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The making of design creatives: a capability approach to addressing societal challenges

Theo Zamenopoulos, smiling and looking at the camera

Theo Zamenopoulos, Professor of Citizen-led design, Engineering & Innovation, Faculty of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, delivered his inaugural lecture on the work and capabilities of design creatives and their contribution to addressing societal challenges.

The lecture reported on research co-designed and co-delivered with citizens, professionals, and organisations across different sectors, and will be of interest to policy makers, researchers and organisations across sectors interested to explore the contribution of design creatives in addressing societal challenges and how to foster this kind of practice.

Building on the work of Amartya Sen, the economist and philosopher, this lecture approached societal challenges and sustainable development as a place-capability problem: as a problem of developing opportunities within places, for the human and non-human actors of a place, to grow and develop what is of value for them and others. Places are not seen simply as built or natural environments, but as ecosystems within which a network of human and non-human elements are connected around a perceived or contested value.

In this context, the lecture discussed the rise of design creatives: an emerging form of practice carried out by citizens, professionals and organisations that goes beyond the traditional conception of design as a profession concerned with the development of commodities (products, buildings or services) to serve needs. Design creatives carry out values-driven design work that is also concerned with the parallel development of cultural, social and natural resources to unearth and support these values.

The lecture reflected on the insights developed through a number of UK Research and Innovation-funded collaborative research projects over the last 10 years, which centred on understanding the characteristics and practices of design creatives and on developing practical ways to foster design capabilities to make the work of design creatives possible. From a pool of over 65 cases of design creatives developed in different contexts and at different levels, the lecture will focus on a small number of case stories presented to highlight the practical ways that design capabilities can be fostered to help deal with societal challenges.

Such challenges include barriers or opportunities for citizens, businesses or organisations to engage with the regeneration of our natural and built environments, to enhance our cultural heritage, foster social innovations, reduce inequalities or to improve wellbeing and inclusivity in our (ageing) society. These challenges are multidimensional but also deeply existential, place-sensitive and value-formative.

Watch the recording of Professor Theo Zamenopoulos’ inaugural lecture:

Now it's time to introduce Professor Theo Zamenopoulos to deliver his inaugural lecture - The making of design creatives: Unlocking design capabilities to address societal challenges. He is Professor of Citizen-led Design at The Open University and is a professional architect. If anyone wants a house building, I know a chap. He has led co-design and participatory action research projects working with citizens, communities, and organisations across the third, private and public sectors. He has also conducted empirical studies of design cognition using brain imaging (fMRI), as well as computational and logico-mathematical studies of design.

He has worked on a variety of projects aiming to address a wide range of societal challenges. More recently this includes projects that focus on sustainability of historic places of worship and the development of cross-sector design collaborations, and the development of places for healthy ageing, which is something I am probably quite close to I feel at times.

It now gives me great pleasure to welcome Professor Theo Zamenopoulos.

Gareth thank you very much for the introduction and welcome everyone and thank you very much for being here today in this Lecture Theatre and online.

In this lecture I would like to essentially open a conversation about the work of citizens, professionals and organisations that engage in the type of work that I call design creatives. I would like to discuss what unlocks the capabilities to address societal challenges.

But who are the design creatives? Let me start with a quite ‘personal’ account of the topic of this lecture.

So this is me with my sister a few years ago, he says. We grew up in a suburb of Athens in a place full of contradictions. People living in floorless houses literally sleeping on the soil on the floor, in an increasingly reduced agricultural area at the north of Athens and next to them, wealthy families living in villas with well-kept gardens and big trees often. Next to them again, empty land full of throwaway materials usually construction materials, wandering animals, dogs, sheep and cats.

As a group of 20-odd children, maybe 7 to 14 years old, we had our own conflicting ‘societal challenges’. After all, life can be hard when your shoes have holes. When you risk to destroy them in the rough terrain or in the mud, or when you don't know how to tie your shoelaces. Life can be hard for the whole place you live in when there are hungry animals looking for food and then there are people who plant poison bait all over the place to fight dog biting.

Such challenges were real issues but also real opportunities to discover what mattered to us. It wasn't just about solving a problem. After all we didn't know what was the problem. Was it the design of the shoe, or the rough environment and the mud? The skills or our teachers? The biting dogs or the people who put down poison baits. What was the problem?

We were just eager to design a way out of something that we thought compromised our capabilities as individuals, but also as a place to be and act as we thought it was right, or to put it more academically, as we had a reason to believe it was of value. But we didn't know what was of value.

So maybe take a few seconds to travel back to a place that you grew up and think of something that you think compromised your capabilities to be and act as you valued and maybe we can discuss that at the end of the presentation.

