Houston County EDA hosts design thinking workshop for DMC to generate tech solutions for persons with disabilities

Article by: Abby Wright and Allison Wagner

On Tuesday, Oct. 22, the Houston County Economic Development Authority (EDA) hosted a free workshop at the new La Crescent Area Event Center in La Crescent, MN. The design thinking workshop was third in a series of five-to-seven total that Destination Medical Center (DMC) will present this year throughout Southeast Minnesota.

Design thinking is a group process for creative problem-solving using an empathetic point of view, concept mapping, and experimentation. Thirty-five people attended the workshop on Tuesday evening, coordinated by CEDA Small Cities Development Program Specialist and Houston County EDA Director, Allison Wagner. Participants included Robotics students and educators from La Crescent, Caledonia, and Houston County; area entrepreneurs; and community members.

In the workshop, DMC Designers guided participants through a series of fast-paced, hands-on group exercises to foster and generate ideas for DMC’s Assistive Technology Challenge, a pitch competition to facilitate greater independence for individuals with challenges and disabilities. The Assistive Tech Challenge seeks inventive solutions to alleviate barriers to employment, reduce the need for and/or ease the demands of direct support on care providers, develop social skills that better cultivate meaningful relationships, and improve access to the community through public infrastructure. For more information on the Challenge, visit https://dmc.mn/introducing-the-assistive-tech-challenge/.

Wagner says, “The Houston County EDA hosts a variety of workshops throughout the year, which involves identifying the need and planning ahead, coordinating with the appropriate people, booking the venue, and marketing. This event was especially exciting and worth the preparation because it engaged adults and teenagers to come up with creative solutions for persons with disabilities, several of whom own and staff businesses in Houston County.”

Abby Wright, CEDA Community Grant Specialist and EDA Coordinator in Mantorville, MN, also attended and had, in January, participated in a design thinking workshop at IBM in Rochester with four other CEDA representatives.

Wright says, “Design thinking is sort of a newer, outcomes-focused, collaborative and interactive way of developing ideas, and I think it could be used to work with partners and one another to come up with innovative solutions in our regions, communities, and within our organization. We already have some partners who have recently expressed interest in collaborating with CEDA to brainstorm regional transportation solutions via design thinking. I think there’s a lot of potential to take advantage of this out-of-the-box framework, and I think we do need to always consider people’s daily life challenges in our communities.”