Lauren Merlini, Jonathan Ponciano and Morgan Trachtman brainstorm ideas to better inform communities about issues and spark them to take action. Photo by Amulya Uppalapati.

“So where do we begin?” This was my team’s first question to executive director John Clark last week. “Brainstorm,” he replied, and off we went.

My team’s prompt for the semester is: “How do we inform the community about problems and prompt them to take action?” Still unsure of where to begin, we all took to separate corners of a room covered with whiteboard walls and started listing out problems and ways to inform people of them. We then came together and made a 5×5 matrix board of the problems we were most interested in and groups of people to target.

Inside each square, we brainstormed specific ways to spark the particular group to act. By the end of day two, we had four poster-sized sheets of paper filled with ideas and finally one we liked. By day three, we were questioning everything. The tornado of ideas had passed through and what we thought was a good idea at the eye of the storm was then hit with a second wave of destruction.

Our idea, Grub, is a form of a pay-it-forward program where participants can pay an extra dollar on their meal that would go toward a homeless person’s meal. Printed on the receipt is a tracking number that a person can then enter on the website, and when a homeless person claims that meal, he or she receives a notification and receives instant gratification that his or her contribution fed a needy person in the community.

After talking to others, we received pretty poor feedback that at least our college-aged friends wouldn’t participate. The responses included, “It’s too much effort.” “I never keep receipts.” “I’d only donate a dollar if I had cash, which I never do.” How do you motivate someone to help others? Clearly it isn’t going to be donating a dollar. Maybe instead we should have focused on something like the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, in which thousands of people dumped ice water on their head because everyone else was doing it. Perhaps a challenge or peer pressure is the most successful motivator.

From our brainstorm sessions, I learned that it’s amazing how ideas start to flow once you begin talking out loud. Often during our brainstorming sessions, we’d go off one another’s ideas by using the “yes and …” method. For example, “Yes, we could have a drone deliver food, AND it could deliver repurposed food that would have been thrown away from local restaurants.”

I also realized how hard it is to let an idea go once you become attached. After talking through the logistics of Grub, we realized it wasn’t as simple as we once thought. How would we profit off it? What if there wasn’t enough food to feed a person who stops by? Why would a restaurant choose to participate? Would it be better to have a middleman deliver the food? The questions were endless.

But we liked the concept of paying it forward and the idea of easing the stigma surrounding homeless people by better integrating them into society. So maybe Grub won’t go anywhere, but it was a start. At the end of the day, we obtained valuable practice generating ideas and got a taste of realizing that not every idea will survive the storm of brainstorming.

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