Designing EDSI

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

Mini Series 2/2: The Route Ahead – The series investigates the direction required to structure an organisation around the values of Human Centred Design.


The journey into the world of grassroots social innovation and Human Centred Design (HCD) has been inspiring. Meeting and engaging with different organisation and change makers has enabled me to understand the importance of empathy in the design process. The leaders I met were led by a passion for their community; they cared for their community and wanted what was best for them. I want to build up EDSI with the same values, encouraging designer to care for and have empathy for the community they are designing for. In this empathy we can design ground-breaking practical solution that build upon the human potential of the community. Using HCD we can achieve this, we can empower the designer and community to work together. In order to be successful EDSI need to be founded on the very same structure it is promoting, in the same way as DSIL I want EDSI to adapt and develop responding to the needs of the community. How will EDSI develop in order to be an inclusive and sustainable community?

Focus Plan

The very foundation of EDSI can be found in a quote by Martin Luther King; “When we look at modern man, we have to face the fact…that modern man suffers from a kind of poverty of the spirit, which stands in glaring contrast to his scientific and technological abundance; We’ve learned to fly the air like birds, we’ve learned to swim the seas like fish, and yet we haven’t learned to walk the Earth as brothers and sisters.” Engineering is an amazing discipline that shapes the environment in which we live and the way we interact. It is important that as engineers we recognise our role and responsibility within society. EDSI is founded on empathy because empathy values our uniqueness, our individuality and our ability to collaborate and design together. In this we can build up mutual respect and encourage designers and engineers to explore and challenge their identity and purpose as change makers.

business plan

To achieve this EDSI aims to deliver commercial products promoting and developing different design processes. EDSI will design conference and training programme building up a space to challenge the status quo and explore innovative concepts. This will enable EDSI to run community outreach programmes focused on increasing the engagement between people and engineering. Events in which we can use HCD; working with the community to understand how we can improve the engagement in-between engineers and the wider community. EDSI will grow and develop with continual feedback from the community in order to provide a relevant and inclusive solution. EDSI aims to encourage young people to build up a better understanding of the role engineers play in society and create change in the way society perceives engineering. EDSI is not about saying “yes you can” but asking the next generation “what can you achieve?” encouraging budding engineers to look beyond the tried and tested method and to embrace creativity and a passion for innovation and sustainability within the professional work environment.

EDSI believes that we all hold the key to the global challenges society faces; we are all change makers. In order to design a better future we will all need to play our role; designing a better environment; an environment which creates equal and sustainable growth. In order to achieve this we need designers and engineers to work with their community using the principles of Human Centred Design and empathy; empowering the wider community and engineers to design a better future; solving problems together. EDSI is connecting the dots between people and engineering.

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DSIL: A Community Designed by Designers

Series 13/14: Grass Route Social Innovation – Understanding the road towards integrating genuine grassroots social innovation into sustainable development.

Mini Series 1/2: The Route Ahead – The series investigates the direction required to structure an organisation around the values of Human Centred Design.


When I first started on the journey to South East Asia I believed Sustainable Development was a high level tool. A tool used by experts to design a better future, a future that provided sustainable and equal opportunity. Meeting with the DSIL (Design for Social Innovation and Leadership) team I realised how limited my thinking was. If you want to design and shape the world we live in you need to work with people and communities that can collaborate and co-design with you. These are the concepts of Human Centred Design (HCD); HCD empowers the design process to be sustainable and inclusive. This in itself transforms the design to deliver a more sustainable, inclusive and practical solution. Meeting the different organisation that apply HCD as a core value was inspiring, working with the community led to a creative energy fuelled by passion and purpose. The application of HCD didn’t stop with the organisation we met but was central to DSIL. The structure of the programme was founded with the HCD principle and enabled us to build up a genuine and inclusive community.

Courtney Laurence, founder of DSIL, had created a flexible and fluid organisation that adapted the content and structure of the course to the design community. Courtney didn’t just encourage HCD but applied it directly into the development of DSIL, building up the community with the community and providing us with the opportunity to shape the future of DSIL. Throughout the courses decisions were made together built around continual feedback. The small things came together beautifully and enabled a programme that worked for everyone in the community. This was present throughout the course and from day one we all sat down together and discussed what we wanted the community to look like. At the heart of the community experience was the importance of each member and the insight they could bring to the group.

