Q+A panel discussion evening

Wednesday, June 27, 2012 - 4:00am to 6:00am
RMIT University Building 9, Bowen Street Level 2 (follow signs) Melbourne, VIC Australia

DESIS-lab Melbourne hosted an evening of panel discussion to debate overlapping topics of design, ethics, public services and the agency of design in enabling social innovation.

Speakers were:
Dr Cameron Tonkinwise: Carnegie Mellon University
Mel Edwards and Justin Barrie: Design Managers Australia
Kate Archdeacon: Victorian Eco-Innovation Lab
David Hood: Doing: Something Good

As in the ABC 1 TV, ‘QandA’ panel discussion series, we asked attending participants to submit questions prior to the day. Below were those that were submitted, providing meaty food for thought.


  • In this era of social networking, it can be argued that society and community has become a market. For instance, social networking sites rely on users disclosing personal information that can be sold to advertisers. How can the ethical designer create online projects that are successful but don’t exploit users? One way is for designers to acknowledge in whose interests they work.
  • How do we design with people where differences and diversity can be productive, rather than be seen as an obstacle? How do we then demonstrate ‘equity’ and participation?
  • What in the education or experience of the designer supports designers to understand the ethics/responsibilites of working with diverse stakeholder groups on projects that seek to effect change?
  • It is possible that the zeal of designers to enter the social innovation space could see them imposing their wish for involvement on society where there is no specific interest from a community?
  • There is also the issue of social innovation projects that are more social entrepreneurship and where the project initiator seeks to simultaneously effect change and set up a business. What are the ethics of involving others as volunteers in such activities?
  • When trust for government is breaking down, what is the role of community-led organisations, social media network clusters – how are they practicing participation? Who does the designer advocate on behalf of, and how do they practice voicing and practicing through their designing?
  • What promises do we make as designers when we design in this space?
  • What kinds of designers does this area attract? What had motivated you and what keeps you going?
  • Practices which encourage Social Innovation and Sustainability offer different ways to think about designers and design agency – how do you see this effecting design education here in Australia?
  • In terms of the particular examples or tactics for social innovation and sustainability, is it important for these to actually be effective and/or sustainable or is it ‘the thought that counts’?
  • Herbert Simon famously wrote about design as a practice which enables ‘a move from the actual to the preferred’. Do you think that ideas for social innovation and sustainability have a similar understanding of design’s role, and if so, who’s ‘preferences’ do those ideas aim to meet?
  • One of DESIS’s main activities is to find existing ideas for ‘Social Innovation and Sustainable Practice’ and facilitate the uptake of those ideas more broadly and in other locations. Could this be interpreted as an attempt at developing social ‘pattern languages’? and does it come with a possible danger of outcomes and projects being applied out of context?

This event is being funded by the Design Research Institute, RMIT University

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