Research

Looking for new design thinking-related academic research? Expand the sections below to find selected works from Elon University faculty about design thinking, collaboration, and community engagement.


Design Thinking Research


The Power and Place Collaborative: Participatory strategies for scaling
Danielle Lake, David Marshall, Rozana Carducci, Tracey Thurnes 2023
Abstract:

To challenge unidirectional, colonizing, and capitalist frameworks of scaling systems change, this article offers alternative strategies for design practitioners, educators, and researchers interested in diverse forms of scaling change across complex social systems. In particular, the article analyzes a participatory and transdisciplinary approach to systemic design practice and education that illustrates the process and benefits of scaling across, deep, in, scree, and long. The Power and Place Collaborative is a community-first, equity-centered, emergent, and situated educational approach to designing complex social systems change. An analysis of the Collaborative’s dynamic processes, activities, and relationships provides a case study on the possibility of imagining, creating, and sustaining community partnerships that scale meaningful change at multiple levels and in diverse contexts. Drawing upon data collected from a mixed-method explanatory inquiry project, this article describes strategies for intentionally designing systems of change that can be scaled in multiple ways, including building relationships, transforming mental models, and co-creation of responses to complex problems. Design professionals seeking to develop assessment plans that capture the emergent, embodied, relational, and situated nature of systemic design and its outcomes will likely find this study’s longitudinal, mixed methods research approach to be an instructive disruption of conventional inquiry processes.

Design thinking community health & well-being: Creating with and for community capacities
Danielle Lake, Phillip Motley, Megan Casner, Kathleen Flannery June 2022
Abstract:

This paper shares initial findings from an ongoing study assessing the value and limitations of a two-year community-engaged design thinking initiative intended to foster more inclusive and holistic public health community-based innovations with underserved communities across one county in the southeast U.S. The initiative hopes to institutionalize and socialize community-based design within a public health framework and build organizational and individual capacities. Initial findings indicate that participants find value in design thinking tools and processes, and that such processes have transformed mental models, fostered relationships, and built skills for participants’ professional, civic, and personal lives. Findings also surfaced challenges related to power inequities, a lack of alignment between grant initiative requirements and participant needs, as well as rapidly evolving guidelines and divergent capacities. Recommendations for researchers and practitioners are noted, including pursuing a relationship-rich design practice, investing time and energy in framing issues of power and positionality, ensuring long-term and flexible access to resources, and creating consistent visual validation across the initiative.

(Re)Place Pedagogies for Remaking Place and Spaces Together
Danielle Lake, Vanessa Drew-Branch, Sandy Marshall, Bobbi Ruffin, Shineece Sellars December 2021
Abstract:

To challenge unidirectional, colonizing, and capitalist frameworks of scaling systems change, this article offers alternative strategies for design practitioners, educators, and researchers interested in diverse forms of scaling change across complex social systems. In particular, the article analyzes a participatory and transdisciplinary approach to systemic design practice and education that illustrates the process and benefits of scaling across, deep, in, scree, and long. The Power and Place Collaborative is a community-first, equity-centered, emergent, and situated educational approach to designing complex social systems change. An analysis of the Collaborative’s dynamic processes, activities, and relationships provides a case study on the possibility of imagining, creating, and sustaining community partnerships that scale meaningful change at multiple levels and in diverse contexts. Drawing upon data collected from a mixed-method explanatory inquiry project, this article describes strategies for intentionally designing systems of change that can be scaled in multiple ways, including building relationships, transforming mental models, and co-creation of responses to complex problems. Design professionals seeking to develop assessment plans that capture the emergent, embodied, relational, and situated nature of systemic design and its outcomes will likely find this study’s longitudinal, mixed methods research approach to be an instructive disruption of conventional inquiry processes.

Abstract:

“While studying abroad is often seen as a primary pathway towards global education and cultural humility, it can be impractical, inequitable, unsustainable, and questionable as a method of intercultural learning (Hartman et al. 2020; Wick et al. 2019). Meanwhile, often overlooked forms of boundary crossing—including intercultural service learning with migrants and refugees (De Leon 2014), engagement in intentionally multicultural group work (Reed & Garson 2017), critical service learning (Mitchell 2007), and liberatory decolonizing pedagogies (Constanza-Chock 2020), have proven effective in contributing to intercultural learning. However, even these proximat forms of face-to-face global learning have become a challenge in the era of social distancing and remote instruction. Rather than conceptualizing global citizenship education as only taking place in a particular global context necessitating international border crossing, we explore how interdisciplinary, intergenerational, and interracial collaboration, as carried out through in-person campus/community partnerships and remote translocal connections, can foster intercultural learning. In order to contribute to critical and emerging conversations around diversity, inclusion, and equity in global education, we outline our process, initial findings, and tentative recommendations from the design and facilitation of a cross-course community-based learning project with a local African American history organization and community center under conditions of social distancing over the fall of 2020.”

