DESIGN INNOVATION FOR NEW GROWTH (DING): design as a strategy for growth and innovation in the creative economy of the Highlands and Islands.

Lead Research Organisation: Glasgow School of Art
Department Name: The Innovation School


Scotland has faced longstanding economic issues with low levels of entrepreneurialism, start-ups and innovation and, due to the complex challenges faced by different regions, sectors and types of organisation, a tailored approach to policy support has been recommended. The Highlands and Islands (H&I) region faces particular innovation challenges, including the dispersed working communities and technological infrastructure of the region, which can limit opportunities in the creative economy. The crucial role of Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) in supporting regional economic development has been emphasised, but as the recent Dowling Report (BIS, 2015) acknowledged whilst business and university collaborations are critically important in supporting innovation, collaborations are complex to initiate and sustain. This is particularly acute for the creative economy where it is common for workers to be self-employed and there is a preponderance of project-based temporary employment and 'bulimic' patterns of work.

The applicants prior project Design in Action (DiA) brought together academics, entrepreneurs and designers in residential innovation events called 'Chiasma' guided by strategic design principles and enabled them to support the development of innovative products, processes and services in SMEs and micro-businesses in Scotland ( Chiasma provided enriching opportunities for multidisciplinary audiences to work collaboratively, co-produce knowledge and learn collectively. The DiA project highlighted the importance of developing safe spaces for knowledge exchange and promoted successful tacit knowledge exchange of skills and experience, which encouraged a sense of shared understanding and values, of reciprocity and of trust. A key finding from DiA was that the team encountered challenges in bringing together designers, academics and entrepreneurs who were often meeting for the first time, and pushing them into forming a new, risky start-up together. To ameliorate this challenge, we will engage existing networks and communities to provide a more stable starting point for any collaborations and business propositions.

Working with Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), Design Innovation for New Growth intends to propagate design as a strategy for business growth and innovation with new audiences in the Highlands and Islands (H&I) region. The DING team, in consultation with HIE, have identified a clear opportunity for the delivery of knowledge generated in DiA within their established XpoNorth creative industries networks (

Planned Impact

The DING team has developed a pathway to impact by outlining an innovative process of engagement with academics, creative practitioners and businesses in the H&I region. The project will support and develop the existing creative networks in the region, and connect them through collaborative working with wider interested networks and investors in Scotland. We have pro-actively engaged with gatekeepers in the region and the KE agenda has been co-developed with stakeholders at HIE. The DING team intends to build long-term relationships that can respond quickly and imaginatively to the key concerns presented. The team support the shift from the old, often uni-directional, academic-to-beneficiary style of research and engagement, which can be "dismissed as unresponsive to people's needs, intellectually presumptuous and undemocratic" (Times Higher Education, December 2014), towards stakeholders being invited to co-construct projects.

Creative Industries Practitioners: This project aims to mitigate and offset issues of precarious creative work by offering opportunities for a supportive, safe context to build capacity in design-led techniques. This will offset risk by offering a sustainable network, linking practitioners to new business and support opportunities and potential cross-sub-sector collaborations. By involving academics, creative practitioners and businesses in collaborative projects they will be exposed to new knowledge, skills and experience from other stakeholders which are crucial to fostering relational exchanges.

Creative Economy Policymakers and Supporting Institutions: The learning generated from DiA will be shared directly with creative industries stakeholders and policymakers in the H&I region. This will enhance a sustainable creative economic network that, in turn, will lead to improved opportunities for business innovation and growth and will raise the profile of the region as a creative and innovative place to do business. DING will create new opportunities for existing creative communities to work in new collaborations thus overcoming silos and helping to join up support infrastructure.

Scottish Creative Industries Partnership Strategy: Currently the Scottish Creative Industries Partnership, which is led by Creative Scotland and involves the support agencies and Scottish Government, is working on a new strategy. Both DING partners, HIE and Creative Scotland, have highlighted the opportunity to feed DiA outcomes through DING into the new strategy.

HEIs: This follow-on project involves the partnership of two academic institutions in Scotland, GSA and Abertay University, which continues the cross-institutional partnership developed as part of the DiA programme. This will support ongoing development of expertise in the field and demonstrate pathways to impact for applying such expertise.

