Report on the Technopark Business Forum & Networking Event

Technopark embraces design thinking for its future!

On 9 November, the Stellenbosch Academy for Design and Photography hosted the second official Techno Park Business Forum and Networking Event for 2016. Fittingly, the theme for the evening was "design thinking": what does it entail in practice, and how can it be incorporated into your business?

At the previous Techno Park Business Forum event the discussion centred on business innovation during difficult economic times. Graham Smale, Director of Market Development and Innovation at the JSE, and Niclas Kjellström-Matseke, former CEO of the multi-billion rand Novamedia Swedish Postcode Lottery, gave inspiring talks that were followed by a lively debate on the current economic climate in South Africa. Stellenbosch Sakekamber were the official partners of the event.

This time round, the guest speakers were Abbas Jamie, Director of Innovation and Transformation (Africa) at Aurecon, and Richard Perez from the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design Thinking at the University of Cape Town (d-school). These two leading design-thinkers were asked to share their insights into the possibilities for using design thinking to re-imagine the future of Techno Park.

Jamie shared Aurecon's exciting vision for African cities. From the outset his talk offered a notion of multiple futures, suggesting that people's varying needs and aspirations mean that we cannot limit ourselves to imagining only one future city. Drawing on striking visual imagery to demonstrate the dangers of a single vision of the future, Jamie emphasized the need to leapfrog dirty, outdated technologies through innovation, knowledge and new African experiences.

Abbas Jamie

He also spoke about the considerable challenges created by mass urbanization in Africa. As more and more people move into cities, an inordinate amount of pressure is placed on infrastructure. To address the problem, one could import solutions – or one could create uniquely African ones.

"If African cities are going to rise to the challenge of the 21st century, it is essential for Africa to take control of its destiny and to be the architects of what a future city can look like on this continent. It is no longer good enough to implement innovation, technology and infrastructure solutions without having a clear, high-level integrated developmental plan that has been developed by Africans, for Africa," he said.

Design thinking means considering the end-user experience within an integrated development plan that draws on economic, political, social, enviromental, financial, technical and urban planning elements. An important aim of such a plan is to address poverty and inequality. Design thinking also entails taking the time to think about each challenge in a distinct way, rather than simply leaping in with pre-defined solutions. In the "smart city" space, for example, large corporations often have pre-made solutions that demand specific technological criteria, which may not be suitable for African challenges. Africans would be better served to develop and implement their own novel solutions.

Jamie presented the audience with a vision for future cities that is held by the South African government: "Liveable, safe, resource-efficient cities and towns that are socially integrated, economically inclusive and globally competitive, where residents actively participate in urban life." Linking this vision to Techno Park and its mission to "enable and create a sustainable and innovative business community," he suggested in closing that it may be feasible to align such a project with the government's vision for future cities, creating a shared set of prerogatives that would make future conversations between Techno Park and the government easier.

Jamie's talk paved the way for a discussion about the potential of Techno Park as an environment for living, working, playing and innovation. Dr Pieter van Heyningen of SustNet, a consultant for the Techno Park management body and convener of the Business Forum Event, explained the process currently underway whereby Techno Park was submitting a future vision and strategy to Stellenbosch Municipality, in accordance with their recently launched integrated development plan (IDP). There was agreement among discussants that Techno Park should work towards taking control of its own destiny and future plans – an opportunity that can be utilized via the design-thinking process. Audience members further suggested that more work be done to get to know the real needs of those who work in the Park, and who use it daily.

Richard Perez from d.school took the platform next. If Jamie's talk had focused on the practical implemenation of design thinking, Perez delved into our understanding of design thinking as a methodology. After briefly introducing the origins of the design school in Stanford and Potsdam, he explained that design thinking is not necessarily about design itself, but focuses rather on on the process behind design – hence the name "desing thinking".

Richard Perez

Like Jamie, Perez emphasized the importance of the process involved in really understanding a complex – or "wicked" problem. These problems usually do not have simple or single points of origin, and therefore it is unlikely that they will have simple solutions. Design thinking devotes a lot of time to understanding the problem, thus ensuring the best possible outcome. "We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used to create them," said Perez, quoting Einstein. Design thinking, in this instance, becomes a key driver of innovation and new outcomes.

Those in attendance were treated to a few interesting perspectives on how design thinking could be used to come up with novel solutions. Thus, an active process of emphathizing becomes part of the cycle of observing and understanding problems, after which a "point-of-view" is created to reframe a given issue. An adaptive process of ideation, prototyping and testing can then be used (and repeated) to come up with the most suitable solution to a complex problem.

Perez's talk opens the door for new ways to develop the future concept of Techno Park, namely through a design-thinking process of testing and refining ideas with the various stakeholders in the community. The process of developing the best possible future scenario for Techno Park has already begun – a strategy for comment will be made available in due course. We encourage everyone who attended the fascinating event – as well as those who couldn't make it this time – to become a part of the design-thinking process for creating the future of Techno Park.

The event was organized and facilitated by Dr. Pieter van Heyningen of SustNet. SustNet has been contracted by the Techno Park management body to assist with various projects including the future strategy of Technopark. The aim of the TechnoPark Business Forums are to begin to build the innovation community, and the business networks inside – as well as outside – the Park.

 

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