time. 2 out of 3 teams were thriving. By observing how they work and sensing the different temperatures the 3 teams were showing I was starting to understand the dynamics of how to work with these students. I used half of the project as a HRD experiment while screening which individual to put my focus on. With the lens of an employer and project lead I was able to learn by teaching. Students wanted real feedback on how the employer viewed them. Instead of saying, I showed them. After all this wasn't a class but a real private sector job to take. Instead of mailing them on their failures and telling them they got fired, I asked the following two questions and curated moments of self-reflection to see if they were passionate and committed enough to get through the next 4 weeks.

- With how much effort and authenticity have you engaged yourself into this project?

- Can you, with confidence, communicate the reason behind why you're participating in this project to others?

5 out of the 12 students replied with confidence and 3 were chosen to go into the next 4 weeks of the learning and co-designing with our team.

Learnings put to practice

After interviewing numerous social ventures, NGO's, and incubators/accelerators that work alongside these social innovators, one of the biggest problems most startups were facing was team communication. There were a lot of VC's, incubators, and mentors that taught these early on teams on how to build strong business models that illustrated the best case studies to benchmark but no one was really sharing information on how to work better within the team or how to communicate effectively when that was what they needed the most, better soft skills. Now you may think because startups are small in the number of people working within the company, they are more likely to have direct check-ins and continual feedback sessions on what each team member is thinking and doing. However, the physical act and time you meet with your team members are not what brings consolidation and clarity to what comes next. Communicating in a way in which everyone is able to clearly see and be in sync with one another needed to come first.

So how can we design a tool that helps teams do that? The 3 Minervan's brought in an idea from what hey learned in class. It was the concept of the Means and Ends Analysis (MEA), Simply put, in order to get to the end (goal state) one must be able to figure out which means (the current state + steps) to take. In an MEA, instead of chronically coming up with ways to get to a goal from your current situation, you work backward by first defining your goal state and then thinking about what comes right before achieving the actual goal.


It's easy to talk about how to get to a certain goal but knowing what to do in order to get there can be difficult. We wanted to visualize the MEA so that when teams meet, they can start their meetings with setting team goals and after the meeting is done, each team member knows what to do next right away. By mixing the MEA theory and the human-centered design approach we designed a workshop flow and workbook for small teams to use. We visualized the MEA so teams can see with a birds-eye what their goal was, what their current situation looked like, and finally which steps to take right away.​

Last remarks 

As design lead for this project, I got to work together with individuals from all over the world with different backgrounds, experiences, and knowledge backed insights. After the final testing (which by the ways was our 9th prototype) team members from the Korean education social start-up, "Erida" were astonished on how quickly they understood the MEA and how clear it was to them. They were not only able to see how different each individual in the team viewed their team goals but were also able to conclude their meeting with a tangible list of next steps to take in order to get to their goal state.


how it works
how it works