Designing solutions to mitigate climate change

by Katie Herrmann

The DeLuca Forum in the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery was buzzing last Thursday as 150 people from academia, industry, non-profits and the community joined to redefine climate solutions at the June 12 Climate Quest Solutions Workshop.

The Climate Quest initiative aims to find lasting solutions to climate change. The initiative is a collaboration between the Office of Sustainability, Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, Wisconsin Energy Institute and the Global Health Institute.

Twenty-five teams were selected from a pool of 80 climate mitigation and adaptation ideas spanning the biological and physical sciences, engineering, social sciences, agriculture, arts, communications, and education. Proposed solutions included media campaigns, food initiatives, waste management systems and educational programs.

At the workshop, Madison-based design-thinking company Design Concepts led teams through a series of activities to spur innovative thinking and help move the project ideas toward concrete solutions.

Design thinking is the process of quickly generating, prototyping, testing, and refining ideas based on user needs and experiences.

For many participants, the approach required setting aside their usual expectations and ways of working, said Design Concepts president and UW–Madison alumnus Dave Franchino.

“Iteration is one of the most liberating – and frustrating – aspects of the design-thinking process,” Franchino said to the group. Contrary to the common notion that “at the end of the path was the one truth, there are an infinite number of correct solutions.”

Working with trained facilitators, the participants engaged in exercises to challenge assumptions and consider outcomes from multiple viewpoints.

Over the course of the summer, each team will distill their idea into a concept paper and 10-minute pitch that they will present to a board of investors on August 25. The top teams will move on to the next round of the Climate Quest competition.