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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Investigating Innovation Practice: Cross-disciplinary Studies in International Development
by Gordon, Pierce Edward Cornelius, Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley, 2018, 288; 10829963
Abstract (Summary)

Innovation practice is a transdisciplinary field that aims to create a better world out of an existing one by pooling methods and mindsets of inquiry and creation. The field observes design contexts, assimilates the collected knowledge into problems to be addressed, ideates solutions to those problems, and iteratively tests those solutions in real environments to determine how they address these problems. Over the past decade, the field has become more accessible to a much broader collection of amateur designers. They utilize the field to understand more diverse contexts, to include and adapt more disciplines, and to address a wide variety of complex and seemingly intractable issues. Due to the evolution of the fields’ popularity, debates began to arise about the fields’ utility and place in society. Development professionals treated design thinking and related fields as a silver bullet that could easily address issues of global poverty. Critics asked if the field was different from existing disciplines, whether the field delivers demonstrable impact, and if the democratization of design practice to ‘amateur’ designers is even worthwhile. However, these debates revealed how little knowledge is collected about how practitioners conduct innovation practice in the first place. To learn about the activities, benefits, methods, and obstacles of beneficial development-focused design practice, I detail three studies that apply lenses of analysis to innovation narratives to see how various collectives of self-determined innovators actually practice their craft.

The first study outlines a systematic literature review of human-centered design for development. By applying design principles to a population of researcher-designers and their narratives, we learn if these designers actually practice innovation with these principles of human-centeredness in mind. I outline three previously conducted studies about the nature of this field, which describe the population, location, history, and methods these projects use across various contexts. and detail an analysis of the participatory nature of human-centered design for development. In so doing, I describe statistics about the prevalence of participatory design practice, reveal how the studies report the complexities of participation, and collect insights about the stakeholders who are allowed to design. The study then sums up the importance of investigative analysis methods across populations of design narratives, so that researchers can learn more about how ‘good practice’ is perceived.

The second study describes an ethnographic evaluation study of notable actors in the Botswana innovation community. This study begins with a reflection on epistemological frictions between the popular fields of innovation practice and impact evaluation. After revealing the theoretical and practical gaps in how innovators evaluate, I introduce the Botswana history, policies, and institutions that support innovation practice on the national level, while describing their activities and how innovation actors perceive them. I then detail the creation of a grassroots innovation community that practices participatory co-design of locally beneficial technologies by outlining the history of its indigenous stakeholders and describing an ethnographic narrative of two formative innovation workshops. I then describe the methods, approaches, purpose, and stakeholders involved in the evaluation of innovation in the local and national institutions. This analysis reveals evaluation tools applicable to many innovation contexts, and insights about how these evaluation approaches are aligned and misaligned with each other. Finally, I describe insights on the practice and facilitation of innovation in the country, to clarify cultural, institutional, and practical barriers and qualities that hinder the potential benefit of innovation.

The final study is a reflection on the inadequacies of ethics systems in Botswana to support beneficial innovation practice. While investigating the previous chapter, I happened upon narratives with no simple solutions, and few resources for development-centric designers to effectively navigate this ethics space. Moreover, while facing the country’s institutional review board system, I gained first-hand experience with the goals, dynamics, and limitations of the Botswana research system of ethics. This chapter unpacks how the ethical system fails to align with the needs of beneficial innovation practice and suggests theoretical alternatives to draw upon for future use.

This dissertation describes the complex possibilities of participatory design practice, the various goals, activities, and perceptions of the evolving Botswana innovation ecosystem, and details the frictions between the understudied field of ethics in design for development and existing institutions. These studies reveal how ‘good’ innovation practice is wholly based on the context it is applied: on its practitioners, their tools, their goals, the environment where it is used, and the stakeholders with whom the designers interact. Though these studies outline how the methods and mindsets of innovation practice are accessible to more communities than ever, it does not mean that innovation practice itself becomes simpler. (Abstract shortened by ProQuest.)

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Agogino, Alice M.
Commitee: Brown, Clair, Fraker, Harrison
School: University of California, Berkeley
Department: Energy & Resources
School Location: United States -- California
Source: DAI-A 80/03(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Design
Keywords: Botswana, Design thinking, Evaluation, Innovation practice, International development
Publication Number: 10829963
ISBN: 978-0-438-64262-1
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