But in our case, as a group of 20, we designed the shoe-less and the shoe lacing ventures as we called them, which included places to walk without shoes, a lot of that was on the trees, prototyping new shoes, competitions and an academy that provided training and paper certificates in shoe lacing. We also had the animal welfare venture which included properly constructed shelters with wood and carbon paper for wounded and hungry animals and unfortunately I don't have pictures of those. Campaigns and champions for healthier dog life.

We did that for the pure fun and of course out of boredom but in the process we were discovering what we had the reason to value. We created shoes, services, shelters, commodities, but we also grew our communities. We grew friendships. We grew attitudes to each other, attitudes to nature, cultural practices.

I think the value for our work was not just the making of the shoe, the shelter or the certificate, but it was the making of a place, the making of a network value that comes from an ecosystem of commodities, communities, cultures, and local capabilities to discover and achieve what really mattered to us. That's essentially what I call today design creatives.

Of course since then I realised that design creatives are not only children.

It is a type of work that's carried out by citizens, professionals, communities, organisations that work across different sectors.

Myself I became, as Gareth just mentioned, I became a professional architect, although I think my mind was still working as a design creative, thinking a little bit beyond the specification of a building.

Later on as a researcher I start looking at the sources of design capabilities in the cultural and social space of people but also in the minds of people and the cognitive processes.

So I started studying the neurological interaction in the brain that are essentially the sources for our abilities to address design tasks, using brain imaging techniques, fMRI and mathematical modelling.

But then I met Sophia de Sousa, the Chief Executive of The Glass-House Community Led Design. This is a national charity that aims to connect people with design and design with people. I really invite you to have a look at this organisation as an example of a design creative.

Sophia together with Katerina Alexiou, Vera Hale, myself and a growing network of academic individuals and organisations, we started a journey of probably more than 15 funded projects by the UK Research Innovation Council to essentially discover these 2 questions. What are the sources of design capabilities that are rooted in the place that we live in and how can we unlock them to address societal challenges? and that's the very topic of this presentation.

So in the next slides I would like to say very briefly a few words about what I think is the capability problem in societal challenges, the role of design, ways of unlocking capabilities to address societal challenges, and to conclude with the value of design creatives.

So I approach societal challenges as challenges that are value-driven and rooted in places. Challenges that arise because they are deeply existential and value-formative situations, not only value-driven situations, but also value-formative situations, like the one that we saw in my introduction from my childhood. Challenges that arise because they're very highly intra-connected complex issues, realities and situations that are deep-rooted in the place that we live. Situations that I think that create this porous boundary between the self and the other, the human, the non-human, the local and the global. In these cases the place is not just the geography, it is not just a thing, it is a way of understanding reality as a place, a way of acting on reality as a place.

So in this context, societal challenges include a wide range of challenges from ageing society, healthy ageing, biodiversity, participation in shaping our built environment, participation in democracy, alienation from nature. All these are examples of societal challenges.

But there are different ways to conceptualise and act on the societal challenges. Societal challenges are very often seen as a problem with utility satisfaction, satisfying needs and desires in our society. Societal challenges are again very often seen as a problem of limited availability of resources, having limited access to critical resources to develop, to grow, to be satisfied. Societal challenges can also be seen as a problem of having limited opportunities to achieve something of value, and that's my particular interest. Limited opportunities to access assets, but also limited power to make use of these assets to produce something of value for you or for others.

So take for instance the sustainability problem. The sustainability problem can be seen as a utility problem where the focus is based on protecting intergenerational needs for the current and future generations, where needs are food, shelter, and other utilities. But the sustainability problem can also be seen as a resource problem, where the focus is on the idea of protecting or increasing the valuable ecosystem of resources, of course, natural resources, but also social and cultural resources. The sustainability problem can also be seen as a capability problem, as a problem where the focus is on the idea of protecting or enhancing the freedoms that we have, the opportunities that we have, for the current and future generations to define what they have reason to believe that is of value.

Again maybe we can take just a few seconds to think of a societal challenge that really matters to you. But try to think of this challenge not as a problem of satisfying needs or as a problem of limited resources, but as a problem of limited opportunities that you have to access resources and limited power that you have to use the resources to make something important for you and for others. Again, that's a theme that maybe we can discuss later on.

So my interest on capabilities builds on the capability approach to human development that was originated actually by an Indian philosopher and economist Amartya Sen. As you can guess the key question here is what is and can be the opportunity to just imagine what is of value but also what's our opportunity to be able to do and be what is of value.

In this context the core unit of interest, if you like, is this opportunity to access and convert assets meaning valuable resources, connections that we have with others, skills that we have, knowledge that we have, materials that we have, into valued situations. This is a very basic example, but capability is then the opportunity, for instance, to access an asset, a bike, but also the ability to cycle and convert this asset into something of value, mobility.