Abstract:

“This study explores the benefits and challenges of immersive, design thinking, and community-engaged pedagogies for supporting social innovation within higher education; assess the impact of such approaches across stakeholder groups through long-term retrospective analysis of transdisciplinary and cross-stakeholder work; offer an approach to ecosystems design and analysis that accounts for complex system dynamics in higher education partnerships.
This paper identifies how innovative higher education programs are forced to navigate structural, epistemological, and ethical quandaries when engaging in community-involved work. Sustainable innovation requires such programs to work within institutional structures while simultaneously disrupting entrenched structures, practices, and processes within the system.
Social innovation in higher education could benefit from harnessing lessons from collective impact and ecosystem design frameworks. In addition, we argue higher education institutions should commit to studying longitudinal effects of innovative pedagogical environments across multiple stakeholder perspectives and contexts. This study closes these gaps by advancing an ecosystems model for both long-term and longitudinal assessment that captures the impact of such approaches across stakeholder groups and developing an approach to designing and assessing community-involved collaborative learning ecosystems (CiCLE).”

Abstract:

“This paper describes the makerspace challenge, an experiential assignment that builds foundational entrepreneurial competencies through the creation of artifacts within campus makerspaces. This assignment strengthens student ability to navigate ambiguity, learn new technologies, effectively utilize resources, and bring creative ideas to reality in a low stakes supportive environment. Students choose 3 out of 4 pre-identified projects to complete outside of class over a three week period, presenting a tangible artifact in-class each week. Grounded in constructionist pedagogy, this assignment is particularly appropriate for introductory entrepreneurship courses, but can easily be scaffolded to be applicable throughout the entrepreneurship curriculum.”

Abstract:

“This article examines the merits and challenges of catalyzing institution-wide community engagement through onboarding successive engaged department cohorts. Building upon previous findings, it tests the hypothesis that deep and integrated community engagement within departments can be leveraged into pervasive engagement across an institution, exploring critical challenges to fostering collaborative, scaffolded, and sustained community engagement and offering recommendations. Such initiatives have been designed and piloted across the United States as a possible starting point for shifting often temporary, fragmented, and isolated community engagement efforts to collaborative and sustainable engagement opportunities that span programs of study. This cross-institutional and multi-departmental case study analyzes these claims, documenting the lessons learned from two successive initiatives encompassing 10 engaged departments across three institutions of higher education in the Midwest. Research harnesses traditional surveys, faculty, community, and leadership interviews, initiative reporting documents, as well as systemic action research practices. Through a cross-departmental and institutional comparison analysis, the researchers highlight the most challenging barriers and promising interventions to overcome the one-and-done model of previous engagement efforts.”

Abstract:

“In response to the challenges presented by traditional university and classroom structures, this article offers a set of hybrid pedagogical strategies for transdisciplinary, collaborative, community-based learning that responds to a “real-world need” in “real time.” These strategies emerge from “Design Thinking to Meet Real World Needs,” a project-based general education undergraduate course that harnesses best practices from research on design thinking, transdisciplinarity, and sustainability science. Seeking to inspire empathetic listening and creative confidence (Kelley & Kelley, 2013), the course begins in partnership and in place, engaging students in collaborative participatory action. Emphasizing integration, iteration, ideation, and implementation, the course encourages students to innovate in order to address a local wicked problem. This article is particularly relevant for educators and administrators hoping to catalyze innovative co-participatory engagement projects that move beyond traditional university structures and thus engage more directly with the needs of the community.”

