In other words, sometimes you need to avoid trying to invent grand solutions and be satisfied with what you can do in the time you have; it is up to you to figure out how much time and resources you can contribute. Make a list of the problems you see and identify what already exists in the community that you can build upon. Does the community have a service infrastructure, unique skills, or resources that you can utilize? Knowing your constraints and what you have to work with will help you determine what you can promise and how you can deliver.

Avoid trying to solve all of the community’s needs. While the community you work with may ask for a lot, you need to accurately estimate the time and resources that you can realistically contribute. Community development expert James Cavaye points to the “delineation of responsibility” as a key strategy to ensure that a project is efficiently carried out. While he refers specifically to how government agencies engage communities, the same advice holds true for graphic designers who all too often try to create elaborate designs that deserve the attention of design armies. 

The temptation to offer more may increase as you immerse yourself in a community and experience the needs up close. You may become as emotionally vulnerable as the people you want to help, and it might become difficult to say no to their requests, especially when your efforts have the potential to benefit individuals you have come to know personally. Social problems deserve realistic design solutions, however, and the community will not benefit from idealistic promises. 

Understand the project’s scope and be prepared to lower your expectations if an unforeseen development changes the parameters. As IDEO’s Design for Social Impact: A How-To Guide advises, “Narrowing the scope of the project can often serve as an effective lever to increase efficiency.”