So overall then capability is this web or nexus of opportunities that we have to access and convert assets into something of value.

Typically it is perceived as a property of an individual, individual capability, the set of abilities to do or be something of value that is determined by our internal skills and knowledge, but also external conditions, the social and political environment.

But I would argue that capability can also be defined as a capability of places, a capability that arises because there is an added value or contested value in some cases, when human and non-human factors come together in a certain time and space. So again, a very basic example. The symbiosis of cats with humans or dogs and humans is an example of a place-capability.

So overall then very broadly, the capability problem in societal challenges can be seen, for instance, as a problem of equity of opportunities, a democratisation problem, as a problem of creating opportunities, an innovation problem, or maybe as a problem of creating intraconnected opportunities for human and non-humans so an ecological problem.

But what's then the role of design in this context?

Now historically design work has been a practice and professional service that is concerned with the research, development and production of what I have called in this presentation, commodities, to include products, built environment and services. But design work has also been an intentional or unintentional catalyst in shaping society, in shaping cultures, in shaping ecosystems with a positive or negative effect on societal challenges.

Design work is then a type of creative work, professionalised but not always, that is situated within but also across many different sectors, healthcare, leisure, hospitality, environment, engineering, construction, arts and design. It's important to highlight that within these sectors design work is carried out within ‘design’ industries, like architecture or fashion or product design, but also in ‘non-design’ industries like healthcare, leisure, or policymaking.

I would argue then that there are three species of designers, three colours of designers, the design commodity specialists, the architects, the product designers, the graphic designers, that work within a specific design industry with an expertise to respond to the need to satisfy a specific utility, housing, clothing, etc. What they do is they deliver blueprints of a commodity that can be manufactured, it can be constructed. Then you have the design entrepreneurs that work within and across sectors with the expertise to respond to the need to identify a particular market, and what they do is they deliver value propositions of a commodity, as I call it, and an entrepreneurial venture to make it real. Also we have the design creatives that work within and across sectors, with the expertise to respond to societal challenges, and the need to protect or create something of value. You can think of them that what they do is essentially they create projects. They create situations that make possible commodities and other assets, human, social and cultural assets, to be created, to grow capabilities.

So overall then the design work can focus in these three areas, commodity making, the making of buildings, products and services that produce a certain utility. So it is concerned with a utility problem in societal challenges. Design work that focuses on venture making, the making of commodities and their entrepreneurial ventures that will mobilise and connect different human and non-human assets and resources to make this commodity real. So It's concerned with a resource problem and we have design work that’s focused on change making, or I prefer to think of it as habitat making, making of commodities, but also social, cultural, and natural assets that grow our capabilities to achieve or protect something of value. That is concerned with a capability problem. This is a type of work which is the focus of design creatives.

Broadly speaking then design creatives work with communities, so they might work with government to convert their experience and knowledge into practical ways to improve issues like social care. They might work with scientists to convert scientific knowledge into practical ways to improve people with visual impairment. They might work with artists and technologists, or they may work with local communities to improve issues of inequality and ways of living in different places.

In all these examples the design creatives are individuals. They are communities, they are professional organisations that work within this particular situation to discover and develop what is needed in terms of commodities. They don't know from the very beginning what is needed. What are the processes, practices, cultures and communities to generate or to protect something of value.

These are the design creatives and there are some key areas of work that characterise what design creatives do, the practice of design creatives.

So design creatives will try to explore how things should be different, explore pathways between the actual and potential. They explore actual realities to reveal their potential for the future, but also explore imagined realities to reveal limitations in the actual and create a pathway to a new actual.

But also they explore what creates difference, what creates value. So they explore the principles and the values that shape or should shape a reality, but also they explore the specification and the properties of specific assets that could generate this value, so explore pathways between the principles of values of a situation, but also specification of properties.

So overall design work can then be conceptualised as a movement at the intersection of these two dimensions. Metaphorically thinking you can think of design creatives that they work in these four rooms. At the top room they work very hard to discover and conceive the principles and the values of actual and potential situations. But also they may then go to the bottom rooms to work to discover and conceive the specific properties of actual and potential assets that could generate these value situations.

For the purpose of this presentation, I would like to conceptualise the work of design creatives as four types of movement within this space. As an Immersive move. So design creatives will engage with a situation to discover what creates the value. They will have an Inciting move. They will work to engage other people, other organisations and mobilise their assets to create something of value. But also an Integrative move. They will start connecting assets and situations to unlock potential or an Inventive move in the other direction that will devise new assets and new situations to critically reflect about the actual and shape the new actual.

So now let me go a bit more into detail about the making of design creatives. I would like to share some insights about the sources of design capabilities of design creatives. The intention here is to synthesise empirical observations that are drawn from several UKRI funded projects that were co-designed with The Glass-House Community-Led Design and in collaboration with many other academics and communities and cross-sector organisations. Overall, this includes work with over 75 places of design creatives.

