STAYING WITH THE TROUBLE DURING CORONACENE

The world is attacked by an alien species; this is arguably the closest real-life experience to a Martian invasion our generation has and will ever have. However, in this particular case, the alien species has not come from outer space; it happens to have emerged and evolved on the Earth due to some complex socio-ecological entanglements scientists are yet to fully understand (interesting threads there for those who haven’t been on top “this side” of the corona news, including bats, pangolins, wet markets and factory farming). Its alienness is due to the fact that we have not been properly introduced to one another; no appointments were made, no protocols or etiquette were followed. This Earth-dwelling alien force-introduced itself into our lives and took away the banal variety of our daily agenda and declared its monopoly over all of the conversations we have with colleagues, neighbours, friends and ourselves. In addition, almost overnight, it forced us to change our consumption preferences radically (see meal recipes from famous chefs with three ingredients: toilet paper, hand sanitizer and pasta), to abandon the privilege of choosing to be “offline”, and willingly cancel our travel plans to exotic places in the coming months. For a change, we are not at the top of the food chain or the dominant species these days. Currently, we are scared animals sent to solitary confinement in our very homes (if we are lucky to have one), if not to hospital or grave (yet), collectively experiencing physical and emotional traumas by some microscopic and relatively simple life forms. Welcome to the coronacene.

Each one of us who are currently living under lockdown circumstances will have a vivid memory of how fast our reality have changed from that moment of ‘click’. My click occurred on March 10th. I was visiting Aalborg University in Copenhagen for two days as a guest professor. My host told me that the staff was expecting the university to close from the following week onwards. Before that moment lockdowns were a possibility that I hadn’t entertained; yes, they were happening but surely, ‘elsewhere’. The day after I flew back to Helsinki, where I work at a university as an international staff member, on a plane that was only a quarter full, Denmark closed its borders. I had already learned everything about the new coronavirus at the airport while waiting for departure and a lot about general epidemiology. The next day my university announced we were moving teaching online. That weekend I worked around the clock to be able to deliver my class on Monday morning, March 16th, remotely. In the afternoon of the same day, Finland declared a state of emergency; I followed the Prime Minister’s press briefing, which was broadcasted live on the national television, in a Facebook messenger group of three other international academics where a volunteer did a simultaneous translation. When it was finished, I immediately left home to buy cat litter for my two cats (I knew essential supplies would be available under lockdown conditions, however, I wasn’t sure if pet supplies were considered as such. It turns out they do; no current shortage of cat litter to my relief). It has been one week and five days since then (I’m writing this on March 29th); however, I feel like it has been eons. Two days ago, a new level of lockdown has been declared: those who live in the Helsinki region shall not leave the borders of the region. Some Finnish friends and colleagues have left to their family mökkis (summer houses) in the country. I am staying in my fifty square meter apartment in central Helsinki with my two cats and leave home daily for a short walk (if it is sunny) by the water and grocery shopping. I am increasingly anxious with the thought of my 80-year-old mum becoming sick, or worse dying, and me not being able to leave this country where borders are closed, to go to my birth country to care for my mum if need be, or worse, to attend her funeral. My boss told me though the other day that “Oh, but, you know, we’re all worried about our loved ones.”, so I guess, I should chill with this new and ‘life changing’ information I gained in that instant of exchanging ‘empathy’.

The first week of the lockdown was very surreal however ‘easy’ as there were immediate problems to be solved: Classes needed to be appropriated and delivered, all meetings that colonized my calendar weeks in advance needed to be held, invited guest lectures scheduled months ago needed to be video-recorded and sent to hosts, my small entrepreneur friends who lost all of their expected income in the coming months needed to be supported in their search to find solutions, a surge of fast emerging social innovations required to be followed closely (as professional curiosity) and care systems for the elderly in my apartment block needed to be established (as my community responsibility). I was worried but energized and very focused in the present immediacy of a rapidly unfolding crisis situation. Amidst this ‘flow experience’ I even managed to park the hurt and heartbreak induced by having been abruptly separated with my partner-of-two-years in mid-February, for reasons beyond our relationships. Once the immediacy of an emergent situation has past, around the beginning of this week ending (in the time of writing), my focus has started to shift to the ember that we all are currently sitting on in different capacities and at different resilience levels; me, on my own, in a country where I cannot even speak the language of and in a state of fresh heartbreak.

