Technical Workshop: After a Systemic Deep Dive, Design Thinking Methods to Develop Responsive Solutions

Technical Workshop: After a Systemic Deep Dive, Design Thinking Methods to Develop Responsive Solutions

Having established a connection to the source through presencing practices and clarified a sense of the future that wants to emerge, it was time to start prototyping solutions for a circular economy transition in the Canton of Vaud. A week after the Midterm Retreat we gathered again to start manifesting what wants to emerge through prototyping, supported by a Design Thinking expert and seasoned entrepreneurs.

Looking back

The Midterm Retreat really brought the cohort closer together. The strong sense of community was palpable throughout the Technical Workshop at EPFL, as the co-creators were happy to be back together, curious and motivated about finally starting to work on their ideas. During the check-in round, inspiration and creativity were present, as well as feelings of change. New questions had arisen and some were also a bit insecure about the next steps, feeling stressed and challenged. The experiences of the Midterm Retreat definitely had some impacts on the cohort, as the following quotes testify:

“The retreat helped me to get more into contact with myself. It did good to me.”

“I feel very nourished and feel there are things to grow!”


In the Technical Workshop our cohort learned about prototyping. What is it? How is it done? Why this approach? They received inputs and support from Design Thinking expert Harri Toivonen and successful innovators such as Jeannette Morath, founder and CEO of REcircle and Julien Boucher, founder of Shaping Environmental Action.

Prototyping was largely made popular through Design Thinking, a method of product and service design or development that is user-centered, and as such, co-creative. Prototyping allows us to explore the future by doing; through iteration cycles, prototypes evolve based on the feedback they generate. Therefore, a prototype is not a pilot. It comes much earlier as it is simply the tangible representation of an idea, allowing it to be tested with potential users. It enables us to continuously create, adapt, fail fast at low risk, in true learning-by-doing fashion. Prototyping lowers the threshold between thinking and action, avoiding ‘analysis paralysis’, or overthinking which stifles innovation. In its simplest terms, prototyping is the concrete exploration of an idea. A sign that one has shifted from prototyping into traditional project management is the feeling of “not being ready” to show or test an idea, because at the heart of prototyping is generating feedback loops. In this sense, prototyping really is a mindset.

Beyond learning to embrace the prototyping mindset, we worked through the specific steps of the Design Thinking process, such as completing an Empathy Map, designing a Persona and defining our product or service through a Value Proposition Canvas.

After an intensive design session we had a whole group exchange on the progresses of their prototype solutions, bringing to the surface the synergies and collaboration opportunities present within this cohort. Questions, feedback, ideas and advice were exchanged to continue iterating over the following weeks.

The four emerging prototype solutions

After this day four prototype solutions started to crystallize: One group imagines a dedicated community space nestled within a commercial area, which promotes non-transactional consumption and postcapitalist ways of living, thinking and interacting. A second group proposes the valorisation of (usually wasted) mushroom substrate for soil regeneration. The third team develops an educational programme on circular economy opportunities in the construction sector targeting SMEs. The last team proposes integrating the topic of circularity in the social welfare and unemployment insurance systems to harness underutilised human potential and build human and intellectual capacity for transforming the economy amongst often marginalised populations. Read more about these four emerging prototypes here.

Getting into a working mode but staying connected to the source

As soon as we are going into a “doing-mode” we can easily fall back into old patterns of judgement, cynicism or fear. This was also present during this workshop, as pressure stemming from expectations of the next Demo Day workshop arose. To support the teams in staying connected to the source and what they have let come while going through the bottom of the U, we continued to hold mindfulness sessions and conversations about this connection. Today the mindfulness session, which as per usual took place after the check-in, focused on the group being and connection. During a short meditation the participants were asked to feel into the presence of any kind of connection to each other. The exchange afterwards showed that this session helped them to calm down and feel into what is present within themselves and the group, as the following quotes show:

“I felt like I had less effort to breath as everyone else was breathing, too.”

“It felt like we were all together on a boat, floating in the same direction with our breaths.”

“I was just there, calm, doing nothing.”

During the check-out of today’s Technical Workshop we asked the cohort about their intentions to stay connected to the source throughout the upcoming co-creating phase. They intend to trust others and processes, to regularly do mindful practices such as meditation or journaling, spending time in nature, to be open with one self and others, stay curious and attentive to their inner judgements, to be humble with themselves and to get in touch and exchange with other people and projects.

Where are we on the U-Process

Having gone through the bottom of the U during the Midterm Retreat, the cohort can start operating with a heightened level of energy and ability to sense future possibilities. They can then begin to function as an intentional vehicle for an emerging future. In this prototyping phase upwards on the right side of the U an idea or a concept is translated into experimentation action, the new that wants to emerge.

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