By Sophie Mullen, who sits on the Building Change Trust’s Tech for Good Group, helping us look at how we can use digital technology to improve people’s lives. She went with us to #Unusual Glasgow and found a strange mix of Meta-Design, Aeroplanes and Coffee…
Recently I had the privilege of attending a conference in Glasgow focused on social innovation, aiming to bring together a range of players in the social innovation field – from social enterprises and non profits, to funding bodies, artists, design students, and the general public.
Their hope was to enable people to “creatively collide” with each other in ways that don’t normally happen, or perhaps never happen, due to the various sectors being so segregated. I collided with a concept called Meta-Design, and it was well worth it.
You see, we all know that innovation is a good thing. And we all know that creative thinking is an important skill. However if you are like many people in the third sector, you may not know how to do it, what it looks like, or even where to start.
During the seminar they talked about concepts such as synergy-weaving and sympoiesis – big, fancy words. I walked out of that room still not really knowing what all the big words meant – but it didn’t matter, because instead we actually put the concepts into practice. It turned out to be far less intimidating and lofty a concept as I thought.
So this is what happened: the session started off just like many workshops that I have been to before. We used speed-networking to think up ideas and concepts connected to a desire for a better world and wrote them on post its.
We divided up our pile of post-its into three categories, and we all chose a category. Post it notes in hand, we moved into our new groups, ready to dissect our chosen category further, and drill down into ways of developing our ideas practically.
But instead, we did something different.
Instead, we were told to discuss how our day was going so far… and our journey to that location. We talked about buses, trains, hotels, we drew pictures of aeroplanes, bikes and footsteps, and we talked about the taste and smell of the coffee we all drank that morning. It was all very pleasant, and all very confusing…. why were we talking about coffee?
Next, we started attempting something called synergy. We picked up our post-it notes which were focused on social change, and we started looking for random connections between our post it notes, and our drawings of aeroplanes, hotels and coffee. I’m not going to lie, none of this felt like it made sense.
However in the middle of all of this we came up with a playful idea, connecting hospitals… and hotels.
We started asking questions such as: How can we make people in hospitals feel as powerful, cared for and in control as customers in hotels?
What if we gave people the luxury of multiple choices, when they are usually only given one? Could they choose a type of seating in the waiting area, soft vs hard?
Could we change the lighting to something more migraine-friendly, instead of those hideous fluorescent lights? Could we make the signage more visual, instead of those horrendously long words that no-one understands?
What if the staff wore normal clothes, i.e. t-shirt and jeans? Would it put people more at ease? What if we called them customers, instead of patients? Would that be a good thing or a bad thing? Could there be private relaxation pods to help people stay calm and meditate while they’re waiting for their appointment?
All of a sudden we were coming up with all these creative ideas – they may have been crazy, but that’s not the point. We were thinking creatively, and that is something that is very difficult to achieve in a room of strangers, with tables, chairs, a few bits of paper and about 4 hours of sleep.
So – is meta-design the best solution if you need to drill down and start thinking up practical ideas in a short space of time? I’m not sure.
Is it a viable option to get a room of people thinking creatively? Absolutely.
The world of innovation is full of fancy words. Meta-design is one of them. When you come across them you may be tempted to run the other direction, however maybe next time, why not delve a little deeper?
This blog first appeared on the Building Change Trust’s website.