Yoko Akama, Midday Musing Lecture


Monday, November 26, 12:10–1:00 p.m.
Sullivan Center, 36 S. Wabash Ave., suite 1226

Wildfires are a critical and continuous threat to residents living in regional areas of Australia. Emergency services are beginning to realize that agency-driven, one-size-fits-all approaches to community engagement mostly fail due to the diverse needs and character of communities and social groups. Their ‘command and control’ structure reinforces power-dynamics, entrenching further dependency and dis-empowerment by the community. This presentation will cover a variety of design research methods that facilitated a participant-led process of knowledge generation and exchange to raise awareness of risk and mitigation. It moves through several stages within a three-year research project, beginning with a community engagement pilot project through to training fire emergency management staff. These methods are 'scaffolds' to capture, share, and visualize locally relevant knowledge of people and environment that are highly contextual. This catalyses a transformative process to enable people to build their capabilities so they can co-design solutions that address their circumstances. Rather than designing a product or technology, the research tackles this 'wicked problem' by enabling stakeholders to have an integral role in influencing and managing issues in an on-going change process.

Dr. Yoko Akama is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Media and Communication, and Acting Leader, Design Research Institute, RMIT University, Australia. Her expertise is in human-centered design that sees designing as a 'scaffold' to facilitate communication, engagement and co-creation that leads to transformative change. Her current research with the Bushfire CRC investigates community engagement methods to enable agile preparedness for bushfires. She conducts training workshops with the Australian Emergency Management Institute to share her research with emergency staff across Australia. This body of work has been recognized by the Victorian Premier Design Award 2012 in demonstrating excellence in collaborative, design-led process in strengthening community resilience in disasters. She leads the Design for Social Innovation and Sustainability (DESIS) Lab in Melbourne and the Service Design Network in Melbourne.