What does the word “tool” mean when we talk about Leapfrog tools?

We were joined this week by The Institute for Research and Innovation in Social Services (Iriss). IRISS is a charitable company working to enhance the capacity and capability of the social services workforce in Scotland. It achieves this through access and application of evidence-​based knowledge and research for service innovation and improvement.

Together, we had a good discussion about what “tools” are which gave us the opportunity to reflect on how we think about them. We talked in a practical way about how a Leapfrog tool, like a DIY tool, enables you to perform a task. It is a means to an end. Following this analogy, the following conditions could apply:

  1. Ideally the tool can perform the same task in almost any predictable context.
  2. Help may be needed in learning how to use the tool. While it should have the potential to be used by anyone, the more knowledge and skill is brought to using that tool, the higher quality the end result should likely be. Like any physical tool, it also requires an individual to practice to become accomplished in its use.
  3. It should be possible to use each tool for a variety of tasks. This could include applications that we can’t predict, in ways that may require some level of adaptation or re-​consideration of use. However, the latter may require a unique combination of need, knowledge, skills and experience to create and exploit these opportunities.
  4. Learning when and how to either use or not use the tool could come through a combination of formal guidelines and learning and the informal exchange of experience between people who have used and are interested in using the tool. As experience and examples grow, this could feed back in to formal instruction.

Staying with that same analogy, imagine you had never seen a hammer or nails before. Seeing them for the first time, how would you know what to do with them? What would indicate that the hammer is used with the nails? Once you knew how to use them both, what might it take for you to move out of that accepted usage and appropriate the same tools in other less orthodox ways? For example, deliberately bending the nail to create a hook, or using the hammer to break furniture apart?

The tools that our partners are co-​designing with us exist in the world for the first time and are being created in response to complex, abstract engagement challenges. Once they move out of the co-​design studio and into the world, the way the tools are understood to be used needs to be negotiated for the first time. Given the conditions we’ve already listed, this may not be easy. With that in mind, our question remains, how do we remove some of those barriers to use and how is the learning around tool use communicated without inadvertently limiting the opportunity people might see in adapting the tool in new ways?