Organize Blog

Quick: what‘s your Dad‘s favorite book? Or the name of your wife‘s first pet?

Maybe you knew the answers, maybe you didn‘t, but the point is that we may not really know as much about even our closest loved ones as we think. And how about questions where the stakes are a lot higher, like, what are their end of life wishes for instance?

Regardless of what your loved ones may want, just knowing their end of life wishes is proven to substantially reduce your risk of depression or PTSD after you lose them. Even so, most people never talk about this, even with their own families.

You might remember being asked if you wanted to be an organ donor at the DMV when you first got or renewed your driver‘s license. It‘s a personal and important decision that you made. However, at the moment that this decision becomes most relevant – when you die – does your next of kin know what your wishes are?01-IMG_4504

In search of answers (and warmer weather), we flew to Palo Alto and partnered with the Stanford‘s best and brightest. Our task for them was clear: help us figure out how we can normalize the organ donation conversation within families. Why is it that we talk about this with DMV clerks but not spouses or children, those most truly most affected by our decisions? If the most important step is to share your wishes with next of kin, how can we spark those (admittedly somewhat uncomfortable) conversations at home?

Led by the teaching team Sarah Soule and Justin Ferrell, 36 students, including graduate students in engineering, journalism, business school, as well as a few undergrads, learned and experienced the design thinking phases of empathy, define, ideate, and prototype for the challenge “design how to convey a person‘s wishes about organ donation.”


The first week was “empathy and define”. Students were divided into 9 groups of 4 and then sent out in the the wild to conduct field interviews and learn from real people how they felt about this issue. We served as sounding boards for informational questions, but really tried to steer clear of anything even resembling suggested directions; the more outside-of-the-box they thought, the better. The biggest insights: the idea of organ donation is inextricable not only from death, but from unexpected death, which triggers a highly emotional state. One group even interviewed a husband and wife who, during the interview, realized that they had never once discussed this with each other and had no idea what the other‘s wishes were.


Week two is when things got real: ideation and prototyping, and, ultimately, presentations.
The final ideas included:

  • • a new employee orientation module about the US healthcare system (including organ donation) at a major tech company
  • • a pink donor profile badge for your Facebook page – with the goal of destigmatizing the issue and helping create social prompts for others to make the same decision
  • • “Cards About Humanity,” a spin on the similarly-named card game but with socially important conversation prompts
  • • A dining experience built to facilitate this conversation between families (“Organ is the New Black”)

The common thread across all the prototypes was the underlying idea that everyonewanted their wishes to be known; the friction lay in how to share them. This leaves us with the difficult but important (and fun) question of – how can we create environments in which people can share their wishes without fear of introducing emotional stress for their loved ones.

The class was just a jumping off point; if you like any of these ideas and want to help us run with them (or build off of them in other ways), email us at[email protected]. We have an intern whose full-time job it is to just constantly hit the refresh button on that inbox so that we can respond to you ASAP.

Anjelika Deogirikar is the ORGANIZE Innovator in Residence at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Greg Segal is a co-founder of ORGANIZE.