In all these projects the research team worked with and as a design creative to respond to a wide range of societal challenges which was different in each project. But they are grouped here in four categories for simplicity. Challenges or opportunities that stem from particular places, towns, buildings. Challenges or opportunities that arise in multiple places like the sustainability of historic or religious buildings, or challenging opportunities that arise because of the interaction or the need for the interaction between different places, so across-place collaborations, and challenges or opportunities that arise because we live in a network society like poverty or an ageing society, healthy ageing.

In all these projects we worked with and as design creatives to co-develop practical approaches which I call here sources, to unlock capabilities for design work. But also by doing that to start co-developing knowledge on what fosters or inhibits design capabilities for design work.

So I would like to share four stories that follow these four categories of societal challenges. My first story is from Tidworth Mums. It was part of a much bigger programme project, which was called Unearth Hidden Assets and you can see the partners at the bottom of this slide.

Now, in this corner of the project, the context was the life of women that have their husbands in the army. They live in garrison towns far from the support of their families and facing often challenges that are similar to people living as single parents. That was because they have limited opportunities to be together as a family as their husband was away for long periods of time, but also limited opportunities to build and maintain friendships, or to build and develop personal interests, even a driving license was very difficult due to frequent and short notice relocation.

The design creatives in this case was the research team, but also the group of women who developed this self-identity as a design creative team that has this objective to improve the wellbeing of people living in the garrison town and they have also the very active participation of a Community Area Manager from the local council.

We engaged with them in a type of work that I mentioned in my introduction as immersive work to unearth what is of value, what creates the value.

One of the things that we did was to create the ‘asset-mapping room’. That was a room of mapping assets, mapping resources, skills, connections that they had with others in order basically to frame what is of value in their situation, but also to form and plan specific design initiatives that could generate value in their life.

The asset-mapping room had physical prompts with suggested types of assets, spaces, people, infrastructure, media, that were represented by different material objects. This material object was quite important. The materials encouraged the activity to identify all these diverse assets that they had that were actively used to define a particular valued situation at the centre of the map. So for instance, a lot of that was about play or play as a way to socialise with others, but also here is this map to connect assets in order to frame new valued situations at the centre of the map that were not previously perceived, but also to generate specific ideas of design initiatives that can combine, cluster specific assets together to create a pathway to a valued situation at the centre.

This type of asset-mapping work has progressively created this dominant driving concept for that group, a play service for children that would enable parents to connect with each other and find mutual support in these garrison towns. This concept emerged from connecting existing assets. They were already doing some play activities with toddlers. They had access to a leisure centre and they also had a Facebook group that reached over 1000 members that enabled the group to test but also gather interest and support for concepts like this one.

This type of immersive work developed the opportunity and ability within the group to develop a strategic view of their situation, develop what I call in this presentation, strategic capabilities. But also to discover new driving concepts that can create a pathway to a value situation, which I call them here, inquisitive capabilities.

We also engaged in the type of work that I mentioned, inventive work, to devise new assets or new situations, to critically reflect about what was happening actually in the situation and save the new actual.

So one of the things that we did is to create places that provided opportunities to build on and scale up existing lived activities, existing lived experiences, that we're valued from the community. As I mentioned in the previous slide, that was quite a lot about play activities with toddlers, to scale this up into a play service for children that enabled building social connection between parents.

We devised a soft play service. We used the local leisure centre that they had access to, to prototype the scaling up of different forms of play that we had experimented in different ways, as adventure, as movement, as creation with arts and crafts, while parents had the opportunity to connect with each other and find mutual support.

This type of inventive work created again the opportunity and ability for the group to build on and scale up on existing lived experiences that were valued from the local community. So lived capabilities I’ll call them here, but also to imagine and test the value of new lived experiences, imagined capabilities.

Indeed this day service reached more than 150 families, almost 300 children and had the gross income that made it a sustainable service. The event has become actually a blueprint for a play service in the local area, created opportunities for local parents to connect, but also very importantly, to develop skills and transferable models of practice for other garrison cities.

My second case now stems from another project which is called Empowering Design Practices and that was a project about the future and resilience of historic places of worship and their sustainable future.

The context of this project was the fantastic stock of historic religious buildings that we have in this country and really, I want to say that twice, there is a fantastic stock of historic religious building that we have, but also the heritage experts. The increased interest on how place and community leadership in design can contribute to the sustainability and the resilience of these places. But also, very importantly, the context was the custodians, the increased pressures that people that look after historic places of worship have to sustain these heritage treasures and very complex buildings, but also to serve their local community, to serve their faith community. Also of course, the context was the place and the community more broadly. The increased interest from local citizens across different faith groups or non-faith groups about the value of places of worship as social and cultural resource, and in particular as a source for addressing complex societal challenges, like poverty or COVID actually more recently.

