UTDesignLabResponsible Futuring

Co-shaping the futures we want to live in

Today’s challenges are more complex than ever because they are part of complex societal, technological and environmental systems. And this does not only apply to the Covid-19 crisis. Many other challenges plague our society. Challenges are interrelated: tackling one today might raise issues tomorrow. Solutions that work in a context, might break into another. How to deal with our complex world, then?

Beyond disciplinary domains

DesignLab developed the Responsible Futuring approach that builds upon the designerly tradition of design thinking (i.e., Dorst and Cross). It combines trans-disciplinary practices, responsible design and social involvement for societal impact through for example citizen science. The approach strives to enable creative collaboration and knowledge flow between engineers, social scientists, businesses, policymakers, and citizens. It values stakeholders' expertise, yet, it stimulates stakeholders to go beyond disciplinary domains to become agents of change.

We must take into account that tackling a challenge takes enormous social and moral efforts. Whatever solution we come up with, a technology, a product or a service, the intervention shapes us: it changes the way we interact and the way we live. It influences our norms and values in multiple and often unforeseen ways. It shapes human actions and practices.

Promoting partnership

Many researchers already embrace transdisciplinary practices, but in most projects, researchers retain the role of facilitator and provider of knowledge. We believe that the expertise of citizens, industry, government, scientists and designers should be valued equally. We should promote a partnership in the design process: mindful of differences and capitalising on the knowledge that each stakeholder can bring in the collaboration. Other approaches and frameworks share our transdisciplinary focus, but they do not enable fully critical co-creation, co-design, co-imagination focusing on decision-making processes rather than shaping processes.

Responsible Futuring is an approach to deal with complex societal challenges and positively impact the society of the now and future. DesignLab's approach is meant to enable societal stakeholders to reflect and understand a societal challenge and shape responsible technology and human-technology relations. Rather than starting from solutions and technology, our approach starts from society and its challenges. Responsible Futuring offers a combination of transdisciplinary practices, responsible design and co-design with societal stakeholders that makes it stand out in the current state of the art.

Responsible futuring

Responsibly co-shape societal challenges

Responsible Futuring is a way to responsibly co-shape societal challenges and design the futures we want to live in. As such the approach strives to:

As such, Responsible Futuring enables academics, industry, government, students and citizens to be aware of their role, reflect on the short-term and long-term impact of ideas and technologies and ideate potential solutions with moral imagination.

Phases of Responsible Futuring

DesignLab’s Responsible Futuring is modular. Each phase can be combined with the other or it can work as a stand-alone set of activities. Hence, before starting a project, during the development of the project it is fundamental to decide which phases make sense for the goal of the project. For example, if researchers and societal stakeholders are trying to understand how to design a technology in a responsible way, all the phases of the approach might be relevant. Conversely, if a project is about enabling various stakeholders to communicate about a specific challenge, only the Connect and Relate Phase might be needed.

  • Phase 1: Connect and Relate

    The first phase is meant to establish trans-disciplinary collaboration and engage multiple stakeholders. Three aspects are fundamental at this stage: awareness of responsibilities, awareness of different worldviews and perspectives, and motivation to take agency on the societal challenge. Therefore, the main goal of this phase is to connect knowledge flows and expertise, identify roles and responsibilities and explore perspectives.

  • Phase 2: Understand and Frame

    In this phase, the trans-disciplinary team focuses on understanding the challenge. What is the nature of the challenge? Are the problems we see in the challenge really as they seem? The team needs to research the context, the people and the dynamics along with the values, norms and behaviours of people in context. And connect with existing research on the matter and discuss it critically, including perspectives from industry, government and societal stakeholders. The outcome of this phase is a new way of looking at the challenge, informed by collaborative research.

  • Phase 3: Imagine and Ideate

    In this phase, the trans-disciplinary team collaboratively imagine and ideate tangible ideas to tackle the societal challenge and realize opportunities. They do so by imagining how the preferable immediate and long-term future could look like. Tangible scenarios are developed and reflected upon, taking values and ethics into account. The outcome of this phase are tangible ideas and in-depth reflections about these ideas.

  • Phase 4: Reflect and Reframe

    In this phase, the trans-disciplinary team looks back at the previous phases and what they have learned. The team engages in moral reflection asking: Does the idea reflect the values of people? What can go wrong and what is good? What is the impact on the near- and long-term future? What have we learned? How could we bring our insights further to tackle the societal challenge and realize opportunities? The main outcomes of these phases are in-depth analysis and insights; and a tangible roadmap to tackle the challenge.

DesignLab's areas of expertise

At DesignLab, all our efforts are geared towards making a positive impact on people's daily lives. Together with our many partners, we translate societal challenges into research questions and practical solutions by applying science and technology. The common thread in our myriad of activities are our three focus areas:

These themes are interconnected and together make for DesignLab's characteristic way of working. They contribute to realising the goals of Shaping 2030, UT's strategy to build a new type of university by 2030.