How do you get societal – as well as economic – value out of technological innovation?

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I was honoured to be invited to host a ‘cafe conversation’ at this year’s CSCLeaders event in Edinburgh last week with HRH Princess Anne and eighteen senior Commonwealth Leaders.

The Commonwealth Study Conference is global leadership programme for exceptional senior leaders selected each year from government, business and NGOs across the 53 countries of the Commonwealth.

Each year the organisation’s Think Tank sets a challenge for the participants, which addresses a fundamental issue. This year’s challenge is:

How do you get societal – as well as economic – value out of technological innovation?

The study group had spent several days on study visits seeing examples of how cutting edge technology might bring value to society. The cafe conversations, at the Whale Arts Centre in Wester Hailes enabled the CSCLeaders to reflect on their visits and think about what technology means in the context of use. My contribution was to talk about co-design and empathy and how people adopt technology when it reflects their needs and values. I talked about work that the Re.Design group have been involved in recently:

  • BESiDE project – how the design of care homes for older people either enable or disable social activities and exercise
  • Quantified Self, a student project driven by Microsoft in the US: ethnographic research undertaken in China, India, Germany and Brazil to understand the different meanings ascribed to the monitoring of personal data (diet, exercise weight etc.)
  • Kist with the Children’s Hospice Association (CHAS) to use digitally tagged objects to share the personhood of children who cannot talk.

My co-host, Alan Crawley from Optima Partners underlined how technology is a relatively small part of a solution – the experience and services that are created around the use of technology make the difference between adoption and failure.


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The enthusiasm and passion of the participants was incredible, with conversations around engaging people in education and health programmes and how to use co-design to effect policy and behaviour change.

Thanks go to Sarah Ronald from Nile Experience and Service Design  for connecting me to organiser Steve Plummer from Common Purpose.

Hazel White



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