August 6, 2019

PG #39: Paying Attention To What We Already Know

Photo form inside the crowded halls of America's first mall, Southdale Center in Edina, Minnesota
America's first mall, Southdale Center in Edina, Minnesota

“There are many opportunities to create systems that work from the elements and technologies that exist. Perhaps we should do nothing else for the next century but apply our knowledge. We already know how to build, maintain, and inhabit sustainable systems. Every essential problem is solved, but in the everyday life of people this is hardly apparent.”

⁠— Bill Mollison, Permaculture: a Designer’s Manual (1988)

Innovation, in my experience, rarely means coming up with something new. In my career as a designer, some of the most ‘innovative’ things I’ve seen or participated in have been exactly what Bill Mollison describes – applying existing knowledge in a new way, to build systems that work. 

As we face new challenges in a rapidly changing political, social, economic and ecological climate, we would do well to pay attention to what we already know how to do.In the last newsletter I talked about how we already know how to solve the homelessness crisis. (Hint: give people homes.) There are many, many facets of society where ‘applying existing knowledge’ could be a true innovation. We already know how to transition away from coal, for example

Now, I’m not saying that applying existing knowledge is easy – all sorts of things hold us back from being able to lift and apply innovation from elsewhere. The specifics of local communities, local attitudes, local ideologies, local relationships – they all matter if change is going to stick! 

This is why things like co-design – community led, adaptive, iterative and local –are the only way we’ll make lasting innovative change in places where change needs to happen. For this reason, I’m heartened by the renewed attention being paid to co-design, systems thinking, permaculture, and similar fields in the design industry as a whole. 

And though originally designed 40 years ago, the basic texts and principles of permaculture still hold true today. At this moment, we should be paying more attention to what we already know, and looking for innovative ways to apply this knowledge.

— Reuben Stanton & the PG Team

Read the rest of Issue #39 here.

July 23, 2019

PG #38: Compare And Contrast

Compare and contrast:

1. The federal government steadfastly refuses to raise the rate of Newstart (Australia’s unemployment benefits) to a rate that is even close to a living wage. 

2. The Australian federal government, with bipartisan support, just passed a $158bn tax cut, which will have the most impact on people earning above $180,000, and will likely lead to further cuts in social services as tax revenue decreases

By denying unemployed people the money needed for basic survival, Australia is actively forcing people into homelessness. This becomes a self-reinforcing cycle: people without a permanent residence find it hard to apply for work, have trouble accessing services, and are increasingly likely to end up in prison. People with a criminal record face even more challenges finding work. Women are increasingly overrepresented in this cycle. 

Paper Giant has been doing work in sectors such as criminal justice, social services, and disability services in Victoria for a few years now, and every time we attempt to look at where we might have some impact, we come up against these self-reinforcing cycles of poverty. 

The most frustrating part of this is, if you talk to anyone who works in social services, they already know the solution! Raise Newstart. Fund housing. Offer support without judgement.   

But to make a change to a system like this obviously requires more than just knowing a solution. It requires a change in mindset across the system: an orientation towards care, support and recovery; not blame and punishment. 

There are great examples of this out there. Two that spring to mind are Dandenong’s drug court (where the focus is on treatment and recovery, not punishment), and a newly revamped Ozanam House (where an understanding of trauma as both a cause and effect of homelessness underpins their work). Our recent StreamlineFines project is a smaller example of work that aims for a holistic approach to intertwined social and health outcomes.  

I feel like every newsletter that I write ends up being about transformative systems change in some way, but I realise that’s for good reason – the systems that make up our society are not working equally, fairly or sustainably for everyone. But they were made by people, so they can be changed by people.

— Reuben Stanton & the PG Team

Read the rest of Issue #38 here.

July 9, 2019

PG #37: The Peculiar Blindness Of Experts

Two hands above a pile of papers. The one on the left is holding a pencil, about to write something. The one on the right is pointing to something on the paper. There is a cup of coffee and a pen to the left of the paper. There is a cup of tea and another pen on the right of the paper.
Illustration by Hope Lumsden-Barry, Communication Designer

There’s this strange thing that happens in Australia every June – it’s called the ‘End of Financial Year’ (aka EOFY). It’s an odd time where companies and government agencies alike are trying to spend as much money as possible to justify their budget requests for the next financial year and reduce their tax liability.

What it means for consultancies like ours is that June is the busiest time of year: the time when our clients desperately need work delivered before July rolls around, and we are working as hard as we can to deliver it.

It’s also winter, and everyone wants to take a break.

It’s also school holiday time.

It’s also flu season.

And what happens is the interaction between these things – busiest time of year + winter + holiday time + flu season – means we arrive early July exhausted and gasping for breath. I don’t know about you, but if I wanted to design a healthy working economy, this is not how I would go about it. And there are ways to design better economies – check out this article on 5 things Australia could do right now to end poverty

All this is really just a preamble to explain why you might notice the newsletter is a little light on this week. We hope you are able to be kind to yourself for the rest of the winter months!