Design: Academic researchers from the field of design will benefit from enhanced understanding of applying design as a strategy for business growth and innovation; emerging roles for designers in tackling complex issues and engaging dispersed geographical communities and knowledge of how to integrate design-led innovation into collaborative ways of working.

KE events: Delivering a series of matchmaking, design-led KE workshops with academics, businesses and creative practitioners will connect the skillsets and capacity across creative networks towards new collaborations, new business ideas and new communities of practice.

Design Showcase: At the end of the project, a final Design Showcase will be delivered at XpoNorth 2018 to share successful collaborations and pathways to impact, focused on the value of design in this process.

Outputs: This will include a final research report, targeting a mixed audience of creative practitioners, creative industries support services and policy makers, as well as a special issue journal on creative collaborative working in distributed geographic context
Description We recognise an increasing interest in the creative economy due to a normalising and persistent demand for innovation and growth in the wider economy. DING represents the key findings including the interests, experiences and practices of creative practitioners in distributed regions such as the Highlands & Islands of Scotland.
Empowering individuals and interdependence

In delivering DING, we responded to issues articulated by the gatekeepers and partners around creative work in non-urban geographies, a key aspiration was building creative capability at an individual level, but also connecting people to more collective models of operation through our close collaboration with three key stakeholders.

Capitalising on resourcefulness

Inherently, creative practitioners are skilled at working within constraints and this provided the basis in DING for looking for repeatable mechanisms and processes for using, accessing and sharing resources more effectively and innovatively to support sustainability and growth.

Absorbing risk for innovation

The early stages of the project identified a paucity of time and resource amongst creative practitioners for innovation exacerbated by some of the place-based challenges of their non-urban locations. The DING Innovation Collective enhanced creative practitioners ability to develop and share their creative practice.

Stimulating opportunities for collective exchange

In connecting stakeholders and creative practitioners in and across different locations, it was possible for them to acknowledge commonalities in the innovation challenges they faced. This in turn kindled a strong sense of the value of bringing peers together, promoted an entrepreneurial energy on what was possible, and a sense of belonging according to those who participated.

Reframing growth as a fractal process

At the outset the project team acknowledged the tension between support mechanisms focused purely on growth, scalability and expansion and the lived experience of most creative practitioners in the H&I region. DING was able to capture some of the wider forms of value practitioners created individually and collectively as a community.
Exploitation Route The aim of DING was to use existing creative networks in the Highlands & Islands as a vehicle to connect, collaborate and build capacity in the region, and exploit the opportunities for design-led growth and innovation, by applying the strategic design methods and approaches developed and tested in DiA.

DING identified four key objectives to deliver this follow-on funding project:

1. To translate learning on Design Innovation to the demands and needs of the creative industries in the H&I.

2. To apply expertise to successfully establish new collaborations between academics, businesses and practitioners in the region.

3. To deliver bespoke design-led knowledge exchange (KE) supporting entrepreneurial activity and working models of creative collaboration.

4. To demonstrate the value of design-led collaboration as a strategy for business growth and innovation in the region.

The DING Final Report is currently being authored.
Sectors Creative Economy

Description Engaging creative practitioners' - located in the Highlands & Islands (H&I) - deep ties between their practice and place enabled them to gain greater understanding of their own tacit knowledge and confidence as practitioners to share, innovate and exchange with others. This in turn enhanced their capabilities to develop their creative narratives and new modes of practice to access further funding opportunities, residencies and creative roles in both the H&I region and beyond. Practitioners' tacit knowledge and shared "cultural assets" are located within rich heterogeneous networks. Practitioners' community networks have been developed in ways that have strengthened their confidence - how they present and develop creative work - particularly new forms of expression resulting in enhanced articulation of their practice. This confidence is based on enhanced social networks and collaborations in relation to creative practice, new opportunities and the development of leadership skills to enact these opportunities in innovative ways. Practitioners cited developing new expressions and new thinking to enhance, re-frame or re-appropriate heritage and "cultural assets" to support the sustainability of their own work and its contribution to increased understanding of local traditions leading to enhanced cultural preservation in regional and indigenous island contexts. DING focused on building practitioners' capabilities at an individual level whilst connecting them to more collective modes of operation through partnership with key stakeholders responding to issues articulated around creative work in regional geographies. In doing so, partners cited gaining new thinking in how different support organisations could better engage a diversity of creative practice and sustainable impact having experienced a designed process of collaboration.
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Creative Economy,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Economic

