Supporting creativity and innovation at UCC

21 Apr 2022

April 21 is UN World Creativity and Innovation Day. We look at the ways UCC Academy is supporting creativity and innovation throughout the campus.

As head of the School of Education at UCC, Dr Fiona Chambers brings creativity and innovation into all aspects of her work.

“Creativity is about ideas but innovation is human-centred and is about turning ideas into impact. There is a huge difference between those two constructs. You need to teach both,” she says. “I teach a module on creativity with my student teachers. Hundreds of them have gone through that module, which is superb.”

Along with her role as a lecturer in physical education and sport pedagogy, Fiona is also a design thinking coach, something which informs her involvement in many innovative projects across UCC.

She describes design thinking as human-centred innovation.

“It is basically connecting with people and end-users who have tricky or complex problems. Design thinking is a mindset you use to try and help them solve their problem. It is centred on empathy and is all about trying to figure out what’s wrong. Typically in a process, we tend to jump straight to a solution because we think we know what’s going on. Design thinking is a way of empathising but following a particular process. I call it serious play. You are playing with serious issues to try to come up with something different which will really resonate with the end-user and make a difference to their lives.”

Fiona is also a programme co-director on the Post-Graduate Diploma for Innovation through Design Thinking at UCC.

“That is the first time that a school of education has worked with a business school in co-delivering a programme. The people who are on the course are not teachers, they are a mixture of engineers, architects, nurses, healthcare professionals. So we have a chance to do a deep dive on innovation in that space,” she says.

When lockdown hit, Fiona’s creative instincts kicked into gear and she ended up establishing another new initiative from her kitchen table at home. 

“I targeted sport and physical activity and decided to use my rolodex to grab as many people as I could in my own network to see if we could inspire teams to enter a competition to be taught how to use design thinking and then to have their projects incubated.”

The Global Design Thinking challenge attracted the support of UNESCO and the World Health Organisation and Sport Ireland has come on board with funding for its second year.

“We have three projects which have now entered IGNITE UCC to be incubated in the coming year. That really shows innovation because it went from the idea generation all the way through to what will hopefully be impact.”

Fiona has also been involved in the launch of the Ideas for Impact initiative with IGNITE.

“Again, that is trying to capture talent from across the campus. We chose sport for our first one out but there are obviously lots more areas where we can use that mechanism.”

She highlights the support she has received from UCC Academy across these many initiatives.

UCC Academy have their fingerprints all over these projects — I call them the Swiss Army Knife of consultancy because you literally can do anything with them, from the branding of Ideas for Impact, Strategic Design at UCC, which is the umbrella name for what we are doing, and the Global Design Challenge.

Fiona adds: "They have been involved in the communications, applying for funding, I don’t think there is anything that they can’t do. They have the talent to support whatever aspect is needed. UCC Academy has been holding hands with us all the way through this, they have been superb,” 

CEO of UCC Academy, Arlene Vithaldas says: “When we are delivering a project service in a university, we are surrounded by great thinkers and innovators.  Our project managers and creatives play a support role to getting these ideas off the ground.  There’s a real synergy between what UCC Academy does and the Design Thinking principles and great scope to take this partnership further.”

Jonathan Leahy Maharaj of the Creative Services Team at UCC Academy is one of those who has assisted Fiona in her innovative endeavours, working with her on the Global Design Challenge branding and identity. While creativity is a key element of his work as a graphic designer, he believes it is something everyone can utilise.

“I think everyone is creative, I think it is just about figuring out what level of creativity you have and how you unlock it. For me, there is almost a sadness when people say ‘I’m not creative’.”

For Jonathan, clearly communicating the message of a client is the most important part of his job.

“For a user, they should never look at something and think ‘that is a beautiful logo’, they should look at it and go, ‘I believe in these people’. If I can do that artistically or aesthetically, then great, but my job is to disseminate information from my clients to their target audience. That is the creativity, to condense my artistic leanings or emotions about something and to create something that is legible and understandable.

For example, I have just done some work with the UCC Cancer Trials group — these people are looking to find a cure for cancer, they are doing incredible work. I want their work to look as innovative and life-changing as it really is so that when people see them, they trust and believe in them and so want to support them.”

For Chambers, one of the ultimate rewards of her job is seeing what happens when creativity and innovation is harnessed for good.

“Last year we had 45 projects that came through the post-graduate diploma, the majority were social innovation, absolutely unbelievable stuff from changing the lives of the elderly in communities to developing new recruitment processes for companies, you name it. This year we have 35 people doing the same, each one has their own little design team. The impact is palpable because what people tend to do is they plug into their own networks and their own social capital to try and make things happen. If you gather around a problem that matters to people, like poverty or homelessness or getting people more active, everybody will come around that to help you. It is an amazing sense of power over your own life and being able to help others. I talk to my students about the Japanese concept of Ikigai which is that lovely sense of purpose, a centring force in why you would use design thinking, to make a difference, however small or big.”

UCC Academy

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