An Overdue Update

It’s been a long while since I last updated this blog and major changes have occurred in the meantime. Once again, I sailed across the oceans and made a cross-country (cross-hemisphere in fact) move in July 2016 to undertake a new and exciting role as Professor of Sustainable Design at Aalto University in Helsinki, Finland. This opportunity came up at the right time as the project I was working on in Melbourne was approaching an end so while I was evaluating my options for my next career move. I started my job at Aalto on August 1st and in the past eight months I’ve been busy moving, settling, networking and learning. I feel incredibly lucky to be part of the faculty in Aalto Department of Design which is ranked as 13th best design school in the world this year.

In the meantime an article I started to work on when I was in Melbourne, together with lead author Fabrizio Ceschin (UK Brunel University), got published in Design Studies. In this article we discuss how the field of design for sustainability evolved over the years from a focus on individual artefacts to systems. This article received very positive attention, yielded a book chapter in an upcoming book from Routledge and Fabrizio and I have been quite humbled as it became the third most downloaded article of the journal in a very short period of time following being published.

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Currently I am running a two-week intensive course on design for system innovations and transitions at TongJi University in Shanghai as part of Aalto-TongJi collaboration in education. Reflections on this experience will follow shortly.

More Value to P2P than Uber and AirBnB: The Neglected Commons

Recently, Grattan Institute here in Melbourne published a report on peer-to-peer (P2P) economy arguing it could save Australians $500 million on taxi bills, help them use underutilized assets and generate income and increase employment and income for people on the fringe of the job market. The report argued that governments should adopt policies to facilitate growth of these businesses while also regulating for downsides. It is a worthwhile report to read.

What I’d like to raise as an issue is not the content of this report but the scope. First, the report has left out discussing benefits of a large portion of P2P economy that is commons-based and framed “the” P2P economy as businesses who own proprietary online platforms that allow people to “sell” their services (let it be provision of a ride or a clean bed or use of a product for a few hours) to others. The businesses thus enable “micro-businesses” –which is great- but without necessarily empowering those micro-businesses by enabling them to contribute into the development of the platforms, co-designing of the business model the “mother” corporation operates under or by providing a fair share of the value generated although the overall value in these systems are generated by those micro-businesses.

Grattan Institute’s report is unfortunately not the only publication that overlooks the commons-based P2P economy; this is a common attitude in media and research institutes alike. This could potentially be attributed to the high lobbying power that is held in the hands of “sharing economy corporates”. For example, I remember attending a “policy pitch” event at the Grattan Institute in February 2015 on “regulating the peer-to-peer economy”. This event featured David Plouffe, Uber’s Senior VC of Policy and Strategy at the time, who is in fact a political strategist and was the campaign manager of Barack Obama in 2008. He flew all the way to Australia to legitimize Uber which was facing a for amount of rage from the taxi sector as happens in every city Uber “disrupts”. Since then, us Uber users in Melbourne receive offers from Uber to cuddle kittens in our offices for 15 minutes delivered by Uber drivers etc; we’re used to Uber “making our day” through advertising campaigns all targeting the correct demographics and therefore cannot say no when we receive messages that go like “Sign a petition so that Uber is not banned in your city”.

The neglected part of the P2P economy needs more attention though; first technically it has been around much longer than the uberised versions and can easily be traced back to early days of open software movement. Second, there is a lot of under-appreciated value in commons-based P2P economy. To understand this a bit more, particularly in the context of sustainability transitions and resilience in cities, we in VP2040 project undertook some exploratory research that also involved an expert consultation and prepared a summary report of our findings.

I strongly recommend a full read; it’s an interesting report with references to lead thinkers in this area and features the best examples of peer-to-peer commons economy. But for those who prefer protein drinks over real meals because they’re too busy to indulge in life, here’re the key messages:

There are three value models competing for dominance in the digital economy: traditional proprietary capitalism, peer-to-peer exchange and peer-to-peer commons models. The latter two were relevant to our investigation.

In a peer-to-peer commons economy there is an effective creation AND sharing of a resource by peers. A peer-to-peer exchange model is about creating and financially benefiting from platforms that connect peers to trade, sell, or rent excess idle resources. The difference between the two value models is a lack of consideration and contribution into the commons in the implementations based on the latter model.

