Our research poster presentation sets out the pedagogical model underpinning CollaborativeFutures, which contributed to the conference’s lively discussions and debates by sharing our theoretical perspectives on the experiential and relational dimensions of future-focused design and how this informs a learning experience for students. This international conference brought together a diverse range of design educators, researchers and practitioners and provided us with a valuable opportunity to further build our knowledge-base and networks in this area.

CollaborativeFutures is an annual, live futures-focused project, which is a part of theMasters of European Design programme at the Innovation School, and which brings together final year product design students and early career design graduates to collaborate with an external industry partner to critically explore a key societal challenge. This project has been by developed by Kirsty Ross over the past six years and has been implemented in a range contexts, which includes exploring the future of social services with Hitachi; the future of banking with the Royal Bank of Scotland and, in the most recent iteration, the future of data experience with the Glasgow City Council. In this latest iteration, Dr Marianne McAra was the embedded researcher who, in parallel to researching the project process, also supported the student-graduate team in undertaking design-research in the areas of ethics, methods, modes of analysis and evaluation.

As an experiential learning process that is focused on the development of the students’ professional practice, the underpinning, studio-based pedagogical model scaffolds the students learning whilst seeking to emulate an authentic professional studio culture. As set out in our conference poster, the project takes place over three distinct phases, which each have a set of key deliverables. In phase one the team undertakes a period of discovery and problem-framing - scoping the context through combining a range of qualitative and quantitative research methods to identify key insights pertaining to the project brief. In phase two the team develops and prototypes their concepts - translating the research themes into a family of speculative knowledge artefacts. Typically this includes a physical future-focused world, a suite of future citizens who would populate neighbourhoods within the world, and a set of scenarios that characterise the citizens’ behaviours, attitudes and values and which narrate the interactions between them. These knowledge artefacts are then used as speculative tools in creative participatory workshops to further co-define the research with present-day citizens and stakeholders. In phase three the team delivers a fully realised suite of knowledge artefacts and a set of design recommendations and directions for the industry project partner to take forward in their future work.

We theoretically align the model to Lave and Wenger’s (1991,1998) community of practice framework in terms of understanding the discreet communities of practice that develop over the course of the project – both within the internal student-graduate team, as well as across the wider student-graduate/ industry partner team. Building on this, we have been researching the mediating role design plays here and how the creation of knowledge artefacts within speculative approaches can be used as boundary objects to support the participation of the project partners, stakeholders and citizens. A key learning for our students are insights into ways of setting up the conditions for successful collaboration. This challenges them to focus and utilise their product design practice not only as a material practice but also as a relational and experiential practice when engaging in multi-disciplinary collaboration and for exploring the notion of proximity – both physically and figuratively in terms of spaces, discourse and time (the past, present and the future) – as well as in terms of shifting between a plurality of present and speculative realities.

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