Internal Examiner - Tim Parkin
This report is published with authorisation from internal examiner, Tim Parkin.
Thank you Sam for sharing both your experiences and expertise about environmental conservation, including the many challenges and opportunities within the sector. It is a subject matter that has obviously played a big role in your life and your passion and deep understanding for the topic comes through in your thesis.
The aims, purpose and scope of the research project have been convincingly articulated. The initial area of investigation drew from your practical experiences, relating specifically to environmental volunteering. Through the course of the inquiry you identified the need to revise the research question in response to the multiple systemic challenges observed. The change of focus to enable a more holistic Targeted Systems Change Intervention evidenced a flexibility of thinking and a strong ability to synthesise complex issues.
Kanopi explores the limits of current knowledge within the biodiversity environmental sector and the fields of Systemic Design and Design for Social Innovation. This was grounded in your own practice and extended through a comprehensive literature review. Your willingness to continually seek out newly published books and articles and, when appropriate, incorporate the concepts into your thesis was commendable.
This was supported by multiple secondary research methods for generating Systems Sight that, when synthesised through the Systems Story Map, highlighted a range of pertinent insights. Areas of particular interest included the pivotal role of project coordinators, the different funding channels and cycles, the importance of monitoring and evaluation, and the contribution environmental conservation has on the social sector and therefore its potential as an alternative revenue stream. Collectively these represent a comprehensive body of new knowledge that provide a significant asset to anyone doing further work in this area.
In addition there was a thorough critique of Systemic Design, Fourth Order Design and Design for Social Innovation. This helped to frame the project and the role of design as an agent in broadening the ‘scope of the enquiry to better achieve success’ (p.92). It also led to the referencing and adaptation of new methods including Evolutionary Design and Atomic Design Research. These were clear examples of informed critical thinking, although the way in which these approaches differ from an established iterative Double Diamond model would have benefitted from greater clarification.
The critique about the limitations of Human Centred Design methods in a Fourth Order Design and environmental conservation context also raised some interesting points, including: the issue of isolating problems, the drive to solve them (solutionism) and the ensuing negative outcomes of ‘progress’. However, a more explicit explanation would have been of interest regarding how these perspectives align with Kanopi’s trajectory of synthesising complex interconnections down to three areas of action (leverage points), leading to a portfolio of concepts and future trajectories.
Throughout the project several methods were used with a variety of stakeholders to explore, interrogate and advance the ideas. These ranged from ‘low-fi’ prototyping and design ethnography through to value proposition design and business modelling. When applying these methods you identified strengths and weaknesses, and adapted your own processes accordingly. This is evidenced in the use of workshopping tangible design concepts as a vehicle to enable meaningful conversations about abstract ‘possibilities’.
The three components that contribute to the outcome of this thesis exhibit a strong interplay between theoretical, speculative thinking and practice. The use of metaphor was a great way to communicate the scope of the research at a meta level. The references used were not only thematically appropriate but also drew clear parallels with the different phases of the project.
The clear presentation of the complex ideas at a detailed level was more of a challenge, as has been acknowledged in the conclusion. Multiple approaches were explored to share the outcomes of the research, from systems maps to notated graphics. These all had individual merit. However, to gain a holistic understanding of the targeted systems intervention required joining the dots from different parts of the submission.
Synthesising the research findings in a more cohesive way would help improve accessibility to the interrelated relationships, patterns and trends. It would also fully realise this research’s potential as a resource that adds to the ecology of initiatives for influencing the direction that complex problems take. The prospect for an interactive, digital solution that responds to the changing structures and patterns of an emerging challenge was suggested in the thesis (p.65). This would help to address the issue of accessibility while providing an interesting area for future research.
The research project was effectively presented and demonstrates a competent command of a variety of mediums. The narrated videos utilised the allocated time efficiently and enabled the examiners to get to the heart of a complex body of research. I was also impressed by your ability to receive and respond to questions in a way that was clear and confident.