Friday, 6 February 2009

Design and the social sector

I often think of my story into this PhD as serendipitous. It really was about finding things in the right place at the right time.

When I was working in business and management consultancy, we did pro bono work with an Aboriginal policy centre to help them with their strategy to address the complex and long-standing issues in indigenous communities around Australia. For those of you who are not familiar with Australian history, we share a troubled story of white and indigenous Australia cohabiting. Things were much worse in the past but a legacy of this still exists in the present and shall do in the future if Australia is slow to move to address these issues.

Our work with the Aboriginal policy centre felt different to the other work we did with large organisations. For the first time, the top line vision was not about profit, market share or being a market leader. It was about well-being. Everything about this project tasted different and I was keen to explore more.

At the same time this project was running, I picked up Anita Roddick’s biography, Body And Soul: Profits with Principles. And then followed that by reading another biography titled Don’t look back: the David Bassau Story. Bassau was the founder of the first micro finance firm, Opportunity International. Both books celebrate life stories of people who weren’t designers or studied design, but what I noticed was that they shared similar innovative, lateral ways of thinking and acting to Designers that could help bring change to the lives of people. This was another thing I was keen to explore.

It was at this time I came across Dott 07 and the research offer online at the Design Council website. You can probably guess the rest of the story from here. So coming into the PhD, I had interests that loosely connected design to the social sectors, third sector, communities, well-being, development (as in the kinds of programmes run in the developing world)…. This was all just a hunch at the time, but while I was still working at the office, I came across micro finance firm Acumen Fund’s article on Designing Change: How venture philanthropy fund Acumen uses design thinking to help solve real-world problems. A year later (and a different country later) at the InterSections 07 Conference, Tim Brown of IDEO, talked about design for social impact and IDEO’s work with Acumen Fund.

Since my work with the Aboriginal Policy Centre I have kept an eye out for where design and Designers were involved in the social sectors and in the developing world. It's been over a year now and my list of references is growing. I thought I'd share as much as I know with you right here (listed in no particular order):

Blogs

Tim Brown (IDEO) blog
On the 10 big design challenges in the social sector.

Design for Social Impact Blog
The Rockefeller Foundation provided funding for the project and IDEO developed a workbook and guide for Design for Social Impact.

Design for India
Professor MP Ranjan explores on his blog where design can contribute to life in India, and around the globe. Here's a summary of the blog:

“Design is a powerful force that shapes culture and it is a professional activity that is beneficial for both community and business alike. This blog is for all those who are interested in exploring these wider manifestations of design as a critical human activity and would like to shape its application across all human cultural and economic activities.”

Putting People First, Experientia
One of my favouirte blogs with updates on all happenings where design is putting people first.

Companies

Many consultancies, whom we currently group under the umbrella of service design, are involved with using design in the public and social sectors. In the UK, companies like Thinkpublic, Participle and Uscreates have a steadfast focus on these sectors. Thinkpublic’s work with hospitals and the Alzheimer’s Society, and Uscreates work with education and health demonstrate applications of design thinking and skills to such areas. Here are some other companies involved in using design to address social issues:

Architecture for Humanity (USA)
A "charitable organization that seeks architectural solutions to humanitarian crisis and brings design services to communities in need... By tapping a network of professionals willing to lend their time and their talents to helping those who would not otherwise be able to afford their services, we support community development, help communities rebuild after disaster and provide pro bono design services to community partners around the world."

Design for Development (Canada)
A Canadian based company that "works with communities around the globe to develop meaningful and appropriate solutions to real world problems."

Design that Matters (USA)
A not-for-profit based in Cambridge, Massachusetts that "creates new products that allow social enterprises in developing countries to offer improved services and scale more quickly."

Engine (UK)
Service design and innovation firm, Engine, recently launched a Social Innovation Lab for Kent (SILK) which aims to put people at the centre of policy making.

Future Canvas (Australia)
Based in Melbourne Australia, Future Canvas “seeks to promote environmental sustainability and social connectedness through supporting, developing, and implementing a diverse range of creative, innovative and exciting projects.”

IDEO
All about what IDEO are doing and writing in this area.

Participle (UK)
"At Participle, we do two things: Firstly, bring together the widespread community level ideas and creative activity, and mix it with world-leading experts in any given field; Secondly, drive forward thoughts and actions around developing a new social settlement which can deal with the big social issues of our time."

Thinkpublic (UK)
Public service and communication design consultancy, Thinkpublic, "work to improve services and address social challenges. Our methods include social anthropological research, design, film and workshops. We work with the public and service providers to co-design products and services. Our services are designed to support 21st Century public sector reform and are transferable across all public services."

UsCreates (UK)
Dedicated to designing social change, Uscreates is a "creative consultancy that supports local organisations in delivering social change. We deliver solutions to national social problems at a local level working with Local Government, public sector organisations and businesses."

Work Worth Doing (Canada)
"An interdisciplinary design studio creating positive social and environmental actions for corporations, governments, and communities. Our current projects involve the greening of houses, preserving cultural heritage in Ontario, and understanding the intersection of design, society, and the environment."

Communities and Conferences

Designers Accord (USA)
"The Designers Accord is a global coalition of designers, educators, researchers, engineers, and corporate leaders, working together to create positive environmental and social impact." Core 77 inform us of a Designers Accord Town Hall Meeting in New York in March 09.

Design Can Change (Canada)
A Canadian graphic design studio's web platform bringing together the design community to join in sustainable practice. They are a bit like…

Three trees don’t make a forest (UK)
A UK not-for-profit to bring awareness to the design community about sustainable practice. Their ultimate goal is to have a zero carbon design industry. Check out their knowledge bank where they share tips for action on what Designers can do to make their practices more sustainable.

