BeyondRisør’s first incarnation was as 100% Risør, a relatively small-scale design event in Risør in 2005. Building on that success, the people behind BeyondRisør initiated a two-year design project, Beyond Acoustics, which culminated in a spectacular event in Risør where the designs from the project were showcased. This event also marked the start of a new two-year project cycle, this time called Beyond Light. Well-known Norwegian designers were again asked to contribute with designs, including international profiles such as Andreas Engesvik.
While the main focus for the BeyondRisør brand during that five-year period was “where business and design meet”, the organisation nevertheless remained loyal to its commitment to good quality design that aims to improve our surroundings. In 2008 and 2010 it tackled issues such as noise pollution and poor lighting, and for the 2012 biennale BeyondRisør wanted to take this commitment one step further. Kigge Hvid, the CEO of INDEX, had attended the Beyond Light biennale, and in September 2011, Risør was officially announced as a partner city to INDEX, a subsidiary of the Danish Design Centre:
“INDEX: is a Danish-based, non-profit organization that was established in 2002 and coined the concept “Design to Improve Life”. We work globally to promote and apply both design and design processes that have the capacity to improve the lives of people worldwide.”(INDEX, 2011).
Following this development, BeyondRisør needed to restructure the organisation and its activities in order to incorporate Index’s Design to Improve Life (DTIL) ethos. Our task was defined thus: “To align BeyondRisør with INDEX: Design to Improve Life.” Furthermore, our main goal was to use Systems Oriented Design “to challenge and discover the possibilities and national networks on a strategic and practical level, and complete a visualisation for the reframing of the organisation.” The early stages of the project
Using Systems Oriented Design (S.O.D.) involves plenty of research of the system in question (and of all its subsystems), and of other system with which it interacts. The S.O.D. approach also involves mapping all this research in large, complex GIGA maps, where all the information is structured according to hierarchy, relations, patterns, etc. By drawing up a comprehensive map of the given situation, one is then able to locate leverage points or flaws within the system, as well as identifying areas where something is lacking, i.e. an opportunity for innovation. The process used during this project has mainly been systems oriented. However, as this has been an organizational design process, systems thinking methods have continually been adapted to respond to different aspects of the process. Whereas a rigid systems approach might be appropriate in a conventional engineering context, in this case the approach used had to be quite flexible. We used the SOD-approach in order to achieve three main objectives:
1. To map out all relevant information, in order to gain a comprehensive overview of such a complex situation. 2. To find points of innovation, leverage points or systemical flaws. 3. To communicate findings, and create a tool for future decision-making.
We started the process by finding out more about BeyondRisør as an organisation (structure, activities, resources), and by taking a close look at INDEX, the INDEX:Awards and Design to Improve Life. Having mapped out all available information on BeyondRisør and INDEX, we then began to look at other Norwegian design organisations and other national design competitions. We also started to look at BeyondRisør’s goals, vision and mission [statement], trying to determine a clear course of action that would neatly incorporate INDEX’s vision and ethos into BeyondRisør’s existing strategy. Seeing that BeyondRisør didn’t have a well-defined strategy, and that they indeed were working on a completely new branding and strategy concept, we felt that the path lay open for us to develop their organisational structure and intent more independently of BeyondRisør’s previous work.
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Having thoroughly mapped out all the content on the BeyondRisør and INDEX websites, closely examined all of INDEX’s publications and all other relevant information in secondary and tertiary sources, we then had our first meeting with Nina Gresvig (BeyondRisør ‘s Project Manager) and Kamilla Solheim (Risør Municipality’s Head of Corporate Affairs). This initial meeting helped us find out more about BeyondRisør’s plans for the immediate future, particularly in regard to their branding and marketing strategy. These plans were still very sketchy, so we decided to arrange a workshop in Risør as soon as possible, aiming to include as many different types of stakeholders as possible (including representatives from INDEX).
Once the date for the workshop in Risør was set, both student groups set about planning the structure and content of the workshop. As BeyondRisør’s goals and future strategy were still quite vague, both groups decided that we would like to use these workshop sessions to further crystallise those fundamental elements. Another important issue we sought clarification on was INDEX’s role in BeyondRisør’s future (and vice versa). Following thorough discussions and helpful input from the S.O.D. tutors and Dr. Peter Jones (associate professor at Toronto’s OCAD University), both groups settled on two tasks that we hoped would give us enough answers/information for us to move forward swiftly into the concept generation stage. The first task was a simple timeline-mapping task, where the participants were asked to sketch out (along a timeline) where they thought BeyondRisør would or should be in five years time, noting down every important milestone/step along the way. The second task was more of an individual task, where participants were asked four questions: “What improves life for me? For you? For Norway? For the world?” While in Risør, we also participated in a workshop held by Innoventi, a marketing consultancy firm engaged by BeyondRisør to help them develop a strong brand. After an intense, but enjoyable, workshop session in Risør, both groups had plenty of information about where BeyondRisør think they might be headed, and what social drivers are behind the key stakeholder’s take on the Design to Improve Life concept. All this information was processed in detail before our group began to generate basic concepts for how BeyondRisør might develop as an organisation devoted to INDEX’s core principle, namely Design to Improve Life. Concept Generation
From the outset, we were conscious of BeyondRisør needing to raise its profile as a valuable and relevant design oriented organisation. With this in mind, we then began to sketch out several basic activities that BeyondRisør could do in order to recruit people to their cause and to inform the wider design/business community in Norway about their work and ethos. However, our main concern was the limited resources that BeyondRisør currently have at their disposal. As things stand today, the organisation currently only has one employee (Nina Gresvig) and relies heavily on the local municipal council for input in that regard. Hence, most of the activities we initially sketched out were designed with this acute people shortage in mind. The three main activities that we eventually settled on concerned 1) getting third level students involved with BeyondRisør and Design to Improve Life, 2) getting designers, business people and entrepreneurs acquainted with BeyondRisør and with each other, and, finally, 3) establishing a platform of communication (both on and offline) for BeyondRisør and the design/business community.
