How can design thinking and practices contribute to reconfiguring society and public projects? Government’s are increasingly developing design and policy ‘labs’ and local government and public sector projects are increasingly being planned, developed and organised using design. If you’re interested:

Armstrong, Leah, Jocelyn Bailey, Guy Julier and Lucy Kimbell (2014). Social Design Futures, University of Brighton and Victoria and Albert Museum.

Design and Social Impact White Paper’, Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum

Design Commission (2012). ‘Restarting Britain 2: Design and Public Services’, Policy Connect.

DESIS Network. (2013). Public and Collaborative: Exploring the Intersection of Design, Social Innovation and Public Policy.

Mulgan, Geoff, (January 2014). ‘Design in public and social innovation: what works, and what could work better’, Nesta.

Puttick, Ruth, Peter Baeck and Philip Colligan (2014). i-teams: The teams and funds making innovation happen in governments around the world. Nesta/Bloomberg Philanthropies.

Parsons DESIS Lab. Government Innovation Labs.

I was invited to an AHRC ‘sprint workshop’ as part of the ProtoPublics project, held at Imagination – Lancaster University with the aim of advancing this agenda and advancing our understanding of these processes and practices.

ProtoPublics builds on Mapping Social Design conducted for the AHRC in 2014 by Professor Guy Julier, Dr Lucy Kimbell and Dr Leah Armstrong of the University of Brighton and Jocelyn Bailey (see http://mappingsocialdesign.org). Among other recommendations, the final report urged research councils to set up collaborative projects in which arts and humanities and other researchers become active participants in crafting new services, experiences, projects and policies that address contemporary issues. Rather than specifying how this should happen, the AHRC is supporting the prototyping of new collaborations between researchers and practitioners through such activities as the ‘sprint workshop’.

As an interloper from education I did have some misgivings that education might yet again be identified as an object of transformation to be reorganised or re-disorganised again, where once it was business and managerial logics then this will be given the sheen and shine of design practices. (At one seminar DfE policy was held up as an effective example of professionalised policy making. I’ll just leave that there.) Design is a broad and diverse set of practices but I’d be worried that and not surprised if design practices or at least the most appropriate ones are used as an expert form of knowledge and practice as part of apolitical ‘problem solving’ in education… but anyway.

As for the workshop, it’s kind of great to get outside your discipline and talk to interesting people but there is always a sense of not quite understanding the directions that conversations go. There was a lot of talk about ‘probes’ and I didn’t know what that meant… and ‘crits’ which means ‘critiques’ – I think.

It was a sandpit/ sprint workshop so we all spent a lot of time developing and pitching ideas…. and there were some amazing ones:

The project I’m part of is called ‘Design Research Get Lost: young people self-organising to make and do.’ We’re trying to challenge and explore the way adults/ researchers/ practitioners contrive inclusion with young people to get them to work on what ever agenda the adult cares about. Even at the event there was talk of ‘getting’ groups of children to participate in our research, to be empowered to transform their contexts. So we want to explore how groups of young people from particular groups work together to decide, plan and do. The particular groups we are thinking of are the Woodcraft Folk because they come from a deliberative and co-operative background and hackers/ makers because there is an idea that by making/ coding etc then you have generalisable skills for being a better adult/ citizen. By bringing these two groups together we want to see how they self-organise but also whether they approach problems as Woodcraft Folk Hackers or any variation of this.

Basically we’d set a challenge: you have to collectively, decide and plan and do something that involves other children. You have £5k. We’d also like you to report the process, using videos or paper or whatever. Get on with it.

We’re going to interpret what they are doing from co-operative education, Ranciere (the Ignorant Schoolmaster) and design thinking perspectives.

There’s always a bit of ‘hold your breath and see if it happens’ about developing ideas at these sorts of events. It’s a bit like the academic equivalent of a one night stand. Nevertheless, fingers crossed…

James Duggan

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *