CityLab Studio: Designing participatory, human-centred methods for citizen engagement

What could citizen-centred governance look like to tackle issues on climate change?

This design studio was taught in the Communication Design Program, School of Media and Communication, RMIT University, in partnership with CityLab (City of Melbourne) and Victorian Eco Innovation Lab (University of Melbourne) during July – October 2015. It aimed to introduce design students to consider new models of local governance in 2040 for a future that is hotter, more crowded but has adapted to climate change and its impacts. This studio, led by Dr Yoko Akama, Tania Ivanka and Dr Idil Gaziulusoy helped students learn about emerging movements like service design, speculative design and design ethnography to propose a citizen-centred future for the City of Melbourne.

The studio introduced students to the development and use of participatory, human centred design methods and how these can be used to engage citizens in dialogue about, and the design of, a low-carbon future. In order to deliver this learning, the studio structure included in-class exercises on participatory methods, guest lectures by the studio partners, interviews with local practitioners who are at the forefront of citizen engagement on these issues. The studio centred around several workshops with citizens where students could develop, iterate and test their participatory prototypes with the participants.

“The lecturer explained that we as designers have been educated to be problem solvers, fixated on delivering a solution. This studio however, was not aiming to design a solution, but to design the process. With this acknowledgement, all of my stars seemed to align and I felt I gained a whole new understanding. .. our main focus revolved around developing prototype’s to be tested in real life settings using all we had learned around human centred design so far. This process held the most intense and insightful experience within the studio. As we were to test these prototypes on industry professionals, only just having learnt half the concepts we were exploring with them a few months ago, it was definitely an exciting process. Being able to learn from the things that may have gone horribly wrong and even get feed-back from our participants held so much value in the development of my work and also myself as a designer. Real life interactions were incredibly valuable. Being able to reflect on the process to inform and iterate future work is such an essential element to design and this studio thoroughly underlined that notion.” Galen Strachan

The process and outcome of this studio are captured by a selection of outstanding student projects:

Repurposing Waste by Carlotta Solari


Public Transport mapping by Galen Strachan


Swapping waste and resources by Harry Jones


A city of windturbines by Robert Sorensen


Household Foodwaste prototype by Anita Shao


Green infrastructure by Mary Hoang


Power Up prototype by Maria Ferreira


Bus it by Michael Santos


Wasteful Packaging prototype by Sasha Taylor-Leech


For those who have attended our successful discussion panel in 2012, it will be a delight to know that Dom was back again in Melbourne to give us a talk on ‘Designing for change in public services’.

Dominic Campbell is a digital government specialist and founder of FutureGov. FutureGov designs digital products that improve public services, especially in areas of high importance, cost and risk such as child protection and social care.

FutureGov has a 30-strong team in the UK, and has been working with local government in Australia over the last couple of years. It’s great to have Dom join us to talk about how FutureGov has used service design to transform public services.

About Dom
Dominic Campbell is a digital government specialist and social innovator with a background in government policy, communications and technology-led change.

He is an experienced organisational change agent with senior management experience in implementing successful change initiatives within the local government sector, with a primary interest in emerging uses of new media and “social” strategies to deliver public service transformation and social innovation.

Dominic was recently voted in both the top 50 most influential people in UK local government and top 50 most influential users of social networking site Twitter in the UK.

GovCamp is about more than events – it’s an invitation is to be part of an ongoing conversation to inspire and shape new opportunities for public innovation.

It is an opportunity to talk with a mix of people – from inside and outside government, from the worlds of technology and policy, of community and universities – to talk about shaping an agenda for innovation and to make a start on that agenda.

This is a call to people who want to come a be part of a conversation about innovation in government.

GovCamp is for people like you
Public sector practitioners, advisers and leaders who are excited by these challenges, who seek to better understand the risks and opportunities within emerging trends.

There are no clever corporate games; just dialogue and an open exchange of ideas.  It’s a Saturday. It’s free time, casual and as “off-the-record” as you need.  And because it’s shared conversation, you’ll take away even more than you contribute.
Courtesy of our generous organising partners, registration and catering is FREE.


EPA Victoria, Futuregov

“The Australian Public Service (APS) is increasingly being tasked with solving very complex policy problems. Some of these policy issues are so complex they have been called ‘wicked’ problems. The term ‘wicked’ in this context is used, not in the sense of evil, but rather as an issue highly resistant to resolution.

Successfully solving or at least managing these wicked policy problems requires a reassessment of some of the traditional ways of working and solving problems in the APS. They challenge our governance structures, our skills base and our organisational capacity.

It is important, as a first step, that wicked problems be recognised as such. Successfully tackling wicked problems requires a broad recognition and understanding, including from governments and Ministers, that there are no quick fixes and simple solutions.

Tackling wicked problems is an evolving art. They require thinking that is capable of grasping the big picture, including the interrelationships among the full range of causal factors underlying them. They often require broader, more collaborative and innovative approaches. This may result in the occasional failure or need for policy change or adjustment.

Wicked problems highlight the fundamental importance of the APS building on the progress that has been made with working across organisational boundaries both within and outside the APS. The APS needs to continue to focus on effectively engaging stakeholders and citizens in understanding the relevant issues and in involving them in identifying possible solutions.

The purpose of this publication is more to stimulate debate around what is needed for the successful tackling of wicked problems than to provide all the answers. Such a debate is a necessary precursor to reassessing our current systems, frameworks and ways of working to ensure they are capable of responding to the complex issues facing the APS.”

