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PHD-DESIGN  December 2011

PHD-DESIGN December 2011

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Subject:

Re: CoCreation, Commercial Consultants, and the de-evolution of respectful academic conversation

From:

Lars Albinsson <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

PhD-Design - This list is for discussion of PhD studies and related research in Design <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Fri, 9 Dec 2011 11:00:59 +0100

Content-Type:

text/plain

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text/plain (130 lines)

Dear all,

Thank you Susana for your important post.

This row makes me very sad and disappointed indeed. I thought we had advanced beyond these years ago.

I also agree with Jerry’s post, learning co-design in training workshop is difficult. There is simply nothing at stake when you dry run the design process, and the results are of no real consequence therefore people will not act as stakeholders and the learning is minimal. Sometimes even worse, techniques that appear to work the best in the dry run may be useless in the actual practice. 

Unfortunately the situation is not significantly different in a university class. To me the same goes for researching.

Therefore I have always seen the collaboration between academy and business as a great opportunity. (And I am perpetually pursuing a PhD in parallel to my practice as consultant.)

I’ve been organizing and leading co-design processes since the late 80ies, often addressing very drastic situations, often concerning large numbers of people and often with very large financial stakes. In all these efforts it has been necessary bring in expertise from both the academic and the business worlds.

Let me give you and example of a current effort. (Examples are useful to some people, I am one of them. I apologize to the ones who are offended by this un-Scandinavian arrogance.)

In northern Sweden two towns needs to be moved because of mining. The budget for the urban transformation clocks in at 500 million USD. Per year. Of course it is a drastic example and situation, but sometimes you can learn a lot from big challenges.

This process is now organized as a co-design effort. In the first town we have engaged 7% of the entire population in forming a vision and for the new town. A vision that was adopted by the municipality board a couple of weeks ago. Interestingly this vision and plan is far more radical, sustainable and likely to be turned into reality, than any suggestion I have seen from any single entity, be it academic or professional or civic movement.

Of course you need researchers in such process. We have brought in a number of professors, top raking in their respective discipline and a number of PhDs. Their contributions to the overall process have been crucial, in supplying introductions, basic models and metrics, in judging and calculating consequences of suggestions etc etc. the list is long. Interestingly enough these professors are often also highly paid consultants.

Of course you need consultants is such a process. We have brought 3 leading architectural and planning firms, experts in city center development, in sustainable construction, communication and on on. My estimate is that we’ve brought in more than 100 consultants in the process, to present cases, experiences, rules of thumbs, tricks of the trade and also to work out, judge, evaluate and communicate the consequences of suggestions. Their contributions have also been crucial.

Of course these academics are then using this in their research. Of course the consultants, politicians, civil servants, citizens and mining executives and managers are learning a lot from the academics and are developing their practice.

Making this happen requires structure, communication skills and the ability to maintain a useful whole, none of which is a monopoly of academia or business.

But there are also less inspiring entities. Some universities are happy to receive research funding from the mining company, but choose to merely fund PhD students at home, addressing research questions that are of no value to to practice.

There is also an endless stream of consultants peddling methods with no substance. (When I came there both politicians and executives worked under multiple murder threats. Can you imagining that some “creativity consultants” suggested “lets sit in a ring and share ideas”-approaches as a solution?) (Incidentally we have so far not used a single post-it note in the process.)

In my view the obvious thing for the design community to advance is to work across research and practice. And that goes for the work in research as well as in practice.

At one point during the row on the list, I felt, this is it, I don’t want to be part of this community, it is destructive and degrading while I need inspiration, knowledge and constructive debate. Then I thought that the issue is far to important and if a little group of educated people can’t create a positive intellectual development, what hope is there for the big world outside? We simply shouldn’t give in to flaming and trolling.

But I sincerely think that the most aggressive persons in the row should apologize and reboott, but that that’s just me.

Best wishes to all of you.

Lars

Again I apologize to the ones who are offended by me referencing myself. I can only point to the list of references in my earlier post for a more substantial academic discourse. I may add Schön's The Reflective Practitioner.

.........................................................................
LARS ALBINSSON
+46 (0) 70 592 70 45
[log in to unmask]

AFFILIATIONS:
MAESTRO MANAGEMENT AB
CALISTOGA SPRINGS RESEARCH INSTITUTE
UNIVERSITY OF BORÅS
LINKÖPING UNIVERSITY
.........................................................................