In some recent op-eds this sudden yet perpetual discomfort and pain that we have found ourselves in has been described as grief; grief of real and anticipated, big and small, clear and ambiguous losses we collectively and individually are experiencing right now. Grief needs to be taken seriously as it is a delicate process; according to well-known theorists it is a process of transformation, indeed, however, such transformation is not per se for the better. Grief, only if handled with a regenerative and generative attitude, can lead to a stronger individual and collective self. In other cases, grief might as well result in the demise of existing resilience manifesting itself as depression and anxiety in individuals and as total or partial collapse and unrest in societies. Also, let me add here, collective grief is not a new experience as some have argued; many communities and for long have been experiencing collective grief due to losses induced by decades long ecosystemic and climatic collapse and centuries long colonization. Through coronacene, now the general population, regardless of the levels of privilege or wealth enjoyed and taken for granted in ‘normal’ times, are experiencing how it feels like to lose a basic sense of security and certainty in one’s immediate environment. For once, the ember sets all buttocks on fire then travel to hearts, but I’m afraid, looking at the shortcomings of broader scale reflections on learnings that are transferable to other immediate crises hanging over our heads as Damocles’ sword (climate change arguably being the most urgent and globally relevant), save the voices of already well-known thinkers, this collective grief may become a wasted opportunity. It surely will leave scars but perhaps not a memory of how quickly we hit the bottom, discovered myriads of capacities and knowledges that help us to cope and stay resilient and numerous ‘rights’ and ‘entitlements’ we left aside for the common good that we thought to be indispensable only a few weeks ago (academic travel from my own professional context being one). Once some normality is re-established, our pseudo-sense of security and certainty comes back, we may continue living amnesiac lives (because we have forgotten many pasts full of such learnings) and go back to relentless consumerism and community uncare; that’s what we are made to believe is needed to boost the economy after difficult times and forget about the solidarity economies we managed to build overnight in this case and in several instances before during local and global hardships.

What would it take to stay with the trouble during the coronacene instead? In her book[1] that inspired the title of this piece (but the content only loosely), Donna Haraway explains staying with the trouble as becoming response-able by stirring up the waters of our disturbing, devastating, turbulent times rather than hiding passively in the safety of imagined futures; this is required to “rebuild quiet places”. I’d like to put emphasis that hiding into the safety of imagined futures is altogether different than actively imagining futures that are alternative to what we are likely to get should things continue in the same way. In my opinion, rebuilding quiet places is a metaphor, referring to creating these alternative futures as stay with the trouble; as we stir up the now to reveal the rotten, murky foundations of the now. I’m not going to repeat borderline ecofascist memes here on how the virus “has given the Earth time to breathe” based on the factual and fake news on less pollution, reduced emissions and wildlife coming back to cities. This kind of separation between humans and nature is a remnant of the world we have built post Enlightenment, and as many of the dualisms our society has constructed since then, it is reductionist and dangerous. Staying with the trouble should instead require us to think along lines more sophisticated than those that only enable us to act upon used futures[2], the futures that don’t serve us anymore, such as those based on the assumption of humanity’s ability to dominate nature or that we can techno-fix every problem we encounter. I am also not going to give recipes for what kind of desirable futures might arise from this global crisis; first and foremost, we didn’t and don’t need a catastrophe to make us rethink our economic-growth-at-whichever-cost society the use-by-date of which has passed at least almost fifty years ago when The Limits to Growth[3] was published, if not earlier. Instead what I’d like to write about is how we can each start a process of staying with the trouble to rebuild those quiet places.

