WDCD Live Amsterdam 2016 report: What Design Can Do Against Violence

‘Gratifying to see that designers want to think with us’

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Published in WDCD by

‘People from the Public Prosecution Office who participated in this breakout were positively surprised about the willingness of designers and other participants to think with them about the issue of violence in society and what can be done against it,’ says Judith van Heems of the Public Prosecution Office, the host of this breakout.

The breakout followed a student project in which the Dutch Public Prosecution Office teamed up with What Design Can Do and the Rietveld art and design academy in Amsterdam. Students of Rietveld’s DesignLab were asked to come up with ideas that could help lift taboos around the subject of domestic and other forms of societal violence. The thought provoking results of this student challenge were exhibited in the atrium of the venue.

Silence around violence

With the cooperation of the Designthinkers Academy this breakout invited the participants to share their thoughts on how design can help fight taboos around violence and abuse in society. There is a lot of silence around such topics as child abuse – 119,000 victims each year in the Netherlands –, elder abuse, violence by higher educated people or alcohol-induced violence.

First, WDCD’s moderator David Kester told the participants about a project he led in 2011 when he was still the director of UK’s Design Council, in which designers worked on ways to reduce violence and aggression in accident and emergency departments of hospitals. With 150 incidents of violence a day in hospitals in the UK the NHS lost a least 69 million pound per year. Working in partnership with the Department of Health, the Design Council has run a UK-wide open innovation competition aimed at tackling this issue. The winning multidisciplinary team developed ideas for new communication systems, staff services and secure spaces and made a toolkit for the implementation.

Design Thinking

Next, Tim Schuurman of Designthinkers Academy presented a short introduction on the value and methodology of Design Thinking for societal issues like the one at hand in this breakout session. Schuurman then led the workshop in which the participants were asked to use the Designthinkers methodology to determine the direction of a solution for issues like modern slavery (including child labour), family safety, LGBT aggression in schools, or making people who witness violence to act and help.

Participants experienced how design thinking is much about posing the right questions, as guidance for the design research from which solutions can evolve. One and a half hour is too short to find really new and innovating answers to such heavy issues like street violence and family abuse.

Combined thinking power

Judith van Heems: ‘These are no minor issues and for us at the Prosecution Office it is very nice to see that people are willing to help. For our people, who are working with these issues on a daily basis in actual cases it is quite refreshing to discuss with others the more fundamental underlying societal issues. For them it is very educational to see what you can attain through combined thinking power. That is more important than finding concrete solutions; the awareness that ordinary people are willing to think along with them.’

For this reason Van Heems and her colleague Machteld van Barchjansen are hoping to continue the cooperation with WDCD and Rietveld Academy. Van Heemst: ‘It was gratifying to see that Prosecution Office people said they would like to give the project a sequel. There were also some ideas about bringing the student’s installations to the buildings of the Prosecution Office.’

All photos by Leo Veger

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