Public Collaboration Lab

Principal Investigator:Professor Adam Thorpe, Principal Investigator, Professor in Socially Responsive Design, Co-Director of the Design Against Crime Research Centre (DACRC) and founder of UAL’s DESIS (Design for Social Innovation and Sustainability) Lab
College:Central Saint Martins

Project Summary

The Public Collaboration Lab research project explores the potential for, and value of, strategic collaboration between design education and local government. Research partners University of the Arts London and London Borough of Camden have received funding by the Arts and Humanities Research Council to prototype and pilot new ways of working that identify and amplify the synergies between the operational objectives of local government and the learning objectives of design education.

London Borough of Camden is seeking new ways to meet the challenge of improving outcomes for citizens in the face of significant reductions in Central Government funding. This innovative partnership will deliver a series of live projects that bring additional design capacity to London Borough of Camden to tackle local challenges working with local people whilst also providing a unique learning environment for design students and researchers.

The project aims to explore how design research and practice can contribute to social innovation and policy innovation in the local government context. In this way the research explores the potential for collaborative design activities to democratize innovation and improve public outcomes.

In exploring the specific role for design higher education in this context the research will identify the models, frameworks and practices that work best in bringing together local government, design research (and design higher education more widely), and other actors and agencies in order to facilitate collaborative actions that deliver societal benefit. 

The Lab will be based at Camden’s 5 Pancras Square in a designated space that will be conducive to creative and collaborative working during this important first year of the project. The space is currently under development and the team are planning to ‘pop up’ on various floors at 5PS and in other Council buildings to interact with a wide range of officers and to make the Lab more visible and accessible.

Progress so far

Since May 2015, the Lab team have been working with the Camden Library Service to assist with the informal engagement on the run-up to the statutory consultation process to reshape the service to save £800k by 2017/18 as part of the Council’s Medium-Term Financial Strategy programme.  A group of MA Industrial Design students, supported by lab researchers and council officers, engaged with over 250 library customers and non-users face-to-face, using games and tools they designed themselves, to spark conversations about what libraries mean to people today and to imagine what they will look like in the future. 

In addition, the Lab is also looking at co-designing alternative models of delivery for the Home Library Service, which provides a delivery service of books, DVDs and other library materials to approximately 500 housebound customers in Camden, many of whom are likely to be users of adult social care services and/or may be at high risk of social isolation. This project is being delivered by MA Service Design students, supported by lab researchers and council officers. The project is receiving input from a wide and diverse cohort of council staff across service areas via collaborative design workshops that also serve to share design methods and approaches with council officers.

There are several other projects in the planning stages that aim to kick off in 2016.