8 dec 2011 kl. 23:32 skrev Susana La Luz:

Dear all (but especially the more needlessly incendiary of you),
I have been following this thread closely and have hesitated to weigh in, despite being named directly in one of the posts. Thanks, Christopher. :-) I've refrained partially because I am content to read and absorb on this listserve as opposed to engaging in any sort of verbal warfare, but mostly because the majority of the things that rubbed me the wrong way were simply not worth it enough to bicker over.
I could have responded when co-creation (or co-design or participatory design or collaborative design, it's all theoretically coming from the same place) was snidely referred to as a "marketing thing" instead of being academically treated as a codified method of design and design research that I personally believe is critical to the evolution of design as a discipline.
I could have responded when a well-respected (if not always well liked) practitioner of progressive design thought has been equated with charlatans and cults. While GK may be flattered by the description of "charismatic leader," the fact that you would even connect the idea of "economic, sexual or other exploitation of group members" to the non-profit and academically reformative work that both Humantific and NextD have done is insulting at best.
I could have responded when being provocative for the sake of genuinely debating the intellectual fine points of an argument somehow grossly degenerated into being provocative simply for provocative's sake with no consideration for how condescending and insulting the provocations come across to anyone not sitting on a throne.
I could have responded when a resource sharing post that used persuasive writing techniques taught as appropriate and useful in writing papers as simple as 7th grade debate essays somehow got convoluted into a "cultic-language-infested post."
At any of these points throughout this conversation, I could have spouted off at how ridiculously overblown this "debate" has gotten. I believed, however, that like most threads on this discussion board, the debate would eventually settle into some semblance of academic inquiry where people were sharing respected resources and asking pertinent academic conversations--so I stayed out of it and kept my pen ready to jot down said resources so I could expand my own knowledge base. When all is said and done, none of those things (as equally amusing and horrific as they were to read) were enough for me to speak up.
I finally felt the need to use my voice when Ms. Chow espoused the assumption that "commercial consultants...do not seem to hold academic values." How dare you imply that being a commercial consultant somehow inherently equals having a lack of academic values? I am a design practitioner who works at a consultancy that prides itself on academic rigor and diligence. I am a member of the academic community who comes from a program that teaches design theory through the use of experiential, practice-based learning. I'm so exhausted with this self-imposed divide between design academia and design practice. The two ARE NOT MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE. 
To all of you who are "university professors whom our society entrust to cultivate the good, the beautiful and the true among our young," I would like you to tell me what you are cultivating our young for if not design practice? To all of you who are design practitioners who frequently sneer at the glacial pace of thought that design academics move at, who do you think is teaching the next generation of your new-hires what skills they need to "succeed in the real world"? Maybe academics need to be a little more practical and practitioners need to be a little more academic.
For the most part, I don't know any of you. I refuse to judge you on anything other than your ideas--as you present them. This may be naive and idealistic, but is it really so difficult to just give each other the benefit of the doubt and assume that we all want what's best for our educational institutions AND practicing designers? How much would it really cost you to entertain the possibility of engaging ALL available resources--both academic and practical--to collaboratively move our discipline forward? 
Do you honestly believe you are worthy of being someone "our society entrust to cultivate the good, the beautiful and the true among our young"? If so, how about practicing a little bit of humility, empathy and compassion when engaging in academic conversations?
Respectfully yours,Susana La Luz-Houchin



> Date: Thu, 8 Dec 2011 16:09:18 +0100
> From: [log in to unmask]
> Subject: Re: PHD-DESIGN Digest - 6 Dec 2011 to 7 Dec 2011 (#2011-303)
> To: [log in to unmask]
> 
> Gunnar,
> thanks for the question. Cult had not been on my mind until I read Andrew
> King’s post. I quickly read about it online, and found an article by Robert
> J. Lifton, M.D. http://www.csj.org/studyindex/studycult/study_lifton2.htm
> His discussion on ‘cult’ is certainly more serious than other
> usages/meanings of the word cult, as in cult of MAC. He identified three
> characteristics of a cult by which we might judge whether some practices
> are cultic or not:
> 
> 1.    a charismatic leader who increasingly becomes an object of worship as
> the general principles that may have originally sustained the group lose
> their power;
> 2.    a process I call coercive persuasion or thought reform;
> 3.    economic, sexual, and other exploitation of group members by the
> leader and the ruling coterie.
> 
> I guess, if you would take this list as a guide, as I did, it would trouble
> you too to think that Humantific MIGHT be a cult and having contact,
> support and interests from university professors whom our society entrust
> to cultivate the good, the beautiful and the true among our young. I don’t
> know Humantific except the cultic-language-infested post which one might
> see as a form of coercive persuasion and this troubled me. My last post was
> to ask the list to discuss this in way similar to the discussions on
> problematic publishers.
> 
> More specifically and perhaps less dramatically, I would like to invite the
> list to discuss:
> 1.    The values and issues of commercial seminars in relation to
> university teaching.
> 2.    The values and issues of enrolling commercial consultants who do not
> seem to hold academic values into the university lecture hall.
> 3.    The criteria and issues of choosing commercial/industry partners for
> teaching and research.
> 
> Rosan
> 
> Gunnar:
>> 
>> "What constitutes "actual cultic practice"? The term "cult" is usually
>> used to mean "Any group that believes or acts differently than mine" and is
>> often defined as a religious or quasi-religious group that venerates an
>> object or person.
>> 
>> How does having support, contact, or interest become somehow sinister?"
>> 
>> 
>> 
		 	   		  

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