Design for Social Innovation Symposium 2015

On the 15th and 16th of July,  I spent my time at the Design for Social Innovation Symposium (DSI 2015). Being involved in designing the look and feel for the symposium was a new kind of project for me, as I haven’t worked in the world of co-design very much before. Being able to attend DSI2015 made the project even more special as I got to see how the look and feel translated into a living symposium that was full of collaboration, discussion, questions and insights.

I have never attended anything like DSI2015 before, and at first I was overwhelmed, but as I met more people and listened to some amazing insights I became very interested in  the kind of questions that were being asked.

Post It Infographs by The Infographers

Post It Infographs by The Infographers

The symposium held talks from some incredible people including my highlights:

Imogen Parry from The Infographers speaking about ‘Fail Club’

Imogen Parry hosted a Skills bus stop (a small interactive talk that was focussed on acquiring new skills) called ‘ Lessons from Fail Club’. The exercise she took us through involved observing our failures and finding out what led us to those failures in the first place. Listing your failures on a piece of paper along with a group of others was a very personal and challenging experience, but at the same time very comforting as we began to discuss how it felt to dissect our failures in that way.

I learned that failure is essential to creating anything new and innovative. In fact, if we are not failing are we really learning? I am currently reading a book that echoes the sentiments of Imogen’s talk. In it, Sebastian Thrun speaks about the close relationship between Innovation and failure and insists that failure is an essential part of the innovation process.

“I think that the ability to see how much more there is to know and be humble about it is actually a good thing. Returning to the mountain metaphor, every climber I know of feels small in the mountains and enjoys the feeling of being small. No matter what you do, the mountain is always bigger than you are.”
Sebastian Thrun (Make your mark: The Creative’s Guide to building a business with impact)

Post It Infographs by The Infographers

Post It Infographs by The Infographers

Guy Field and Lisa Evlampieff from Christchurch City Libraries

I loved hearing about how Guy and Lisa approached libraries differently after the Christchurch earthquake.

They shared stories of how the library had been affected during the quake, moving the library into a mall, and how the space and purpose of the library has been redefined by those who use it. They shared a story of setting up one of their libraries in a mall, and before the launch they designed each area specifically for reading, sitting and playing games. But what they found was every afternoon the furniture had been moved to face the window instead of its intended spot. After having to re-set the furniture at the end of every night, they soon realized that the customers were telling them what they needed by shifting the furniture into a spot that best suited their needs. They began to look at the space differently and took this approach with a lot of their ideas.  

It was a true example of co-design. Their libraries have now become a place for family connection, community activities and  safe space for many families living in Christchurch. It was a wonderful example of how a space can be used in more ways than expected, just by simply listening to the people who use it.


Ingrid Burkett from Knode, Tacsi, Centre for Social Impact Australia

Ingrid held a short Surgery (a specific 15 minute workshop with question and answer time) on day two of the Symposium, called “Business Model Canvas for Social Enterprise Design”. This was really memorable for me as there is always a tension when running a social enterprise of focusing on too much on your impact value over your commercial value. In fact, I believe this is why a lot of Social Enterprise startups don’t have longevity and I can certainly relate to the constant balance and need for being business minded and socially minded.

Ingrid lives in this world, and had some great tips about knowing your audience and getting product market fit over your “do good” factor. Knowing what your customer wants remains king, so developing a product that has value to your customers must be a constant focus and priority for those running a social enterprise.

Your impact value proposition doesn’t need to be sold to everyone, your commercial value proposition might be sold to everyone.

You can find a great resource for Business Model Canvas here.

Post It Infographs by The Infographers

Post It Infographs by The Infographers

There were so many more highlights including:

  • The Group Haka, led by Jack Gray
  • Mauri, The Creative Connection: People, place and practice by Desna Whaanga-Schollum from Nga Aho
  • Rough Sleeping in Central Auckland by Helen Robinson, Sophia Beaton, Dr Trudie Cain and Victoria Hearn
  • Young people flourishing: Design and Social Change by LifeHack

I came away inspired, energised and filled with more questions like:

  • How might we use cultural values to shape entrepreneurship?
  • How might we seek insights, not to prove or disprove but to learn?
  • What are we constrained by that we don’t notice?
  • How might we create communities that flourish?

The beauty of these questions is that it takes a community to answer them.

Thanks DSI team for a very impactful few days.



Jess Holdaway