Willam Drenttel and Julie Lasky | Event-Education

Winterhouse First Symposium on Design Education and Social Change: Final Report

Providing students with the tools and training to explore and address social-design problems has been a growing mission of educators. Such pedagogical efforts are distributed erratically across a wide variety of institutions and programs and are frequently concentrated in isolated classes. Examples of the varied contexts and scales can be found in teaching case studies submitted by participants in the Winterhouse Symposium on Design Education, which was held in Falls Village, Connecticut, October 17–19, 2010. Initiatives include Designmatters, a department at Art Center College of Design that undertakes international social-change projects and is open to undergraduate students across disciplines; “Entrepreneurial Design for Extreme Affordability,” a multidisciplinary course housed at Stanford University's d.school that is led by Stanford’s Graduate School of Business faculty Jim Patell and mechanical engineering faculty Dave Beach; and the Innovation Studio at the Rhode Island School of Design, a 12-week class that brings together industrial design, architecture and landscape architecture students to collaborate on “complex, present-day concerns,” such as reducing carbon emissions in Rhode Island.

Dispersed across institutions, departments and disciplines, educators who train students to work effectively for the public good have lacked opportunities to come together to share programs, strategies and insights. The Winterhouse Symposium was convened to form the basis for a collaborative network. Thirteen participants from a variety of design and business programs discussed the challenges and objectives of their social-change initiatives: garnering institutional and financial support; navigating partnerships with corporate sponsors and other educational departments; balancing the needs of students with those of the communities they assist; sustaining projects amid the flux of student, faculty and donor participants; assessing the effectiveness of both pedagogical work and fieldwork with NGOs and social enterprises; and recording successes and failures in a manner that will benefit both existing colleagues and future instructors.

The Symposium concluded with a plan to prototype a standardized method for reporting on social-design academic projects with the help of an engaged advisory group and the commitments of programs at numerous academic institutions. This project will serve as a template for recording teaching methods and project metrics of social-design initiatives conducted in academic programs. As such, this project will function both as a larger body of case studies that can be used as a teaching tool and as a record of achievement that will be invaluable in developing future programs. Members of the group also agreed to teach or assign, during Spring 2011, an existing social-enterprise case study developed by Yale School of Management and Winterhouse Institute (SELCO Solar Energy) in order to gain insights into formulating a resource uniquely adapted to social-design pedagogy — as well as creating a common vocabulary and teaching experience among participants.

Participants (complete bios)
Mariana Amatullo: Vice President, Director, Designmatters Department, Art Center College of Design
Charlie Cannon
: Associate Professor, Industrial Design, RISD; Director, Research and Design, LOCAL Architecture Research Design
Allan Chochinov: Partner, Core77; Adjunct Faculty, School of Visual Arts MFA Programs
Kriss Deiglmeier: Executive Director, Center for Social Innovation, Stanford Graduate School of Business
William Drenttel (Host): Editorial Director, Design Observer and Winterhouse Institute; Senior Faculty Fellow, Yale School of Management
Jamer Hunt: Director, Interdisciplinary Graduate Initiatives, Parsons The New School for Design
Terry Irwin: Professor and Head, School of Design, Carnegie Mellon University
Debera Johnson: Academic Director of Sustainability, Pratt Institute
Jon Kolko: Founder and Director, Austin Center for Design; Associate Creative Director, frog design
Julie Lasky (Host): Editor, Design Observer and Winterhouse Institute; Adjunct Faculty, School of Visual Arts MFA Programs
Jeremy Myerson: Director, Helen Hamlyn Centre, Royal College of Art
Anthony Sheldon: Executive Director, Program on Social Enterprise; Lecturer in Economic Development, Yale School of Management
Elizabeth (Dori) Tunstall: Associate Professor, Design Anthropology; Associate Dean, Learning and Teaching, Swinburne University

Challenge 1: Definition & Position
The diffuseness of social-design educational efforts can be partly attributed to vagueness in definition. The phrases “social change,” “social innovation” and “social design” appear frequently in academic and journalistic discourse, but rarely with precision. At the same time, the meaning of “design” has expanded beyond the creation or arrangement of objects and communications to describe such conceptual approaches as systems design, service design and design thinking. “I would not be happier if we could end these days with a conversation about the definition of social change and social innovation,” said Jamer Hunt. “Windows 3.0 probably has more impact on social change than all of these social-change projects combined. Until we have a clear sense of what that means, we’ll be spinning in all sorts of directions.”