The direct socio-environmental impacts of the two peer-to-peer value models are similar. The main differences are indirect and structural and stem from the different implications of the two value models in business model development, product and service design and structure of wage-labour relationships. See table below.

Summary of indirect and structural socio-environmental impacts of the two value models

 

Peer-to-peer exchange model

 

does not address overconsumption or deal with consumerism at a cultural level

 

the dematerialisation effect observed by some is not because there is less material throughput in the economic system, it is because there is an additional, very resource efficient economic sector based on cognitive labour

does not raise environmental awareness as argued by some but only reinforces the existing awareness (at best)

 

planned obsolescence is an inevitable part of business models which are for-profit

 

the users are not contributors to the platforms which creates a wage-labour dependency

Peer-to-peer commons model

 

assists with re-establishing the relationships between workers, products, users and means of production through localisation and direct participation (except in cases in which low-cost raw materials come from somewhere else)

 

encourages diffusion of local knowledge, therefore incentivises designs that suit best to the context

 

encourages higher resource efficiency (planned obsolescence and other means of creating artificial scarcity is contradictory to the logic of a commons based economy)

 

circulation of commons does not necessitate an increase in scale as the value is created by a reciprocal relation between benefit and nurture. Nevertheless, the peer-to-peer commons value model is agnostic about growth which might be a barrier for sustainability because any digital commons necessitate natural commons

A digital economy in which a set of companies own or control important city data poses a danger for cities as it creates the risk of ‘data feudalism’ as well as incentives for business models that undermine sustainability and resilience. There are also unresolved ethical questions about ownership and use rights of data generated by citizens through the use of proprietary or non-proprietary peer-to-peer platforms.

There are different options for how digital technologies can be deployed in cities depending on which technologies and business models are implemented. However, it is uncertain which options will yield to highest sustainability and resilience outcomes.

Based on the expert consultation and our research findings and reflections, we proposed the following policy recommendations under four main categories:

  1. Developing and Implementing Citizen-centric and Democratic Governance Models
  • Understanding and leveraging institutional, organisational and cultural enablers for creating sharing cities
  • Developing and implementing models of governance for the physical and digital urban commons
  • Facilitating and widening the scope of public debate on urban data and peer-to-peer alternatives
  • Facilitating participatory decision-making and budgeting
  1. Managing and Leveraging Urban Data
  • Supporting the development of a digital open design commons and open information platforms
  • Establishing and supporting experimentation with data and technologies in cities
  1. Developing and Supporting New Models of Business and Securing Finance
  • Educating, empowering and collaborating with digital entrepreneurs to direct innovation efforts and resources towards decarbonisation projects
  • Identifying and developing financial enablers of the digital economy that will assist in radical decarbonisation
  1. Maintaining Socio-economic Resilience
  • Leveraging the expected changes in distribution and number of jobs across sectors by creating employment opportunities that will help shift to a decarbonised economy

 

 

Design for System Innovations and Transitions

For more than a decade, it is known that sustainability is not a final goal but a journey; a journey that’ll require fundamental shifts and radical changes in our socio-technical and socio-ecological systems. The accumulated knowledge on managing system innovations and transitions is now used by governments and industry to navigate these complex, long-term, multi-dimensional structural changes. OECD has recently published a synthesis report on system innovations and framed system innovations and transitions not only as an innovation challenge but also as a “deeply political project” highlighting the need for shifting away from incremental innovations and pointing to the challenge of overcoming vested interests in doing so. The report also highlights the role of technology and business in processes of system innovations and transitions.

Of course the importance of making policies to enable and steer system innovations and transitions cannot be overstated. Nevertheless, since early days of system innovations and transitions discourse, although a lot of emphasis has been put on “niche innovators” as key actors, there has not been much work on how design and innovation decisions taken by these niche innovators can be aligned with long-term, large-scale systemic transformations. Maybe it has been taken for granted that once policies are put in place, this micro-level of the system would behave in favourable ways. When we look at the broad practice of design for sustainability though, it is hard to find evidence supporting this assumption; the majority of design practice is still engaged with incremental innovation and is dangerously techno-optimisic although system innovations and transitions require technological appropriateness (not “technology development” per se, but selection and implementation of technologies appropriate for the context) AND social change to take place simultaneously.