So all these people faced immense tensions and pressures, particularly the custodians in terms of what is possible, what aligns with my values and what is of value. It’s about creating a place which is comfortable for worshippers or it’s about opening it up to all different people from different faith groups, or it's about creating a place that serves God, or it's about highlighting the history and heritage of the place. These are complex tensions in this project. The design creatives in this case was again the research team with domain experts, but also the custodians, the people that look after historic places of worship, with the participation of members from the faith community, but also local citizens.

We worked within a type of work that I call inciting work to engage other people, other organisations, professionals, mobilise their assets to create new valued situations. One of the things we did was to create a lot of places for design engagement, as we call them, and that was places with social and cultural activities, more structured workshops, or more free games that incite people to start reflecting and creating stories, pictures, artifacts, about the actual situation in the place of worship, but also the potential, what could happen in the future.

A lot of that was setting up simple provocations to trigger interactions between people, such as setting up places for people to co-create postcards with messages for people that were not present, or more systematic approaches for capturing and making sense of the different assets that people bring, ideas or challenges to identify opportunities for design initiatives, The blue cards that you see on the second boards pictures is this design initiative emerging. But also creating, making and prototyping ideas about the actual or potential, and more importantly, activities that engage worshippers, users, potential users, and experts to form what I call here design creatives.

This inciting work created the opportunity and ability within the group to trigger connections between people, connection between their ideas, connection between the natural environment around places of worship so it created some form of connective capabilities. But also very importantly, to convert these connections into specific ideas for design initiatives and more importantly into collaborations that make these design initiatives possible. So some form of collaborative capabilities.

Local design creatives across many different places that we worked with said things like “These activities brought us together as a team.” “I have gained skills and confidence to help lead the design process and engage my community in it.” In particular this second comment was fairly common across many different places that we worked with.

We also engaged in a type of work that I call immersive work to unearth what is of value. So we created places that provided tools for collaborative creation of a strategic rationale for their place of worship. So people will map capabilities, will map assets and have specific templates to connect them to create a strategic rationale. In the case of churches there was a lot about purpose statement.

Places for discovering a shared vision, a shared purpose for working together. People will share their priorities. They will share their concerns and principles of success and their values and use specific techniques to class them into individual, shared and conflicting and on that basis form smaller teams that call for purpose statements and vision statements that incite them to work together.

This work created the opportunity and ability to, as we saw with Tidworth Mums, to develop a strategic view of a situation, strategic capabilities, but also to discover driving concepts that enthused people to participate.

So local design creatives said that this “encouraged people to think laterally and explore how things may happen.” “It's a catalyst. It has altered our perception, our vision, the size of our vision.”

We engaged in inventive work to invent new assets, but slightly different from the Tidworth Mums case. Here we were trying to create places for developing a shared design language. That's in terms of key concepts that you use, key terms that you use, on what is to be created.

Concept development activities that use materials to guide you to develop these concept designs using thematic areas like delight, flexibility, legibility. But also story-telling and story-making activities using imagery from different places and situations. Making activities where you create physical models of a situation and physical metaphors of ideas. Prototyping activities such as, for instance, organising competitions that invite local people and local organisations to prototype and test the viability and value of specific ideas for spaces and services that might happen within places of worship.

This type of inventive work, as exactly has happened with Tidworth Mums, created the opportunity and ability to build up and scale up on existing lived experiences of communities, but also to imagine and test new lived experiences.

Design creatives across cases said things like “This helped us to feel that we are on the right path”, and it created “a sense of possibility”, “being able to do things that you previously didn't think you could do”. This theme of making possible the impossible was quite common across different places.

Finally, a different type of work that we engaged with them, it was a kind of integrative work, to integrate and connect different actors and knowledge sources to create a new potential.

So we created places that were for heritage experts, building professionals, users and potential users to create new forms of design practices.

Ways of working that enable design concepts and more importantly, design leadership to emerge from the distributed and collective work of all these people, essentially breaking the boundaries between the notion that there is a client that provides a problem and a building and heritage expert that provides the solution.

But also ways of working that keeps incubating a diversity of different ways of working and diversity of initiatives that contribute in these places in this project.

It created this opportunity and ability within the group to integrate diverse sources of knowledge into this collective ecosystem with a networked value, but also to incubate diversity of initiatives that contribute to this collective. So some sort of co-ordinating and incubating capabilities.

I do like these quotes quite a lot. One of them said, “I think now we can work with them” meaning architects and heritage experts as opposed to one way traffic. “They were two different projects” another one said about building design and social mission, aren't they? They're not. They're totally, totally integrated.

