Adam Jefford On Community Impact & Design Thinking In Education

As Manager of the Asia Pacific Design Library at the State Library of Queensland, Adam is passionate about opportunities to engage critically with contemporary learning experiences in Art & Design education. 

Adam is currently on secondment from his role as Head of Creative Industries at Pimpama State Secondary College and a past Queensland-Smithsonian (Cooper-Hewitt) Design Museum Fellow.

In 2016, Adam was awarded a Good Design Award for Jump Start – a design thinking and social entrepreneurship program empowering school students to make a positive change in the world through design-led creativity and entrepreneurial endeavours.

Adam is passionate about opportunities to engage critically with contemporary learning experiences in Art & Design education in Queensland.


Adam discusses his experience in implementing design thinking and social entrepreneurship into high schools and shares insights into how high schools can create community impact.


Highlights from the interview (For Full details, listen to the podcast)

[Tom Allen] - Adam could you please share a bit about your background in education and the path you took to get to where you are today? [2:09]

[Adam Jefford] - I didn't set out to be a teacher or educator, but it's certainly something that has played and continues to play a big part of my personal and professional life. [Adam talks about his education and work experience and about discovering design thinking as a process that made sense for pedagogy, teaching and engagement of young people in projects.]

For those of us unfamiliar with design thinking, could you please explain what it is and the benefits of it in the context of secondary education? [3:57]

It works at a couple of levels. At a design level, its about a language of problem solving or a language of thinking about how to solve problems. It's certainly at an educational level about what we would broadly call an inquiry process to learning. [Adam discusses this process further from a 'hands on' learning or authentic learning approach connected to real world challenges.]

You joined PSSC in it’s opening year and have seen it grow enormously while you’ve been there. How have you embedded design thinking within PSSC across the curriculum and what were the challenges you faced along the way? [5:21]

Most schools have significant histories. When you work in schools or places that have a history, often you talk about change management - how do you move forward in your process while retaining stakeholders and getting that buy in. At Pimpama, we were without legacy and there was nothing to change necessarily. What we brought to the picture was the idea that we wanted to change things that we'd all experienced in schools as well as some individual experiences we'd had. In terms of challenges it wasn't so much about change management as it was about the opportunity to build something from scratch. As everybody knows, when you build something from scratch it's really a lot harder than it seems because you discover a whole heap of things you'd never have predicted before you started.


What advice would you give to teachers or principals interested in implementing design thinking or social entrepreneurship education in their school and what would you tell them from the experiences you've learnt about how they could best go about that? [7:25]

I think it's about finding the right projects and finding the right space to do it. That's easy to say and hard to do. [Adam talks about some of the challenges.]

Part of the success we've had at Pimpama has been about finding projects that align and connect with all of the stakeholders. It's also about the alignment with wider priorities. Having said that, when we've done projects, we've done them knowing that if it's a good project and good piece of curriculum, you almost don't need to worry about the alignment because in a sense it'll take care of itself. So we put our energy into developing the good curriculum rather than worrying about meeting a minimum mandated standard of education. [Adam explains this further.]

What do you believe are the fundamental ingredients required to create a collaborative and innovative learning environment in schools? [9:59]

I think it's about relationships. It's not difficult to strike up a partnership but I think that a lot of the partnerships that schools have are transactional in a sense that it's based on a surface level conversation - and that meets the needs of schools, but the partnerships and relationships I strive for and those we've tried to establish as a college are about a deeper engagement in the conversation and relationship. A deeper buy in, a shared understanding around what's important, the hows and whys about why we're doing a project. That's easier said than done. One of the pressures you have is time. Time to deliver on those commitments can be difficult.

How do you think schools can best become agents of positive social impact? [11:40]

Positive social impact is about relationships.

At a base level it's probably about giving students an opportunity to engage at a minimum with empathy. And what that looks like in schools is often a visit to a hospice or engaging with people experiencing hardship. What we've strived for is to have that but to have more. To have a deeper engagement and conversation around positive social impact. Understanding that we can do a couple of things. We can work towards improving the quality of life for people experiencing hardship in the community but we can package that as well in terms of life long skills that the students will have and deepen through that experience.

In 2015 we founded the Jump Start which is design thinking and social entrepreneurship program at PSSC. For the listeners, what is this program about and how does it prepare students to turn problems into opportunities? [13:11]

What is looks like for me is giving students opportunities to engage with social enterprise, design thinking and business models in school. [Adam talks about other existing opportunities for students.] But what I was looking for is for that interdisciplinary experience. Where not only does business or enterprise become part of the mix, but we're also looking at technology, manufacturing, digital technologies, design, arts, trying to create a rich experience where students from all different skill-sets and understandings of what they can and can't do can come together to create a net positive impact on a project.