Initiatives that use design to solve social problems can be found in art schools, research universities, business schools, anthropology departments, engineering departments and the bridges built between them. Such projects thrive on partnerships that weave together management, ethnographic, economic, technological and form-making skills. But how are the hybridized results characterized and evaluated? Where does design fit into social innovation? Which abilities are germane to the overlap?

These questions came up repeatedly in discussions of the skills design students should acquire. Noted Allan Chochinov, each of the “slices” of knowledge forming the pie of humanitarian-focused design education — “whether social, material, regulatory, behavioral or governmental — requires deeper and deeper knowledge.”

Incursions into new disciplinary territories mandate a reordering of priorities, said Terry Irwin: “Given our recent history of intense specialization, students are unable to make connections. How do you turn out specialists with degrees while they have to think about how to live more sustainably in place? What do you take out of a curriculum to allow this new focus to emerge?”

Challenge 2: Pedagogy v. Practice
Courses that teach design for social change typically require students to engage in local or international projects formulated to improve a community’s quality of life. Frequently, such work is undertaken with the assistance of experts or NGOs. The challenge for educators is to balance students’ interests with those of the target community and working partners.

Which constituency are they serving foremost? Jamer Hunt described “getting more and more frustrated at the superficiality of a lot of projects that often end up making students feel better about themselves with no impact.”

Debera Johnson wondered, “How are we defining success with our graduates? You teach them connections in doing things, and the rug gets pulled out in the job world because colleges are still defining success as ‘our student got a job’ rather than ‘our student changed the world.’”

Jon Kolko dwelled on students’ expectations about their education in social design: “What’s the end game in terms of what students will do with this new knowledge and subject matter? Find old jobs? Make new jobs?”

Referring to her center’s priorities, Kriss Deiglmeier said that "a primary purpose and goal of academic institutions is educating students. Thus, you need to balance your educational purpose with ensuring you're having a positive impact in the community in which you are working. Over the long run, the world will be better off when students incorporate having a positive impact in society into their personal and career goals."

Participants agreed that a major obstacle to the success of course-driven social-change projects is time. “The boundaries for research, for most of my colleagues, begin and end with the semester,” Charlie Cannon said. Johnson observed that students generally only “dip into the culture” of their projects.

On the other hand, postgraduate research conducted at the Royal College of Art’s Helen Hamlyn Centre and the “Extreme Design” course at Stanford’s business school, are routinely extended over multiple terms. Jeremy Myerson, the Helen Hamlyn Centre’s director, described surmounting the divide between pedagogy and practice by having “projects that we turn into an educational program” via a public symposium and catalog presenting the research.

Another case of effective management of a project extending over years rather than months was “Design for Democracy,” a research effort instituted at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), in collaboration with AIGA, in response to the ballot-design fiasco of the 2000 national election. Conducted from 2001 to 2004, the course built on the contributions of undergraduate graphic and industrial design students, noted Dori Tunstall, who was an instructor in the program. This cumulative harvest of information not only attracted new recruits to the university, but also helped AIGA and UIC to procure a $680,000 government contract to produce recommendations for redesigning the voting process.

Challenge 3: Institutional & Financial Support
Crisply defined objectives backed up by data are crucial for institutional support and to attract funding. “We have been successful at getting grants because I’m delivering a mission,” said Deiglmeier about Stanford’s Center for Social Innovation, which is housed in the Graduate School of Business. That mission is a “just, prosperous and sustainable world,” accomplished by “building the capacity of social change leaders.” “The design world is more of a challenge,” Deiglmeier noted, because it’s “about piloting and prototyping and uncertainty.”

