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Designing solutions to wicked problems: a manifesto for transdisciplinary research and design

Architecture Sustainability Social issues Urban planning Innovation User-centred design Australia

The Transdisciplinary Research and Design Symposium aimed to take stock of the state of transdisciplinary practice across the various domains in which it appears most advanced, seeking to distil lessons and a working set of practice principles. The symposium ran for a day and a half. It involved a series of provocations and the active engagement of the specially invited participants in teasing out new and creative approaches to finding good solutions to the wicked and pressing complex problems of our day. The symposium was developed with a key undercurrent: What extended role might design research play in amplifying the effectiveness of good solutions?

Such a discussion has been timely and relevant because transdisciplinary approaches and capabilities are fundamental to mission-directed research and to the development of concrete solutions to the twenty-first century’s wicked problems. This symposium on extra-disciplinary life raises four key issues

1    It recognises the dual challenges and imperatives of science and research in the twenty-first century: we need excellence and depths in disciplinary fields, but we also need to pursue excellence and breadth in cross- disciplinary capabilities for translational research and for embedding science and technological capability within industrial practice and service delivery.

2    It goes to the nub of the challenge of collaboration. Governments have put a lot of effort into funding programmes to support collaborations, but globally we have not made as much progress as we should in how to make collaboration productive in practice. How do we shape truly cross-disciplinary teams, programmes and institutions that go beyond mere co-investment?

3    It goes to the nub of the challenge of how to bring the humanities and social sciences in from the cold and, in the process, reinvigorate and re-energise the humanities and perceptions of their contribution to major national and social issues.

4    It acknowledges that design and design research practice are at the heart of all this – the design of good solutions and problem-solving, and the architecture of mobilising effort around major challenges and ‘wicked problems’. It is no accident that we have always tended to use architectural and design metaphors; in doing so we have perhaps recognised that this is more than a metaphor and have been half- consciously acknowledging that design and design processes matter. Design applies as much to systems as to objects, so that the term design covers creative input wherever it might be applied usefully.

In the lead-up to the symposium, participants were invited to consider the following key questions and to respond with brief ‘provocations’ to stimulate thinking in advance of the gathering. (These thoughtful contributions are published at the end of these proceedings.) The questions provided the themes that shaped the programme for the forum.

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