Ph.d.-forsvar: ”Reconfiguring boundaries in social innovation: Co-creating new meaning and practice in a prison context”

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Torsdag 9. januar 2014 kl. 13.00 – ca. 16.00

– forsvarer kandidat i visuel kommunikation Marie Kirstejn Aakjær sin ph.d.-afhandling: ”Reconfiguring boundaries in social  innovation: Co-creating new meaning and practice in a prison context”.

Sted: DPU, Institut for Uddannelse og Pædagogik, Tuborgvej 164,  2400 København NV, lokale D169.

Forskningen er gennemført som et erhvervsPhD, hvor Marie har været ansat i Kriminalforsorgen. Hovedvejleder: Lektor Lotte Darsø, Århus Universitet, Institut for Uddannelse og Pædagogik (DPU). Medvejledere: Lektor Eva Brandt, Kunstakademiets Designskole, projektleder Peter Dexters og Udviklingschef Lars Thuesen fra Kriminalforsorgen.

Summary of the PhD.thesis:

The aim of this thesis is to better understand how participatory design approaches influence learning and social innovation in a prison context, based on longitudinal action research within the Danish prison service. The study contributes to the fields of participatory design and social innovation through close-to-practice investigation of activities that focus on relational and human-to-human perspectives of innovation and change. The study illustrates that participatory design approaches create boundary encounters at individual, social, and organisational boundaries, leading to reflection and transformation as two central learning dynamics. A conceptual link is proposed to illustrate how the learning dynamics are related to social innovation in a practice perspective.

The overall objective of the initiatives in the prison service is to increase wellbeing for prisoners and officers, by finding ways of improving everyday practices. The study engages in the prison setting through a practical and theoretical approach, with the aim of expanding the space of possibilities for rehearsing future roles, relations, and identities, and future ways of doing, knowing, and being. Expanding the space of possibilities means to reconfigure boundaries for what was imagined to be possible and what is taken for granted, in terms of meanings and assumptions, as well as in terms of routines, norms, and informal rules. In order to capture this, the initiatives are conceptualised as the staging of innovative learning spaces. Innovative learning spaces are defined as a designed (through formats and content-material) series of interconnected activities, taking place over a period of time with the purpose of inquiring into existing practices in order to expand the space of possibilities and transform practice. From the field of design, two concepts are brought in: formats and content-material. Formats are the materials and techniques that are used to create the frame or staging of the process. Content-materials are the materials used to create dialogue, inquiry, and negotiation of (new) meaning. Activities in innovative learning spaces are analysed through the theoretical lens of situated learning and communities of practice, which position learning within workplaces and socially negotiated practices.

The analysis falls in three parts. The first part investigates the use of participatory design approaches in the staging of innovative learning spaces for prisoners and officers. A central concern and challenge in the prison service is how to support the building of trust and respect in relations between officers and prisoners, and to create space for agency. The study suggests viewing the process as a process of infrastructuring, which changes relations, as participants engage in a learning partnership, share experiences of practice, and identify spaces for potential co-production. Materialisations and reifications play a central role in bringing experiences at the boundary into view and function as content material in processes. Perspectives collide and expand, prompting a critical reflective learning dynamic, which augments spaces of possibilities for rehearsal of new practices and identification of areas of potential co-production.

The second part of the analysis investigates learning dynamics in innovative learning spaces, with particular focus on officers’ learning, through a theoretical perspective of boundaries and learning dynamics at the boundaries. Due to the longitudinal character of the study, the possibility arose to investigate how approaches were transformed over time (design after design) and adapted into new practices. In the investigation, a designmethodological perspective on the processes is maintained, in which the transformed formats and learning practices are regarded as designs for self-design. Using narrative descriptions, it is illustrated that staging innovative learning spaces, using activities of telling, making, and enacting, can create transformative learning, which reconfigures boundaries of practice.

The third part of the analysis revolves around social innovation, and discusses how value creation can be described within a conception of social innovation as changes in relations and frames. Outcome and value creation of social innovation is illustrated in five different terms, in which the most prominent is potential value, through infrastructuring that expands the possible positions of prisoners and officers. The analysis creates a conjunction between the learning dynamics found in the analysis and social innovation and propose a conceptual link between these.

In conclusion of the overall research question it is argued that participatory design approaches (innovative learning spaces) can influence learning and social innovation by creating boundary encounters and reconfiguring of boundaries . Boundary encounters enable a re-interpretation of identity and role, and a new understanding of the task and the practices that are conducive for the task. Telling stories of practice, making and materialising points for connection and meaning making, and bodily enacting scenarios in  practice, bring into view boundaries of practice and augment spaces of potential practice. Finally, a practice-based conception of social innovation is proposed, arguing that social innovation in communities of practice is a change in the dynamic between accountability and expressibility. Boundary encounters can create discontinuities in patterns of meaning and practice that affect what counts as expressible and accountable practice. This process reconfigures boundaries of knowledgeable ways of being and doing in practice.

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