At the heart of this design environment was Katie Grennier, DSIL Field Immersion Co-Lead, Katie brought energy to the group and provided a platform for inclusive design. DSIL built up this platform through liberating structures, creating shared values and purpose within the group; we were encouraged to share and work together through challenges. Liberating structures encouraged individuality and humanity bringing a share sense of respect and understanding into the community. This was led by a democratic design process, in which we valued each other’s skills and collaborated with purpose using a range of colourful post it notes! DSIL was a liberating environment in which I could learn more about design and my identity as a designer.

The DSIL team all brought different skill sets and perspective to the group and enable us to explore and research a broad range of topics. More importantly they all had experience in the field and were able to share their own personal journey with us and the challenges they had overcome. One of the highlights of the course was the story telling evening in which we shared are own journey and the projects we were working on. It was a pleasure to hear about the passion within the DSIL community; a passion to design, solve problems and make a genuine difference. During the field course we met with amazing organizations which strive to serve their community and deliver sustainable value. DSIL was one of these organisations and has inspired me in developing EDSI and promoting the values of HCD.

Why not start you own journey into the world of Design and Social Impact and apply for DSIL 2015.


Creating a Culture of Collaborative Innovation

Series 11/14: Grass Route Social Innovation – Understanding the road towards integrating genuine grassroots social innovation into sustainable development.

Mini Series 3/4: Enterprising Collaboration – The series investigates how collaboration and partnership can empower us to build a resilient and sustainable future.


A year ago I entered into the Environmental Agency Flash Flood Challenge. The problem set to students across England was to provide a solution that reduced the impact of Flash Floods. I went to work and started to ideate different technical solution to the problem. When it came to researching and developing these ideas I realised that there are plenty of well-developed solution already commercially available. I therefore started to re-frame the question and to investigate why so many people still used sand bags when far greater technical solution where available. This led to the realisation that people where widely unaware of the risks of floods and the products available to mitigate this risk. The solution therefore lies in empowering the community to work together to overcome the problem. How do you create a culture of inclusive and collaborative innovation?

Human Centred Design (HCD) provides the framework to design innovatively with the community; it therefore seems an ideal tool for collaborative research. CEDAC is a Cambodian agricultural research organisation that promotes sustainable farming. CEDAC uses the principles of Human Centred Design to empower the farming community by encouraging farmers to pioneer SRI (System of Rice Intensification) a simple method of plant, water and soil management which has increased yield by 66%. By encouraging farmers to adopt these new methods, CEDAC has created a culture of innovation within the farming community. In order to cultivate this CEDAD set up the Farmer and Nature Net (FNN). FNN is an independent network of farmers that share knowledge and new processes. CEDAC has therefore managed to harness a crowd sourced solution of practical research in which the farming community have become researchers.

Social scientists have pioneered these research principles through PPI (Public and Patient Involvement). PPI creates collaboration in between researchers and the wider community and works by involving the public throughout the project. It encourages the researcher to build up the research project around the public involvement getting to know the skills sets of the people involved. The role of the researchers is to work with the public providing training opportunities and sharing the recognition for the research. PPI also transforms the way we measure the impact of the research; It encourages researchers to consider the direct impact of their research on the community, the public involved and on policy. PPI is a great tool set to create relevant, inclusive and collaborative innovation.

CEDAC has created a platform for inclusive scientific research which uses collaboration and the theories of HCD. CEDAC works with the community and develops solutions which are not just innovative but practical and sustainable. As innovators and designers is it important that we learn from these collaborative approaches to research; applying the theories of HCD and PPI into the creative process. Open and collaborative research can transform the way we solve problems enabling us to create a sustainable and practical solution with the community.


A Positive Consumer for a Positive Future

Series 8/14: Grass Route Social Innovation – Understanding the road towards integrating genuine grassroots social innovation into sustainable development.

Mini Series 3/3: Sustainability in Practice – The series researches the values and practices which lead to grass route social innovation.


One of the drivers behind the industrial revolution was the developments in the farming industry; this enabled labourers to move to the city and work in new jobs which created large scale economic growth moving society away from extreme poverty. The wealth we experience today is largely due to the ability of the farming community to use new techniques and methods to increase the yield of the crops. The development of new agricultural techniques is therefore important in meeting demand. The issue comes from the development of productivity techniques which are unsustainable and exploit the natural resources of the land. Returning to basics is about using a product which sustainably meets the needs of the community. The steps to achieving this simply require us, as consumers, to value and support sustainable commerce. Throughout the trip to South East Asia I met many social enterprises and they all struggled to engage the consumer, there was however once entrepreneur who was building up an impressive campaign to change public attitude.

