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A Wicked approach to destigmatizing mental health

Deloitte’s Wicked Problems social innovation platform focuses on change

Since its inception in 2015, Deloitte’s Wicked Problems social innovation platform has tackled the world’s most complex problems—including school bullying, employee well-being, and increasing diversity in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. This year, we took a deeper dive into one issue that affects us all: Destigmatizing mental illness.

Out of the room and into the world

One of the first things participants in Deloitte’s Wicked Problems sessions on destigmatizing mental illness did was watch a cartoon. But this was no laughing matter.

The animation showed a businessman sinking deeper and deeper into alcoholism, afraid to reach out for help until he hits bottom and finally seeks treatment. At the end of the video, we reveal that this was not just a generic businessman: He’s a partner at one of Deloitte’s global member firms. Moving out of animation and back into the real world, we introduce him by name and share his photograph. Participants realize that this kind of thing could happen to them, to any of us. In just five minutes, they become even more motivated to tackle this thorny challenge.

Consultant Caroline Bergan said the hour-long session she participated in “was really worth our time”—probably the highest praise a Deloitte professional can bestow. She continued:

I’d never been part of an exercise like that. It was such a time crunch: Three minutes, five minutes, a minute and a half to work on things. But I left feeling we actually did valuable idea-generation and solutioning. It’s amazing what you can get done when you laser-focus. And it was rewarding to work on such an important topic.

As the name suggests, Wicked Problems tackles the world’s most complex problems—challenges that can only be solved by people empowered to think differently, to take risks, and to act with purpose. The social innovation platform’s sessions bring together an array of talented people from a range of Deloitte’s businesses, with everyone participating on an equal footing, whether they’re a summer intern or a senior leader. As the room fills with people from diverse backgrounds, with unique ways of seeing the world and approaching problems, it becomes crystal clear that Deloitte knows that people spark the most powerful ideas when everyone has a seat at the table.

Deloitte’s Chief Talent Officer Mike Preston notes, “Cognitive diversity is super-important for high-performing teams. And using that cognitive mix to address societal problems makes the Wicked Problems process truly powerful.”

Refining our social innovation platform

In the early days of Wicked Problems, we ran idea-generation sessions and turned over the results to nonprofit collaborators. But Deloitte is always on the lookout for ways to improve, so we now evolve the best ideas into full-fledged concepts that our nonprofit collaborators can put into action. For our mental health campaign, we rolled out a new, four-stage process:

  1. Ideating—In hour-long workshops, we teased out the most unexpected, innovative, and promising ideas—surfacing 2,559 ideas in the course of just 27 sessions.
  2. Refining—We devoted 10 hour-long workshops to refining top ideas by imagining and storyboarding how a real person might experience each one.
  3. Prototyping—Participants spent an hour building rapid mockups of six of our Big Ideas. Then, working with our nonprofit collaborators, we selected the ideas that would move on to…
  4. Testing—Volunteers spent eight to 10 weeks working with nonprofit partners to test two ideas in the real world.

As the people pass the baton on to those in subsequent Wicked Problems sessions, ideas get stronger and more concrete. We passed along six prototypes to our nonprofit partners. They selected the two most promising, and then it was time to test. We invited everyone who had participated the process to turn the ideas into reality, and eventually selected 11 professionals to work on this final phase.

"It's an incredible process. The fact that so many people have gone through and initiated the idea generation and then we're going to refine that, and then have other people look at our storyboards and say 'Hey, what are some of the issues that you haven't addressed?' ...Having so many perspectives on one idea is what makes this strong."

- Anonymous

Destigmatizing mental health—in the real world

One of our nonprofit partners was BC2M—Bring Change 2 Mind, a nonprofit founded by actress and activist Glenn Close. We leveraged their existing relationship with Indiana University at Bloomington to create a social media campaign for students there

BC2M's Executive Director Pamela Harrington said the collaboration with Wicked Problems gave the organization some much-needed perspective:

Nationally, we have a pretty small staff—just three people—and only one person on the ground full-time at Indiana University. That means we don't have the time and resources to plan as well as we'd like. It was a big benefit to have a team that could take a 35,000-foot view of our challenges. That made execution much easier for us.

The other idea we tested involved eradicating stigma in the workplace.

Our team collaborated with Mental Health America (MHA) to test new ways of collecting data about mental well-being and the workplace.

America Paredes, senior director of Partnerships & Community Outreach at MHA, appreciated the dedication of Deloitte’s people, especially during the testing phase:

…it was really awesome to see people from the Deloitte family across the country come together to work on this project. They clearly all care about the issue. They had an ambitious goal and they embraced the challenge. The work they did—analyzing the strengths and challenges of supporting psychologically healthy workplaces—will be very helpful to us.

Throughout the year, we also collaborated with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). NAMI’s national director of Communications and Public Affairs, Katrina Gay, liked the program's "atypical" approach to destigmatizing mental illness. She noted that Wicked Problems was "going to be tackling it as a complex social issue. That was bold and intriguing. We felt like we really wanted to be part of that, we could contribute a lot to that, and it would stretch us to think about what that might mean in other contexts."

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