‘The research team’ as a design creative, supported over 50 places to develop their own design initiatives, over 400 people to develop the skills and confidence to work as design creatives, and over 1000 members of the public to directly engage in design initiatives. Also ‘the local partners’ as design creatives themselves influenced change on morale and attitudes about the place, connected communities responded to societal challenges that were really relevant to the places, but also secured funding for activities and services to respond to these challenges.

My third case stems from two projects, the Scaling Up Project. I'm very happy that Ann Light is today with us in the Lecture Theatre. The Scaling Up Project and a more recent one which is very shortly called Cross-Pollination. Both projects were aimed to unlock abilities to carry out design initiatives through cross-sector and cross-disciplinary collaborations.

The context was exactly that, that the multi-dimensional nature of societal challenges requires this cross-sector and cross-discipline collaborations, it requires them, it's not just a wish list.

Design creatives in this case was the research team, with professionals across different sectors, academics and local communities.

Across the years we created many places that essentially support the development of design initiatives in local places but also more importantly, the formation of design creatives by engaging in all these different forms of work.

Since its inception in 2013, Cross-Pollination has been adopted in many different projects, more than 10 projects and situations that you can find in this booklet.

Generally speaking as an approach, cross-pollination is organised into four work areas that broadly correspond to the working areas that I have mentioned throughout this presentation.

So people will share and map existing areas of work, existing projects, challenges that they have, capabilities that they have in terms of skills and resources. But also they will use specific cards to trigger connections between these different projects, the challenges and the complementary skills that they might have.

They will use the identified connections to frame new initiatives and new collaborations, and they will also use the new collaborations to bring more assets to scale up and scale out this initiative.

The value of the design creative’s work in this project was that it led to a growth of a network of design creatives and design initiatives. But for me more importantly was to increase the centrality meaning the visibility, the impact, the access to support of previously marginalised groups, individuals, their issues and their design initiatives. I think that was the most important value of the cross pollination approach.

My fourth case stems from another project which is quite recent. So I'm going to be very brief. It is called Wise Connections and it's about ageing society, and the importance to age creatively for the wellbeing of individuals, but also our society at large.

The context is obviously that we are all growing older, as Gareth noticed at the very beginning. But evidence also shows that as we grow older there are fewer and fewer opportunities to reimagine and develop and integrate into our life things that we really value to do or be and this is a multi-dimensional issue related to social isolation, poverty, sometimes it's cultural attitudes, but also psychological factors.

The design creatives in this case is the research team which in this case take the form of a social venture that aims to create opportunities to age creatively within the homes of people but also in public and professional spaces, with the participation of professionals and citizen champions.

The core idea here is to think outside of the box for our life. A little bit of irony here is that we use a box to achieve that. A box that is distributed at homes as a pass the parcel box, GP practices, libraries, coffee shops, that encourages self-discovery, development and realisation of such initiatives.

So the box will invite you to explore the hopes of other people, what they value to do or be. Invite you to provide a gift in terms of ideas, skills, the sources that you have that can turn a hope into reality. Invite you to incite others by writing a letter of hope, but also to take an integrative action to connect assets to realise a design initiative.

At the moment boxes are distributed in London and Bristol as static boxes and as moving boxes, as pass the parcel boxes door to door. Maybe one day you will receive one of those boxes.

In conclusion then, I would like to say some overarching observations about the value of design creatives and the social design capabilities of design creatives.

So clearly, the work of design creatives arises at the intersection of these four working areas that I mentioned in this presentation, immersive, inciting, integrative and inventive. But very importantly the work of design creatives stemmed from and created these four pairs of capability sources, inquisitive and strategic capabilities, emerging and lived capabilities, connective and collaborative, co-ordinating and incubating consistent capabilities.

Across the cases the value of design creative work was the relevance that it created, the relevance of their design innovation. They formed ‘places’, they formed habitats, ecosystems with network value, but also they formed the ‘citizens’ that had the opportunity to discover and shape what they had the reason to value, like as you saw in my introduction from my childhood.

But across the cases also the value of design creatives was empowerment. They made visible issues, values, and people that were previously hidden, marginalised, as we saw with the cross-pollination place, empowering these people and groups to achieve something of value for them and others. That was empowerment through design, but also it was empowerment to design.

They created infrastructures, skills, and attitudes to develop viable and valuable design initiatives. In some cases, indeed, design creatives play a key role in leveraging almost £6M to tackle issues of social isolation.

he value of design creatives is the resilience in societal challenges that made it possible to address what was previously perceived as impossible, multi-dimensional and value sensitive challenge.

