Going to Australia on my sofa


Bonus conference remote attendance


While we have all being getting used to life as researchers working remotely, the DRS team have been busily putting the 2020 conference online. I wasn’t scheduled to attend this year’s conference as the research project I worked on for the last 3 years was due to end and I had yet to take up my new post in ImaginationLancaster. It is unusual to attend a conference when you haven’t submitted anything, as we always justify the cost of travel through the academic benefits of publication. However, with the conference moved online this year I had an opportunity to attend as a general audience member so jumped at the opportunity. I haven’t attended a DRS conference before, so it was a great chance to explore the diverse array of design research going on around the world and to take part in a workshop and a conversation.

On Tuesday morning I settled down at my computer at 8am, thanks to the conference organisers managing to schedule European sessions at a reasonable hour. My husband brought me a coffee as the workshop started, which in the strange days of 2020 didn’t really feel peculiar (although he does need to work on his conference catering if this situation continues …). I was also joined by my current working from home colleague, Ted the cat, who needs to work on his boundaries and interrupting with his wild theories and speculations.

The workshop was hosted by my Beyond Imagination colleagues Elisavet, Pinar and Adrian, who have been working hard for months now organising the workshop and developing the Percent Evaluation method. This new method provides researchers with “a practical method that helps them explore and plan a project’s evaluation from the early stages and embed evaluation processes into the project’s design”. As researchers, this can help us gather evidence for funders and stakeholders and understand the impact of our work. I haven’t undertaken any formal evaluation of research before and as researchers we often only think about evaluation at the end of projects and have to reflect retrospectively on what we have done. We are required by funders (such as UKRI) to consider the impact of our research, often at the bid stage (although pathways to impact are no longer included in bids) or when filling in annual returns such as Research Fish, where we capture engagement activities as well as academic outputs. Now that we must think about the Knowledge exchange framework (KEF)  it is even more important to understand the types of knowledge exchange we undertake as researchers, as well as the value of our research. As we are funded publicly and often carry out research outside of academia, whether with industry partners, local or national government and the public, it is important that we communicate our research in engaging ways.

Whilst at an early stage, the Percent Evaluation method will offer researchers the opportunity to work through an engaging website which will enable us to allocate both time and resources to embedding evaluation into our work. As a researcher in design for policy I am planning to trial this method as I work with Professor Rachel Cooper in developing an evaluation of Policy Lab, who are based in the UK Government. It feels a little meta, using a new evaluation method in an evaluation of an organisation, but it will be interesting to explore and understand the impact of our work not only with Policy Lab as stakeholders, but perhaps the wider group of citizens and government staff they work with.

This brings me neatly onto the other session I attended on Thursday … At the un-godly hour of 3.30am BST I attended the conversation about the development of a design for policy and governance SIG (PoGo SIG). Design for policy is an area of research that has been around for a while, but is becoming more widespread around the world at regional, national and international levels. Now, more than ever, governments are seeking to engage with the public and various governmental departments in developing policies that are not only based on hard data, but also on lived experience or ‘thick data’ (see this great blog by Dr Andrea Cooper, formerly of Policy Lab ). Design methods offer ways of engaging creatively with complexity and enable policy designers to envision alternative futures that can take into account a variety of possible outcomes. With the current global pandemic, we have seen policy design and implementation developed and implemented at rapid speed, with different outcomes.

It is great that the PoGo SIG is being developed, as it will enable researchers, designers and hopefully policy designers and makers to create a critical mass in this essential area of design research. The very nature of design research crosses disciplines, but at present we don’t really have a co-ordinated critical mass of researchers in this area, even though there is an increasing amount of excellent work being published from within and beyond academia.

Whilst we haven’t been able to enjoy the benefits of attending a conference in person, the sense of collegiality, the network, the coffee breaks or the after conference drinks, being able to attend remotely has given me the opportunity to join and reflect on my own direction in design research as an early career researcher. Being able to access papers after they have been presented is really great, and I wonder whether this type of remote access may be embraced by conference organisers in the future. One of the challenges is the extra time and resources required to offer online attendance, as well as attendance in person, but as we really start to think hard about whether we need to fly around the world to present for 15 minutes, now is the time for us to do it. And who else is better placed to find creative solutions to these challenges than the global design research community?