Designing Opportunities for Jewish Young Adult Leadership
Part 2: The DC Design Workshop
Part 1, “Designing Opportunities for Jewish Young Adult Leadership,” can be found here.
By Kevin Lieberman
A former CEO of Harley-Davidson once argued that the company didn’t just sell motorcycles. “What we sell is the ability for a 43-year-old accountant to dress in black leather, ride through small towns and have people be afraid of him.” The value of products and experiences is reflected in the emotional response of the consumer – how does it make you feel? What does this mean for young adult Jewish programming? It suggests that it doesn’t really matter what happens at your Chanukah party. What’s more important is how we make community members feel by attending our programs.
Last year, I began hosting programs and receiving support through Moishe House Without Walls. With new access to program funding, my friends and I began asking how we could provide a more satisfying experience to the young adult Jewish community and, ultimately, foster a stronger sense of belonging. Our individual conversations led to what is now known as the DC Design Workshop, a collaborative project with DC’s young adult lay-leaders, innovative organizations, and donors who work together to design meaningful community experiences. The idea of creating a “Design Workshop” is to apply design thinking to a think-and-do tank that would question, explore, and experiment with new ideas to address unmet needs in the community.
The Design Workshop is a fusion of my educational coursework and professional experiences. Human-centered engineering design strategies are being adapted to provide innovative solutions to unmet needs of the young adult Jewish community. Collaboration is modeled after the Collaborative Decision-Making (CDM) paradigm for managing air traffic. CDM brings together the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), airlines, industry, academia, and other stakeholders for sharing information and collaboratively developing air traffic management solutions. To quote the FAA’s CDM website, “By sharing information, values and preferences, stakeholders learn from each other and build a common pool of knowledge, resulting in [air traffic management] decisions and actions that are most valuable to the system.”
By combining the strengths of design thinking and collaborative decision-making, the Design Workshop provides an opportunity for community lay-leaders to work with community professionals and donors to develop a common vision for the young adult Jewish community that leverages the strengths of existing organizations. Young adults facilitate the conversation and all community stakeholders are part of the design process. Community critiques become unmet needs for design challenges, and “problems” flip into “possibilities.” By innovating together as a group with diverse perspectives, we eliminate assumptions about each other’s values and work towards building a more meaningful community experience.
The Design Workshop’s primary goal is to create a greater sense of belonging for young adult Jews in Washington, DC. The Workshop also aspires for young adult lay-leaders to become empowered and shape their community, collaborate with community organizations on innovative projects, and work with community professionals to articulate community needs to Jewish-institution decision makers.
A diverse group of Jewish young adults of various ages and differing religious backgrounds and affiliations were recruited to be members of the Design Workshop. We looked for individuals who were curious, reflective, empathetic, articulate, solution-oriented, collaborative, and self-motivated. Due to the voluntary nature of the project, we were only able to successfully recruit young adults who already saw value in being a part of the Jewish community. Organizations involved with the Design Workshop were recruited based upon their central goal of increasing young adult access to the Jewish community. It is no surprise that they have all since been included in the DC edition of Slingshot.
So far, we have run through a number of design activities to gather insights into the needs of the community. We have focused our attention on how we might involve Jewish young adults to become active participants in the community, cultivate a sense of belonging, and retain their engagement. Based upon our discussions, we’re planning to explore how we might strategically transition college students into the young adult Jewish community and build relationships among young adults Jews of different religious denominations.
Young adults in the Design Workshop are beginning to act on their ideas for enhancing the community. Feedback loops are being created as organizations are reaching out to the Design Workshop to gather input on their ideas so that the organizations may better meet the needs and attract Jewish young adults. The Workshop’s young adult lay-leaders are connecting with Jewish organizations to collaborate on projects, and Jewish organizations are reaching out to young adults to figure out how they may better connect them to interesting opportunities. New ideas are being generated through a cross-pollination of perspectives from different Jewish organizations. Young professionals who work outside of the Jewish world are bringing their knowledge of marketing, entrepreneurship, activism, policy, and public relations to adapt best practices to the Jewish community.
It is my belief that by collaboratively creating accessible opportunities for young adult lay-leadership, we will better engage young adults and build stronger young adult Jewish communities.
Kevin Lieberman, 25, is an engineer for an air traffic control engineering and research company where he designs new air traffic management concepts and decision support tools. He leads the DC Design Workshop is his free time. Kevin graduated from Duke University with a degree in mechanical engineering and was President of the Duke Jewish Student Union.