Mariah Barksdale, Caroline Lamb and Whitney Harris work on an empathy map to have a better understanding of their target audience. Photo by Amulya Uppalapati.

Mariah Barksdale, Caroline Lamb and Whitney Harris work on an empathy map to have a better understanding of their target audience. Photo by Amulya Uppalapati.

This past week in the Reese News Lab, we were paired with the teams that we would be working with for the rest of the semester. I am in a group with Whitney Harris and Mariah Barksdale. We all have different things to offer, and I’m really excited to be working with them. The Lab doesn’t offer the typical experience of a group project. Our projects depend on our group, and I’ve found in the past week that our ideas flow better if the three of us are there and we are all collaborating, bouncing ideas and even disagreeing. This became especially important when presented with such a loaded question: “How can we keep better tabs on local government officials?”

By Tuesday, we were having our first brainstorming session, and the three of us stood around a giant blank piece of paper on the wall. The confused looks on our faces were unprecedented. I thought I had figured out by now how to really think outside of the box, especially through the sprint on our first day. But when we were actually getting in our real groups, and really diving into the semester head on, thinking of that one good idea became a bit more daunting.

So we sat, sat and sat some more. We looked on the Orange County website to look at the various departments. The health department, county commissioners, planning, animal service, taxes and more. Who knew there were so many government officials? Who knew there was this much to local government? It was a pretty exhaustive list, and it only confused us more.

Something that helped us move past the confusion was to list various departments or groups of government officials that we found appealing. Then within those groups, we asked ourselves, “Who are the officials? What do we want to know about them? And what kinds of things do they oversee that people would care about?”Although it was helpful, I still went home pretty disheartened at the end of the day.

On Wednesday, I realized I was getting too caught up in the logistics and the end result of an idea that had not even been formed yet. I was so worried about thinking of an idea in a week’s time that it was hindering my ability to think creatively.

Here’s a tip: don’t do that.

I came in Thursday more relaxed and ready to draw on some of the ideas we had presented already in brainstorming sessions. There was one that really stuck out to us. Executive director John Clark mentioned the idea of “insurance” for stakeholders, and I honestly had no idea what that meant. Luckily, Whitney was really into it – and when other people get excited about ideas, I start to see the potential behind the ideas. So on Thursday, at our wits’ end, we took that concept and turned it into a potential product.

Right now, we are trying to figure out if our first one is feasible or desirable, all while sorting out the blueprint of potential other ideas. The three of us are all relatively imaginative and thoughtful, and I think with more team brainstorming, our ideas will get even better.

John said to not give these ideas names yet because it’s going to be extra upsetting if we have to kill it, and I think that’s really important – don’t get too attached. Next week, we are going out to businesses in the area, as well as other groups of people, to ask the most basic question – are people even going to be interested? It will either be super exciting or disappointing. If nothing else, it will be productive and help us figure out what direction we should go.

If I have learned anything in the past week, I suppose it would be that I should not be scared by the idea of creating this very real thing over the course of a semester. I was thinking too much about the end result and the feasibility of something that did not exist. Could this actually work? We realized that too much overthinking if something is feasible or not killed the creativity behind making the idea come to fruition. I have also learned that group work is SO. IMPORTANT. Brainstorming sessions from last week and this week were extremely helpful, and I cannot stress enough how important it is to work within our group collaboratively. That is when we get the most creative and productive. Though we are still in the beginning stages, I can’t wait to see where the ideas of our group take us.

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