Design for Social Innovation conference, Sydney 20-21 October 2014

Design for Social Innovation: A two day conference on the latest thinking, doing and change emerging in the field of design‑led social innovation.

• Explore case studies on current practice and learn about the realities of design‑led innovation for social impact with international and Australian experts.
• Workshop your current projects and challenges in specialised learning sessions and masterclasses on design and social innovation.

• Emerge with a design and innovation toolkit to implement social change initiatives drawn from best practice in Australia and around the world.


Why do we need design-led thinking for social innovation?

Because we need to look at problem solving and solution finding from users’ perspective.

As we face a future in Australia with a diminishing tax base to support an ageing community, and reduced government spending on social purpose, a new way forward is needed that ensures social innovation makes an impact on a meaningful scale. Design thinking applied to social purpose can result in the creation of new services, business models, processes and communication that makes meaningful and scalable change possible.

But how do you practically do this innovation work?

And what’s more – how do you do this in a cash-strapped, risk averse system, and still maintain business as usual and deliver services to those most in need?

Design-based thinking, real life application

Walk away from this conference with the know-how to immediately put technique and frameworks into practice and create new or enhance existing systems, processes, services and products.

Design for Social Innovation is an event for practitioners, policy makers, social impact intrapreneurs, social entrepreneurs, directors and managers in government, the not-for-profit sector, and business.

It is for people who create or manage systems, processes, products and services designed to address social need.

Design and business innovation academics as well as user-facing communicators and developers will also be able to participate and engage in thinking that will explore real life case-studies and dig-deep into the realities of design-led innovation in the social space.

Participants will develop an action plan for user-centric approaches to tackling social challenges such as disadvantage, homelessness, long-term unemployment, disengagement from education, social isolation and social challenges related to health.

Book now for up to $200 off registration until 25 September 2014.
For more details go to:

Commencement date: 2014
Project status: Current
Partners: RMIT University, Oxfam Australia, Victoria Eco Innovation Lab, Swinburne University, Monash University, Victoria University, Melbourne University

This project builds on a course piloted with final year Communication Design students in 1st semester 2014 at RMIT University. Developed in partnership with Oxfam’s Design for Change program, students designed communication strategies to engage Australian youth on climate change and food security. The teaching was integrated with research expertise and introduced human-centred design methods to assist student’s learning of design’s role in addressing complex issues.

This project further consolidates the 1st semester fruitful outcome and Oxfam’s enthusiasm to continue the successful partnership. Several workshops are planned with various stakeholders to call upon a range of expertise in Oxfam, RMIT and beyond to ensure evaluation and critical input to deliver internationally relevant curricula that integrate social and sustainable principles into design curricula, has potential to transfer into other fields, and enable students to be work-ready in local and global industry.

Anyone interested in learning more about this project, or taking part, please contact Tania Ivanka (

Design thinking, user-centered design, service design, transformation design. These practices are not identical but their origin is similar: a definition of design that extends the profession beyond products. The rise of service economies in the developed world contributed to this movement toward design experiences, services and interactions between users and products. The literature about design thinking and contemporary ideas reveals common elements and themes, many of which are borrowed from product design processes. They include abduction, empathy, interdisciplinary teams, co-creation, iteration through prototyping, preservation of complexity and an evolving brief.

The implications of the rise of design thinking are twofold. First, corporate and organizational leaders concerned with innovative prowess are recognizing design thinking as a tool for developing new competitive advantages. Design thinking considers consumers’ latent desires and thus has the potential to change markets rather than simply make incremental improvements in the status quo. Second, many organizations have encountered significant barriers to practicing design thinking internally. In some ways, design thinking runs counter to the very structure of a corporation — it is intended to break paradigms, which may mean questioning power relationships, traditions and incentive structure, and it may require a corporation to overhaul its business model and cannibalize its success. Additionally, many corporate leaders treat design thinking in a linear manner, a process that compromises the critical elements of conflict and circularity. In many instances, designers have failed to sufficiently translate and articulate their process, and businesses tend to favor past trends over the promise of new discovery.

With corporations struggling to use design thinking effectively, where does that leave the social sector? The organizational challenges facing corporations do not necessarily transfer to nonprofit organizations: more complex systems, higher stakes for failure, limited resources and intangible evaluation metrics. Designers may be attracted to greater complexity and more wicked problems in the social sector, but they need to be prepared to adapt their process and attitudes to create positive change. Perhaps the most significant adaptation designers need to make is in their role. Where product design connotes a sense of authorship, social design demands that designers be facilitators and educators of their processes. Further, they need to recognize they may not be well equipped to solve problems, but can identify problems and co-create with local leaders and beneficiaries.

The value of co-creation is a predominant theme in the literature surveyed here, particularly for Western designers contributing to foreign communities. Another critical factor is continual presence within projects, or better, a longer-term, sustained involvement. Authors speak of the importance of evaluation and metrics to gauge success, but find many projects lacking, perhaps for the same reasons the social sector as a whole struggles with impact measurement. Scaling, adaptation and replication are buzzwords that pervade the social sector, but are particularly difficult for the product of a design process. Because the process is founded on a deep understanding of a particular user group’s needs, the solution for one community likely does not translate directly to another. However, authors suggest that it is the design process that is scalable and should be taught to local leaders. Failed projects support this assertion; benefits flow through the process of a project as well as the end-product, which further advocates for co-creation. Finally, the literature leave us with an unsettling question: Is breakthrough innovation possible in the social sector? Most veterans in this field suggest the answer is no — they recommend that designers start small and introduce incremental change because the complexity of the systems and problems they face will demand it. However, this finding does not negate the potential value of the designer. The social sector needs designers to identify problems, imagine possibilities for a better future and facilitate problem-solving processes.

— Courtney Drake

Read more about this on changeobserver

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