Prototyping Policy & Hedge School Dublin

24 Feb 2012

How do we decide which policies to pursue, what are the right choices and where should we focus limited resources? It sometimes seems in Ireland these conversations are carried out in the abstract – a Liveline, Primetime, Madame Editor cycle of debate removed from the messy realities of embedding change in everyday life. Hedge School Dublin, a design & learning camp for secondary school students, provides a tangible example of prototyping Irish educational policy – one that embraces creativity, collaboration, critical thinking and self directed learning – in short, the 21st century skills we are told are crucial for our future.

Last November I set up and ran Hedge School Dublin with Caoimhe McMahon & Emma Creighton of TFE Research. A design and learning camp, we gathered 30 students from 10 schools across Dublin for two weeks, working closely together to understand and design for 21st Century Learning. Students arrived waiting to be taught and left wanting to learn. They developed new skills – from how to work in teams to video editing. Above all they learned to be confidence in their own ability to question the world around them, imagine alternatives and create the future. VIDEO HERE Caoimhe & Emma, as academic researchers at TFE Research, are currently analysing Hedge School Dublin to inform their PhDs and help shape future learning environments. For me the lessons are slightly different — about how to develop policy prototypes, create real world examples and build an evidence base for decision makers and the public alike. Lots worked, lots didn’t, here’s what I learned. Raise a flag to find partners Hedge School Dublin went from a conversation in a coffee shop to a two week learning camp in less than 3 months. It was possible that's to the generous support of many individuals and organisations – Inventorium for sponsoring materials, NCAD for providing a space, Bridge21 for their educational expertise, Design guru Peter O’Gara of me&him&you, Furniture manufacturer V/S, Camara Ireland for technology support and a range of guest visitors and speakers. By loudly proclaiming our intent, asking for support and being willing to look foolish we made it happen. We made it easy for people to engage by having a clear understanding of what we were trying to do and asking for specific, bounded commitments. The assets, resources and skills were all around us – we just had to be willing to ask. Be visible – ‘a shop window for change’Situated in a large gallery space on a prominent street allowed the design camp to achieve real visibility – a ‘shop window for change’. Making our work, and working, visible was vital in drawing people in. To often this work is hidden, we wanted to clearly demonstrate that young people can work in this way. Over two weeks this shop window approach allowed students to have a dialogue with the street, letting people experience a new approach to education in ‘run-time’. That said we were less visible with policy makers than we would have liked. It’s tempting to hide away but it’s also tempting just to be visible to ‘easy to reach’ groups of peers and supporters. Focusing on Impact Hedge School Dublin had a real impact on students, shifting their approach to learning, engagement with peers & teachers and in understanding of their own potential. However we know these things only anecdotally. We didn’t put in place a method to understand and track impacts, not just over two weeks but over the many months afterwards. To influence policy and really change Irish education we need to measurably demonstrate successes. Hedge School Dublin is just one small scale example. All the contributors to this blog over the last two weeks are prototyping ways that allow us to see, experience and judge how new policies might work in action. Dublin is a city bubbling with events, groups, talks, meetings, exhibitions – a rolling, messy, pop-up version of a future that might be. Our challenge is harnessing these pockets of energy, scaling for impact, shaping broader social, economic & political debates and actively designing the future.