Design is no-doubt a future-oriented activity; many designers today would also claim being “change actors” for a “better world” without being able to articulate the politics of these claims (whose future? better for who? change by what means?). Purity of intentions aside, the 250 year long history of the profession created a professional culture which has predominantly been a servant of short-term commercial interests. Therefore, the future orientation of design is still short-term compared to the temporal frames that are subject to system innovations and transitions. To cut a much longer story short, design activity and design practitioners are key elements of endeavours to create systemic shifts towards sustainability and there is a need for developing theories and practical tools to reshape the culture (and practice) of design. Not an easy task by any means but one that has started to attract attention both in design theory/practice and in theories/practice of system innovations and transitions.

An article I co-authored with Prof. Han Brezet making an initial attempt to develop a conceptual framework that can inform development of practical tools and approaches for design and business community has been published in Journal of Cleaner Production and is free to access and download until December 8th. Comments, thoughts are welcome. This is “front end” of what’s emerging as a new field: design for system innovations and transitions.

Research and Teaching Statement

I’ve completed two years in Melbourne and on the Visions and Pathways 2040 project. My contract will end in 18 months and it’s uncertain whether there will be additional funding for me to undertake more research at VEIL, where I am working currently. Given academic recruitment is a long process, it’s likely that I’ll start looking for faculty positions here and elsewhere in the near future. So, for the sake of preparation I wrote up a new research and teaching statement. The reason why I post it here is two-fold. First, it explains what I’ve done and what I’d like to do in the future – the focus and direction of my research. So, it’s a document portraying who I am professionally really well. Second, I’m interested in getting some feedback to improve it along the way and making it public creates this possibility. Below.

Research and Teaching Statement

Vision & Progress

My career vision is to be among the world’s leading researchers in the area of design and innovation for sustainability in five years’ time and educate new generation designers who are able to address the complex, socially relevant challenges human society is facing through ecologically and socially regenerative, technologically appropriate design practice which is aware and reflective of its own politics. In order to achieve this, so far I have accomplished the following: 1. Completed a PhD project in 2011 on aligning actions of design and innovation teams with structural changes associated with currently unfolding system innovations and transitions in Sustainability Science and Engineering Program of University of Auckland, New Zealand; 2. Started developing a theory of design for system innovations and transitions through the lens of sustainability science; 3. Gained lecturing, post-graduate supervision, program leadership and curriculum development experience in the years following completion of my PhD in School of Design and School of Business of Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand; 4. Have become a Visiting Researcher at Design For Sustainability Research Group of Technical University of Delft starting from 2011; 5. Gained research, research team facilitation, project management and stakeholder engagement experience in a large, collaborative, multi-stakeholder project which bring together representatives from research institutions, industry, government and general public to envision and strategise towards low-carbon and resilient futures in Australian cities using design-led, participatory methodolodies in my current role as Principal Researcher at Victorian Eco-innovation Lab, Melbourne School of Design, University of Melbourne, Australia.

Research Direction

My research direction sits at the cross-section of design research, futures studies and sustainability science. This is aligned with emerging practices in design for sustainability in following ways: First, focus of design for sustainability is shifting from artefact to systems change. Second, there is an observable cross-fertilisation of design research and futures research. This enables design practice to adopt longer term timeframes than timeframes that has been traditionally adopted in design practice as well as asking questions about the future of design profession. Third, there is a developing understanding in design that sustainability issues cannot be reduced to solely environmental or social problems, that these co-exist and mutually exacerbate each other, therefore, techno-centric or socio-centric approaches in design, on their own, fall short in addressing these highly complex problems with many dimensions. In my research, I would like to keep on developing the emerging theory of design for system innovations and transitions. This direction involves merging of research directions which are either about political questioning or technological enabling that can be part of design research and practice. Specific questions that I would like to investigate involve: 1. How can we design for enabling self-organisation in human systems (relevant to group behaviour during crises and societal transformations but also to new models of governance that we observe emerging currently)?; 2. What new paradigms do we need in design practice in addition to human-centredness if we are going to be designing not solely for creating the technosphere but also for adapting to changes in the socio-ecological sphere (relevant to climate change adaptation and sustainability transformations in our built and natural environment)?. My research, on one hand, aims to push the theoretical boundaries of design with references to sustainability science and system innovations/transtions theories, while on the other hand, develop methods and tools based on this expanded theoretical territory for the use of practicing designers. One good example of this is the scenario method I developed during my PhD for the use of design and innovation teams to be able to align their design decisions and strategic priroties with the necessary long-term societal transformations. Other, less comprehensive processes stemmed from my work on cities of Australia which aim at enabling development of systemic future visions using design-led participatory approaches.

