GROUNDBREAKER talks by the University of Technology???s u.lab | The Fifth Estate

By Lily Morrissey

5 September 2012 – Charles Kettering, the American inventor, once said that “if you want to kill any idea in the world, get a committee to work on it”. I’ve worked in government policy-making before, and he’s a little bit right.

But he also missed the point somewhat, and not just because he later invented that wonderful boon to humanity, the aerial missile.

In the world of public planning good ideas are sometimes accidentally talked to death by committees. Sometimes they’re murdered by funding cuts and political enemies. But often, good ideas float around like angry little clouds trapped inside the heads of the public, ignored until they commit suicide out of frustration.

But with clever-cloggs new think tanks like Denmark’s Mindlab (I love those guys) on the rise and crowd-sourced design thinking increasingly fashionable, is that going to change? Or is it all just an excuse to invent new words and play with crayons? Either is fine by me, so no bias here.

I made it to Object Gallery for the final night of the GROUNDBREAKER series of talks run by the University of Technology’s u.lab, for some neatly packaged answers printed in Helvetica on recycled brown paper tied with old string.

Running from the 27 June to 17 August the talks covered a spectrum of design-thinking-for-public-good topics ranging from subcultures to creative communities and innovation. Guests included David Gravina – Digital Eskimo, Rangan Srikhanta – One Laptop Per Child, Ian Muir – Westpac and Rod Simpson – City of Sydney.

It was the unusual structure of these talks that really made me wish I’d gone a little earlier. These 21 guest “provocateurs” made five-minute idea pitches at seven public forums, before being placed on chairs in the centre of the room to be questioned, interrogation style, by the predatory, circling audience. Brilliant.

Unfortunately for me, the final night did not involve any guest interrogation or predatory circling. It consisted basically of drinks, informal “thanks” and “great job” summary talks by GROUNDBREAKER’s “high priestess and high priest”, Joanne Jakovich, senior lecturer in the UTS Faculty of Design, Architecture and Building, and Jochen Schweitzer, senior lecturer in strategy in the UTS Business School.

The key organising group got up on stage and took a shy bow. The audience wrote their thoughts on pieces of paper and stuck them all over the wall. And then a few regular participants got up and reflected on the series.

Marie announced, “I love this city. I want to see more culture, and it’s great to see people coming together, trying a creative approach”. Gareth, similarly invigorated, told us “I hope this is the start of something bigger…I was afraid that Sydney was getting apathetic. Let’s continue the conversation”.

“Too right!” I thought, nodding to myself. I had a few wines and got into it. Everyone’s enthusiasm was catching. Marie and Gareth seemed to voice my sentiments exactly. Even though they’d been to all the talks, and I’d missed all of them, I felt a sense of camaraderie.

I scribbled on a piece of paper and put it on the wall, and finished my night staring proudly at my collaborative achievement. I may have missed all the substance, but I was happy with my yellow paper.

I tracked down Dr Schweitzer after the talk. He explained to me that the series of talks was sort of a laboratory using real humans, set up to test their thesis on collaboration and innovation out in the real world.

Their hope was to get the businesses and public who attended to see the value in crowd-sharing. “GROUNDBREAKER was an experiment in crowd-sharing solutions”, he told me, “in the past, innovation was behind closed doors…crowd-sharing is the future”.

So how can design thinking be applied to urban planning, to help us get all those little clouds out of people’s heads and into planning?

“With it’s focus on deeply understanding human needs and behaviour, design thinking can be applied in many ways…community consultation, idea testing, idea generation and so on….and in fact is already in many architecture practices and urban planning contexts,” Schweitzer shared with me later, via email.

It seems they’re putting it into practice too. u.lab is currently working in collaboration with Aspect, Terroir and R Godwin to help develop an identity for the Parramatta ring road proposal.

But, exactly how many scribbly bits of coloured paper does it take to build a ring road? I think I need to go to the full talk series next time.



What an experiment!  We have had 4,470 minutes of intensity filled crowd-share innovation in the Object gallery. You’ve contributed your thoughts and ideas, built rapid-evolution prototypes and created multiple-persona performances. You have held the crowd at tipping point with your provocative mash (the new lingo for innovation debate). 

Now it’s time to re-group and celebrate: Groundbreaker season #1 is officially closing! We’d like to take the opportunity to thank you and explore the next dimensions of collaboration. We want to continue to envision and enact a new innovation culture for Australia and build new modes of creative entrepreneurship in our city. 



Co-what? Can Australia have critical discourse and collaboration at the same time?