Anukool Saibejra is a social entrepreneur with a heart for social change and the courage to go against the grain. Anukool believes that food security cannot be achieved by creating the perfect grain of rice. Instead Anukool promotes the return to a variety of grain; through a large variety in product the market will be more resilient to risks. Raised in a farming community, Anukool is well aware of the challenges of modern farming. His parents invested in his future providing him with an education to get him into a stable career. Anukool didn’t just use this opportunity for himself and instead build up a social enterprise going against the grains of society in order to make a positive difference in his community. After creating communities of farmers who believed in his idea Anukool had to work on changing public attitudes in order to change the consumers behaviour; “Behavior and attitudes consumption […] affects the decline or extinction of genetic local rice”. In order to achieve this Anukool set about creating a product design to engage urban communities with the rural environment. Anukool developed a kit in with which you could grow your own mini rice field and find out about the different types of rice and the challenges facing the rural communities.

Anukool challenged my understanding of sustainable development, presented with the same facts I would push for a large scale solution using innovative methods. This challenge grew as I met the different social entrepreneurs; they were not searching for the perfect scalable solution but a solution that would work in their community. These designers are not searching for recognition in their designs instead they pursue a passion to make a difference on a human level. As a designer I often pursue innovation, searching for a solution that brings about real shift in the design process. The difficulty with innovation is as a designer I get lost in the wonders of creative engineering, pursuing innovation instead of impact. Innovation in design is great but we need to ensure that this is led by a passion for people rather than products. Maybe the radical shift in sustainably consumerism needs to be led by the design community and how we express ourselves; we need to genuinely communicate what inspires us, what we are passionate about and what challenges us. This will enable us to better connect with the consumer and design a product led by the principles of Human Centred Design.


Raitong Organics a Better Product for a Better Future

Series 7/14: Grass Route Social Innovation – Understanding the road towards integrating genuine grassroots social innovation into sustainable development.

Mini Series 2/3: Sustainability in Practice – The series researches the values and practices which lead to grass route social innovation.


Changing the way we perceive and understand our responsibilities and impact is a great path towards sustainable development. Applying Human Centred Design throughout the design process can enable us to design smarter cities, working with the communities to ensure strategic planning leads to a more sustainable and equal society. In this journey to develop new ideas and processes how do we ensure the impact spreads beyond the city? The farming industry is the lifeline of the city, yet in many cases farmers struggle to make a living. As the agricultural industry experience new techniques and processes which increase the productivity, the farmers haven’t seen any of the benefits. Instead the farming community has experience increased demands and stress on their systems whilst becoming more dependent on the consumerist industry. The industry is not sustainable with farmland becoming less productive and farmers struggling to get by. How can we change the industry around and support the farming community?

In Thailand the agricultural industry is highly dependent on one player; the farmers rely on supplies and wholesale prices from the same place. This does not just affect the sustainability of the farming community but also reduces the quality of the product. Bryan the founder of Raitong Organics believes he has a solution, and the solution involves going back to basics; we need to change the product. Raitong Organic is encouraging a return to organic farming in South East Asia, working with the farming industry to build up a better quality of life as well as selling higher quality produce. By producing organic products, the farmers are less reliant on the supplies of pesticides and chemicals and can therefore work more independently. The end costumer can then receive seasonal products directly from the producer and support the industry which provides for our urban lifestyle.

As designers we often strive towards advancing practices and building better technologies. This model of development can lead to more harm than good; with technology being introduces which isn’t required, needed or sustainable. This can lead to two outcomes; it increase dependency of the community on outside support in maintaining and purchasing expensive goods and services or the technology is abandoned. Both these outcomes are unsustainable; the only solution is to communicate with the customer to ensure that the product fits within their social, environment and economical context. Raitong Organics is a social enterprise that achieves this, they communicate with farmers to discuss products which can empower the farming community. Organic products do bring their own challenges; the product is seasonal and less visually appealing. The consumer is therefore less likely to purchase organic products.

A return to basic is a great way towards achieving sustainable development. It is quite often the simplest solution which leads to real challenge. A perfect example of this is the Yellow Shoes Project which teaches rural farming communities in Northern Thailand to build bio-sand water filters. An engineer we can constantly innovate and create better and more effective water filtration solutions. Or we can provide a framework for the community to design their own filtration system using the resources to hand. A sand filtration can improve the quality of the water and by built and maintained in remote communities. The challenge in returning to basics is the consumers’ attitude; we have encouraged throw away superficial consumerism. How can we change the consumer attitude and encourage a more sustainable consumer?