Stanford University

Oceans, design-thinking and diplomats: A fresh approach at the UN

E-IPER PhD student Andrew Hume is participating in design thinking approaches to help solve issues of overfishing, climate change and ocean pollution for small island states.

BY Nicole Kravec, Center for Ocean Solutions
ClockJuly 20, 2019

Challenges facing the world’s oceans can be described as “wicked” – there are innumerable causes, they’re tough to describe, and traditional processes can’t resolve them. For dilemmas like climate change, overfishing, and habitat destruction that attack 71 percent of the Earth’s surface, there’s no one right answer.

Enter design thinking. This approach has become a popular method for collective and human-centered problem-solving. It requires skill in empathy, re-framing problems, breaking them into manageable parts, and rapidly prototyping solutions and collecting feedback.

On World Oceans Day, a team from Stanford’s Center for Ocean Solutions and had the opportunity to introduce this human-centered, experiential approach to UN delegates from Pacific Small Island Developing States, from Fiji to Micronesia to Tonga to Samoa, along with participants from the European Union, Singapore and Norway. This was the first time the 28 participants had engaged in this type of process.

The group focused on addressing the key question “how might people from island states address ocean issues such as overfishing, climate change and ocean pollution?” Participants then developed solutions for users, based on actual people that they knew in the Pacific, from Bali, The Maldives, Fiji, Tonga, and other places around the world.

Participants engaged in a short ocean design “sprint” that gave them a taste of how to apply the human centered design process. Together they addressed additional questions like:

  • How might [the user] increase access to markets beyond the local community?
  • How might we reduce necessity for plastic fishing gear in small-scale fishing communities?
  • How might we empower [the user] to persuade community members to use sustainable fishing practices?

Several policy makers explained that this experience helped them remember that the policies that they develop are for real people. “This is the best side event I have ever attended at the UN,” explained one participant. “I wish we could have a longer version of this session. I like how interactive, fun and outside-the-box this was for us negotiators,” said another.

This session was led by Kevin ChandEric Hartge and Lesley-Ann Noel from Stanford’s Center for Ocean Solutions, in collaboration with Stanford PhD student in the E-IPER Program, Andrew Hume. The event was generously hosted by the Norwegian Permanent Mission to the UN and co-organized with members of the Pacific Small Island Developing States.

Media Contacts

Nicole Kravec

Stanford Center for Ocean Solutions

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