Working Group 6: Design Research, Knowledge Systems and Policy-Making

Deepta Sateesh Senior Adviser, FLEDGE Faculty/Researcher, Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology (
Dr. Balakrishna Pisupati, Chairman, FLEDGE (

Biodiversity loss, climate change, water scarcity, land degradation and the related problems that each one of us (activists and policy-makers) confront every day is posing a serious challenge to us and to future generations. The ‘environmental apartheid’ that we created, nurtured and now struggling to come out of is creating a significant challenge to finding possibilities for a resilient future. States discuss, negotiate and come up with policies and plans that are based on the past and present whereas it is the future that should be the centre of our debates and actions.

Civilisations and societies, globally, have evolved using holistic creative approaches to identifying issues and inventing new ways forward. Focusing on a single or wicked problem, such as reducing and/or stopping biodiversity loss should be replaced by thinking up new kinds of dynamic systems. But, are there enough experiences in such thinking processes and successes thereof, for us to learn from?

Yes, of course. The ideas abound in the way communities have managed their local environments. We recognise this to an extent but have not found ways to deeply understand the complexities they embrace and subsequently to use their approaches towards new strategies.

Design Activism in the Context of Conservation Action

Those of us who follow the multilateral processes as well as conflicts on the ground understand how complex and interdependent the systems and subsystems have become for us to see impacts of our solutions/resolutions. The shortcomings and failures of our actions may be attributed to disciplinary failures. This is because current practitioners, especially policy makers, rely on experts from multiple fields, and attempt to bring solutions from each separately and integrate them post-idea. This approach forces disconnections and discontinuities that perpetuate wicked problems.

However, design thinking and research is not based on disciplines but is inclusive of contextual complexities, and relies on understanding the dynamic web of ‘meshwork’ (Ingold, 2011) we experience on the ground, new ways of seeing and recording, creating new kinds of data, and intricate synthesis to reveal new ideas, thought and strategies.

The need and responsibility for design, creativity and innovation has never been greater. Design offers an enormous scope for imagining new scenarios more than most other fields because at its core, design can gather ecologies to shift the dominant ontology.

Therefore, in conservation action, there is an urgent need to understand and deploy design. It is more needed now, than before, since efforts are underway to design a new paradigm, approach and action plan to secure the natural resources of the Earth for the future.

Key Questions

  • How can we ‘see’ differently or different things, when we are engaging in contentious landscapes?
  • Can we find ways of seeing this ‘meshwork’ in order to see beyond the ‘list’ of bio-resources, the objects that make up nature, and things/problems that perpetuate the nature-culture divide?
  • How can we privilege practices, processes and complex understandings of time and climate?
  • How can we record rich bodies of knowledge that embrace dynamic processes of evolution, climate and conservation practices?
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