Designing Sustainably: “Do not Harm” Principle

Series 5/14: Grass Route Social Innovation – Understanding the road towards integrating genuine grassroots social innovation into sustainable development.

Mini Series 2/2: Peace and Conflict Resolution – The following series will research the themes of Peace and conflict resolution in order to understand how they relate to sustainable development.

Connectors Dividers

Peace and conflict resolution is an integral part of achieving sustainable development. The absence of physical and cultural violence provides a safe place to work together and design a more sustainable future. However to achieve a long term sustainable vision we need to move away from traditional structures which promote business as usual, and unsustainable growth. To achieve this we must bring about structural change through the principles of Peacebuilding. Designers shape the environment in which we live, it is therefore important to apply Peacebuilding within Design. If designers can grasp these concepts, we will be able to build a culture of Peace and sustainability within our environment. What are the principles of Peace and Conflict resolution and who can they be applied within the design process?

The founding principle of peace and conflict resolution is the Do not Harm principal. Do not Harm is the consideration off the holistic environment within the design and its sustainable impact. This is a central concept to sustainable development and leads the designer towards the Human Centred Design process. Do not Harm is about asking the community if they have a solution to the challenge, and building an understanding of the environmental limitation with the community. To achieve this practically we must understand the different Connectors and Dividers within the community. Connectors are the structures that bring the community together; a sustainable design needs to build on these connectors in order to connect with the potential of the community. Dividers are the structures that bring about conflict within the community; design must address these dividers to design a resilient solution. If the design at any time negatively impact on the Connectors or introduces conflict to the community then the designer needs to consider alternative options.T

hese principles are in essence already applied into the construction industry through the way we manage Health and Safety. Over the last decade the UK construction industry has strived towards Zero Casualties, ensuring all staff get home safely at the end of each day. To achieve this we have built up a Health and Safety culture into the design process; from conceptual design through to the construction and demolition. At each stage we consider the risk and alternative options to reduce the risk. The same methods are applied in order to understand our environmental impact, there is however a limited integration of the social impact throughout the design process. The theory of connectors and dividers could enable the construction industry to build the Do not Harm principle into the design process. This would enable us to go beyond ensuring Zero Casualties and enable us to build up design solutions which have a long term positive impact on society. How can we build these principles into engineering and enable designers to identify with these concepts?

Jenn was inspiring in her approach to peace and conflict resolution. As we challenged her in the practical application of Peace and Conflict resolution she was quite clear in knowing the limits of her knowledge. Jenn didn’t apply the theories if she didn’t understand the social environment in which she was designing. I have met some inspiring Health and Safety managers over the last year and the one trait that leads to excellent Health and Safety management is being aware of the risk and knowing that you cannot solve the challenge yourself. An excellent Health and Safety manager works on getting the staff on board with the solution. Peace and Conflict works in the same manner, Jenn understands that achieving a sustainable Peace is challenging and requires each of us individual to develop in our behaviour and attitude. Sustainable Development should apply the same principles in order to get the community on board with the design process. As designers we need to be aware of our limitation in achieving sustainable development. We need to be humble in the way we approach and work with the wider community. This will enable us to build up solution in which there is a wider understanding of the importance of sustainable development, in which we can capture the human resource within the design process.

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