Whereas designers are traditionally concerned with producing a commission or project, they are not held accountable for its impact, agreed Jeremy Myerson: “That’s the client’s problem.” Designers seeking financing for social-change work need to be better prepared to demonstrate positive outcomes.

Dori Tunstall pointed out the advantage of a network in pooling information that would attract donor dollars: “As teachers, we can focus on everything up to class outcomes, but as a network we can collectively prepare a larger impact model and gather support for larger projects and funding.”

Corporate funders present opportunities but may require tactful management. Myerson described negotiating contracts that define donors and academic programs as partners, thereby reducing funders' claims to ownership of projects.

Challenge 4: Metrics
Discussed at length were measures to define and quantify a social-design project’s impact, in terms of both student experience and benefit to the target community. Kriss Deiglmeier and Anthony Sheldon presented to the group metrics-of-success models employed by business schools, foundations and social entrepreneurs, which begin with the enunciation of a mission, followed by a theory of change, inputs or required resources, outputs or concrete products, outcomes, and finally an appraisal of impact — admittedly difficult to quantify with precision in any undertaking. IRIS (Impact Reporting and Investment Standards) was cited as a framework recently developed by the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN) to track performance and make comparisons among “a breadth of organizations that have social or environmental impact as a primary driver,” according to the IRIS website.

Winterhouse Education Symposium participants briefly debated the idea of producing a design version of IRIS. Anthony Sheldon asked whether it would be “better to have design input into IRIS. Why ghettoize design if IRIS is becoming the standard?” To which Mariana Amatullo responded, “It would be powerful if we had a short-term goal of looking at a framework to have metrics around a project that is a little closer to the realities we deal with. Of course, going back to the mega structure would be great over time.”

In addition to metrics’ value in attracting donors, Jamer Hunt observed their benefit in solidifying a social-design program’s concept and execution. “As you incorporate metrics, you start to build in curricular and administrative structures that add strength to what you’re teaching,” he said.

Challenge 5: Documentation
No uniform methods exist for recording and archiving the results of social-design projects emanating from schools across the country (much less internationally). Neither is there a resource that documents teaching approaches. Case studies, which routinely incorporate metrics, are proven tools in business and journalism programs, but they make rare appearances in design courses. As William Drenttel pointed out, few people are trained in writing design-focused case studies, and there is no consistent format or distribution model.

The Symposium participants agreed that case studies could bring uniformity and methodological discipline to the emerging practice of social-design education, helping to achieve what Jamer Hunt described as the “end goal for a lot of things: to weed out spastic diversity and build in some kind of expertise and intelligence around a narrow topic.” Anthony Sheldon added, “You can use the same case study within totally different curriculums.”

Charlie Cannon saw case studies as having the further value of functioning as “a stick in our courses by showing the quality of others’ work….I find that if there are precedents from previous studios, the bar rises in my own classes.”

Dori Tunstall, however, pointed out that authoring case studies doesn’t advance the careers of faculty aiming for tenure. And indeed, work of this nature that was discussed by Symposium participants was performed either by case study staff within business schools, faculty at institutions that don’t grant tenure or educators who have already received tenure.

This left the question of what kind of resource might document teaching methods, student satisfaction and progress, and community impact while providing a framework for benchmarking and comparison with other initiatives. Ideally, such a resource would also count as a legitimate publication in a tenure review.

The Symposium concluded with the formulation of a model presented by William Drenttel that featured a spectrum between journalism and case studies, encompassing a range of reports on social design projects augmented with analysis. Participants discussed incorporating other media and formats: podcasts with a social-design focus that would be part of an existing series produced by Stanford’s Center for Social Innovation; design scenarios with an ethnographic focus; a documentary film currently in the works about Stanford’s Extreme Design class; journal articles that present cases in an academic mode; a curriculum-in-a-box concept; and student video testimonials of processes and outcomes.