For this purpose, I’d like to refer to a typology developed by Karen O’Brien[4] in an article in which she discussed how society can transform to meet climate change targets. According to this typology there are three spheres of transformation: the practical, the political and the personal spheres. The practical sphere is about the specific actions, innovations and behaviours that directly contribute to a ‘desired’ outcome. The political sphere is about the systems and structures that are in place which create our everyday reality, that facilitate or constrain practical responses. This sphere is about shared interests and understandings as well as where disagreement and dissent are expressed, norms are challenged, and social movements are formed to address structural issues. The personal sphere, on the other hand, is about the subjective; the worldviews, beliefs, values and paradigms we hold individually and collectively. These subjectivities influence how we perceive and construct the structures and systems in place, what is individually and collectively imaginable, desirable, viable and achievable and how and where the boundaries between ‘us’ and ‘others’ are drawn. This sphere essentially governs the other two implying that transformation in this sphere is a prerequisite for transformation to take place in the other two.

When it comes to transformation, regardless of whether at personal or societal level, the general tendency is to intervene (only) in the practical sphere; thinking in terms of techno-fixes and incremental behavioural change. This is one of the reasons we are failing to address systemic, large-scale interrelated challenges, such as but not limited to climate change or a global pandemic. Instead we should start with transforming the personal and the political, keeping in mind that currently our key technology and behaviour to fight against the pandemic are ancient: soap and washing hands, and not Tesla Cybertruck or an equivalently frivolous ‘novelty’. We have the technology and, as evidenced during this pandemic, the ability to adjust our behaviour to create a world that is serving the needs of all (human and non-human) without compromising from our well-being, again as evidenced in the past weeks doesn’t require much more than meaningful connections, interpersonal practices of care in community and institutional settings, a basic level of income and functional systems of provision (in this particular instance we have realized the importance of healthcare and education systems that serve all and not a select few who can afford and have access to these). Oh, let’s not forget about singing in balconies, or Teddy bears in windows and yards, and the green spaces lucky urbanites threw themselves into when it got too much to #stayathome.

Staying with the trouble while staying afloat, both individually and collectively, is in fact the only way to take some agency in creating the futures we desire as the world our generation has got to know is crumbling in certain ways. This is not to say that “we” is unified or “the desired” is collectively held. Each one of us will need to formulate their own questions across these three spheres and start to reflect on. As I warp this piece up, I’m starting to formulate my questions to ponder upon as I spend my days staying at home being inspired by my current closest kins – my cats. My first questions are: 1. How can I build care-based relationships underlined by the values that are most important for me; freedom, justice and integrity; 2. How can I care for my immediate and broader, more-than-human communities now and as this century further unfolds?; 3. How can I, as an academic and a citizen, assist in co-creating alternative futures that will replace hard and soft institutions of our society that are not serving for the values I choose to stick with?, 4. In what ways my own worldviews, values and beliefs are holding onto used futures and how can I change these?

[1] Haraway, D. (2016). Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene. North Carolina, United States: Duke University Press.

[2] I borrow this term from a futures scholar and practitioner, Sohail Inayatullah, who is known for his work that invites us to closely examine and deconstruct our deep and long-held assumptions about how futures might unfold before starting to imagine alternative futures.

[3] Meadows, D., Meadows, D., Randers, J., & Behrens III, W. (1972). The Limits to Growth. New York: Universe Books. Available from https://clubofrome.org/publication/the-limits-to-growth/

[4] O’Brien, K. (2018). Is the 1.5°C target possible? Exploring the three spheres of transformation. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, 31, 153–160. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cosust.2018.04.010

 

Concepts and Contexts of Design for Sustainability: (Coincidentally) Piloting a New Course at Aalto PhD Summer School

It’s been ten months since I started working for Aalto University, Department of Design. As a new professor in exploration of my new environment, with the aim of finding the best opportunities to contribute into Aalto while progressing my career, I raised my hand up to run this year’s departmental PhD Summer School few months ago. I was told that summer schools are more experimental than winter schools and good opportunities for testing new curricular and pedagogic ideas or piloting potential new courses. The course I wanted to run was of course going to be about design for sustainability. Nevertheless, I spent around a month thinking in the background processor of my mind what specific content I should bring together and how that content should be structured and delivered. My ultimate goal was to introduce design approaches for systemic sustainability transitions to students but given in our department there has not been systematic teaching on sustainability there was a need to build such knowledge base first before introducing this emerging, complex topic.