Abstract:

“Closing the gap between public education and the public, addressing “real” community problems in “real” time, and preparing students to meliorate intractable challenges is–and has been–a consistent challenge within higher education. Increasing tuition costs, shrinking public budgets, instantaneous around-the-clock access to information, and massive open online classes also challenge conventional academic structures. In truth, however, concerns about the role of higher education and it’s disconnect from public needs are not new. A persistent lack of focus on social literacy, local and global policy, public action, and collaboration within higher education impedes the ability to view–let alone effectively address–the complex, interconnected, systemic challenges we are facing across the globe.  Indeed, the dominant structures, processes, and cultures within higher education present serious barriers to our ability to collaboratively address these public problems.
We argue higher education can better respond to these challenges by more fully committing itself to not only (1) collaboratively generating and disseminating knowledge and skills, but also by (2) connecting the production of knowledge to its use (3) fostering the capacity for these practices, and (4) operating as a boundary spanning space, working to train students as boundary-spanners (people who cross worlds, drawing together stakeholders across difference in order to address social challenges). Indeed, we believe this is the purpose of higher education. This essay explicates this philosophic approach to higher education, documents how we have instantiated it at our own institution, and highlights the lessons learned. In particular, we suggest feminist pragmatism, the movement towards public engagement, and the field of transdisciplinarity offer a vision for—and effective approach to—collaborative engagement. When taken together and applied in the academy, these fields offer a vision, path, and set of tools for remaking the academy as a place where collaborative engagement work is not only supported and promoted, but integrated into the very framework and culture of the institution itself.”

De-disciplining and Democratizing Design Thinking Pedagogies in Higher Education
Lake, D. Guo, W., Chen, L, & McLaughlin, J. January 2022

Abstract:

This article builds upon current research to understand the value and limitations of teaching and learning design thinking (DT) in higher education. We implemented a mixed-methods study with faculty and students across 23 diverse courses in four higher education institutions in the United States. Findings showed that following structured learning processes, engaging in active listening, and focusing on others’ perspectives were the most valued DT practices across disciplines. In contrast, prototyping and experimentation were the least used DT practices, with widely varying understandings across disciplines. Additionally, we found consistent evidence that DT can support liberatory teaching and learning practices that decolonize students’ perceptions of power, encourage situated and action-oriented empathy, and provide opportunities for co-creation. This is particularly true when faculty intentionally encourage collaboration and project framing focused on critically analyzing dominant ways of knowing and power structures. Our analysis further revealed the challenges and importance of prototyping and conducting experiments with project partners. Ultimately, this approach can significantly enhance liberatory project outcomes and facilitate decolonized learning experiences. Given our findings, we point out limitations and challenges across current DT pedagogical practices and provide recommendations for integrating DT practices across disciplines in ways that center on issues of systemic oppression, social identity, and human-environmental relationships.

Faculty Experiences and Motivation in Design Thinking Teaching and Learning
Jacqueline E. McLaughlin, Danielle Lake, Elizabeth Chen, Wen Guo, McKenna Knock, Steve Knotek June 2023
Abstract:

Introduction: Design thinking (DT) is a creative, iterative approach to generating solutions that are desirable, feasible, and viable. Given its role in fostering creativity and innovation, a growing number of higher education instructors are teaching DT. Exploring how and what instructors know about DT and why they might teach it could provide critical insight into the ways in which DT is operationalized in higher education teaching and learning.

Materials and methods: A convergent parallel mixed methods design was used for data collected from online surveys administered to faculty teaching DT. The survey included items about DT practices, outcomes from DT, demographic characteristics, and course characteristics. Five open-text survey items queried participants about their definition of DT, why they teach DT, and what additional outcomes they observed. Descriptive statistics were used to analyze quantitative items and thematic analysis was used to analyze qualitative items.

Results: Participants (n = 49) represented various academic ranks, disciplines, types of institutions, and geographic locations. Analyses indicated clear congruence between quantitative and qualitative data. Definitions of DT aligned with well-known models of DT. Motivations for teaching DT included the promotion of personal development, DT proficiency, impact, and interpersonal skill development. Other positive student outcomes observed included increases in enthusiasm, self-awareness, empowerment, optimism, and a sense of belonging. Negative student outcomes included time constraints, teamwork conflicts, and student frustration.

Conclusion: Faculty believe that DT leads to highly valuable social innovation skill sets for students. This cross-institutional, multi-disciplinary study provides critical insight into faculty experiences and motivations for teaching DT, offering various strategies for instructors and institutions interested in fostering the uptake of DT within higher education.

