Doughnut economics and co-design

The problem with economic models is that they count the things you can count and leave out things you can’t. And sometimes that’s what can happen with co-design methods – doing what you know and not what is possible. A group of researchers adapted the Doughnut Economics model to create the Futures Doughnut tool for co-design for complex settings.

Doughnut economics seeks to address inequities, poverty, and standard of living. It’s about meeting the needs of humans and the planet. A group of researchers have adapted this economic thinking in the context of co-design.

Screenshot from the article showing a circle divided into sections overlaid with bright pink post it notes with writing on them.

Using a participatory design process, 115 stakeholders explored the model to navigate socio-ethical challenges. The process fostered constructive dialogue, and explored values and boundaries. This is a good process for working in complex institutional systems where stakeholders have diverse perspectives and priorities.

The title of the paper is, Baking an Institutional Doughnut: A systemic design journey for diverse stakeholder engagement. While the context of the paper is a university setting, it sets a good example for other situations with the Futures Doughnut Tool.

Limits of co-design activities

Co-design activities are good for advocating for and helping to generate creativity. However, they are insufficient for complex systems design where continuity of consultation goes beyond design ideation.

Co-creation methods are difficult to compare by definition because they are context dependent. An adaptive and staged systemic design process requires significant time and buy-in from stakeholders. Without this commitment there is a risk of misunderstandings and therefore consensus on decisions.

Co-design is good for finding common ground with diverse vocabularies, disciplines and lived experience. However, it also needs the right tools and methods and the Futures Doughnut was developed with this in mind.

From the abstract

Doughnut Economics offers a compass for navigating the complexities of creating a safe and just space where humanity can flourish while respecting ecological boundaries. This pictorial reports on how the Doughnut Economics model can be applied as a tool for facilitating complex stakeholder engagement.

We present a visual framework and facilitation method for systemic and values-led thinking. The context is establishing a new interdisciplinary academic institution.

Using a participatory design process, 115 stakeholders from academic, research, and administrative backgrounds explored this model. The aim was to co-create an institutional compass to navigate the socio-ethical challenges of their professional practices.

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