With this in mind, I designed the program to start by introducing theories relevant to sustainability, then move into issues and intervention contexts and finally present design approaches. The school would last for five days, so this plan meant that the students would be exposed to a substantial amount of new knowledge with a series of intense lectures. To balance such intensity I decided to allocate afternoons for reflections and activities relevant to the topic of each day. Then I contacted several lecturers and researchers to deliver the lectures. This was an enjoyable exercise as this way I got to engage with my colleagues in Aalto, in Helsinki University and found out about several experts in Finnish Environment Institute. I also invited two international researchers but only one of them was able to accept the invitation. The original program design had only minimally changed.

SSProgram.001

Designing the program and engaging lecturers was one thing, organising the school itself was another; it required a lot of coordination and planning. Luckily I had an amazing teaching assistant, Maria, who pretty much took charge of all tasks including finding and booking a venue, organising catering (yes, we fed the students for free to keep them focused), booking flights and accomodation for Joanna Boehnert, the international guest lecturer, photo-documenting as well as note-keeping during the running of the school.

The school started with high energy both from students and from lecturers. The days went fast and were full-on in terms of ranges of topics covered. Afternoons had been good to synthesise learning but also to do some experiential learning with less need for cognitive stretch.

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Stefan Fronzek from Finnish Environment Institute SYKE lecturing on climate science and impacts of climate change
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Cindy Kohtala delivering her lecture on emerging practices of making and production
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Mikko Jalas delivering a lecture on materiality of care
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Eeva Berglund talking about political economies of design during her lecture on “uncommon ground”
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Me talking about roles of design in transition processes during my lecture on design for system innovations and transitions

Half of the students who participated in the summer school were in their first year of PhD studies. Feedback indicated that the three lectures that majority of the students found to benefit them most were practice theory lens for transition experiments, emerging practices of making/production and design for system innovations and transitions: positioning a new field. Almost all students found group discussions of lectures to be the activity that helped their learning most. All of the students thought that the program as well as the days were structured well and that they would recommend this course (or a variation of it) to MA and PhD students.

As the coordinator of the course I also found the experience very rewarding. It gave me the opportunity to get to know the new PhD students in our department. In addition, I had a chance to understand my colleagues’ research in more detail and learned many new things myself. This was the first course I ran since I started working in Aalto and I am happy that I did a good job as indicated in student feedback. I also appreciated once more the diversity and depth of expertise held within the department.

Now we’re only days away from Juhannus, which marks the beginning of month-long summer holiday for many in Finland, especially those in academia. I am not planning to take a whole month off as I’d like to take the opportunity of this quiet time to write a grant application. At the dawn of my first anniversary of starting my role as Professor of Sustainable Design in Aalto I am full of ideas including developing a new course on Design for Sustainability Transitions. This summer school has also acted as a great “pilot” for this purpose. I will certainly reflect a lot more on this experience as I design this course.

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An Overdue Update

It’s been a long while since I last updated this blog and major changes have occurred in the meantime. Once again, I sailed across the oceans and made a cross-country (cross-hemisphere in fact) move in July 2016 to undertake a new and exciting role as Professor of Sustainable Design at Aalto University in Helsinki, Finland. This opportunity came up at the right time as the project I was working on in Melbourne was approaching an end so while I was evaluating my options for my next career move. I started my job at Aalto on August 1st and in the past eight months I’ve been busy moving, settling, networking and learning. I feel incredibly lucky to be part of the faculty in Aalto Department of Design which is ranked as 13th best design school in the world this year.

In the meantime an article I started to work on when I was in Melbourne, together with lead author Fabrizio Ceschin (UK Brunel University), got published in Design Studies. In this article we discuss how the field of design for sustainability evolved over the years from a focus on individual artefacts to systems. This article received very positive attention, yielded a book chapter in an upcoming book from Routledge and Fabrizio and I have been quite humbled as it became the third most downloaded article of the journal in a very short period of time following being published.