Teaching Approach

My teaching is informed by and continuously evolve through my research. For example, in my lecturing position at Auckland University of Technology, I taught a course on design futures. I designed this course to have two components of inquiry: one on evolving perceptions of design and designer by looking at iconic examples of sci-fi literature and cinema, the other on the emerging role of design in strategic creation of alternative futures with references to changing social context. Another course I taught was on sustainable design. In this course which was delivered to students from School of Business, I introduced different levels of design interventions including product improvement, product redesign, functional innovation and system innovation and got the students to design a business model that would utilise one or more of these levels to address a sustainability problem. In other, more self-directed courses, in which projects were developed by students based on their particular interest, I asissted student learning and exploration by bringing in to students’ attention theories and practical approaches that may be relevent to their project and by creating spaces for them which would both facilitate critical inquiry and practical implementation.

The basic premise of my teaching philosophy is empowerment of students to construct their own learning by being increasingly less directional as they mature in their studies. There are three main components of my teaching: content and context, skills and practice, and, reflection and improvement. Content and context constitutes the theoretical and context specific knowledge students need in order to undertake design projects. I both provide this information and also teach ways of finding relevant and effective information themselves. Skills and practice is the knowledge the students need to cultivate to conceive, develop and implement design solutions based on contextual knowledge of the problem. This involves teaching about design research and creative inquiry methods across a wide spectrum of practice framework including but not limited to product design, service design, and systems design. Reflection and improvement involves guiding students to adopt best-practice in professional development by teaching them tools and methods of reflective practice that also includes encouraging them to reflect not only on their design practice but also on framings, worldviews, politics and values that might have informed their design practice.

In my teaching, I treat the learning environments as an emulation of a professional setting which reflects the values and practices underlying the “better future” we want to create, thus providing students with an experiential opportunity for learning about cultivating collegialitaly and collaboration in multi-cultural multi-skill team interactions. In order to achieve this, I facilitate development of a group purpose and group culture at the beginning of semesters in each class. I encourage my students to challenge me, thus empowering them to question credibility and authority in power structures before developing trust in leadership. In my opinion, savviness in questioning power structures is a fundamental skill for professionals who will be involved in the grand project of humanity in achieving sustainability without compromising from socially fair and democratic processes.

I have research and teaching experience in three countries; Turkey, New Zealand and Australia. I am a citizen of Turkey and New Zealand having lived in both for several years. These two countries have extremely different social and cultural structures, natural and built environments and value positions on nature, democracy, social relationships and ethnic identity. I have also studied, undertaken research and lectured across several disciplines including engineering, design, business and sustainability science. As a result of these geographical and disciplinary exposures, I cultivated a dynamic understanding of the world which also informed my research and teaching substantially, enabling me to develop a comprehensive and unique approach to research and teaching in the area of design for sustainability. I am hoping to find academic mobility opportunities in the future that will both appreciate and expand this unique research and teaching outlook.

August 2015

Critical analysis of design and innovation approaches

Long time in the making, my paper “A critical review of approaches available for design and innovation teams through the perspective of sustainability science and system innovation theories” is finally in press and corrected proof is available online. The paper is based on my PhD work, nevertheless further developed and expanded in the past years. I submitted the manuscript to Journal of Cleaner Production in April 2013 and the review process took painfully long; not because the paper was challenged by the reviewers (all reviewers were quite positive about the paper from the beginning and provided very helpful feedback to improve its quality) but because the journal had been super slow in processing it in the first round following submission. Anyhow… It’s out there now.