(Australian Public Service Commission 2007, p. iii)


File: wicked problems 2007

DESIS-lab Melbourne had the great pleasure of hosting a panel discussion to coincide with Dominic Campbell’s visit to Melbourne on the 21st May 2013. Dom is the Director of Futuregov, UK, leading the way on using digital technology to improve the public services. This article in The Guardian gives a good snapshot of their recent work.

A brief intro to Dom’s talk:

“Social innovators and public sector reformers are increasingly drawn to the use of digital and design as a way to transform public services from the inside and out. However so far many of these emerging (great) ideas lack the scale of impact they could and should have. It’s now time to focus less on creating more and more good ideas, and instead on taking the best of those ideas and the social innovation experiments to the next level. Go big or go home – the world can’t wait.”

Following Dom’s talk, an illustrious line up of panelists discussed general topics on design and social innovation in the public sector.

Darren Sharp: Darren Sharp is the Australian Editor of Shareable, the online magazine that tells the story of sharing. Darren has a background in social research and consulting having led a number of Gov 2.0 initiatives for state and federal government clients including Australia Post, VicHealth and the Gov 2.0 Taskforce. Darren spent years as senior researcher with the Smart Services CRC where he undertook research into communications policy, Internet futures, peer production and user-led innovation. A sharing economy evangelist, Darren is passionate about citizen engagement, social innovation, p2p systems, the commons and sustainable cities.

Adrian Pyle, Director – Relationships Innovation at Uniting Church in Australia, Synod of Victoria and Tasmania. He is interested in enduring and universal themes within the great spiritual traditions, philosophies and models of change. He has a particular interest in Theory U and how “U shaped process” is a metaphor for those universal themes. His work involves him in a range of projects and experiments which help people get immersed in various stages of the U process and through this allow them to appreciate life as a spiritual experience (rather than spirituality as an “add on” to life). These projects and experiments include a fledgling responsible travel and learning journeys business, work in the area of relocalising and cooperatising businesses, neighbourhood co-working and maker space experiments, neighbourhood meals experiments and crowd and community funded energy reduction initiatives.

Damien Melotte, partner in System Reload. System Reload is a Strategic Design consultancy that is passionate about building thriving organisations that can adapt to disruptive change in the relationships age. Their approach is a combination of Service Design, Customer Experience, Digital and Social Business.Damien has worked with a range of public, private and Non Government Organisations in project design, social innovation, trends analysis, customer experience, strategic design, business strategy development, tactical tool development and workshop facilitation. Damien supports organisations to distil complexity through visualising and unravelling problems and working through a collaborative process to develop solutions.

Lucinda Hartley is an award winning designer who is passionate about cities, and developing new approaches to urban revitalisation that are faster, cheaper and more fun. Trained as a Landscape Architect, Lucinda spent two years working in slum communities in Vietnam and Cambodia before launching CoDesign Studio: a non-profit social enterprise, committed to helping disadvantaged communities to envision, design and implement neighbourhood improvement projects. Since its inception in 2010, CoDesign has delivered projects across five countries in Asia Pacific and engages over 500 volunteers. Lucinda is also an elected representative to the UN-Habitat Youth Advisory Board, focusing on how to engage young people in city making, and was a 2010 Youth Action Net Global Fellow. Her work in design and community development has been widely recognised including being recently listed in The Age Melbourne Magazine as one of Melbourne’s ‘Top 100’ most influential people.

Dominic Campbell, Founder of Futuregov. Dominic is a digital government and social innovation entrepreneur with a strong background in policy, communications and change management.

The panel discussion was moderated by Yoko Akama, leader of DESIS-Lab Melbourne, Service Design Network Melbourne and Acting Research Leader of Design Research Institute, RMIT University. This forum was nested within a broader program of the Design Research Institute Convergence Exhibition, open from 2nd – 24th May 2013 at RMIT Design Hub.


Sarah Drummond is the Co-founder and Director of Service Design Social Innovation outfit Snook, based in Scotland, UK. Her talk focused on public realm service design and Snook’s approach to designing new futures with citizens and governments. For example, Do-tanks for governments can use design thinking techniques and service design process as a way to innovate public services and turn policy into action in their own countries. Snook see service design as a powerful tool to solve complex social issues and designing new futures.

Sarah covered what service design is from Snook’s perspective, highlighting core principles of how they work. Various project examples demonstrated how they design inside the system (eg. Redesigning the Post 16 Learner Journey with Scottish Government) and from outside the system (eg. The Matter). Ideas such as Jams and Idea Labs are way to solve problems and collaborate across sectors. Sarah will discuss the mindset shifts needed to move towards a design-led approach to social innovation.


Sarah Drummond is the Co-founder and Director of Service Design Social Innovation outfit Snook. Sarah focuses on making social change happen by re-thinking public services from a human perspective. With a Masters of Design Innovation from Glasgow School of Art, Sarah is a social entrepreneur, unashamedly proving the value of design in central government and defining a meaningful role for designers in the public sector. Her work challenges the role design can play within the public sector, and as the winner of the first Scottish Social Innovation Camp, Sarah is ambitiously challenging the way governments operate and make policies through initiatives such as MyPolice.

As a fellow of Google, Sarah has a flair for using technology as an enabler and thrives leading processes of change, putting design at the heart of organisations and complex systems.

Prior to being the Director of Snook, Sarah won £20,000 for a community in Glasgow by giving local people the tools and confidence to build their own social enterprise. She also spent a year working inside Skills Development Scotland alongside their Service Design and Innovation Directorate to embed the design process in their organisation.

Sarah’s service design expertise and public sector innovation knowledge has recently taken her to keynote in Taiwan, Australia and America.

Sharing Cities: Activating the Urban Commons
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