design as a process – design thinking to enable agency

I’ve been thinking for a while now about the value of design as a process

Many people think that design is really about products.

Interestingly though, a beautiful, effective and easy to use product, program or service is often only conceived effectively because of a rigorous design process. And the design process is what puts Design Thinking into action.

So its not surprising that many people are increasingly interested in how we might apply design thinking to address some of the world’s greatest challenges of climate and resource crises and to growing financial and cultural inequality in society.

Essentially Design thinking is about believing we can make a difference, and having an intentional process in order to get to new, relevant solutions that create positive impact.

As a tertiary design educator and long time advocate assisting people to explore their own agency, I’ve been looking more closely at innovation in education for people of all ages and exploring the use of design thinking to enable their agency. In 2013 I visited 6 inspirational schools around the world breaking new ground in creative entrepreneurship, whilst I was researching, planning and benchmarking the approach we’ve taken with the School for Creating Change.

So let me share with you just how inspirational those schools are.

Stop 1: in April was an education conference in Dublin, where amongst many others, I met two extraordinary Persians; Pantea & Farid who were independently doing great work at that time, and now working together in Qatar. Pantea works with Peace Jam that facilitates youth and Nobel Peace Laureates working together to change the world. Amazing stuff. More on that in a future post.

Stop 2: London. This was an opportunity to reconnect with friends with whom I studied in the late 90s and early 2000s, and to embark on new adventures attending class at The School of Life. From a humble little shop front in Marchmont St WC1, The School of Life are sharing great ideas for everyday life, offering the philosophical treasure of centuries with convenience store accessibility. Started by Alain DeBoton, they’ve published a basic curriculum around themes of our contemporary conundrums; satisfaction at work, in relationships, making a difference in the world and so on. Their courses are generally evenings or a one day workshop, and the courses I attended were inspiring and prompted lively debate and discussion. Their pop up school in Melbourne last summer was also very popular, their 12 week program of courses sold out in the first few weeks and they’re considering a more permanent school in Melbourne for the future. Great news for Australians!

Stop 3: Aarhus Denmark to visit the Kaospilots,

This school really has soul, Kaospilots is a polymath approach for fostering leadership, creativity and entrepreneurship. Started by Uffe Elbaek over 20 years ago, Kaospilots offer an education not so much about breaking people in to fit in the future, but giving them opportunity to create their own future. In April they were still in their original home, with well worn studio spaces and walls lined with the faces of 20 years of alumni who’d completed the 3 year program they offer. They’ve since moved to new premises, and remain passionate about helping people realize their values and their dreams, helping them navigate change & uncertainty, tapping into their creativity and potential, finding their direction, and supporting them to get going.  This approach seems to flourish in the cultural context of Denmark, where students are highly engaged and actively take charge of their learning.

Stop 4: Singapore The School of Thought

The School of Thought is an initiative within The Thought Collective, alongside other initiatives; Food for Thought, Think Tank, Think Scape and Common Ground. Each of these seeks to operationalize their aims in different ways; to develop knowledge, empathy and initiative in Singapore’s youth. Their leadership team relies on skills of head, heart and gut instinct and ensure a democracy of all 3. Many schools traditionally focus on the mind only, and the approach at The School of Thought is exceptionally inspiring. Their philosophy is that belief is the capital that begins all human endeavor and that having faith, allowing miracles, saying yes, taking responsibility and trusting your intuition all require an emotional mastery which they have seen the value in learning. For over ten years they’ve been engaged in civic education at a critical time in the social and political history of Singapore and an awakening of her people’s agency. The school’s interest in fostering empathy and civic responsibility is refreshing, since these are qualities that were overlooked in the focus of Singapore’s recent thrust to become a first world Asian country- during which time they prioritized financial/economic growth.

So that is a round up of the first trip of 2013, the second trip in July took in schools in Switzerland, Italy & the third trip to SIX and a visit to a school in South Korea. I’ll share more on those in my next post. What is really inspiring about all this is that we are fortunate to be living in an era of extraordinary possibility. Systems change can be hard when everything is working, and people are generally satisfied with the status quo, but when we are faced with crises in our systems, there’s an opening, an opportunity to innovate and put forward new possibilities. We’re in that moment, in the belly of great opportunities.

So after a year of gestation and visits to other inspirational schools breaking new ground in creative entrepreneurship, the School for Creating Change has now launched!  And we’ve mapped some exciting terrain to explore up ahead. So come and join us, don’t be shy- please get in touch. Everything in the world started simply from a conversation. As Margaret Mead famously reminded us

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

 

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