In this paper I initially developed a set of evaluation criteria for approaches available to design and innovation teams based on sustainability science and, system innovation and transition theories. The set consists of five criterion: strong sustainability, systems thinking, radicalism, long-term orientation and mind-set change. Then I reviewed legislative and regulatory measures, voluntary initiatives, and design and innovation frameworks covering design for eco-innovations, product-service systems, design for the bottom of pyramid, biomimicry design, cradle to cradle design, and The Natural Step (aka The Framework for Strategic Sustainable Development). Below is the table summarising the critical review findings.

table

Reflecting on 2014 at the Blurred Boundary of Personal and Academic Experiences

It’s mid-December; a summer day in Melbourne, beginning of the final week before the holidays. 2014 has been a challenging year for me more than it was rewarding. The challenges mostly stemmed from steep learning curves I encountered associated with the “newness”; adapting to life in a new city, adapting to a “research only” academic position after three years of juggling lecturing, research and program leadership, finding my own feet (or not) in a new project in a new area (the urban) focusing on a new context (Australia). Time for a reflective account at the blurry boundary of personal and academic life in 2014.

A New City

I have completed one year living in Melbourne in August. This city where I came knowing absolutely no one has treated me very nicely by offering many creative and intellectual stimuli which kept me and my mind occupied and content despite the difficulties associated with the absence of an established social network. Being born into a city is an entirely different experience than acquiring it as home later in life as a mature person, even if temporarily but for an extended period of time. Currently I know many things about Melbourne that born-here Melbournians do not such as the mysterious Cave Clan thanks to Sophie Cunningham’s delectable book “Melbourne” which enabled me to bond with this city as a result of developing a historical and contextual understanding of it. The stories of how different migrant communities came here are full of fascinating details as well as the early colonial history of the city. Melbourne has never been boring for me in this year and there’re still many to discover about its history, culture, architecture and diverse communities. Nevertheless, experience of place is closely associated with experience with the people of the place. I have been lucky to meet with some people through my Turkish and New Zealand networks so now I have a few people to hang out with and enjoy several attractions the city has to offer. Nevertheless, I still have not build deep enough relationships with anyone. Whenever I think of a potential emergency, I cannot think of a person whom I’d call for help. An unsettling and a first ever occurrence in my life. Relationships take time to mature and require a lot of mutual effort. I know this is not a unique experience of mine but many others, some of whom being close friends scattered across the world by choosing to be mobile members of the global labour force for we follow positions that suit our unique expertise, financial expectations and lifestyle choices rather than choosing a place to settle and making the most of what’s available there for our ever insatiable intellectual and emotional needs. What we rejoice in and suffer from have a lot of commonalities no matter where we are in the world: missing family, friends, connections that are in fact sustained offline, in cinemas, cafes, beaches, museums, and around our own dinner table instead of on Skype or on Viber. We are an emerging sociological phenomenon: rootless white collars of the global urban. In an internet connected world where traditional office space is becoming redundant for many professions this is a contradiction. Just like Buckminster Fuller had to stop being a polyphasic sleeper because his business partners found his work patterns disruptive, we are expected to be “working” at the same time as our immediate colleagues. Although displays the importance and influence of local economic interactions in individuals’ lives, I find this requirement archaic and I’m dreaming of a time when I can work from anywhere I please for anyone in the world who’d like to receive my services. As much as I love living in Melbourne, if I could do the work I’m doing from anywhere I wouldn’t choose to live here. This has been one of the revelations of this year. The following question is of course revolves around the relative importance of the work I’m doing in the big picture of my life. This is something I’ll reflect on in 2015. One thing that clearly occurred to me is that I don’t want to move to yet another new city, ever again. My wanderlust has settled, at least seems to be for the time being.

Here’s a piece of research related reflection stemming from my experience of having recently moved to a new city: In envisioning futures of cities, we mostly assume those futures are for permanent inhabitants. How would a desirable, sustainable, resilient city look like, feel like, be like if more than half of its population were temporarily but for extended periods of time residing there. System innovation work involves strategising for the transformation of socio-technical systems meeting societal needs or “functions”. We assume the need to be met in similar ways or function to be fulfilled to carry the same characteristics, but what if it all changed? For example the need for shelter is met by housing development although property ownership is not anymore merely for meeting a basic need but also for investing. So some people own more than one residential property while increasingly more (but not yet many) people in big cities opt out from the option of buying a house and commit to renting throughout their life for this or that reason one of which is “being mobile” like myself. What are the economic, cultural and social implications of a potential mass movement of not buying but renting in cities? What institutional, organisational, social innovations would be needed to make a city functional, desirable and liveable in such a scenario?

