Finding Agility: Our design thinking workshop

To cap off the Food Agility launch week, our staff undertook a course in innovation and design thinking

After all the buzz and excitement from the week of our official launch and our presence as a Gold Sponsor of the AFI Digital Farmers Conference (including CEO Mike's introductory address below), we had the opportunity to hold a day of team building on Friday whilst we were all gathered together in Sydney.

 

When deciding on the nature of the day's activities and themes that were going to be important to address across the team, we only had to look as far as our name to find the answer.

Throughout the formation of Food Agility, there was a drive to do things a little differently and break away from the typical CRC model by not only funding projects but also being very involved in their design. It was the belief among our founding team that in order to have a lasting impact our projects must be developed from bottom-up principles that were dynamic and agile.

Now, "agility" is an increasingly used term among innovation and entrepreneurial circles, so we felt that in order for us to break through the lingo, we should spend the day breaking down the design principles behind 'agility' and then explore what they actually look like when implemented in our digital food and agribusiness sphere.

So we enlisted the help of our good friends at X-Lab to facilitate a one day crash course in design-led thinking, held in the conference space down at Sydney Fish Market (SFM).

What is design thinking?

To begin the day, Julian from X-Lab opened up to the room a chance for everyone to express what their existing ideas of design thinking were. Answers such as "collaboration", "problem solving", and "active listening" were all submitted, but following a lengthy group discussion, the one word that was acknowledged to represent the core principles of design was "empathy".

Julian from X-Lab presents design thinking to the Food Agility team
Julian leading the team in the introductory design workshop.

Empathy, or the ability to put oneself in the shoes of another, was seen as the underlying factor that can distinguish a great research project that delivers wholesome and practical outcomes, as opposed to those without which may have minimal impact or minimal real-world uptake. 

The reasons were said to be because research that applies principles of empathy are far more likely to:

  1. Understand the needs and wants of the end-user during project development,
  2. Involve the end-user throughout the various execution stages of the project, and
  3. Be responsive ("agile") to feedback from the end-user and to then modify project activities on the go as required.

These ideas were expressed through the visual representation of traditional vs agile research (below), which summarise our motivations to design projects that are user-centered and incorporate principles of continuous improvement.

The traditional method of agricultural research
Food Agility method of creating agile research

Putting it into practice - The SFM challenge

We were then sprung to put our all our talking about design thinking into practice, when Julian posed the challenge:

"How might we... redesign Sydney Fish Market for a delightful consumer experience?"

In the context of the recently announced $250 million makeover that the NSW Government has granted to SFM, it was our task in groups to go through a fast-tracked design process to try and deliver proposals for the best consumer-led solutions as possible within a two hour period.

Step 1 - Empathise

Mara Bun talks with Sydney Fish Market customers
Mara (A2D2 & Strategy) talks with a group of market goers.
Megan Tudehope interviews a long-time SFM attendee
Megan (Communications Manager) talks with a man who has been attending SFM for over 90 years.
Mike Ridout interviews a SFM stalwart
Mike (WA Innovation Broker) interviews a SFM stalwart.

Step 2 - Define

After twenty minutes of frantic talks and questions with passer-by attendees of the market downstairs that day, the groups reassembled and post-it noted all the different opinions and ideas that the customers had expressed when asked about their take on the upcoming SFM expansion. 

These thoughts were all collated and compared for each group to select one key overriding problem that they felt needs to be addressed in order for the expansion to deliver highly positive customer experiences.

Step 3 - Ideate

The next step was then to brainstorm as many possible solutions to the identified problem, no matter how wacky or wild, to build up an array of activities that could be easily and quickly assessed for their viability and efficacy.

Step 4 - Prototype & Test

Given the limited time that was available to complete the design process, each group used a consumer journey map as the tool to convey their own prototyped solution for an improved customer experience at SFM. Each group delivered highly creative and innovative prototypes that spanned from "choose-your-own-cuisine" cooking stations, to interactive screens that show the provenance of your fish, to employing knowledgeable concierge staff, even to simply better parking systems.

This vast array of ideas were presented and shared amongst the group, and talked through as a form of makeshift testing. Some ideas were championed and some ideas were agreed to be sent back to the prototype phase, however the lessons learned by the group in going through this agile process were invaluable.

Camilla Roberts, Mike Briers and Ren Ping Liu present their journey map
Camilla (Qld IB), Mike (CEO) and Ren (Research Programme Leader) present their "choose-your-own-cuisine" cooking stations solution.
Clare Rutherford, Dave Lamb and Ashley Rootsey present their ideas.
Clare (Portfolio Manager), Dave (Chief Scientist) and Ashley (Project Officer) present their ideas for a SFM expert concierge.

By gaining a hands-on and practical understanding of the methods behind design thinking, the entire team were in agreement that the driving philosophies behind Food Agility will be core competencies of ours as we move forward and begin to undertake in more and more digital agrifood projects. 

The day served to unite the team and reinforce the commitment we have made to our partners and stakeholders to deliver solutions to industry problems based on principles on innovation, continuous improvement, and most importantly collaboration.

Food Agility team pose in the Sydney Seafood School
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