What makes inclusion a wicked problem and how might Design Thinking address it? Part 2

What makes inclusion a wicked problem and how might Design Thinking address it? Part 1
November 2, 2017
‘One of the Kids’: Supporting Children with Disability and their Families
March 27, 2018

In the first post of this two post series we outlined some of the reasons why inclusion might be considered a wicked problem. In this second post we offer some thoughts on how design thinking, a deliberate and thoughtful solution-seeking approach for addressing complex problems (Brown, 2008), is well-suited to address unsolved challenges in inclusion.

In what ways would design thinking address the tricky issues we raised in our first post? Let’s look at them in turn.

  1. Inclusion looks different for nearly every child, and special education has long understood a good way to address this: individualised education plans for children. How would design thinking add to this? By including a layer of empathetic need finding in the process. When educators and allied health team members can reframe the way they observe children from a clinical expertise lens to include the broad question of “how do our children and families want to feel?” (an empathetic frame), interesting and innovative opportunities for improvement tend to present themselves.
  2. There is no one right way to “do” inclusion. Design thinkers embrace the notion that there are multiple ways to solve a problem and the best way to discover what works is by embracing radical collaboration and fostering a culture of prototyping. Radical collaboration refers to involving people in the solution process who are most impacted by a program, but are rarely asked to the table to discuss it (such as children and parents). A culture of prototyping refers to being open to trying new ideas on a small scale in safe spaces and obtaining feedback on whether they work or not. Prototyping helps prevent weak ideas which sound good from going to scale and helps good ideas get better.
  3. At every turn, challenges to inclusion are based on other previous problems. Design thinking asks “why” at every turn. Why does a particular situation exist? And what are the reasons for those reasons? By unpacking the “whys” of a situation one can discover the roots of an issue and design more meaningful solutions.
  4. Everyone feels we can’t fail. Design thinkers like to say “fail fast to succeed sooner.”  What design thinking brings to the table is a process by which teams of educators, allied health professionals, parents and children can conceive of and test new solutions to longstanding challenges and let them safely fail miserably with everyone learning along the way.

In sum, inclusion, done successfully, requires a judicious mix of planning and implementation by a myriad of partners, from educators, to allied health professionals, to parents. To truly fulfill the promise of full access and participation of young children with disabilities in early childhood education and care services, we must be both purposeful and empathetic, collaborative and personalised, radical yet feasible. Design thinking, as a process and a mindset, may hold some of the keys to unlock these challenges.

John Nash and Beth Rous are the keynote presenters at the ECIA NSW/ACT  2017 Inclusion Symposium- Partners in Practice in Sydney on 30th November 2017.  Drs Nash and Rous will provide an interactive presentation and workshop session on Disrupting Traditional Approaches to Inclusion through Design Thinking.  For more information about the Symposium including how to register to attend click here. To view an introductory webinar with the presenters click here. 

John Nash (john.nash@uky.edu) is Department Chair and Associate Professor of Educational Leadership Studies at the University of Kentucky and the founding director of the Laboratory on Design Thinking in Education, or dLab.  John is a specialist in the application of human centered design in education.  He teaches a range of courses on design thinking, school technology leadership, and school reform.  His current research agenda focuses on the methods to design and prototype innovations in education. He has held faculty positions at Iowa State University and the University of Texas at El Paso.  Follow John Nash on Twitter: http://twitter.com/jnash

Beth Rous (brous@uky.edu) is Professor in the Department of Educational Leadership Studies, College of Education, and Research and Policy Associate at Human Development Institute, at University of Kentucky.  She is a former special education teacher at the preschool, elementary and middle school levels.  Since 1990, she has secured over $97 million in federal and state grants/contracts to support the design and large-scale implementation of early care and education programs with a focus on children from vulnerable populations.  Follow Beth Rous on Twitter: http://twitter.com/bethrous



Brown, T. (2008, June). Design Thinking. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from http://www.ideo.com/images/uploads/thoughts/IDEO_HBR_Design_Thinking.pdf

Catalina Voroneanu
Catalina Voroneanu
Inclusion Program Coordinator

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *