A number of years ago when I started my PhD I read an article first published in 2002 by Jonathan Chapman called System failure: Why governments must learn to think differently. What Chapman’s article reminded me was that the failure of government policies can have roots in incorrect assumptions, poor processes of policy development and that the prevalence of mindsets that impede innovation. It also highlighted that systems thinking offers an opportunity to explore policy in a new light.
My PhD explored ecodesign interventions and questioned why after lots of government interventions there was apparently little ecodesign happening in industry. This PhD was strongly informed by the innovation systems literature and I presented evidence systems failure in relation to ecodesign in SMEs. I unpicked the logic behind existing government interventions and then developed a framework through which government can design interventions based on a systems perspective.
Our understanding of how and why innovation happens has changed over the last few decades. We no longer see innovation as the classic linear process of financial and knowledge inputs being translated into technical outputs and financial outcomes. Reality is much more complex.
The linear models used to explain how and why innovation happens are redundant and we now understand that innovation happens within a non-linear system of interactions. These interactions occur between people, organisations, societies, policies, networks, ideologies, cultures and time. There are many different ways to view the innovation system (e.g. multi-level perspective, technical innovation system, socio-technical transitions etc.) but I think it is important to remember that innovation is a social activity and society is profoundly non-linear.
The now widely accepted (but not widely understood) systems view of innovation grew out of academic research. These academic insights now have significant implications for how policies for innovation are framed and designed. It’s not possible to continue creating policies based on a flawed understanding of what innovation is and how it happens.
What does this mean for the current debates on design policy?
Is innovation policy making fit-for-purpose in a post-industrial and state-centric Wales?
Does the traditional ‘triple-helix’ model of government/academia/business interaction need disruption to include the social sectors?
Does a reliance on traditional innovation metrics, such as patents, lead to a myopia that undervalues what is happening on the ground? Can big-data methods be harnessed to improve this?
How can a peripheral region define leadership in any area of smart specialization within the broader EU context? Why should smart specialization only be in specific technology areas?
Sometimes, for me, the sign of a good event is when I come away with more questions than answers. NESTA brought an innovation roadshow to Cardiff to share their plans for the future, current work in Wales and to bring a panel of Welsh innovators that have already received support from NESTA. The event was well attended by a diverse group of public, private, academic, arts and social sector organisations. With that many people together in the one room it was clear the event would only have a very broad overview of the issues but it helped raise some questions for me, like those above.
I finally handed in my PhD last week and so this week I have been reflecting on my original motivation for starting in the first place. When I started I was mostly interested in understanding why small companies struggled to do ecodesign. I also wanted to understand why this situation hadn’t seemed to change after many years of government interventions to encourage/enable/facilitate/promote/etc. ecodesign in different countries around the world.
I chose to explore this issue by investigating the ‘structural’ issues of how ecodesign happens in companies and the interaction between ecodesign practice and the wider ‘innovation system’. This research provided some interesting insights into how governments develop interventions and I made some suggestions how these interventions could be changed in the future (for better or worse). I will share some of these findings after my viva next year!!
Around 30 delegates representing the European Commission, United Nations and a host of other international organisations and governments attended the successful launch of the European Network of Ecodesign Centres (ENEC) at Mechelen on the 28th of November.
The launch was hosted by OVAM (co-founders of ENEC) and chaired by Dr. Frank O’Connor, Director Ecodesign Centre (co-founders of ENEC).
The event included a keynote from Michael Bennett (Policy Officer-Ecodesign, DG Enterprise and Industry, European Commission) on the critical role ENEC can play in supporting the Commission meet the challenges of a more resource efficient Europe. On behalf of the Commission Michael congratulated the founding members for taking the initiative in launching this first of its kind interregional collaborative network, inviting ENEC to work closely with them in ensuring Europe is at the forefront of stimulating demand for ecodesign.
European based Ecodesign Centres lead the way in making ecodesign happen through launching a first of its kind interregional collaborative network.
Given the challenges of a more sustainable Europe five prominent Ecodesign Centres and their respective regional governmentshave joined forces to create a collaborative platform to generate, disseminate and apply ecodesign and life-cycle thinking knowledge. This first of its kind agreement has been termed the European Network of Ecodesign Centres with the network launch, in partnership with the European Commission, at Ovam in Mechelen (near Brussels) on the 28th of November.
The respective founding centres are Ecodesign Centre (Wales), in partnership with the Welsh Government, Basque Ecodesign Center part of Ihobe (Basque Country), Ovam Ecodesign (Flanders), Effizienz-Agentur (North Rhine-Westphalia) and Pole Eco-conception (Rhone-Alpes).
