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  • Writer's pictureKatherine Crisp

Designing the design workshops

The Young Green Briton Challenge is a new pilot programme which has been designed and is being delivered by a collective of organisations with support from the Green Britain Foundation. We are working with over 2700 students in 16 schools around the country and during the pilot have run design workshops with some very diverse groups. This includes around 30 students with visual and sensory impairment at St Vincent’s School in Liverpool through to a workshop with nearly 280 Year 7 (11/12 year old) students in Blackburn. We are working only with state schools, recognising the challenges in finding the time, space and capacity to deliver these types of whole year group programmes within the state sector. Having finished the design workshops (and with the rest of the programme well underway), I wanted to take a moment to reflect on some of the lessons learnt to date, for anyone contemplating running large scale design and innovation workshops with secondary students.

It’s human nature to jump to solutions rather than focusing on understanding the problem

During the design workshops we use a problem tree exercise to encourage teams of students to dissect the problem they are trying to address, considering the root causes and the consequences. This can be a frustrating activity for some teams who have already decided on a solution they want to develop. During the workshops we tried to encourage the teams who arrived with a solution to use this exercise as an opportunity to re-think the problem they are focusing on, potentially gain new insights and use them to re-evaluate their proposed solutions. Results were mixed, based on what we saw and the student feedback. Some teams took the opportunity to re-think their solutions; others felt bored by this perceived backwards step. In future years we are going to test embedding the Problem Tree exercise into the Research phase prior to the Design Workshop.

“I liked the tree that we did because it really showed us what causes we could try to solve.”

[Year 8 student]

“[I least liked] the tree because my group already had a clear idea and we all disputed over who wrote what."

[Year 7 student]

Technology is a mixed blessing

This might seem very obvious, but given the difference in technology access across schools it was interesting to see what impact this had on students' engagement within a design workshop. At the positive end of the spectrum, tablets and chromebooks were used really effectively for research, logo design and development of presentations during the workshop. However, in a small number of groups with lower levels of engagement, tech was a major distraction.

On balance, the learning is that integrating technology is positive to enable further research, but that, as facilitators, we need to agree clear ground rules at the start of the day on how tech can be used, ensuring this is in line with the school’s policies.

It’s challenging to balance facilitating big and innovative thinking with actionable ideas

In an innovation or design workshop a major goal is to unleash creativity. As facilitators, we were constantly amazed by the range of brilliant ideas being developed. However, the Young Green Briton Challenge is about turning ideas into action, not being another ideas competition. The transition from thinking creatively to then picking one idea that would be actionable by a group of 11-14 year olds with £100 initial seed investment was sometimes difficult to navigate. It usually involved holding onto the big idea, but encouraging teams to think about what their first, practical step would be on the road to making it happen. We will be doing more thinking on this particular balancing act and would love to hear from anyone with any great ideas.

Partnerships with brilliant and committed teachers are what makes this programme happen

Whilst there is a stated desire for a broad and balanced curriculum, the incentive structures for schools (exam results, league tables and inspections) focus almost entirely on narrow, subject specific knowledge. Young Green Briton challenges this through:

  1. Being cross-curricular at every stage

  2. Focusing on building skills for employability (such as creativity, problem solving, communication and collaboration)

  3. Enabling the development of student-led ideas

These are typically aspirations for schools, but don’t fit easily within an already incredibly full school timetable, against a backdrop of ever increasing pressures and decreasing resources. The Challenge in this pilot year has relied on committed and brilliant teachers and school leaders who were prepared to co-create a new model with us, providing feedback in real-time.

If you are running school based innovation or design workshops please do get in touch. We would love to share learnings and experiences.

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