A “Research Only” Position

One thing I can say: I miss teaching. I miss teaching not only because I see teaching as a great way of intervening in the systems I’d like to see change but also because managing time and measuring performance is much easier when there’re set short-term commitments to fulfil. I thoroughly enjoyed the few experiences of guest lecturing this year. In teaching you know that you touched someone’s intellectual buttons almost immediately but in research your influence is spread over longer term and is indirect most of the times. I think I am a short-term interventionist although my research is about the long-term changes. This personal characteristic, which seems like a dilemma in the first place, is resolved through my research ambition-i.e. linking micro-level changes with macro-level transformation. Nevertheless, my work in this has remained dormant throughout this year. I’ve been feeling that I’ve been fulfilling project tasks without any creative license so I took the initiative to start developing two small projects I can do with project partners which I can frame, design and run. I need to be strategic in how I manage these as the only way I will be green light by my manager is if I demonstrate direct relevance and importance of these projects to the main project I’m employed for. The whole phenomenon of having a “manager” has been challenging for one I chose to be an academic in order not to have a manager as such. I miss being my own research boss. In this process, I also reflected on what I’d like to achieve with my work and many questions arose if academic career is still the best option for this. These questions gave birth to other questions on the most suitable base for my academic work and a potential of mixing of academic work with consultancy. I don’t yet feel ready to make any major changes in my current set-up. All I can conclude from this year is that transdisciplinary research doesn’t go down well in traditional research universities no matter how niche the immediate base of the researcher is; same performance criteria applies to all researchers at central level and disciplinary researchers always have the advantage in an institutional set-up that is still predominantly disciplinary. But all of this is irrelevant if I don’t aspire a faculty position where I’m currently working at the end of my contract.

A New Area of Research in a New Context

I find the urban as a research area fascinating for it is a highly complex system and increasingly a focus in sustainability transitions and system innovations research as a key intervention context. On the other hand, I was hired for the project I’m working on because of my expertise integrating sustainability science, system innovation/transitions theories and design research, at least this was my understanding. When I pointed out at the time when I was offered the position that I don’t have in-depth knowledge of urban theories, I was reassured that there were other researchers in the project with this expertise and so my shortcoming in this area was not an issue. My hope was to continue developing my expertise in integrating design research with system innovations/transitions and sustainability science. However, this hasn’t been the case so far. The first year of the project passed by fuzzy front end work involving engaging with stakeholders, organising workshops, writing foreground papers with no academic novelty, and trying to adapt to being a member of a collaborative team which, after fifteen months still struggling to collaborate effectively. The roles and how we will bring in knowledge and expertise from our respective domains has not been clarified. I struggled with finding my feet, framing my own contribution and positioning design research in the project. I cannot say that I have succeeded in this yet. It is unclear to me how design research fits into the project as it is mostly focusing on policy. Although there are several opportunities to bring in design research into the project, including policy making, design research focuses on the micro level and the project focus remains very large-scale. The kind of design research I’m interested in is about people and practices more than it is about artefacts and technologies; the project focuses more on the technologies and physical elements of the urban. Although there is emphasis on the requirement of socio-cultural change and organisational transformation, and that design research can offer a lot in this regard, as a result of running a highly ambitious project, in a politically challenging time of Australian history in relation to climate change, with a small team with only one member having an interest in and knowledge of design research and a relatively small budget compared to similar projects undertaken elsewhere I am not sure if there will be opportunities for me to use my expertise effectively and build on it through this project. This is also another reason why I started developing small side projects with partners; so that I can directly work with the “users” of the project to make project learnings immediately relevant for their organisation through different methods of design research. This is also aligned with my desire to build on my specific research interest of linking micro level with macro level in system innovations and transitions. But as I stated above, I am uncertain if my time allocated to these small projects will be seen justified. I am learning to negotiate my way to meet my needs as a researcher while meeting the needs of the overall project.