— Reuben Stanton & the PG Team

Read the rest of Issue #37 here.

June 26, 2019

PG #36: From Self-Care To Community Care

About two years ago, we had the opportunity to do an amazing research project into something that affects nearly everyone at some point in their lives.

The project was called ‘The Death of a Loved One’. It aimed to map the experience of dealing with death in Australia, and for a good reason: to make clear the failings of public and private services, and to find opportunities to make a difficult experience a bit less difficult all-round for those of us left behind. 

Qualitative research on ‘life events’ (e.g. ‘having a baby’, ‘moving out of home’, ‘dying’) is foundational for service providers because these events are foundational to our lives. They affect every aspect from the financial to the emotional, and are the times we are most likely to need external support. Research in these areas will always have application far outside the instigating project’s scope. Even though our work is two years old, the findings are still relevant, and will likely remain relevant for many years to come. 

This project was foundational for Paper Giant too – it helped us formalise and cement in place our approach to ethics and care on projects, which we’ve written and spoken about elsewhere (and will be doing again in London this week!).

For me personally, doing this work really highlighted the importance of gaining qualitative insight into experiences, to understand people’s situations before implementing change – especially situations that are as complex, diverse and nuanced as someone close to you dying.

— Reuben Stanton & the PG Team

Read the rest of Issue #36 here.

June 11, 2019

PG #35: Buzzwords Vs Reality

Two of our primary goals at Paper Giant are to build communities and start conversations.

This week marks a year since we moved into our current studio space in Melbourne’s CBD – a beautiful, spacious and light-filled room, which we’ve filled with modular furniture and whiteboards, and which we’ve tried to make feel and behave like a public library. Almost everything is on wheels, and we’re pleased with the way the space can shift and respond to the demands of project work as well as for public events.

At the time of our move, the space was much bigger than we needed. We committed to the lease because we knew it would become a key part of the infrastructure to achieve our longer-term goals. Over the last twelve months we’ve hosted a huge number and variety of events, both for and outside of the design community in Melbourne. This effort culminated in a massive May, during which we hosted four events.

Our ‘Diversity in the Innovation Ecosystem’ event for Melbourne Knowledge Week is the one we’re most proud of. We wanted to bring people together to talk about different forms of diversity and inclusion, and promote frank discussions about how it does or doesn’t work in practice, and I think we were successful. (Read a write-up of the event.)

In service of our goals though, it’s important that we don’t expect everyone to come to us. To that end, I’ll be heading to London at the end of June to run a workshop on Designing (and Surviving) for the End of Life at GOOD19, after which i'll be connecting with old and new design research colleagues at User Research London.

Right before then, we’ll be running our Design Research for Product and Service Innovation training in Melbourne. We’re thrilled to announce that this is sold out, but if you’re interested in getting better at collecting and working with qualitative data, details on the waitlist are below.

In the meantime, we hope that the spaces you make, are part of, and visit are rewarding, supportive and fun. We know that ours is. Make sure you drop by sometime.

— Chris Marmo & the PG Team

Read the rest of Issue #35 here.

May 31, 2019

#MKW19: What happened, and what’s next

Last week we hosted five incredible speakers and a room full of inquisitive minds at our workshop 'Diversity in the innovation ecosystem’ in partnership with Committee for Melbourne, as part of Melbourne Knowledge Week.

Read more

May 28, 2019

PG #34 – One foot in front of the other

I’m writing this days after the UN reports that 1 million species are at risk of extinction, and that CO2 levels at the Mauna Loa observatory have reached 415ppm for the first time in history. I’m also writing this hours after the Australian public has voted in a federal election, and our re-elected prime minister is a man who once waved a lump of coal around in parliament with the joy of a schoolyard bully.

As I write this, it seems we face another three years of cruelty towards people living in poverty, another three years of dismantling our social security system, another three years of pandering to white nationalists and racists, another three years of regression and inaction on climate, and another three years of cynical economic models that ignore the societal costs of inaction on all these issues.

But however we might feel about this particular election outcome, the challenges we face today are the same that we faced yesterday.

It seems to me the only solution to this crisis is transformative change – to overhaul the global economy to prioritise wellbeing and environmental sustainability rather than the pursuit of profit. We can no longer support a business-as-usual that perpetuates inequality and injustice. We can no longer support a business-as-usual that leads to ecological degradation and global warming. We must fight even harder than before for fairness, equity and sustainability.

And as I write this, I don’t yet have a clear way through this mess, other than to acknowledge that as designers we have agency, and we need to work together, to choose how to put that agency to use.

 — Reuben Stanton, Co-Founder and Design Director

Read the rest of Issue #34 here.

May 15, 2019

#MKW19: Meet Ruth De Souza

Text on the left hand side reads "Dr Ruth De Souza, Diversity in the innovation ecosystem, 6:00pm, May 22nd" with a photo of a woman on the right

One week to go and we are very excited to announce that Dr Ruth De Souza will be joining us at our workshop Diversity in the Innovation Ecosystem. We’ve been working with Ruth to support a leading community health organisation in co-designing their strategic vision for cultural safety.