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Currently I am running a two-week intensive course on design for system innovations and transitions at TongJi University in Shanghai as part of Aalto-TongJi collaboration in education. Reflections on this experience will follow shortly.

More Value to P2P than Uber and AirBnB: The Neglected Commons

Recently, Grattan Institute here in Melbourne published a report on peer-to-peer (P2P) economy arguing it could save Australians $500 million on taxi bills, help them use underutilized assets and generate income and increase employment and income for people on the fringe of the job market. The report argued that governments should adopt policies to facilitate growth of these businesses while also regulating for downsides. It is a worthwhile report to read.

What I’d like to raise as an issue is not the content of this report but the scope. First, the report has left out discussing benefits of a large portion of P2P economy that is commons-based and framed “the” P2P economy as businesses who own proprietary online platforms that allow people to “sell” their services (let it be provision of a ride or a clean bed or use of a product for a few hours) to others. The businesses thus enable “micro-businesses” –which is great- but without necessarily empowering those micro-businesses by enabling them to contribute into the development of the platforms, co-designing of the business model the “mother” corporation operates under or by providing a fair share of the value generated although the overall value in these systems are generated by those micro-businesses.

Grattan Institute’s report is unfortunately not the only publication that overlooks the commons-based P2P economy; this is a common attitude in media and research institutes alike. This could potentially be attributed to the high lobbying power that is held in the hands of “sharing economy corporates”. For example, I remember attending a “policy pitch” event at the Grattan Institute in February 2015 on “regulating the peer-to-peer economy”. This event featured David Plouffe, Uber’s Senior VC of Policy and Strategy at the time, who is in fact a political strategist and was the campaign manager of Barack Obama in 2008. He flew all the way to Australia to legitimize Uber which was facing a for amount of rage from the taxi sector as happens in every city Uber “disrupts”. Since then, us Uber users in Melbourne receive offers from Uber to cuddle kittens in our offices for 15 minutes delivered by Uber drivers etc; we’re used to Uber “making our day” through advertising campaigns all targeting the correct demographics and therefore cannot say no when we receive messages that go like “Sign a petition so that Uber is not banned in your city”.

The neglected part of the P2P economy needs more attention though; first technically it has been around much longer than the uberised versions and can easily be traced back to early days of open software movement. Second, there is a lot of under-appreciated value in commons-based P2P economy. To understand this a bit more, particularly in the context of sustainability transitions and resilience in cities, we in VP2040 project undertook some exploratory research that also involved an expert consultation and prepared a summary report of our findings.

I strongly recommend a full read; it’s an interesting report with references to lead thinkers in this area and features the best examples of peer-to-peer commons economy. But for those who prefer protein drinks over real meals because they’re too busy to indulge in life, here’re the key messages:

There are three value models competing for dominance in the digital economy: traditional proprietary capitalism, peer-to-peer exchange and peer-to-peer commons models. The latter two were relevant to our investigation.

In a peer-to-peer commons economy there is an effective creation AND sharing of a resource by peers. A peer-to-peer exchange model is about creating and financially benefiting from platforms that connect peers to trade, sell, or rent excess idle resources. The difference between the two value models is a lack of consideration and contribution into the commons in the implementations based on the latter model.

The direct socio-environmental impacts of the two peer-to-peer value models are similar. The main differences are indirect and structural and stem from the different implications of the two value models in business model development, product and service design and structure of wage-labour relationships. See table below.

Summary of indirect and structural socio-environmental impacts of the two value models

 

Peer-to-peer exchange model

 

does not address overconsumption or deal with consumerism at a cultural level

 

the dematerialisation effect observed by some is not because there is less material throughput in the economic system, it is because there is an additional, very resource efficient economic sector based on cognitive labour

does not raise environmental awareness as argued by some but only reinforces the existing awareness (at best)

 

planned obsolescence is an inevitable part of business models which are for-profit

 

the users are not contributors to the platforms which creates a wage-labour dependency

Peer-to-peer commons model

 

assists with re-establishing the relationships between workers, products, users and means of production through localisation and direct participation (except in cases in which low-cost raw materials come from somewhere else)