• The concept of “social design” is still in its infancy. Social design needs to be defined more clearly in relation to social enterprise, social entrepreneurship and social innovation. The Symposium clearly demonstrated that design schools can learn much from existing business school experience and knowledge, while business schools are simultaneously grappling with how to include a new academic interest in “design” within their curriculums.
• The estimated 30-50 educational institutions with social-change initiatives of some scope represent a small but crucial community that should be sharing case studies and best practices. The Symposium culled from participants a list of future participants and advisors.
• In shaping and evaluating academic programs in social design, a distinction should be drawn between teaching practice and curricular projects. Over and over again, the Symposium made a clear distinction between how social design is taught and the subject matter of social-design projects assigned. This distinction will help to clarify future work around social impact and metrics, as well as teaching methods.
• The development of new models of case studies with a design orientation is critical to the development of better programs, better teaching materials, and ultimately the impact of social innovation programs beyond the classroom.

Next Steps
• Winterhouse will continue to share Yale School of Management case studies around design and social innovation as they are released, including cases on SELCO Solar Energy, Mayo Clinic’s Center for Innovation and PopTech/Frog Design’s collaboration on Project Masiluleke. Participants agreed to teach or assign the SELCO case where possible during the 2010–2011 school year with the goal of sharing teaching experiences and having a common vocabulary around future case development.
• Winterhouse committed to explore new funding for other case models beyond the Yale “raw case” method, including the idea that design-focused cases would be created by partnerships between design programs and business schools (e.g., Art Center and USC, or Carnegie Mellon School of Design and Tepper School of Business).
• Participants agreed to map a course-based social-change project onto a framework adapted from social innovation structures (mission, theory of change, inputs, activities, outputs, outcomes, impact). This framework will be applied both to pedagogy (“how we teach the project”) and social-design practice (“how effective was the project”). Winterhouse will develop a formal structure for this framework so that documentation is consistent.
• Winterhouse agreed to explore a collaboration with the Center for Social Innovation at Stanford Graduate School of Business to develop a podcast series focused on design and social innovation.
• A number of participants agreed to explore the idea of video testimonials from students, in order to document the process of social innovation projects within curriculum from students’ perspectives.
• Participants agreed to gather again at a larger Symposium in summer 2011 to share teaching experiences and case study development. This meeting will be expanded to 25-30 participants, selected by Winterhouse with input from Symposium participants. Winterhouse will plan venue and dates, as well as seek funding for this next Symposium.

Posted in: Education , Social Good

Comments [2]

Love the insights and conclusions. As a participant in SVA's Impact! Design for Social Change, summer 2010, and a professor who has infused "social design" into my classes as well as a program called CreateAthon onCampus, I can attest to the challenges that come with implementing social design into academics, despite the clear benefits to the students, school and community. A clear challenge in many schools is cross-pollinating disciplines in a structure that is built on successful but extremely isolated silos. Breaking those silos is hard work. Also, without large, over-arching collaboration and/or professional incentives for professors, social design projects can be viewed as a hinderance to the professional development of an academic. Having a cohesive network that provides credibility, documentation, and guidelines will make it easier for a wider variety of academics in a wider variety of institutional contexts to implement social design into curricula.
peyton rowe

Very rich discussion here. I'm glad to see real-world outcomes (and the metrics that measure them) given serious consideration in this context. Without that focus, any pedagogical method or student activity strikes me as half-measure.

IRIS and accompanying standards are certainly useful, but even a cursory glance through that system reveals some gaps when it comes to meaningful, comparable data. So for example, one metric is listed as "Number of full-time employees who received healthcare benefits through the organization's programs during the reporting period." Which - in theory - speaks to health outcomes (though not directly).

But then you have something like "Indicate whether the organization has a written policy to compensate employees equally irrespective of gender, race, color, disability, political opinion, sexual orientation, age, religion or social or ethnic origin." That's a standard ("have a policy") that doesn't actually reveal anything about how employees are paid in a given organization. Re-focusing that into a metric that looks at actual compensation discrepancies is a much more relevant and accurate way of looking at the actual on-the-ground impacts of company policy/operations.

Extrapolated to design-specific scenarios, student projects need a set of measurable outcomes first in order to benefit from teaching methodologies. Until we know how to measure those outcomes, identifying the methodologies to teach them is like the cart dragging the horse. That's what we're trying to do with SDAP, anyway.
Jess Sand

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