Besides navigating my way through these challenges, I managed to squeeze in trips to New Zealand and Turkey in June and September respectively. I wrote about my New Zealand trip in the previous post but I didn’t get a chance to report on my Turkey trip. Although it was officially a holiday, I met with very interesting people who are working in sustainability, futures and social entrepreneurship fields which gave me the insight that the discourse and practice in sustainability, strategic design, futures inquiry and entrepreneurship has come a long way since I left the country in 2005. I could observe this in my annual visits looking at the steadily increasing number of people attending the lectures I gave and workshops I held. Nevertheless, during the time I spent in Istanbul this year, I had the chance to interact with professionals in addition to academics and became aware of a few exciting initiatives including Studio X Istanbul (Istanbul base of global urban think tank), Gelecekhane (futures think tank), Kadikoy Council’s design thinking initiative and S360 (an international sustainable business consultancy). One of the highlights of my time in Istanbul was having to -thanks to a sweet-talking friend- give a “lecture” about my experiences of Gezi Park protests to Danish sociology students right in the heart of Gezi Park with only two hours notice. I tried to frame this on-the-spot-spontaneous-lecture in the context of global urban based social movements focusing on the right to environment to make it somewhat academically relevant to my work although the students were more interested in hearing about first hand anecdotes about the events.

I think Turkey is currently a very interesting context to look at through system innovations / transitions lens. On one hand policies and practices that are completely counter any understanding of social, cultural, environmental sustainability at the central government level, on the other hand, a wide variety of niche innovations initiated by some local governments and a young urban entrepreneurial population which is no less informed, knowledgable, creative than its global counterparts but perhaps with fewer resources and less empowerment than some.

 

 

“Self-centred” strategies to facilitate collaboration in research groups

I am a little bit drained as a result of having to go through several learning curves some of which have been steep and “lonely” since I started to work on a new project at a new workplace in a new country. Therefore I decided to stop; stop and reflect on my thoughts and feelings about this “initiation” process. I have three other blog posts I’m working on but this seems to be the most pressing one to “blurt out”.

System innovation, if not reduced to new technologies and organisational models which will accommodate them, is closely related to the “self”. Self both as “collective self” of humanity and how it relates to whatever is not perceived as humanity but also as individual self which is essentially the most important “operational level” for intervention. Us academics, those who’re most abundant in quantity at least, don’t talk about “self” much, in fact we don’t talk about it ever. If we have a “voice”, it’s raised in the passive form in writing, or referred to as “we” even if “I” is the sole author.

I reject this “delegitimisation”. I am is I am (although at times and for poetical reasons “I is an other” too) and I do bring values, a worldview, a vision and a knowledge base into my work which is bound and limited by my intellectual depth. As I explicitly state in some of my online profiles, “I am a researcher with a change agenda”. On the other hand, I am not solely a researcher; I am also a person proudly “owning” other identity signifiers such as “photographer”, “facilitator”, “friend”, “wanna be potter”, etc. When I do work, it’s the work of my life; there’s a continuum of but not a seperation between the distinguishable signifiers of my identity, which is ever evolving, developing, transforming. When I “friend” someone (I use friend in the grammatically non-existing verb form) it is from a position of “I want to make this world a better place by my thoughts, feelings and actions”. When I research I operate from the exact same position. Techne and telos have never been mutually exclusive although treated increasingly as such throughout Western intellectual and technological development. If a day came in which I acted from a different values set in my personal life than I did in my professional life (boundaries of which are obscure but “forced upon” me) I wouldn’t be able to find reasons to continue the work I do; for me “the work” is a whole.

In this regard, I find the culture of academia and government especially excruciating as they enforce “politics” onto people that they don’t necessarily own themselves in rather disempowering ways. For example, I am being forced to “compete” against my colleagues so that when the day of promotion applications come, I can be the one who gets it, or, in the next round of funding my application is the “winner”. I find this to be a patriarchal model for acknowledging accomplishment; my feminine instincts know that collaboration is in fact more effective and beneficial for the whole community but especially for those “emergent” elements; i.e. children, young researchers, niche innovations, etc., which are essentially “the future”.