 

encourages diffusion of local knowledge, therefore incentivises designs that suit best to the context

 

encourages higher resource efficiency (planned obsolescence and other means of creating artificial scarcity is contradictory to the logic of a commons based economy)

 

circulation of commons does not necessitate an increase in scale as the value is created by a reciprocal relation between benefit and nurture. Nevertheless, the peer-to-peer commons value model is agnostic about growth which might be a barrier for sustainability because any digital commons necessitate natural commons

A digital economy in which a set of companies own or control important city data poses a danger for cities as it creates the risk of ‘data feudalism’ as well as incentives for business models that undermine sustainability and resilience. There are also unresolved ethical questions about ownership and use rights of data generated by citizens through the use of proprietary or non-proprietary peer-to-peer platforms.

There are different options for how digital technologies can be deployed in cities depending on which technologies and business models are implemented. However, it is uncertain which options will yield to highest sustainability and resilience outcomes.

Based on the expert consultation and our research findings and reflections, we proposed the following policy recommendations under four main categories:

  1. Developing and Implementing Citizen-centric and Democratic Governance Models
  • Understanding and leveraging institutional, organisational and cultural enablers for creating sharing cities
  • Developing and implementing models of governance for the physical and digital urban commons
  • Facilitating and widening the scope of public debate on urban data and peer-to-peer alternatives
  • Facilitating participatory decision-making and budgeting
  1. Managing and Leveraging Urban Data
  • Supporting the development of a digital open design commons and open information platforms
  • Establishing and supporting experimentation with data and technologies in cities
  1. Developing and Supporting New Models of Business and Securing Finance
  • Educating, empowering and collaborating with digital entrepreneurs to direct innovation efforts and resources towards decarbonisation projects
  • Identifying and developing financial enablers of the digital economy that will assist in radical decarbonisation
  1. Maintaining Socio-economic Resilience
  • Leveraging the expected changes in distribution and number of jobs across sectors by creating employment opportunities that will help shift to a decarbonised economy

 

 

Design for System Innovations and Transitions

For more than a decade, it is known that sustainability is not a final goal but a journey; a journey that’ll require fundamental shifts and radical changes in our socio-technical and socio-ecological systems. The accumulated knowledge on managing system innovations and transitions is now used by governments and industry to navigate these complex, long-term, multi-dimensional structural changes. OECD has recently published a synthesis report on system innovations and framed system innovations and transitions not only as an innovation challenge but also as a “deeply political project” highlighting the need for shifting away from incremental innovations and pointing to the challenge of overcoming vested interests in doing so. The report also highlights the role of technology and business in processes of system innovations and transitions.

Of course the importance of making policies to enable and steer system innovations and transitions cannot be overstated. Nevertheless, since early days of system innovations and transitions discourse, although a lot of emphasis has been put on “niche innovators” as key actors, there has not been much work on how design and innovation decisions taken by these niche innovators can be aligned with long-term, large-scale systemic transformations. Maybe it has been taken for granted that once policies are put in place, this micro-level of the system would behave in favourable ways. When we look at the broad practice of design for sustainability though, it is hard to find evidence supporting this assumption; the majority of design practice is still engaged with incremental innovation and is dangerously techno-optimisic although system innovations and transitions require technological appropriateness (not “technology development” per se, but selection and implementation of technologies appropriate for the context) AND social change to take place simultaneously.

Design is no-doubt a future-oriented activity; many designers today would also claim being “change actors” for a “better world” without being able to articulate the politics of these claims (whose future? better for who? change by what means?). Purity of intentions aside, the 250 year long history of the profession created a professional culture which has predominantly been a servant of short-term commercial interests. Therefore, the future orientation of design is still short-term compared to the temporal frames that are subject to system innovations and transitions. To cut a much longer story short, design activity and design practitioners are key elements of endeavours to create systemic shifts towards sustainability and there is a need for developing theories and practical tools to reshape the culture (and practice) of design. Not an easy task by any means but one that has started to attract attention both in design theory/practice and in theories/practice of system innovations and transitions.