The value of design creatives finally is the joy, the joy of being part of design creatives. On that note I would like to thank all the people that participated in this project which is unfortunately impossible to name or list. I have here some pictures from the research team. Unfortunately, I don't have all the pictures of the research teams. On that note I would like also to highlight the role of the mighty and legendary Design Group at The Open University. Particularly I would like to highlight the role of Emma Dewberry and Derek Jones because over the last few years we developed this new design qualification. That shaped a lot of the concepts that I presented in this presentation. So it's particularly relevant for this presentation.

Also, I would like to thank the one and only, I say that very strongly, the one and only Professor Jeff Johnson, who plays the harmonica here, and who is the most empowering person that I know.

Our design creative, of course, Sophia de Sousa and The Glass-House Community Led Design as a whole organisation for all the generous contribution to the OU in terms of research and teaching.

The most complete academic that I know, Dr Katerina Alexiou, you are the guiding light on many complex conditions.

But also the next generation of design creatives that provided all the graphics that you saw in this presentation. I don't know what they're doing there now, but it must be quite important. Thank you so much.

So now it's time to hear from the audience and to hear from you in the Lecture Theatre and if you're online with any questions and comments about the talk that it’s raised for you please send them through. Theo would you like to join me in the seating area.

So I'm sure, like me, you've got many, many questions but if you wish to raise a question please raise your hand. Please wait until a roving mic gets to you and has reached you and then please it would be great if you could introduce yourself and where you are from. Please also keep the questions short so we can get in as many questions as possible. We also invite comments from our online audience using the email provided or the slide that's currently showing. Questions? Okay, well I've got lots of questions here.

Emma Dewberry from The Open University. Thanks Theo for that really thoughtful and inspiring lecture. I think maybe it goes back to the picture of you in a tree as a kid but I'm thinking that a lot of what you've talked about today is about systems, about interconnectedness, about being able to see these really unique relationships between people, communities, and their environments in which they sit. It also makes me think, quite sadly actually, that our education system doesn't seem to value that particularly. We see it’s still very much drives our education in terms of individual disciplines, perhaps not seeing connections as we should and it poses a question for me which is given the value of what you've presented today, and the value of being more interconnected and systemic in our thinking, what future do you imagine ideas like design creatives have when our education system is perhaps a little behind the curve on celebrating and supporting more interconnected thinking?

A very important question Emma, thank you so much and a very difficult, challenging question. I think this is the challenge of the future in terms of how we develop education that takes into account this more and more increased area of work that in my presentation I call it the work of design creatives, that they take this systemic view, as you describe it. In a practical sense they don't even know what needs to be developed in terms of commodities, whether they develop a building well, develop a technology so they are facing an extremely complex situation to be in. In education we need to reimagine how education happens in this context, because you have a situation where someone needs to be able to address complex situations. You can’t really have expertise just on materials or buildings, or on humans. It is a systemic thing that you need, the networks, the connectedness and that requires special skills and special abilities. That's the thing that I have to say. Ann Light is in the audience so I don't put want to put her on the spot at all, but she was very influential in my thinking on that. I was trying to explain her influence on me and her influence on me was exactly of “Theo stay for a moment and think about the whole situation that you're facing” and trying to work with people to discover what is the complex situation. With my design background you usually end up going straightaway to respond to issues and challenges with a solution. But that's the message, No you stay behind trying to create the enabling conditions for things to happen, and the water will lift you up. The water will lift you up is the thing that Professor Ann Light really taught me through practice.

That was incredibly inspiring and very uplifting so thank you. I work at the Community Foundation here in Milton Keynes and we have really big plans of developing new community hubs in the city. It is really hard, extremely complicated and very frustrating. So I'm after a few tips and ideas about how I deal with the politicians, the naysayers, the money people, the economics, the value engineering people so that the aspiration, the trueness of what we want to do, to build hubs that really reflect and grow with our communities can be delivered.

Again I am very happy to have these questions, because this is really at the core of my interests and my motivation. They're not simple answers, of course. But there are certain indications in this presentation. I think my lesson is a lot of things need to happen organically and I really put a value to the initial seeds, the small seeds, the small groups that will grow a certain initiative and scale it up and scale it out, not necessarily up. That is quite a fundamental principle because sometimes we tend, and I used to tend to do that quite a lot of, ‘okay, let's create community places to bring the whole community here.’ That was not exactly the point, it's about creating these small things that have the potential to grow. Even the box that I mentioned for creativity, it's an example of that. It is just a box that goes through door to door, but that also now generates a specific community group that works in a certain place. So those small initiatives that can trigger connections, can trigger collaborations, and most of the terms that I used in this presentation is my bottom line approach, which I think was the most successful for me. In terms of politicians that you mentioned, because they are an important part actually of that spectrum and the scaling up and scaling out project, and the Cross-Pollination was quite a lot on what is the meaning of that? Is it scaling up or is it scaling out? Is it about organic growth that goes like a tree or is it about the tree and you grow something big and an infrastructure which is big. Again, I think I would engage fully policymakers and policy advisors in the local small projects and grow rather than big interventions in spaces and in places as a general principle. I will never stop talking about that I need to, but I think that summarises a little bit of my thinking.

