CTA for CMV: Applying design-thinking to a social challenge

By: Travis Estvold
29 November 2016

At CTA, we facilitate and participate in many, many charrettes. There is almost no problem that can’t be addressed by gathering with our colleagues, getting into our right brain, and collaborating to find a solution. We do this all the time when designing for the built environment. However, we don’t as often have the occasion to solve social challenges using design-thinking.

In September, CTA Austin had the privilege to facilitate a unique charrette for attendees to this year’s CMV Conference. Cytomegalovirus (CMV) is an all-too-common, yet not widely known, infection affecting expectant mothers and their babies, leading to deafness, blindness, and myriad other tragic side effects in children.

From nytimes.com, Oct. 24, 2016:

“Everyone and their brother knows about Zika, but it’s very rare in the U.S.,” said Dr. Mark R. Schleiss, the director of pediatric infectious diseases at the University of Minnesota Medical School. CMV should be every bit as urgent a priority as Zika, he argues. Health officials called for a vaccine decades ago, and there still isn’t one, partly because of a lack of public awareness about CMV, Dr. Schleiss said.


Although CMV is a widespread disease — one affecting people all over the world with many thousands of stakeholders including families, clinicians, researchers, policy-makers, and industry professionals — there is currently no common resource or network to connect these stakeholders to one another. Working with faculty from the University of Massachusetts Medical School, Dr. Laura Gibson, MD and Tim Kowalik, PhD., CTA’s James Foster and Ashleigh Powell developed a workshop for conference attendees to initiate a process for the creation of a global network of all stakeholders in the CMV community.

The objective was twofold: first, define priorities for a global, collaborative network that will serve all stakeholders involved with CMV. Second, begin generating a comprehensive and prioritized list of questions and ideas for comparative effectiveness research that address issues relevant to individuals with congenital CMV infection and their families.

Through a long-distance collaborative process with UMass faculty, Foster and Powell designed a very intentional charrette experience and prepared materials for facilitating a highly interactive workshop in which all of the stakeholders were able to collaborate. The charrette approach was a customized experience drawing upon approaches from Human-Centered Design by IDEO, the Collective Action Toolkit developed by Frog, as well as from our own approaches developed within CTA.

After a fun warmup exercise called “the Potato Game,” the group dove into a series of worksheets, stakeholder interviews, and interactive group sessions. Collectively, the attendees gained new insights into each others’ mindsets, and they began to see great potential by thinking outside of their respective stakeholder groups and align on a broader collective mindset. The activities were designed to build upon each other, taking the group into deeper and broader explorations. Ideas expressed after each exercise were diverse and thoughtful, and are paving the way toward the solution this group needs.

Now, armed with a mountain of data, Foster and Powell will aid Dr. Gibson and Dr. Kowalik in defining the road map for the new CMV Network, and help compile much needed research questions. The next steps of this process are underway and we look forward to continuing our relationship with the UMASS team and the CMV community.

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