An article I co-authored with Prof. Han Brezet making an initial attempt to develop a conceptual framework that can inform development of practical tools and approaches for design and business community has been published in Journal of Cleaner Production and is free to access and download until December 8th. Comments, thoughts are welcome. This is “front end” of what’s emerging as a new field: design for system innovations and transitions.

Research and Teaching Statement

I’ve completed two years in Melbourne and on the Visions and Pathways 2040 project. My contract will end in 18 months and it’s uncertain whether there will be additional funding for me to undertake more research at VEIL, where I am working currently. Given academic recruitment is a long process, it’s likely that I’ll start looking for faculty positions here and elsewhere in the near future. So, for the sake of preparation I wrote up a new research and teaching statement. The reason why I post it here is two-fold. First, it explains what I’ve done and what I’d like to do in the future – the focus and direction of my research. So, it’s a document portraying who I am professionally really well. Second, I’m interested in getting some feedback to improve it along the way and making it public creates this possibility. Below.

Research and Teaching Statement

Vision & Progress

My career vision is to be among the world’s leading researchers in the area of design and innovation for sustainability in five years’ time and educate new generation designers who are able to address the complex, socially relevant challenges human society is facing through ecologically and socially regenerative, technologically appropriate design practice which is aware and reflective of its own politics. In order to achieve this, so far I have accomplished the following: 1. Completed a PhD project in 2011 on aligning actions of design and innovation teams with structural changes associated with currently unfolding system innovations and transitions in Sustainability Science and Engineering Program of University of Auckland, New Zealand; 2. Started developing a theory of design for system innovations and transitions through the lens of sustainability science; 3. Gained lecturing, post-graduate supervision, program leadership and curriculum development experience in the years following completion of my PhD in School of Design and School of Business of Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand; 4. Have become a Visiting Researcher at Design For Sustainability Research Group of Technical University of Delft starting from 2011; 5. Gained research, research team facilitation, project management and stakeholder engagement experience in a large, collaborative, multi-stakeholder project which bring together representatives from research institutions, industry, government and general public to envision and strategise towards low-carbon and resilient futures in Australian cities using design-led, participatory methodolodies in my current role as Principal Researcher at Victorian Eco-innovation Lab, Melbourne School of Design, University of Melbourne, Australia.

Research Direction

My research direction sits at the cross-section of design research, futures studies and sustainability science. This is aligned with emerging practices in design for sustainability in following ways: First, focus of design for sustainability is shifting from artefact to systems change. Second, there is an observable cross-fertilisation of design research and futures research. This enables design practice to adopt longer term timeframes than timeframes that has been traditionally adopted in design practice as well as asking questions about the future of design profession. Third, there is a developing understanding in design that sustainability issues cannot be reduced to solely environmental or social problems, that these co-exist and mutually exacerbate each other, therefore, techno-centric or socio-centric approaches in design, on their own, fall short in addressing these highly complex problems with many dimensions. In my research, I would like to keep on developing the emerging theory of design for system innovations and transitions. This direction involves merging of research directions which are either about political questioning or technological enabling that can be part of design research and practice. Specific questions that I would like to investigate involve: 1. How can we design for enabling self-organisation in human systems (relevant to group behaviour during crises and societal transformations but also to new models of governance that we observe emerging currently)?; 2. What new paradigms do we need in design practice in addition to human-centredness if we are going to be designing not solely for creating the technosphere but also for adapting to changes in the socio-ecological sphere (relevant to climate change adaptation and sustainability transformations in our built and natural environment)?. My research, on one hand, aims to push the theoretical boundaries of design with references to sustainability science and system innovations/transtions theories, while on the other hand, develop methods and tools based on this expanded theoretical territory for the use of practicing designers. One good example of this is the scenario method I developed during my PhD for the use of design and innovation teams to be able to align their design decisions and strategic priroties with the necessary long-term societal transformations. Other, less comprehensive processes stemmed from my work on cities of Australia which aim at enabling development of systemic future visions using design-led participatory approaches.

