The demands on education in the twenty-first century are unprecedented. New technology, changes to information flows and automation are changing our lives, but classroom education still looks very much like it did in the nineteenth century.
How do you transform learning in an increasingly interconnected and complex world and ensure every child in every classroom has the best opportunity to thrive? This is the challenge that Catholic Education Western Australia, a 162-school education system, was facing when they approached Knowledge Society to help design the solution.
Innovation capability building
Catholic Education Western Australia understands that it can no longer rely on top-down management from a central head office to design solutions that will work in all classroom contexts. Knowledge Society established a three-month innovation accelerator that enabled teachers, school leaders and central office staff to work alongside our team to learn and practice design thinking, a proven discipline for realising ideas and solving problems.
Design thinking is an approach that starts from understanding that the best people to design solutions are the ones closest to the problems. The accelerator created a climate of confidence and permission to allow innovation to be driven from the classroom and school, not just the centre. It gave educators from across the system the knowledge, confidence and agency to shape the future of Catholic education.
‘When you work in an old-school environment, you can try to change things but are constantly told ‘no’. Walking into Studio Curious took me back to a flame that was almost out and re-lit it with vigour.’
‘As teachers, this is the only opportunity we have to be creative and to make it count at a system level.’
Recruiting the right mix of people to accelerate system change
Innovation is a team sport and having the right mix of people is key. We worked with Catholic Education Western Australia to select two streams of twenty high-calibre people from diverse roles and places within the system to join the accelerator. By carefully curating the mix of participants, we ensured a range of different perspectives and skills that enriched the learning experience and helped generate buy-in at different levels of the system.
Immersive learning experience
For the three-month duration of the design thinking accelerator, participants convened once a fortnight at Studio Curious in Catholic Education Western Australia’s central office, an immersive learning space Knowledge Society specifically created for the purpose. The learning experience included active participation in six workshop days, undertaking design research tasks in schools and co-creating prototypes with Knowledge Society.
Guided by our expert facilitators and coaches, teachers, school leaders and central office staff worked together to learn and apply design thinking principles to the Catholic education system in Western Australia. Collaborating in small project teams, participants were empowered to identify challenges that education is facing, build empathy with the people at the heart of those challenges, ideate and explore multiple pathways that might lead to effective solutions, and design and test prototypes of initiatives to improve the system.
Bringing ideas to life through prototyping
All of the project teams developed a prototype to communicate how they proposed to solve their chosen design challenge. Each prototype had its origin in a ‘how might we?’ question that teams asked themselves – questions like ‘how might we empower students to be lifelong learners?’. Project teams were tasked with identifying the ‘big idea’ that they would like implemented at Catholic Education Western Australia over a number of months or years, and then coming up with a ‘small action’ that would kickstart the community’s engagement with this big idea. The small actions formed the basis of the eight concept prototypes that teams designed and produced with our support, including tangible and digital prototypes.
Sharing innovation ideas is an important first step in attracting support and further investment in design development and implementation. To conclude the design thinking accelerator, Knowledge Society coached project teams in how to share the story of their prototype and organised presentation days where teams showcased their work to a panel of external experts and audience of executives and colleagues.
Through the experience of the design thinking accelerator, participants gained hands-on experience using design thinking to tackle real-world challenges – with many being inspired to start immediately applying design thinking methodologies back in their schools.
To learn more about this project and how to work with Knowledge Society, get in touch.