Daily Reflection 22: DESMA Kick-Off

With another hectic couple of weeks I have fallen behind on the daily reflections, but I hope to regain some consistency in my daily reflections starting today. Before I make it to new thoughts on my work I have to summarize some of my activity from the past two weeks, starting with the DESMA kick-off.

The first meeting for all of the DESMA partners took place November 20-22 in Milan, Italy. It was a chance for introductions among the researchers and partner organizations, and also a chance to start developing the forum for the DESMA network. My anticipation for this kick-off had been building since I arrived in Sweden and it was great to finally begin the process of forming our network. From the beginning there was an air of excitement throughout the whole event. On the first night, the researchers and their university advisors met over dinner. In speaking with the other researchers, it was clear that we all saw DESMA as an incredible opportunity, but many of our conversations were left open-ended until the following day when we would actually start sharing initiatives for the network. Therefore the first evening served primarily as a chance to get to know our fellow researchers, as we are positioned throughout Europe and come from all over the world. Currently, the DESMA network consists of researchers from Argentina, Belgium, Colombia, Germany, Mexico, Portugal, Spain, and the United States, who are connected to academic and professional organizations in England, Finland, Italy, and Sweden. Needless to say, there were plenty of perspectives and stories to share over the course of the entire trip.

In the morning, the official program began with presentations from the four university partners. From the presentations, it was clear that each university brings a unique perspective and area of expertise to design management. Hearing the varying of approaches to studying design management highlighted both the challenge and strength of the DESMA initiative. Clearly, we will have the opportunity to grapple with many viewpoints and vocabularies related to design management. After the university presentations, it was time for the researchers to introduce ourselves. Overall, the presentations were short and focused primarily on our personal history, our research topics in the DESMA program, and what we hope for from participating in DESMA. Although we are all early in the research process, it was interesting to see the diverse collection of backgrounds and interests ranging from lighting design to social innovation. Unfortunately, in this early state and with so many of us, it was hard to get feedback on our research direction. Many of my conversations were inspiring rather than critical, which seemed appropriate at this stage in our work. After finishing our introductory presentations, it was time to start imagining what a European Design Management forum might look like. Prior to the meeting, each researcher was asked to prepare three proposals for initiatives that could be implemented as part of the DESMA forum. As we presented our initiatives were sorted into four categories: education, internal communication, external communication, and research. Afterward we split up into groups and had an hour to develop a single initiative based on the early proposals that we would then present to the industrial partners the next and final day. It was a fun exercise and it felt good to “get our hands dirty” in an activity. My group focused on an education initiative titled “education bootcamps” that seeks to create provocative conversations among researchers and industrial partners based around real problems in professional practice. In our proposal, the DESMA researchers would have a chance to take a stab at solving a problem related to a project from one of the industrial partners in the network. However, after presenting our concept, the main feedback provided by the industrial partners suggested that we focus less on developing solutions and more on reframing problems. It does seem that the best use of our knowledge and experience as researchers, is to investigate problems from multiple perspectives that professionals might not have the time, resources, or expertise to pursue. Overall, each of the proposals generated a good amount of discussion and it was a great start to establishing a base for our network.

On the last morning, the industrial partners took some time to present their companies and their hopes for the DESMA network. Listening to the professionals describe their work was a good contrast to the more academic tone of the previous two days. In general, the professionals reinforced the perspective that our network is about much more than academic research. One discussion in particular stayed with me after the event. Towards the end of the day, the question arose: what will make the DESMA network survive? I took away two lessons from the discussion. First, what is the business value in what we are doing? Second, how do we create a culture of commitment to our network? I see these as two pivotal questions moving forward. Right now, it is easy to see that everyone is excited and committed to the idea of DESMA. However, there will need to be some serious effort to maintain active, meaningful, and valuable engagement for all of our stakeholders. Our next steps for the DESMA network are to establish a prototype communication platform. Along with a few others, I’ll be spearheading the effort to get something up and running where we can test ways to share our work. We have some ambitious goals that I look forward to tackling over the next couple weeks!