The Social Lab (UK)
Run by Thinkpublic is a space for ideas on social innovation and change.

A Better World By Design conference (USA)
"What are designers doing to address these critical issues facing today's world? How are engineers developing new technologies to improve life on earth? Where are entrepreneurs finding surprising opportunities in this mess? A Better World by Design will attempt to address these questions by demonstrating what professionals and academics are doing to promote sustainable development and change the world for the better." Check out their blog here.

Design and Development

UN Millennium Development Goals
So many opportunities for design...

Design Serbia
Currently under construction, Design Serbia is a programme of work to help support and catalyse growth of the Serbian design industry.

Designs of the Times (Dott 07)
A programme that brought together Designers and local communities to tackle issues in health, education, food, energy and transport in the North East of England.

Books and publications

Blessed Unrest (book)
A leading environmentalist and social activist's examination of the worldwide movement for social and environmental change.

Good to Great and the Social Sectors (book)
Jim Collin's famous book, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Others Don't lays out business and management principles for great companies. In Good to Great for the Social Sectors, Collins looks at the application of these principles in the social sector.

RED (Design Council) Transformation Design Paper
Explores and discusses what Transformation Design is and some application of Transformation Design in tackling social issues.

Small Is Beautiful: Economics As If People Mattered
E. F. Schumacher did well with the title, it sums up the book nicely.

Exhibitions

Design and the Other 90%
A traveling exhibition that began at the Cooper-Hewitt Museum in New York, "demonstrates how design can be a dynamic force in saving and transforming lives, at home and around the world."

Massive Change
A traveling exhibition that began in 2004 that, "explores paradigm-shifting events, ideas, and people, investigating the capacities and ethical dilemmas of design in manufacturing, transportation, urbanism, warfare, health, living, energy, markets, materials, the image and information. We need to evolve a global society that has the capacity to direct and control the emerging forces in order to achieve the most positive outcome. We must ask ourselves: Now that we can do anything what will we do?"

Research and academia


Stanford Social Innovation Review
Research and publishing to share "substantive insights and practical experiences that will help those who do the important work of improving society do it even better."

Helen Hamlyn Research Centre
"People-centred design and innovation at the Royal College of Art."

Attainable Utopias
Lead by John Wood of Goldsmiths, AU looks at principles to achieve big visions of a better world.

Stanford D School’s Adventures around the world
D Schools adventures throughout the developing world to seek out partnerships for projects.

MA. Design for Development at Kingston University
The brand new MA, "focuses on the value of design as a vehicle for addressing social and ecological concerns in both the developed and developing worlds."

Designer as Change Agent by Banny Banerjee
Great paper on role of Designer as Change Agent. Presented at the Changing the Change conference in Turin in 2008.

Sustainable Everyday
The Sustainable Everyday Project (SEP) proposes an open web platform to stimulate social conversation on possible sustainable futures.

Design and new applications, where to next?

So that's the list... In Tim Brown’s blog post (very first link on the list) he asks many big questions, but one which has played heavily on my mind for a long time now is:

“... just like the social sector in general; we may be diffusing a small amount of capacity across a very broad range of problems.”

I tend to think this is what tends to happen with the design and business argument. Design has so many applications in a business and organisational context that it becomes so confusing and overwhelming. Both for the Designer to articulate where they can add value, and for the Client in understanding exactly where design can make an impact. I always think Design should focus on one killer app first, and build from there.

Since I left design-led business and management consultancy, I have had good time to reflect on what design's killer app is for business. I believe it is about applying design’s people-centred approach in business. Businesses, especially large organisations, just don’t know how to talk to and get up close and personal with their customers. There is pretty limited teaching of this in business school. More secondary applications of design in business are around:

Prototyping- Organisations pilot, they don’t prototype. Organisations commit a huge pot of money and resource at once rather than prototyping parts of it, or the whole thing rapidly (the public sector does this too and one Designer said to me last week it was like a "big bang" approach). Prototyping would allow organisations (and the public sector) to weed out failures and issues before launching into the final implementation and before the commitment of a lot of money, time and energy. I have seen this "big bang" approach with organisations I worked with and by the time the design capability was brought it, all we could do was illuminate issues (our direct client did not like this much) and re-engineer a few incremental improvements to make the product slightly better than it was. We were hamstrung because so much had already been committed in terms of resource and finance. It is in this space where Designers will argue they need to be involved earlier in the process, rather than downstream toward the end.

Communication- There is such a massive, massive opportunity for communication designers to work internally with large organisations on their internal communications (eg. reporting, service and product concepts, business models, organisational models, strategy etc). Forget for a moment advertising, promotions, packaging, branding… there’s loads of work for a communication designer within organisations. I can’t count the number of times a simple visualisation (even just a hand sketch) has added value internally in making pages of written text suddenly clear (a picture tells a thousand words), beginning conversations (especially around how something can be improved) and reframing a problem (as people see it differently as a picture).

People-centeredness, or customer centricity, is the killer app of design in business. Just last Thursday, Harvad Business School blogged, Becoming a Customer Experience-Driven Business. Design's people/customer-centered focus is cosely followed by prototyping and (internal) communications. What is the killer app for design in the social sectors?

(ps. Sorry for the lack of visuals in this post. It's word heavy and long enough to scroll through!)

7 comments:

Qin said...

great list Lauren :) I don't think you need to worry much about your literature review anymore! it's right out there.

Addictive Picasso said...

amazing list!

Paul Thurston said...

Really great stuff, thanks for the link Lauren! I'll have to come back to red this in full, there is so much here...

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