In this article, we flesh out School-Centred Design©. For background reading, refer to our previous articles on Ecosystems, SandBox Lab and Unlearning Unhelpful Mindsets. To date, the traditional approach to introducing tech solutions into schools is done via outside vendors (EdTech startups) who have identified a solution and then tried to find a problem it solves within the school. School-Centred Design© (SCD) turns this approach on its head.

There are a number of key elements to the SCD approach.

1.      Designing for the school by the school

The starting point in SCD is the School with a focus on their biggest problems and what the technological solutions to these might be. These problems may be from the perspective of the student, teacher or leader and are linked to learning, teaching, leading or managing a school. The problem must originate within the school, however, the solution (or parts of it) may come from the wider community. It is also important to recognise that no school works in isolation; all are part of a wider socio-political context. This will be recognised during the SCD process.

2.      Human-Centred Design

With the focus on designing for the school by the school, adopting a Human-Centred Design (HCD) approach sits well. HCD has the following key stages:

  • Empathy – a deep knowledge of the person/organisation being designed
  • Define – deep clarity on the problem which informs the design criteria
  • Ideate – generate a range of ideas
  • Prototype
  • Test and iterate

3.      Futures Thinking

The end point of Futures Thinking is the starting point of the Define and Ideate elements of HCD. Futures Thinking is an informed reflection on the major changes – often with an emphasis on new technology – that will impact education in the next 10, 20 or more years. The detection of various futures is typically achieved through systematic Horizon Scanning (something we offer as a service at LearnTech Lab). Without including this long-term approach to thinking and planning, the risk is that a solution only works in the short-term and is therefore not sustainable. The image below shows the relationship between Futures Thinking and HCD and a more detailed piece of writing on this is available here.


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4.      Lean-Startup

The SCD approach lends itself to adopting a lean-start-up approach to the Ideate, Prototype, Test and Iterate elements of HCD. The Lean-Startup process has key principles, mindsets and processes which are briefly covered below, and with a more detailed explanation here.

  • Principles
    • Entrepreneurs are everywhere
    • Entrepreneurship is management
    • Validated learning
    • Innovation accounting
    • Build-Measure-Learn
  • Mindsets
    • Continuous Innovation
    • Failing Fast and Cheap
    • Process driven
    • Work smarter not harder
    • Learn when it’s time to pivot
  •  Process
    • Ideas
    • Build
    • Measure
    • Learn
    • Minimise the total time in the loop

5.      Adopting a Long-Term View

Successful SCD adopts a long-term view via the following two principles:

Implications for the Real-World

Being able to access EdTech startups, Investors, and other companies who operate under a Purpose And Profit approach is crucial in bringing compassionate innovation to life so that whatever solution is developed has a good chance of being sustainable over a number of years. Solutions that don’t last are unhelpful for everyone and most importantly those who work in schools, as the implementation of new solutions takes time, money, training and support.

Solutions also need to be designed to have a real-world positive impact on the climate by ensuring Circular Economy principles are followed, where appropriate to the solution:

  1. Designing out waste and pollution
  2. Keeping products and materials in use for as long as possible
  3. Regenerate natural systems/capital

Training and Support

A significant barrier to adopting technology solutions in education is inadequate training and support. Too often technology is implemented without long-term training and support

being recognised and factored in by the tech provider and/or the school leadership. Both have a role in identifying what this looks like and how it is funded in terms of time and money.

Concluding comments

School-Centred Design© is multi-faceted and to paraphrase John F. Kennedy “We choose to do this not because it’s easy, but because it’s hard” and ultimately because it’s important.

The School-Centred Design© approach will underpin all the projects that emerge from our work with schools in our SandBox Lab©.

We’d like to invite those of you interested in exploring what this all means in practice to join us.

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