Description AHRC Leadership Fellow
Amount £202,185 (GBP)
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 02/2019 
End 02/2021
Description Design Innovation & Cultural Resonances (Resonance): Place based Collaboration
Amount £100,809 (GBP)
Funding ID AH/W009080/1 
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2022 
End 01/2023
Description Design Innovation and Land-Assets (DI&L)
Amount £26,264 (GBP)
Funding ID AH/T006048/1 
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 12/2019 
End 06/2021
Description Design Innovation and Land-Assets: Towards New Thinking & Communities
Amount £80,837 (GBP)
Funding ID AH/T01234X/1 
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 02/2020 
End 10/2021
Description SGSAH Creative Engagement Fellowship
Amount £75,000 (GBP)
Organisation University of Glasgow 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2018 
End 12/2018
Title Design Innovation for New Growth (DING) 
Description The DING Model is based on Design Innovation practices, tools and methods that contribute to: (1) Network growth: new and enhanced communities of practice; (2) Knowledge growth: new and enhanced forms of practice; (3) Value growth: new and enhanced products, services and experiences; (4) Market Growth: new and enhanced audiences and communication 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2019 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact This body of contextually located research and knowledge exchange was pivotal in enhancing creative practitioners' performance and capability culminating in establishing new regional networks. As a result of this empirical research, participating practitioners developed enhanced individual and community narratives through a focus on the typology of people, practice and place. The research acted as a conduit for advancing and sustaining creative practice by positioning local people within a "community of practice" coalesced around shared cultural assets. The most fundamental evidence of individual change is how participants articulated developments in their creative practice and process, which support their local, national and international positioning within the creative economy. Place-based cultural and heritage research attends to the particularities of practitioners, micro-enterprises and organisations to sustain innovative modes of creative practice with resultant impacts on creativity, culture and society. This had demonstrable impact on how cultural organisations engage with and support creative practitioners within regional creative economies, specifically the Northern Isles and Highlands & Islands of Scotland. 
Description Shetland Arts Development Agency 
Organisation Shetland Arts
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution The PI has worked extensively with Shetland Arts Development Agency (SADA) and Graeme Howell, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) over the last eight years. The collaboration with SADA acts as a fulcrum to collaborate with wider stakeholders from: Shetland Community Planning Partnership; The Centre for Island Creativity; The Shetland Island Council; The Shetland Amenity Trust; Shetland Local Authority - Economic Development Department; Highlands & Islands Enterprise; and Creative Scotland.
Collaborator Contribution The PI in collaboration with SADA have co-designed approaches to support creative practitioners and the wider cultural economy in Shetland aligned to SADA's Social Outcomes Framework.
Impact AHRC Funding AH/W009080/1
Start Year 2020
Description Shetland Arts Development Agency (SADA) 
Organisation Shetland Arts
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Resonance foregrounds KE and translational research to connect local communities with design-led innovation relevant to place-based capacity building. The series of co-design workshops will enable the development of place-based collaborations and innovation capability towards embedding wider socio-cultural impacts at a regional scale.
Collaborator Contribution Co-design methods and tools.
Impact Workshops and Events Impact-films and Screenings Academic Journal Articles
Start Year 2013
Description DING Studios: Workshops with stakeholders across the Highlands & Islands creative economy 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact DING Studios: we recruited key partners in craft across Orkney and Shetland to co-design challenge-led workshops, working through provocations and visual mapping with targeted cohorts to reveal key opportunities for creative growth. Shetland's creative leaders joined a facilitated discussion on a "collective innovation" strategy for Shetland's creative industries. Orkney's Festival leaders joined a workshop exploring design innovation activities aiming to connect and stimulate growth across Orkney's festival programme. Craft experts, practitioners were invited to a series of design innovation workshops addressing craft in the Highlands & Islands. In addition, we developed the Creative Growth Model as a series of conversational tools for framing creative businesses and their networks through innovation challenges and trajectories comprising: (1) Shetland: supporting trajectories for a cohort of creative practitioners in Shetland through design innovation surgeries for local creatives and businesses; (2) Orkney: co-creating opportunities and developmental trajectories for festival innovation; and (3) Craft: design innovation surgeries and creative collaborations to support craft makers.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018,2019