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STEAMhouse has recently hosted (online, of course) a new STEAM Challenge, ‘Green Recovery – Collaborating on climate issues in a post-COVID world’, here’s what happened…

“At WHG we are exploring how we can adopt design thinking to solve big challenges, so working with STEAMhouse was very helpful. I learned a great deal about how design can be applied to tackling problems that might result in a new service or process. The techniques that STEAMhouse guided us through enabled some great insights we had not imagined and ideas and solutions came about through a highly collaborative, interactive, and creative approach. I highly recommend anyone to engage in the STEAM Challenge process. You won’t regret it!” – Richard Haynes, Innovation Manager Walsall Housing Group

Collaborating across sectors during lockdown

Typically a STEAM Challenge takes the form of a one or two day workshop designed to enable organisations and individuals from across disciplines to tackle product, service, or social challenges, and test new ideas through a design-thinking innovation process. We guide participants through a series of creative activities that help them get under the skin of the problem they’re trying to solve, generate new ideas to tackle the problem, and begin to test those ideas with lightweight prototypes. Think mapping, sketching, analysing, and making – not the easiest thing to replicate while we’re all stuck at home. Thankfully, our latest STEAM Challenge provided the perfect opportunity to dive in and create our first series of virtual collaborative workshops!

Convening for creative collision

Every STEAM Challenge starts with a big question. A few weeks into lockdown we were asked by three passionate individuals to help assemble a team from across sectors and disciplines to tackle a particularly knotty one:

“How might we find ways for businesses – and the networks that represent them – to collaborate and act on climate issues in a post-COVID world?”

The Challenge Leads, Jules Todd (Climate Activist and Engineer), Richard Haynes (Innovation Manager at WHG), and David Middleton (Sustainable Development Advocate and Author) knew that to get to the heart of the question and uncover opportunities, we needed to bring together people with a variety skills, knowledge, and perspectives on the problem. Thankfully such a well crafted and compelling challenge question inspired a group of designers, sustainability experts, students, business owners, academics, engineers, investors, and policy advisors to take it on.

What we did

Participants came together to collaborate across five two-hour online workshops, designed and facilitated by STEAMhouse. These collaborative sessions were complemented by individual tasks, completed in-between workshops, using STEAMhouse designed digital worksheets. The focus of this challenge meant we concentrated our efforts on the first three phases of the STEAM approved design-thinking process; Research, Ideas, and Concepts.

Workshop 01 – Problem Framing

Innovation teams often try and come up with solutions to problems as quickly as possible. But if they are actually solving the wrong problem, what’s the point? It’s more important to take time out, ensure the problem has been framed correctly, and then​ put effort into finding opportunities for solutions. Problem framing workshops help teams uncover and challenge assumptions, analyse research insights, and ultimately align on the problem they need to solve. We designed a bunch of activities to help participants do just that and by the end of this first workshop the challenge group had understood, defined and prioritised the problem they were going to tackle.

Workshop 02 – ‘How Might We?’

By defining themes and research insights in the first workshop, participants had identified problem areas that pose challenges to the people they were designing for. This session was all about flipping those insights into ‘How Might We’ questions to turn challenges into opportunities for design. How Might We questions work because they suggest solutions are possible and because they offer a group the chance to collaborate and answer them in a variety of ways. The process can feel a little unnatural but it’s always worthwhile and it meant that challenge participants generated 39 inspirational How Might We questions from the problem space, not bad!

Workshop 03 – ‘Individual Idea Generation’

Coming up with ideas is hard but with the help of STEAMhouse idea generation techniques, participants came up with over 500 ideas that sprang from their How Might We questions! This might sound crazy, but at this stage no idea was considered a bad idea, this was all about quantity over quality. These could be ideas for products, services, or interventions, anything that tackled an aspect of the Problem Statement.

Workshop 04 – ‘Group Idea Generation’

This session was designed to be highly collaborative and critical conversation was encouraged. Each participant was given space to describe their three most promising ideas to the group, they could do this however they liked; drawing, writing, storytelling – anything goes. The group then encouraged each other to pick out parts of ideas that responded well to the challenge aims, and tackled the problem effectively, they then built-on and merged ideas to find themes and generate opportunity spaces for development.

Workshop 05 – ‘Challenge Review and Action Planning’

It’s critical that every STEAM Challenge ends with a proper review of the process and outputs to help teams create a viable action plan for developing the ideas and opportunities that emerge throughout the process. Thankfully, by this point in the challenge participants had forged a strong collaborative relationship and were working as a team. All we needed to do was provide the tools and activities that enabled them to critically reflect on the work and articulate their plan of action.

What’s next?

At STEAMhouse, we’re here to support people and their ideas to flourish. We always recommend that promising ideas created during a STEAM Challenge are taken to the next stage of the design-thinking process – Prototyping and Testing. We’re currently supporting the Challenge Leads to make that happen through our STEAMhouse and STEAMincubator programmes. Every person that participates in a STEAM Challenge has the opportunity to become a STEAMhouse member and bring their ideas to life!

“I really enjoyed the sessions I have attended and would like to congratulate you for running such excellent, well-structured, and thought provoking sessions. The outcome of the STEAM Challenge is very relevant to the work I am doing, and I will share it with the relevant people to assess potential avenues for delivery of the opportunities.” – Serena Bacuzzi, Regional Senior Energy Projects Officer Midlands Energy Hub

Start your own STEAM Challenge

STEAM Challenges guide participants to tackle problems and explore solutions in a quick, intensive and highly structured innovation process. If you, your business, or organisation have a critical business or social challenge that you’d like to tackle fast, get in touch to find out how we can support.

Enquire now.