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Designing Together Conference: design thinking for innovation in Higher Education

Designing Together Conference: design thinking for innovation in Higher Education

Bo Kelestyn and Jess Humphrys


Cork board with yellow sticky note pinned to it with a lightbulb on it.

Project Summary

This project seeks to design and host the first ever UK wide design thinking conference for the education and student experience community. Building on the success of a WIHEA funded Designing Together project, its vision is to further Warwick’s reputation as a key thought leader in design thinking and its applications for co-creation and innovation in HE.

The project was featured in the recent TEF Gold campaign and has had significant impact in the sector, working with 6 other universities, and having engaged 150+ educators and professionals via invited presentations, workshops and conference talks at Advance HE, RAISE, AHEP (former AUA), Academic Registrars Conference, etc. The project has led to invitations to consult on projects, submissions of bids of various scale to bodies such as the QAA. It has also led to several publications including a SEDA and a Times Higher Education blogs, two book chapters, submissions and publications in the International Journal for Students as Partners (IJSaP). This rich existing engagement and interest, coupled with evidence in the data collection and analysis we have done, and a range of informal conversations within the sector continue to point us in the direction of a need for a thematic event that would bring the community together, currently fractured based on language, institutions, location and hierarchies.

By hosting the Conference, we intend on bringing diverse staff and students together with three aims:

1) to exchange and share knowledge on design thinking as a discipline, practice, mindset and toolkit in the UK HE (via Conference presentations and talks)

2) to train and support staff and students interested in getting started and levelling up their design thinking and facilitation skills (via masterclasses and opportunities to practice mock sessions during the Conference)

3) to start and facilitate a sustainable dialogue that furthers the embedding of design thinking, its current and future applications in institutions and across the UK HE (via paper-thon and co-creation workshops).

The team are working with AHEP (former AUA) on a special issue of Perspectives Journal, which could be incubated and supported by IATL’s expertise, especially in student research and interdisciplinarity. As such, the Conference is a large strategic project that aligns with the pillars of the Interdisciplinarity Warwick Education and IATL Interdisciplinarity and Emerging Practices in HE strategic areas of practice. The roots of this project are in the early experiments with design thinking, including with the Warwick Secret Challenge in 2016-2018, incubated at IATL and with funding from WIHEA, exploring the Interdisciplinarity pillar of the Education Strategy. As such, IATL is the perfect community to take this next step with.

The Conference estimates gathering 150 staff and students from across the UK for a one-day on campus event. It will be co-led and managed with 4 students: 2 Project Co-Leads who have been involved in the earlier stages of the Designing Together project and will lead on the design and development of the Conference, and 2 Project Managers, who will take a lead on the event and logistics management of the project, ensuring that the participant experience with the Conference is positive. Both roles will support the personal and professional development of the students involved. We also envision the creation of a Steering Board, comprised of key Warwick stakeholders as well as strategic external partners of the Conference that would ensure the Conference is inclusive, interdisciplinary, creative and good investment for all involved.