June 15, 2019
June 15, 2019
October 19, 2019
Liberal Education/Engineering & Society
Elsbach and Stigliani (2018) contend, “the effective use of design thinking tools in organizations had a profound effect on organizational culture—where we define organizational culture as comprising the underlying norms, values, and assumptions that define the “right way” to behave in an organization” [1, p. 2279]. Design thinking (DT) and its tools (e.g., customer journey maps, empathy maps, brainstorming, etc.) are more useful in some organizational cultures over others. In organizational and disciplinary cultures that value experimentation or collaboration (i.e., engineering), DT has been shown to have a positive impact. Citing the presence of design courses, product design skills, and the use of design processes that are central to engineering disciplinary cultures and professional practice, Lammi (2011) and others have argued, “the essence of engineering is design” [2, p. 1]. More importantly, design is not just what engineers do or learn throughout their undergraduate and graduate careers, but a central part of engineering cultures. If that is true, then engineering disciplinary cultures are ripe for use of DT in addressing problems as design challenges.
In this paper, we argue that three interconnected issues pertaining to diversity and inclusion, professional formation, and exclusionary engineering disciplinary cultures are wicked problems. Wicked problems are complex, interrelated and require multifaceted solutions. Thus, the three issues are wicked problems that might be best resolved through DT for (at least) three reasons. First, they are being implemented in a supportive disciplinary culture—a College of Engineering. Second, the process of design thinking involves partnering with stakeholders rather than designing solutions for them. Third, the design process is iterative, and involves multiple design cycles to prototype potential solutions that address diversity and inclusion, professional formation, and exclusionary engineering cultures.
The research reported in this paper is part of a larger, three-year, National Science Foundation funded project that uses the three phases of design (Inspiration, Ideation, and Implementation) to attempt to transform organizational cultures of engineering . The comparative research project is focused on two engineering schools: the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) and the School of Biomedical Engineering at a large, Midwestern university. The larger study is guided by three connected design questions: RQ1: How might we make engineering programs more diverse and inclusive? RQ2: How might we better prepare engineering graduates for practice? RQ3: How effective is the design thinking approach for addressing these complex and inter-related issues? In this paper, we examine and evaluate the role of DT in organizational transformation in engineering (RQ3) by analyzing interviews of nine members of the School of ECE after they participated in six design sessions. Whereas previous research on DT has suggested that the approach had an impact on participants’ understanding of diversity and inclusion , this paper continues to build upon existing research examining the effectiveness of DT in ECE contexts. Additionally, this paper evaluates the participants’ experiences and understandings of the role and impact of DT in generating potential solutions within the School of ECE toward a more inclusive and holistic learning environment.
 K. D. Elsbach and I. Stigliani, “Design Thinking and Organizational Culture: A Review and Framework for Future Research,” J. Manage., vol. 44, no. 6, pp. 2274–2306, 2018.  M. D. Lammi, “Thinking in terms of systems through engineering design,” in Proceedings of the American Society for Engineering Education, 2011.  Authors, 2017.  Authors, 2018.
Eddington, S., & Zoltowski, C. B., & Brightman, A. O., & Corple, D., & Buzzanell, P. M. (2019, June), Tensions in Applying a Design-Thinking Approach to Address Barriers to Increasing Diversity and Inclusion in a Large, Legacy Engineering Program Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--33362
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