Teaching Approach

My teaching is informed by and continuously evolve through my research. For example, in my lecturing position at Auckland University of Technology, I taught a course on design futures. I designed this course to have two components of inquiry: one on evolving perceptions of design and designer by looking at iconic examples of sci-fi literature and cinema, the other on the emerging role of design in strategic creation of alternative futures with references to changing social context. Another course I taught was on sustainable design. In this course which was delivered to students from School of Business, I introduced different levels of design interventions including product improvement, product redesign, functional innovation and system innovation and got the students to design a business model that would utilise one or more of these levels to address a sustainability problem. In other, more self-directed courses, in which projects were developed by students based on their particular interest, I asissted student learning and exploration by bringing in to students’ attention theories and practical approaches that may be relevent to their project and by creating spaces for them which would both facilitate critical inquiry and practical implementation.

The basic premise of my teaching philosophy is empowerment of students to construct their own learning by being increasingly less directional as they mature in their studies. There are three main components of my teaching: content and context, skills and practice, and, reflection and improvement. Content and context constitutes the theoretical and context specific knowledge students need in order to undertake design projects. I both provide this information and also teach ways of finding relevant and effective information themselves. Skills and practice is the knowledge the students need to cultivate to conceive, develop and implement design solutions based on contextual knowledge of the problem. This involves teaching about design research and creative inquiry methods across a wide spectrum of practice framework including but not limited to product design, service design, and systems design. Reflection and improvement involves guiding students to adopt best-practice in professional development by teaching them tools and methods of reflective practice that also includes encouraging them to reflect not only on their design practice but also on framings, worldviews, politics and values that might have informed their design practice.

In my teaching, I treat the learning environments as an emulation of a professional setting which reflects the values and practices underlying the “better future” we want to create, thus providing students with an experiential opportunity for learning about cultivating collegialitaly and collaboration in multi-cultural multi-skill team interactions. In order to achieve this, I facilitate development of a group purpose and group culture at the beginning of semesters in each class. I encourage my students to challenge me, thus empowering them to question credibility and authority in power structures before developing trust in leadership. In my opinion, savviness in questioning power structures is a fundamental skill for professionals who will be involved in the grand project of humanity in achieving sustainability without compromising from socially fair and democratic processes.

I have research and teaching experience in three countries; Turkey, New Zealand and Australia. I am a citizen of Turkey and New Zealand having lived in both for several years. These two countries have extremely different social and cultural structures, natural and built environments and value positions on nature, democracy, social relationships and ethnic identity. I have also studied, undertaken research and lectured across several disciplines including engineering, design, business and sustainability science. As a result of these geographical and disciplinary exposures, I cultivated a dynamic understanding of the world which also informed my research and teaching substantially, enabling me to develop a comprehensive and unique approach to research and teaching in the area of design for sustainability. I am hoping to find academic mobility opportunities in the future that will both appreciate and expand this unique research and teaching outlook.

August 2015

Critical analysis of design and innovation approaches

Long time in the making, my paper “A critical review of approaches available for design and innovation teams through the perspective of sustainability science and system innovation theories” is finally in press and corrected proof is available online. The paper is based on my PhD work, nevertheless further developed and expanded in the past years. I submitted the manuscript to Journal of Cleaner Production in April 2013 and the review process took painfully long; not because the paper was challenged by the reviewers (all reviewers were quite positive about the paper from the beginning and provided very helpful feedback to improve its quality) but because the journal had been super slow in processing it in the first round following submission. Anyhow… It’s out there now.

In this paper I initially developed a set of evaluation criteria for approaches available to design and innovation teams based on sustainability science and, system innovation and transition theories. The set consists of five criterion: strong sustainability, systems thinking, radicalism, long-term orientation and mind-set change. Then I reviewed legislative and regulatory measures, voluntary initiatives, and design and innovation frameworks covering design for eco-innovations, product-service systems, design for the bottom of pyramid, biomimicry design, cradle to cradle design, and The Natural Step (aka The Framework for Strategic Sustainable Development). Below is the table summarising the critical review findings.

table