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The Wrong Theory Protocol: A Pre-Ideation Technique to Enhance Creativity and Empathy

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual On line

Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

Empathy and Human-Centered Design 2

Tagged Division

Design in Engineering Education

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Paper Authors


Vanessa Svihla University of New Mexico Orcid 16x16

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Dr. Vanessa Svihla is a learning scientist and associate professor at the University of New Mexico in the Organization, Information and Learning Sciences program and in the Chemical and Biological Engineering Department. She served as Co-PI on an NSF RET Grant and a USDA NIFA grant, and is currently co-PI on three NSF-funded projects in engineering and computer science education, including a Revolutionizing Engineering Departments project. She was selected as a National Academy of Education / Spencer Postdoctoral Fellow and a 2018 NSF CAREER awardee in engineering education research. Dr. Svihla studies learning in authentic, real world conditions; this includes a two-strand research program focused on (1) authentic assessment, often aided by interactive technology, and (2) design learning, in which she studies engineers designing devices, scientists designing investigations, teachers designing learning experiences and students designing to learn.

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Luke Kachelmeier University of New Mexico

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Luke Kachelmeier finished his bachelor’s degree from the University of New Mexico in May 2019. He completed a double major degree in applied math and psychology. His interests are in human factors, creativity, and design. After graduation he started research with the Air Force in the field of Human Reliability Analysis.

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The purpose of this paper is to introduce a new design methodology—The Wrong Theory Protocol (WTP)—to generate more empathetic and creative ideas. Our first ideas are seldom our best ideas. Many turn to brainstorming/ideation techniques, yet struggle to come up with ideas that help them make progress. Fixation can make it challenging to have insight that is genuinely new. Inspired by the idea that the darkest night comes before the dawn, the wrong theory protocol engages participants in first coming up with terrible ideas, before coming up with beneficial ideas. This paper describes the WTP, including a facilitation guide, and shares results of its use with diverse audiences of new designers. By testing WTP with various sociotechnical problems and audiences, we have identified ways WTP works to enhance the creativity and empathy of design ideas, provided the designer takes up the role of change agent. We share ways faculty who teach design can feasibly incorporate WTP into their courses.

Svihla, V., & Kachelmeier, L. (2020, June), The Wrong Theory Protocol: A Pre-Ideation Technique to Enhance Creativity and Empathy Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--35383

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