Ruth has a passionate interest in disentangling racism from health and social care. She advocates for replacing the idea of ‘diversity’ with ‘cultural safety’, an ethical framework developed by Indigenous Māori nurses from Aotearoa New Zealand.

For an intro to Ruth’s work and thinking, we recommend this piece written for the Australian College of Nursing. She outlines how ‘diversity’ has become a feel-good term of celebration, rather than a tool for truly holding our organisations to account.

She discusses how our current use of ‘diversity’ still places whiteness at the centre - with everyone else being framed in terms of their difference from whiteness. It’s not enough to have nurses from a variety of backgrounds – “representation in the workforce doesn’t mean that the people who are culturally different have a voice in the corridors of power.”

Read the full piece for a breakdown of the other ways in which ‘diversity’ fails us.

Ruth is an independent consultant, and also works as Academic Convenor of the Data, Systems and Society Research Network (DSSRN) and Honorary Senior Research Fellow in Clinical Informatics and Population Health Informatics (HaBIC) at the University of Melbourne. Ruth has an extensive background as a nurse, educator and researcher, as well as holding a number of community and governance roles.

Ruth blogs at ruthdesouza.com and tweets as @desouzarn. This event is part of Melbourne Knowledge Week, 20–26 May 2019, proudly presented by the City of Melbourne. Paper Giant is hosting this event in partnership with Committee for Melbourne.

May 14, 2019

PG #33 – The ‘dark matter’ of design

Artistic image of dark matter, showing three abstract coloured circles (red, yellow and blue) on a black background
Image by Andrew Watson

The first time I heard the term ‘dark matter’ in relation to design was when Dan Hill used it in his excellent book Dark Matter and Trojan Horses. This was 2014, before ‘strategic design’ was something people talked about, and before Paper Giant got started. You could almost say the concept of ‘dark matter’ is why Paper Giant got started.

In astrophysics, dark matter refers to all the stuff that we know exists even though we don’t know what it might be. We have no way to observe it, but it literally holds the fabric of the universe together. In design, ‘dark matter’ is the underlying ideological, cultural, structural and systemic ‘stuff’ that shapes and controls how organisations work, how decisions get made, and what changes are considered possible. It’s the stuff that happens in the background of our work that we don’t and can’t see.

Designers are constantly experimenting with new techniques that help us observe dark matter: borrowing language (e.g. reframing design as ‘regeneration’), using tools of speculative fiction, applying different ways of visualising and mapping systems to help people see their context in new ways.

Since reading Dan’s book in 2014, I’ve only become more convinced that the heart of our work is about detecting this dark matter, observing its effects, and making it visible to others.

 — Reuben Stanton, Design Director

Read the rest of Issue #33 here.

May 10, 2019

#MKW19: Meet Mario Visic

It's only two weeks to go until our Melbourne Knowledge Week workshop Diversity in the innovation ecosystem on May 22. This week we chatted to our fourth speaker Mario Visic, Developer Mentor at Envato about his motivation to champion diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

Mario has always been passionate about software engineering. Since 2017, he has been running the Apprentice Developer program at Envato. This fully paid apprenticeship program takes aspiring female software developers and trains them up to become junior developers at Envato. They hope to expand it to other underrepresented groups in future.

Mario, why is diversity and inclusion important to you?

When I was younger I decided to go to university to pursue my passion and study computer science. The only factor that went into the decision was “what might I enjoy doing professionally for the rest of my life?”. At the time this seemed obvious to me – why would you need to ask any other questions? Now I realise that what I had at the time was privilege. I never had to ask, “will I be safe in this industry?” or “will I be treated as an equal to my peers?” Diversity and inclusion are important to me because I would like to live in a society where my experiences aren't a privilege, but the norm for everyone.

When did you first feel like the work you are doing in this space was starting to make an impact?

My proudest moment was when our first two apprentices graduated from the program and moved into full-time developer positions at Envato. It was sad not to see them every work day, but I was so happy that I was able to help them start their new careers as software developers.

Where would you recommend people look for resources to build their practice and understanding of this topic?

I think one of the most important things you can do in a community, especially if you are in a majority group, is to work to ensure that the environment is comfortable for everyone. I recommend speaking to people that may look or behave differently to yourself, or just have a different perspective to you. Further your understanding of the struggles that others have to go through – struggles that you may not have personally gone through yourself.

Book your ticket (free event) to Diversity in the innovation ecosystem

This event is part of Melbourne Knowledge Week, 20–26 May 2019, proudly presented by the City of Melbourne. Paper Giant is hosting this event in partnership with Committee for Melbourne.

 

If you're interested in working with us, just get in touch.

Email: hello@papergiant.net
Call: +61 (03) 9112 0514

 

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