In terms of preparing students for things like risk, failure and success, how are these embedded in the school programs and why are they important? [15:08]

What it looks like for us - it's really connected to design thinking because one of the ways we encourage students to take risks and be comfortable with failure is to embrace the process. If you're staying reasonable true to that design thinking process you understand that to succeed you have to fail first and ideally fail a lot of times and as quickly as possible as you work towards refining and iterating that product. Design gives us a framework within which to support students to take risks to engage in meaningful failure, but to provide them with the tools to engage with failure and understand it's really just a step on the way to success.

Adam discussing the Jump Start program with the Hon. Leeanne Enoch MP.

Adam discussing the Jump Start program with the Hon. Leeanne Enoch MP.

The Foundation for Young Australians New Work Order report states that 7 out of 10 young people currently enter the workforce in jobs that will be radically affected by automation. This is obviously just one of the many challenges that our future generations will face, so what are the key skills you believe are crucial for our students in preparing them for the future? [16:28]

Schools and to an extent universities, put a lot of pressure on ourselves to have students come out as 'work ready' young people. I think the labour market or the jobs of the future isn't geared anymore to kids coming out of school and being able to go into that trade or vocation. [Adam explains further.]

Part of our thinking has been to allow yourself to focus on some long term goals rather than just some short or medium term goals. If you do focus on the long term goals which are around skills or clusters of skills that are going to support students in whatever pathway they choose, it allows you to make some decisions that are hopefully more meaningful. [Adam talks further about creativity, innovation and resilience.]

We don't want our students to give up on their first go. Whether that's creativity or risk taking or failing fast, it's important that they're not disheartened and that they have the skills and resilience to keep going and keep crafting their abilities as they work towards their ultimate goals.

How have you seen secondary education transform in the last 5 years and how do you see it shifting into the future? [20:50]

My experience is that there are more and more opportunities for a transdisciplinary experience in schools. [Adam talks about the shift in how design is viewed and how it is changing in curriculum.] 

My prediction is that we will be asking students earlier in their school career to make longer term decisions around the skills they want to learn but that those skills will be quite interdisciplinary in how they are put together.

What role do you see technology having in the future of education and how can it be used most effectively to prepare students for future challenges? [24:15]

[Adam defines what technology is.]

Ideally you shouldn't be teaching to the software or the hardware or to the machine. They're important skills but if we're talking about setting up students for success in the future really what we need to be teaching them is approaches to thinking and approaches to doing. That's what helps us focus on soft skills because we understand that technology will change. That's something we understand really well - the fact that they have access to technologies like 3D printers and CNCs when they definitely wouldn't have even 5 years ago.

Rather than focussing on success being measured by access to the technology we need to measure success by what they do with the technology.

Fix-ed is a school led social enterprise due to launch in 2017. What is this project about and who does it help? [26:31] 

We've been looking for a way to have that deeper engagement with our community that I spoke about earlier. We're interested in how we could combine a manufacturing skill like repair with empathy and in the context of genuine community service. Ongoing, meaningful and useful.

[Adam discusses the origins of the project along with recycle and repair culture.]

We all realised maybe there was something that our students could really make something that was of real value to those people experiencing hardship in the community.

[Adam talks about the Human Centred Design process and how that will play out in the project.]

A student from Jump Start working on their business model.

A student from Jump Start working on their business model.

Have you come across any inspiring projects or initiatives recently which are creating positive social change in the education sphere? [30:14]

[Adam discusses a recent project he read about from Brisbane Boys Grammar.]

You’re about to enter the role as Manager of the Asia Pacific Design Library, what is it about this role that you’re looking forward to and are there any particular goals you’re likely to pursue while you’re there? [32:09]

I probably have more questions than I have answers at the moment. The APDL has been around since 2010. It's something I've engaged with as a teacher (and as a student) doing professional development and having professional and critical conversations around design. It's something that I've seen from an educational point of view as a place to share and collaborate and communicate around projects. Both in the form of sharing curriculum and toolkits that we've prototyped and trialled and implemented at Pimpama. As well as to access other schools and teachers approaches to using design thinking. But also the library as a place to connect with the design industry and design as it sits in tertiary education as well. 

What I'm excited about is that broader perspective of the state of Queensland and the state of play in design education. To see what it looks like at Bamaga as well as Brisbane and right out to the border in every direction. 

Are there any great design or social impact books or resources that you could recommend to our listeners? [34:01]

[Adam talks about a mix of resources listed below.]

Our approach at the college is to definitely do your reading but have a go as quick as you can because you're going to learn a whole lot more about what it is if you put it into action and then reflect and iterate and jump in the deep end.


YOU CAN FIND Adam ON LINKEDIN or Twitter. Please feel free to LEAVE A COMMENT BELOW.

Find more articles on design thinking in education.