Is John Citizen willing and able to share? And take and give a punch? At the same time, have urbanites evolved to cohabitate with strangers in everyday public places? Can incidental innovation occur in a city of niceness?

Tues 14th August
6pm Drinks
6.30pm Start
7.45pm Finish
More drinks

Mash+Up is a weekly debate where the audience responds to three fast-pace speakers challenging the role of design in innovation.

Mash+Up aims to foster a hotbed of collective inquiry and build discourse around the increasing importance of design and openness in innovation. Taking place each Tuesday night as the platform the GROUNDBREAKER collective, June 27 –  August 17th 2012 at Object Gallery, Surry Hills.


Event review: Groundbreaker public design series Sydney | The Fetch Blog //??What’s Happening in Your City

Ever wondered what ‘design thinking’ means? Ever wanted to be a part of design methods to make a difference in the community? Over July and August the Groundbreaker series of workshops and talks will bring design thinkers and innovators together with the Sydney community to explore the role of design in solving problems of the future.

Launched last Wednesday, 27 June 2012, Groundbreaker is brought to Surry Hills’ stunning Object Galleryspace by u.lab, a University of Technology Sydney collaboration among the university’s business, engineering, built environment, architecture, design and IT schools for projects that call for innovation across disciplines.

Groundbreaker’s launch excited a crowd of Sydney thinkers and do-ers with the prospect of coming together in an inspiring space to share knowledge, learning new techniques for collaboratively tackling community, business and social issues, and creating new knowledge in partnership with design leaders.

Design has an incredible role to play in social change, we just have to figure out ways to make it relevant and humbly provide it to society as a tool. 

Groundbreaker is about designers engaging with the public and reflecting on the tools that need to be learnt and evolved to do that well.
David Gravina, Digital Eskimo

UTS design leaders Jochen Schweitzer and Joanne Jakovich have co-curated the Groundbreaker series of events and workshops that bring academic knowledge and expertise to the public.

We started last year with u.lab and a couple of public workshops called Bike Tank, and with these workshops we began experimenting with design thinking.

One of the things we thought was really powerful was getting the public into the workshops – for ideating solutions around problems that are part of their lives.
Jochen Schweitzer, Groundbreaker co-curator, UTS

Schweitzer and Jakovich believe in the importance of design creativity in innovation. Through Groundbreaker they hope to disseminate best practices and encourage the development and refinement of new design tools and methods.

We’re really trying to make it easy for organisations to try out collaborative methods and involve the public in solving design challenges.
Jochen Schweitzer, Groundbreaker co-curator, UTS

The eight core events of the Groundbreaker series, to be held at Object Gallery, will explore ideas such as crowdsharing, the value of innovation in Australia, collaborative design, and how we might challenge traditional models of work through design thinking.

Groundbreaker is an awesome forum for people to get together to use design methods to create social change. 

Because it’s open to the public people can come here and experience what collaboration feels like and what the outcome can be.
Ele Jansen, Reboot Stories

The Groundbreaker series of workshops, debates and digital discussions will take place from 27 June to 17 August in Object Gallery, Surry Hills. The workshops are free and open to all.

About our Amabassador // This article and photography were contributed by Community Ambassador Doug Millen. You can connect with Doug through his site or on Twitter @dougsky


Crowd Salad. Is the crowd a feasible design partner?

When the sum is greater than the parts, it’s invaluable. When the the flock aligns, nothing new emerges. Can crowd share innovation – or crowd sourcing in the flesh –  be exploited as a way to accelerate idea forming? When and how does this approach have merit? What are the associated issues and how are they dealt with successfully?
Tues 3rd July
6pm Drinks
6.30pm Start
7.45pm Finish
More drinks

Mash+Up is a weekly debate where the audience responds to three fast-pace speakers challenging the role of design in innovation.

Mash+Up aims to foster a hotbed of collective inquiry and build discourse around the increasing importance of design and openness in innovation. Taking place each Tuesday night as the platform the GROUNDBREAKER collective, June 27 –  August 17th 2012 at Object Gallery, Surry Hills.

GROUNDBREAKER Launch Party | the design collective has begun

Last night we launched GROUNDBREAKER in collaboration with our frineds at Object – Australian Design Centre.  

GROUNDBREAKER is co-creating a series of hands-on workshops, debates and digital discussions taking place June 27 to August 17 in the Object Gallery. New tools of crowd-sourcing and open-sourcing will be enacted in the physical realm of design work- shopping in order to build the infectious energy and methods required to break into new ground in collective innovation.