Eyes to the past, backs to the future
This is a quote from Elke Van Soom, a participant in a design thinking workshop I ran last week for the European Union's SmartCities project. The project involves countries from around the North Sea region of the EU, and has explored how citizens can be involved in the codesign of their public services, making services better by offering their own observations, ideas and review. It's a challenging process that many countries are working hard to make happen, with varying degrees of success.
Elke's background is in the business of creating and executing great surveys and workshops with citizens, to gain greater insight. Her view is that both those commissioning research, as well as certain participants, can have their "eyes to the past, backs to the future", and that research should only ever be taken as part of a wider recipe involving the expertise of institutes likes hers, as well as the gut feels of designers involved in the process.
In education (and plenty of other domains), I see so much behaviour like this: "we tried this before and it didn't work"; "it works for Norway but it'll never be that good for us"; "we're already so busy with the things we have to do now that we can't spare the time and energy to think about tomorrow, next year or beyond". The defeatest poverty of ambition exhibited by these words creates as much of a barrier to overcome as all the actual barriers that might need to be brought down, remodelled or pushed to one side.
Words are important. I think these eight - Eyes to the past, backs to the future - should be uttered every time someone says it's not possible. We must gather all the information we can on the real challenges before us, bring it together, invent ideas and then try them out before anyone can make the call as to whether they'll work or not.