What Design Can Do and STBY have recently tried out a new format for bringing professionals together to develop their thinking and practices around complex societal problems – Collaborative R&D Labs. These are intensive full-day workshops in which creatives and multidisciplinary experts join forces to collectively address issues that are too complex for individuals or a single organisation to tackle on their own. The labs are a hands-on application of research through design, focused on gaining a deep understanding of a wicked problem and co-creating new perspectives on it.
Over the past years What Design Can Do (WDCD) has been organizing events and conferences about the power of design to make a positive change in the world. As their research partner, STBY has facilitated many breakout sessions during these events. Both formats (conference and breakout sessions) work very well for certain topics, but we jointly concluded that freshly emerging and highly complex topics need a more concerted effort – more time and a more collaborative approach. With the Collaborative R&D Labs, we aim to provide a new format that invites people to dive deeper into these topics and to join forces to get their heads around it.
On 6 December 2019, 200+ interdisciplinary participants came together in the Nemo museum in Amsterdam for a full day pilot program, titled ‘Radical Collaboration’. The programme took place in two blocks: a morning and an afternoon session, in which we rolled up our sleeves and got deep into the key issues raised and prepared in collaboration with different partners. After an initial round of mapping the issues and prioritising them, we continued to unpacking the underlying root problems and jointly creating new perspectives. The tailored workshops for each unique lab session incubated a better understanding of the challenges and opportunities, and also fresh perspectives on a range of related design questions.
Five labs addressing complex societal challenges
The STBY teams from London and Amsterdam worked closely together with WDCD and other partners to prepare and facilitate five different simultaneous lab sessions:
‘Safer Cities Lab’ (prepared in collaboration with Centre for Frugal Innovation Africa, CFIA)
‘Water is life’ (prepared in collaboration with Waternet)
‘Zero Suicide Lab’ (prepared in collaboration with 113)
‘Doughnut Economy Lab’ (prepared in collaboration with Pictoright)
No Waste Lab (prepared in collaboration with IKEA Foundation)
The organisations that helped preparing the Collaborative R&D Labs are partners, not commissioners or clients. They support the open invitation to creatives and experts to jointly address societal challenges, and all benefit from the joint effort. The results of the Labs are open for everyone to make use of in their practices. They are published on the website of What Design Can do.
Potential for further follow up
The open and transparent character of the labs is quite an innovative activity in our field. The creative industry largely consists of many small organisations. R&D happens all the time and everywhere of course, but we are often at our best when we pool our resources for a creative sprint to our mutual benefit. The results of the labs not only inspire and connect the participants, by openly sharing they hopefully also inspire others. This collaborative and creative R&D approach can provide essential connections between key stakeholders related to each topic, and open doors for new partnerships, projects, challenges and further events.
Photos by: Leo Veger