There are some lovely comments on the YouTube Live Channel actually. One from Maja Luna – ‘Wow what an amazing distillation of many years of work. Absolutely inspiring’. Sophia de Sousa has said, ‘How wonderful to see 10 years of inspiring collaboration explained so clearly and evocatively, it made me feel quite emotional about it and hugely proud of what we have done together in this space’. But she goes on to say that she is sorry not to be here. But her question is - what shall we do next?

From Sophia? Oh of course. Well Gareth okay, let's discuss. Yes, I think that's a question that we're discussing quite a lot with Sophia because there was a growth and there was a lot of projects and there was a lot of collaborations with various organisations, a network of organisations. How we can really create a place where it optimises these kind of connections that you have and the collaborations that you have and the energy and the passion. We are thinking about ideas like creating hubs within the OU, the OU to become a hub, which it already to some extent is by nature, but to find infrastructures and processes to make that happen. Not to promote our specific research but also to allow more researchers to develop and grow and that includes also other, sorry I'm talking to Gareth because I actually wanted to have this conversation with him and we discuss about these things and that's my opportunity as well, so we make it publicly. But I think Sophia's question is valid not only for our corner but for many people that are working and develop these sort of collaborations and strong connections with other organisations, non-academic organisations and academic organisations. As a society and as universities what do we do to foster them and to make use of them? Because with time this is going to be lost. I'm not saying only for The Open University, that's for all universities and all academics and organisations that engages with other universities.

Mike Ngoasong here, Business School. Thank you very much, Theo for the inspiring presentation. I was interested in your three types of design, the architect, the entrepreneur and the design creatives. A bit more of the entrepreneurs for those of us who teach in entrepreneurship or do research in entrepreneurship. You identify three ideal types right? So I'm interested in whether an entrepreneur can become a design creative and what you see as some of the constraints or the enabling conditions for how we can prepare entrepreneurs for that.

It feels like the questions are planned. They're not, but because I had another presentation that this slide had the three colours actually mixed up, because actually there’s a distinction, there is a little bit of artificiality on this distinction. The design entrepreneurs are extremely close to design creatives. I participate currently in a project it's UKRI funded, they have a partnership with Zinc Network, an organisation which is really another very beautiful organisation that I invite you to have a look at. But they have the goal to support you not only to develop research, but entrepreneurial research essentially. I work in a cohort with maybe 25 people I think, 28, maybe I'm wrong on the number but that sort of size. These are people that develop projects of the shorter dimension essentially, but a lot of that is about healthy ageing. You can see the distinction between design creative and design entrepreneur is not very clear, because they work to address big societal challenges, to protect or create something of value. The expertise that we develop is that the expertise develops projects that make it possible to discover what commodities are created here, what is needed here, which the design entrepreneur as well a lot of times doesn't know, what commodity needs to be created in order to make something of value. Maybe the difference is a little bit that the focus is more on market and edification of market and market opportunities, the entrepreneurial venture, how you structure this entrepreneurial venture, where the design creative in my qualification is, it is a concern, as you saw with Tidworth Mums, they did an entrepreneurial venture at the end. But it is one possible kind of outcome. So they're very overlapping. So the question is very good.

We have time for one more question. The one and only as he was in the slide.

Thank you so much. Well a great lecture, of course, with many dimensions, but I picked up on something which I found particularly interesting, which was you said, design is value driven, which of course it is, but you also said that design is value formative. That's very interesting. So it made me think that there's a co-evolution between design and the values underlying design. Would you like to say more on that?

Spot on again and yes actually that's the most important implicit message I think in my presentation. Because typically design historically when we talk about design, we frame it as part of a problem-solving, problem-framing kind of narrative. The notion of a value is really aside, you don't see it clearly. I realised through this project that a notion of forming value systems, it is so important in these situations, which actually underline all your understanding of the problem and all your understanding of where the solution lies. So this value formative situation that characterises design is very, very important. That's my main message basically, that is we need to look at it more from that perspective.

So firstly I just really want to say a massive thank you Theo for an absolutely inspiring lecture, as the gentleman here said, but for me, you know, a good acid test is if it challenges your thinking, if it challenges your understanding and it certainly did that and it was very, well words fail me at this moment, it was brilliant. Thank you so much. Thank you.

All that remains for me to say is to thank you for joining us today and for always supporting The Open University. In the meantime have a very good afternoon and thank you.

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