I recently attended an event at the Danish Embassy on “Designing Policy” that was organised by the Associate Parliamentary Design & Innovation Group. The event was to address the challenge of designing policy while highlighting the opportunities by learning from the experience of MindLab in Denmark. If you don’t already know, Mindlab are a cross-ministerial innovation unit that use innovation and design methods to improve the development and delivery of policies in Denmark.
Experiences were shared by Christian Bason, Director of Innovation at Mindlab and there were responses from a panel of experts from design and policy such as Jill Rutter of the Institute for Government, Lucy Kimbell of the Young Foundation, Aviv Katz of the Innovation Unit, Ailbhe McNabola of the Design Council and Richard Harries of the Department for Communities Local Government.
The examples from Mindlab were inspiring but from a design perspective they are common sense. Lots of designers would be asking why don’t we already use user-centric methods, micro-macro ethnography, co-design and co-production when developing policy? Surely we should better understand the communities and people we are developing policies for by exploring, experimenting, protoyping, failing, testing and improving continuously?
In the last week we responded to two Welsh Government consultations – one on the Innovation Strategy for Wales and the other on the Sustainable Development Bill.
To support these consultations, we produced a position paper on how these policy areas are linked and what role ecodesign plays in these links.
Have a look at the agendas for our ‘Zero Waste by Design’ event series.
The series starts on Wednesday morning, February 29th and finishes on Thursday afternoon, March 1st at the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff.
There are still some places available on http://zerowastebydesign.eventbrite.co.uk/
We’re looking forward to seeing everyone on the day.
This is a short article I wrote for publication in the Chartered Institute of Waste Management newsletter.
image adapted from: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/waste/framework/index.htm
Increasing the use of recycled content in products is a vital strategy to achieve the Zero Waste targets as set out by the Welsh Government. As part of my PhD research with Orangebox, we have been looking at how businesses working in furniture design and manufacturing can do this. This research has highlighted that there is confusion across the industry regarding the differences between what it means to recycle, reuse, or treat waste through energy recovery. This misunderstanding is leading to a grouping of these categories into a single overarching ‘recyclable’ label that combines all three. More often than not, the evidence shows that reuse is better than recycling, is better than energy for waste, which is better than landfilling. Companies need to be more specific about how products and materials can be treated at the product’s End of Life.
This week I was delighted to attend the launch event of the Materials for Living exhibition, which is showcasing the work of selected RCA materials research at parliament. The exhibition is on display at the House of Commons, is sponsored by Coca Cola and run in conjunction with Policy Connect‘s APDIG (Associate Parliamentary Design and Innovation Group) and the APSRG (Associate Parliamentary Sustainability and Resources Group). The event was hosted by Barry Sheerman MP with speeches from Dr. Paul Thompson rector of the RCA and Patrick McGuirk, Recycling Director at Coca Cola.
Last weekend I went camping at the Sustainability Centre in Hampshire with 300 other interesting people. We were all there for the Uncivilisation festival which despite its name is a cheerful and extremely friendly festival of ideas and doing. What is different about this festival is that, while there is music and ale, people mostly came for the talking, story telling, listening and sharing. The overriding topic of the festival was our collective future and the potential scenarios we face with combined collapses (e.g. global financial crisis, changing middle east, climate change, peak oil etc.). Despite my initial reservations that it would be another rehash of dated deep green thinking (which was partly true) there were lots of interesting and inspiring sessions.
On reflection it was really a conference held outdoors but the vibrant mix of people and setting made for an enjoyable experience. It seemed perfectly comfortable moving from a panel debate on “collapsonomics” with people well versed in economic collapse into a workshop on homebrew held in a yurt. There was a pleasant randomness to the sessions and it was easy to pick and choose what sessions you went to. It was an open space format in the true sense.
How to measure the value of design is a complex but vital question. It’s a complex questions because there are a number of sides to it. For example, how do you measure something that is intangible and irrational (i.e. creativity), what do we mean by ‘value’, who are we measuring for, should we be reducing design to a simple set of metrics and what does this mean for policy makers, investors and small businesses?
These are some of the questions that were at the heart of the 15th annual Design Management Institute conference last week. The conference attracts a couple of hundred designers and design managers from some of Europe’s leading businesses such as BMW, Nokia and Carrefor. I went to the conference with one question in mind – “How can policy makers and small businesses better understand the value of design and act accordingly”.