While the representatives of BeyondRisør were quite supportive of this strategy (especially as we had tried to include the inhabitants of Risør to make up for the shortfall of BeyondRisør employees), the group felt that the project had somehow come to a standstill, in terms of scope and ambition. The momentum had gradually diminished since the start of the concept generation phase, and the project found itself in a bit of a lull, both in terms of systems mapping and creative output. Fortunately, both student groups have throughout the project had access to Benedicte Wildhagen of the Norwegian Design Council, who has plenty of experience with Systems Oriented Design projects at AHO. At this crucial point her insight was invaluable in giving the project a new drive and a clearer focus. It was on her advice that we decided to concentrate our efforts of mapping out a plausible future scenario for where BeyondRisør can be (and should probably be) in five years time. The activities that were sketched out the previous week to suit an organisation that only has one employee were now expanded to match the level of ambition that all stakeholders truly had for BeyondRisør. Hence, the concept for the website was broadened in scope and made to become one of the cornerstones of the overall strategy. The activities to recruit third level students, business people and designers, and Risør inhabitants were incorporated into a much more ambitious scheme, which ultimately aimed to get BeyondRisør and Design to Improve Life as well known in the Norwegian consciousness as the current Low Carb-diet fad. Final Concept
Finalising the project, we had to generate realistic and plausible scenarios for how representative personas would experience BeyondRisør. These personas would interact with BeyondRisør in several ways: through the website www.beyondrisor. no, at the Biennale, in a third level education setting, at design labs, and at smallscale networking events nationwide. For example, a BeyondRisør volunteer living in Risør would contribute to the website and to BeyondRisør’s presence on social networking sites such as Facebook. A design student would then be informed about and inspired by about the organisation’s activities, and would then be persuaded to create a profile on beyondrisor.no in order to upload entries for BeyondRisør design challenges. The best design challenge entries would then be invited to a design lab facilitated by BeyondRisør (or, in some cases, by INDEX). Experts from related fields, such as engineering, business and marketing, will also participate at these design labs, giving the designers a unique opportunity to interact with these experts and incorporate them into their network of knowledge.
As more people attend lectures and courses given by BeyondRisør’s representatives, and as the popularity of beyondrisor.no and the design challenges increases, the reputation and value of the organisation (and DTIL) will hopefully increase. This in turn will lead to BeyondRisør establishing itself as one of the main actors within design and business networking, meaning that it is the main organisation people will contact when in need of such services. The knock-on effect of this will mean even greater numbers of actively involved users. It is therefore vital that during the next five years BeyondRisør targets relevant and appropriate institutes, companies and individuals who are willing to help promote the brand and DTIL within their own networks. Educational partnerships with institutions like AHO, appointing brand ambassadors, and recruiting passionate and enthusiastic volunteers from Risør and other places in Norway will be key moves in the early phases of implementing this strategy.
For this S.O.D. task, we chose to concentrate BeyondRisør’s future strategy on two main arenas: the physical meeting place (the Biennale and design labs in Risør) and the digital knowledge network, in order to become the main hub for design and business innovation in Norway. We feel that it is important create an online platform for knowledge exchange, creative exchange and resource sharing because a) BeyondRisør already has a legacy for creating/facilitating meetings between business and design (the previous biennales and pilot projects), and b) because creating something as part of a collaborative effort is more likely to have an impact and to develop into something plausible:
“Collaborative production, where people have to coordinate with one another to get anything done, is considerably harder than simple sharing, but the results can be more profound. New tools allow large groups to collaborate, taking advantage of nonfinancial motivations and by allowing for wildly differing levels of contributions.” (Shirky, p.109, 2008).
However, the events that BeyondRisør organise offline, in the real world, will also be of important value to the users. Being able to meet people face to face in the right setting, having a casual conversation about the Design to Improve Life, and exchanging business cards are features of BeyondRisør that the website could never fully replace: “When people run into each other, when they make eye contact, things happen.” (Brad Bird, as quoted in Lehrer, 2011).
INDEX (2011), Design to Improve Life! Do It!, http://www.indexaward.dk/index. php?option=com_content&view=article&id=30&Itemid=8. Available: 8 December 2011. Lehrer, Jonas (2011), Steve Jobs: “Technology Alone is Not Enough, http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/newsdesk/2011/10/steve-jobs-pixar. html?mbid=social_retweet. Available: 7 October 2011. Shirky, Clay (2008), Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organising without Organisations, The Penguin Press, New York.