In order to address the challenge that is created by traditional, harshly competitive academic culture in a project that requires radical collaboration both academically but also with a wide spectrum of present -i.e. those who will make decisions and create new systems- and future -i.e. those who will be influenced by those decisions and created systems- stakeholders, I am trying to tap into my facilitation skills. Facilitation is all about helping groups to achieve their goals. The keyword here is “group”; for facilitation to work, there needs to be a “group”, even if in “draft” form; i.e. a willingness of individuals involved to become part of a “group”, to collaborate, to co-create. In trying to do so, I hit my head against walls of personalities and hierarchies that are all created in an old paradigm that we’re in fact trying to replace in “system innovation” in broadest sense. Nevertheless, one of the fundamental learnings of my facilitation training was that “facilitating self” before even attempting to facilitate others is essential for generating fruitful collaboration and designing powerful, generative conversations. A facilitator who’s not “present” to the group for this or that reason is an ineffective facilitator. What will I do to facilitate myself, i.e. to become and remain present to myself then?

Here’re some quick mid-course resolutions:

1. I will stay true to myself – I will protect my values regardless of what the systems I have to operate in impose upon me. This involves modelling the behaviour I’d like to see emerge in my research team: never compete, never social-poach, never blame, never scapegoat, help others achieve their individual goals and demonstrate how this can be done by holding “running a successful project” as a group purpose. I will always empathise and exercise compassion when I relate to members of my research team, my colleagues, and everyone else who participate in the project in some capacity;

2. I will question – Regardless of the hierarchies forced upon me I will question the integrity of behaviour demonstrated and validity of theoretical/methodological frameworks “imposed” by those who’re in power positions. In short, I will have no fear of being seen as “apolitical” at times and “loud” at others;

3. I will transform – I will remain open to challenges to the project, its epistemological/political/theoretical/methodological groundings as a means of carrying the project “forward” in intellectual depth as well as practical relevance;

4. I will mentor and seek for mentoring – I will keep on sharing my experiences, knowledge, insights with researchers/colleagues/peers without fear of losing “ownership”; I do not own anything I know or am capable of. I owe all my knowledge, skills as well as “unique” ideas to everyone else who intellectually “touched” me including my students. I will also keep on seeking mentoring in places that are available for me. I will not pretend that I know everything and can be anything. This will also help me being patient with and kind to myself.

In order to achieve these, here’re some practical things I will do:

1. I will design and facilitate processes to form, develop and perform a collaborative research team. I’ll be ever inviting but not forcing upon “participation”. I will seek for alternative structures, systems, platforms to achieve collaboration and will not assume validity of only one form. This will also enable me to learn and develop as a facilitator. I may assign for next level of my facilitation training; i.e. get into a one-to-one coaching contract with my trainers (I need to think about this more);

2. I will stop not expressing myself due to any kind of fear rising from “professional” worries including impostor syndrome and losing “intellectual property”. I will write in my blog more often as a way of sharing and interacting without furious editing of content. I will also publish academically all those papers waiting in my folder because they’re just not yet “perfect”. There’s a need for scholarly dialogue now more than ever.

3. I will exercise good communication skills; listen attentively and respond to every point. Just because majority of people have poor listening/conversational skills does not create an excuse for me to follow suit;

4. I will meditate and create opportunities to connect with nature despite access is not as readily available as it was in New Zealand. There’s nothing more grounding for me than interacting with the elements in their pure(st possible) form. I will also reflect on nature of “nature” and what it means in regards to “system innovation”. I will change my views if any refreshing insight emerges. I will actively try to hold conversations about this.

5. I will reengage with photography or find another creative outlet which feels right to shift from my mind to my whole body; best is if I make something with my hands and find “flow” in such engagement. Mind is an important asset for a researcher, nevertheless, is also a trap for the spirit.

6. I will put more effort in developing my social circle in Melbourne. I will “set myself on fire and find those who fan my flames”. People are crucial for intellectual and creative development but also for “feeling at home”.

7. I will also put more effort in maintaining and developing my international research network. I will try to collaborate with those whose work influence mine.

8. I will know who to let to go of and when to let go. Not all seeds will flower and sometimes a rock drowns all “potential” of a seed. I will accept when I fail and I’ll try to “fail better” next time. 🙂

9. I will bring “lightness” into my interactions and I will not take myself too seriously.