Centre for Climate and Energy Transformation (CET)
CET Virtual Lunch Seminar

Sustainability-oriented innovation: Improving problem definition through combined design thinking and group model building approaches

CET is excited to announce this CET Virtual Lunch Seminar with Brooke Wilkerson, PhD Fellow at CET and the Department of Geography.

CET lunch
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, CET Lunch seminars are currently online.
Judith Dalsgård/CET

Main content

Sustainability-oriented innovation (SOI) is receiving increased focus, as sustainability takes a more central role in business, development, and education arenas. “Sustainability” is a systems property. Only when a system as a whole is sustainable can the elements in the system be considered sustainable. SOI has, therefore, characteristics that distinguish it from other types of innovation processes, including the need to include a long time horizon, examine the problem in a larger, societal context, and consider multidimensional targets (including environmental, social, and economic impacts).

SOI processes typically draw from design thinking toolkits, with a focus on the user’s needs and experiences. While this is an effective way to ensure that the innovation process is grounded in real, definable needs, it’s also limited in its ability to place the problem in a larger societal and systemic context. This can lead to a narrow or incomplete problem definition. 

We have designed and tested a new approach for eliciting and defining problems for SOI. Using systems mapping in the problem definition phase of SOI helps set adequate boundaries for the problem space and increases understanding of how the system influences itself over time. We find that the “helicopter view” provided by systems mapping complements the empathetic DT approach to form a more robust problem definition. In this talk I’ll present this combined methodology and provide some examples of where and how it’s been used. These examples illustrate the potential of design thinking and systems mapping to support and enhance problem definition for SOI and provide the basis for discussing future research directions.

About the speaker

Brooke Wilkerson is a PhD candidate at CET. Her research connects system dynamics, sustainability, and land use planning. She’s previously worked as a senior land use planning advisor for the Norwegian government, an ecology researcher, and a botanist/forest ecologist for The Nature Conservancy.