Global Sustainability Jam: The theory behind the toolkit [Part 1]

Image courtesy of Will Donovan

On the last weekend of October, I helped facilitate the global sustainability jam in Melbourne. A few weeks prior to the event, I was approached by the local organisers Marina Paronetto and Talita Trindade to assist with development, along with two other professionals.

My role in the organisation of the event was to share my knowledge on design thinking to help structure the two day workshop, which Talita and Marina wanted to be based on a ‘designerly’ process. Additionally, I was asked to put together a toolkit that could assist participants in developing their ideas over the weekend.

Constructing this toolkit was a valuable little exercise for me to start thinking about the types of methods that would be most appropriate, useful and efficient in this context. What I realised is that this scenario had five main contexts that the methods toolkit needed to address and assist in an efficient and user friendly way:

1. Time limitation

2. Sustainably focused

3. Open to any form of outcome

4. Open to any problem definition, no project boundary

5. No prior knowledge on design methods

It is important to note that the weekend was not about creating a sustainable service outcome, but could include products, applications, technological solutions – anything! Hence the methods i could use did not need to be explicitly service design related, but since it can be argued that all man-made needs are a type of service, i have used this terminology to explain the process in the following.

Why these contexts were important to consider

Time limitation

Most design methodology toolkits are constructed for long term projects. Most of the methods are useful, but time consuming and demand hours if not days to properly analyse and complete. I noticed a lot of the most popular tools couldn’t be adapted to fit a two day workshop and adaptation of such methods would lose its usefulness and intent. So rather than try to adapt successful but time consuming methods to fit the two days, I chose to collect the most rapid and effective methods I could find from various toolkits. It seemed a wiser and more logical decision to use existing methods that are rapid, than attempt to disfigure the more ambitious tools to fit- without any knowledge on whether they would prove useful.

Sustainably Focused

Obviously the most important concept i had to keep in mind was that the aim of the weekend was to create sustainable outcomes. Business-driven methods would be of little benefit in this scenario, when a holistic and human-centred perspective is understood by many researchers and practitioners as the key to creating a ‘sustainable’ solution.

current service solutions are 'holistic' within themselves and don't consider their position or impact on the external environment

The mindset needed to attack the problem expands beyond just a holistic understanding of the solution in and of itself, but the wider implications that the solution has on the community and environment.

services need to open up their ecosystems and include the external environment as part of their holistic cycle

As such, the solution should ideally feed back in and out of itself, creating a holistic [sustainable] lifecycle that leaves as little negative impact as possible.

The external environment must become a part of the holistic service system. A continuous feedback loop will maintain a more sustainable balance between the service and the environment around it

If the feedback cycle of a solution can be isolated in a specific area it would have a much greater chance of monitoring and managing impact. To take every factor and variable into account is unfeasible in any context, however, this meant to me that the easiest and most successful solutions were ones that focused on a localised environmental issue or community, than attempted to introduce bigger issues and wider (global) demographics. This theory echo’s Ezio Manzini’s writings on localised and creative communities, which discusses creating solutions that use and rely on resources in and around a localised community for production- a small but vital step towards a more sustainable future. I have taken this general ideology and reintroduced it into existing service design theory. This recontextualises the ‘holistic’ focus of a service, to include the external environment as part of its ecosystem. This creates a dependance loop that has to coexist in harmony for both the service and the environment around it to survive.  The methods needed to assist and inspire this type of outcome had to take these theories into account.

Call it what you want…

The collation of methodologies for the toolkit was largely an experiment. Since my thesis focuses on design thinking process methods applied in a sustainable context, it was valuable for me to try and understand what methods could work better and might work differently. It is also worth noting that the definition of design thinking has no concrete source (as of yet) so i have refrained from calling this exercise ‘sustainable design thinking’ or ‘sustainable service design thinking’ for the time being. In broad and general terms, design thinking houses all sorts of design methodologies and was the mindset that was used to structure and empower participants for the weekend. However, it is crucial that a (good) design thinker knows what methodologies will work successfully in different scenarios and tailor these to each unique context.

Hurrah! You got this far so you may as well keep an eye out for part 2. The next installment will cover remaining contexts and present the toolkit in all of its glory. Oh joy!

Here is a snappy little video to keep you occupied in the meantime…

One thought on “Global Sustainability Jam: The theory behind the toolkit [Part 1]

  1. […] In Part 1 of this post, I began explaining the rationale behind issues that needed to be addressed during the preparation for the Melbourne Sustainability Jam toolkit. For those of you who read part 1- I salute you! For the rest of you: here is the link. […]

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