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.
“In the great creative periods of science the artists and the scientists worked very closely together and were in many cases the same people (e.g. Leonardo da Vinci). The result of this separation [i.e. science and art] has been the most incredible mutual ignorance.“ – J.D. Bernal
I have been working the last while on a small research project for the UK Higher Education Academy and Heather Luna looking at interdisciplinarity and design education for sustainability (in collaboration with Jane Davison from Newport school of Art and Design). Interdisciplinarity is a collaborative process that attempts to go beyond the traditional boundaries of disciplines in order to come up with solutions to complex and socially-relevant challenges.
The reason why i started this project was I always assumed that sustainability presents us with complex challenges and numerous ‘wicked problems’ and our current ways of thinking, doing and learning are not working very well. I also assumed that creating collaborations between different disciplines (e.g. design, business, social science, anthropologists, activists etc.) would lead to better solutions.
I also wanted to know how design education can remain relevant in a rapidly changing and dynamic world that is presenting us with complex challenges to which few appear to have solutions (or at least the ability to implement the solutions at an appropriate scale). In that question there is another assumption i.e. that we need to shift from teaching about sustainability, to teaching for sustainability which through a, yet to be defined, process of transformation will lead us to sustainable education.
On reflection, it all sounds very naive….
I attended the 5th Nordes Design Research conference last week at Aalto university in Helsinki . The theme for this years conference was “Making Design Matter!”. This was a very interesting conference and provided me with some insight into the quality and direction of design research across Nordic countries.
I gave a presentation titled “Integrating sustainability in a regional design sector” based on a short exploratory paper I wrote a number of months ago. The paper provided some analysis and insight on experiences of setting up E:DN. The audience for the paper was predominantly policy makers and was informed by my wider PhD research.
I know that most people struggle with definitions. They either put too much rigidity on a term without understanding its underlying meaning or they don’t really understand the term and just apply it to lots of things it isn’t. Design and Innovation are two areas where this is rife. We have some people thinking they know what they are talking about when they don’t and lots of people thinking that others know what they are talking about when, in fact, they don’t.
It has been another week of definitions for me and it started out with an interesting and insightful ecodesign workshop with EDC, a Welsh manufacturer and a plastic supplier. The workshop was led by Sharon and was linked to her PhD. The workshop, unintentionally, largely revolved around Cradle to Cradle and the limitations of how it is currently applied and understood. I got the sense that too much focus on the definition of Cradle to Cradle created barriers to exploration of the important questions. What everyone was really interested in was impact and outcome and we needed a new way of thinking on how we achieve that.