Design thinking teaching and learning in higher education: Experiences across four universities
Jacqueline E. McLaughlin, Elizabeth Chen, Danielle Lake, Wen Guo, Emily Rose Skywark, Aria Chernik, Tsailu Liu March 2022

Abstract:

“A growing body of literature highlights the increasing demand on college graduates to possess the problem finding, problem framing, and problem-solving skills necessary to address complex real-world challenges. Design thinking (DT) is an iterative, human-centered approach to problem solving that synthesizes what is desirable, equitable, technologically feasible, and sustainable. As universities expand efforts to train students with DT mindsets and skills, we must assess faculty and student DT practices and outcomes to better understand DT course experiences. Understanding how DT is taught and experienced within higher education can help schools promote student learning and align their training programs with professional, personal, and civic needs. In this study, surveys were completed by 19 faculty and 196 students from 23 courses at four universities. DT teaching and learning was characterized by three DT practices and five outcomes. Statistically significant differences were found by discipline of study and student type (i.e., graduate vs undergraduate), but not by gender or race/ethnicity. These results can be used to inform the development of classroom-based DT teaching and learning strategies across higher education institutions and disciplines.”

Abstract:

“This mixed method study investigated design thinking (DT) practices and outcomes from across disciplinary frameworks within one institution of higher education. Building upon prior DT studies, it examined three interlocking research questions: What DT practices are being implemented across the curriculum? What kinds of outcomes do faculty observe? What are the significant relationships between particular practices and observed outcomes? Thirty-five courses were examined via a faculty survey adapted from Liedtka and Bahr (2019), and a semi-structured interview created by Lake, Ricco, and Whipps (2018). In alignment with liberal arts educational practices, the most frequently utilized DT practices included working in teams that recognize diverse contributions and engag- ing in active listening in order to find shared meaning. Consistent with expectations for project- and team-based courses, faculty felt such practices yielded valued outcomes, concluding DT practices built trust across teams and increased the quality of solutions. Relationships between practices and outcomes revealed the utilization of more ethno- graphic tools was associated with a lower frequency of expanding relationships and resources, and that a greater focus on design criteria to find an ideal solution hampered efforts towards trust building. These findings suggest DT requires time and trust which can be constrained by the imposed deadlines of semester-based projects. The survey and interviews pointed to both similarities and differences between disciplines in DT prac- tices. Future research investigating design thinking pedagogy should include faculty, students, and stakeholders with multiple touchpoints for assessment to identify learning experiences that build change-making capacities and yield genuinely valuable and viable real world projects.”

Abstract:

“The essays in Pragmatist and American Philosophical Perspectives on Resilience offer a survey of the ways that “resilience” is becoming a key concept for understanding our world, as well as providing deeper insight about its specific actual and proposed applications. As a concept with multiple theoretical and practical meanings, “resilience” promises considerable explanatory power. At the same time, current uses of the concept can be diverse and at times inconsistent. The American philosophical tradition provides tools uniquely suited for clarifying, extending, and applying emerging concepts in more effective and suggestive ways. This collection explores the usefulness of theoretical work in American philosophy and pragmatism to practices in ecology, community, rurality, and psychology.”

Abstract:

“Higher education institutions are continually seeking to recruit nontraditional adult students yet struggle at the same time to meet their needs effectively. The following case study offers strategies to address this situation by documenting the pedagogical design and initial outcomes of an interdisciplinary, nineteen-month leadershipthemed liberal studies undergraduate degree completion program at Grand Valley State University. As an innovative, accelerated, hybrid cohort model, it incorporates a wide range of high-impact practices focused on developing the skills leaders use and employers require. The curriculum integrates practices from motivational and experiential learning, community-based learning, and design thinking to scaffold students’ learning across their courses. The program thereby encourages students to wrestle with the complexity of social issues in their communities and develop the skills and virtues necessary for addressing those problems. As a case study, this article is particularly relevant for educators and administrators hoping to uncover a means for catalyzing innovative co-participatory engagement projects that engage with the needs of the surrounding community in a format supportive of nontraditional learners.”

Participating in the Pluriverse from within the Academy

Changemaker Assessment as Participatory Action Research: Strategies for Cross-Campus Collaboration

Mapping the Terrain of Design Thinking Pedagogies and Outcome: Cross-institutional, longitudinal research

Dr. Danielle Lake, Wen Guo
October 2020

Abstract:

“This paper aims to spark collaborative, action-oriented research opportunities around design thinking, systems thinking, and civic engagement within higher education by 1) highlighting innovative practices emerging from overlapping fields and 2) summarizing current case study research informed by these methods.A number of critical questions foreground this research: How have higher education institutions
integrated design and systems thinking in order to address wicked problems in their local and global communities? What has this work accomplished and what might it accomplish? How might stakeholders embedded within these systems reshape the structures and cultures of higher education in order to generate more inclusive and just impact?”