Co-Design kick-off

Screenshot from co-design workshop

Visioneers is the stream of Academy of the Near Future which is designed for and by Transition Year students, funded by Science Foundation Ireland’s (SFI) Discover Programme. This blog describes the ‘co-design’ approach we are taking to developing the programme and some of our learnings so far.

What is co-design?

Co-design is about facilitating collaborative creativity through the involvement of the users (in our case, students) throughout the design and development process. It’s a methodology rooted in user-centred and participatory design practices, and involves including users from the very beginning of a project, sometimes referred to as the ‘fuzzy front end’.

While this blog describes our initial co-design activities, it’s worth noting that the co-design process is continuous and will involve actively engaging students as we prototype, develop and iterate the programme to make sure we continue to meet student needs.

Why co-design?

We decided to co-design our programme to help us to de-risk the design process, as working with students from the beginning means we can avoid spending time creating a programme that doesn’t meet their needs. It also helps us to examine our assumptions, iterate and improve on ideas faster, and provides a space for creative collaboration with our users.

Through the co-design process we aim to (i) better understand Transition Year student needs regarding educational experiences and (ii) learn how students themselves would design an education programme that would appeal to them.

How did we do it?

Following the Design Thinking process, our first steps included a series of one-to-one interviews and ideation workshops. The insights gathered from these activities will inform our programme prototypes, which we can test with students. 

With help from CTYI, we recruited twelve students from across Ireland to participate in the co-design process with us but due to Covid restrictions, our co-design activities were delivered online using Zoom video conferencing and Miro, a digital whiteboard that groups can work on together.

(Source: Interaction Design Foundation)

One-to-one interviews

The primary objective behind these interviews was to gain insight into individual learning motivations, patterns and preferences to support the programme. However, they also provided a great opportunity to welcome each student and give them a chance to ask questions, which really helped create a comfortable, collaborative atmosphere before the group workshops.

Group workshops

Our goal for the workshops was to generate ideas from the students themselves on how they would design a programme similar to Visioneers. We designed a number of activities to support their thinking, including takes on Crazy 8s, Lotus Blossom brainstorming and service blueprints.

Screenshot from co-design workshop

To assess the experience of the workshops themselves, we used Google forms to send a short survey to the group after each workshop. We used the traffic light feedback method which allowed students to provide actionable feedback to help our team improve future activities.

What’s next?

Next up, prototyping and testing before delivering our first workshops with the brilliant Bridge21 at the end of April. We’ll then be starting to line up workshops across Ireland during the next school year, so keep your ears open!

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Interested in our team delivering a Smart Cities workshop for Transition Years at your school? Get in touch at info@nearfuture.ie 👋

Introducing Academy of the Near Future

Academy of the Near Future (new website incoming!) is a smart cities education programme being developed by Dublin City Council, Smart Docklands and CONNECT, the world leading Science Foundation Ireland Research Centre for Future Networks and Communications at Trinity College Dublin 🚀

At the beginning of 2021, we received Science Foundation Ireland funding to develop a version of the programme designed specifically for transition year students. In subsequent programme phases, this experience will be built upon to accommodate a wider group of learners, from citizens interested in learning more about how technology is changing their city, to local authority staff looking to upskill.

The programme is a blend of hands-on workshops (featuring fun with Microbits📲) complemented by online learning. Learners will be introduced to smart city concepts, the Internet of Things, connectivity technologies, and ethical considerations associated with smart cities. 

Why do we need a smart cities education programme?

Cities today are facing a hugely complex set of challenges including climate change, shifts in population demographics, economic downturns and pandemics. Technology is both a disruptor and an enabler for cities. Smart technologies, in particular, present a huge opportunity for cities working towards holistic solutions to these issues, but the use of technology in the public realm also raises important questions for citizens around issues such as privacy, safety and sustainability.

As cities move towards more connected and data-driven infrastructure, it is vital that information and education opportunities explaining the concepts and technologies underpinning these initiatives are available to everyone if we are to facilitate inclusive growth and avoid using “tech for tech’s sake”.

What have we achieved so far? 🌱

Starting out on this journey, we worked closely with Wia, an Irish IoT startup, and design experts Context Studio to design and run workshop pilots over the course of 2020. The success of these helped us to secure Science Foundation Ireland Discover funding to scale up a version of the programme for Transition Year students in 2021.

Since January, we’ve been preparing to deliver the Academy programme at scale. This has included hiring a new Programme Delivery Manager and working on the launch of a new website that will host the Academy’s educational content.

We’ve also been working closely with transition year students to co-design the learning experience. Through a blend of interviews and workshops, insights from the students themselves are helping us shape our approach to programme delivery.

What’s next? 🪴

We’ll be launching our transition year programme in June this year and engaging 1,000 students across the country over the following 12 months. In the later part of this year, we’ll be launching a version of the programme for Dublin City Council staff who want to learn more about how smart city technologies are affecting their areas of work. 


ANF programme timeline

What do we aim to achieve? 🌳

The mission of the Academy is to educate and raise awareness of the opportunity smart city technology presents, empowering learners and facilitating the development of inclusive smart cities.

We aim to achieve this through the following key goals:

  • Deepen understanding of smart city technologies (with a focus on IoT, sensors and connectivity).
  • Reduce the barriers for people wanting to engage with these technologies.
  • Provide knowledge of how these technologies can be used to address city challenges for local government officials, citizens and entrepreneurs.
  • Build trust in the possibility of technology to address city challenges.

Get involved! 🙋‍♀️

Interested in running a smart cities workshop for transition years at your school? Or just want to learn more? Get in touch at info@nearfuture.ie 👋