Designed Diversity (DD) is an approach for selecting employees, team members, or partners based primarily on their contribution to the diversity of the collective. DD also encompasses assessing the ability of individuals or groups to collaborate in a collective setting. At its core, DD elevates the importance of contribution to diversity in the criteria for selecting candidates.
Recognizing that diversity is a critical ingredient of innovation, it is important to shift the diversity discourse from serving altruistic purposes to directly serving the strategic interests of teams and organizations seeking to innovate.
The practice makes diversity an essential design component for teams or groups looking at increasing their capacity for innovation and their efficacy for solving complex problems, and can be applied systematically at any level of an organization.
DD has been practiced in the selection of candidates for the OCAD University Master of Design in Strategic Foresight and Innovation (SFI) for five years. The results have yielded consistently impressive cohorts of adult learners demonstrating a superior ability to address complex problems in innovative ways. The program is now the largest graduate program at OCAD University with over 100 students enrolled. Program faculty are assisting other academic institutions in applying DD to their own programs.
Since 2006, an informal group called Overlap has convened annual gatherings around North America for about 50 people, selected to maximize the diversity within the group. Each gathering was given a topic, usually a complex challenge, and left with minimal intervention to address the challenge. The results were brilliant and surprising. This prompted several members of the group to start thinking about the link between diversity and innovation, and how to apply the 'diversity' technique for improving the innovation capacity of teams and organizations.
OCAD University needed to rapidly develop innovative graduate education programs in a marketplace saturated with traditional offerings from well-established and larger universities. The challenge was to innovate within a complex web of constraints. The question was how to increase innovation capacity rapidly under such constraints.
Serendipity brought together the OCAD University small team designing a radically different graduate program with members of the Overlap group, who had experienced the power of diversity in addressing complex challenges in innovative ways. The innovation that emerged within this diverse group yielded an unprecedented number of new designs, and led to the proposal for the SFI graduate program.
Realizing the role that diversity played in this process, the group's focus became how to apply diversity systematically to organizational activities and initiatives beyond the usual Human Resources diversity practices.
The idea that emerged was to embed the broadest concept of diversity in the design of the new (SFI) program. The design maximizes diversity in multiple areas:
• the selection of candidates for the program;
• the selection of the program's faculty team, and
• the delivery of content in class.
Making a Difference
The DD approach has resulted in a successful OCAD University graduate program that is attracting candidates from a very broad range of ethnicity, age (22-60), occupations and worldviews. Individuals with no previous academic degree, or with foreign credentials, have been able to gain access to the program through their life achievements and unique experiences, thereby contributing to the diversity of the cohort.
Graduates are steeped in working within and leading highly diverse teams, which enables them to participate more effectively in the multidisciplinary teams that are essential for solving today's highly complex economic, social and environmental issues.
Designed Diversity required making changes to a number of entrenched university processes, including the rules for: selecting candidates for a graduate program, hiring faculty into a graduate program and remunerating delivery of content in class. The full value of diversity is beginning to be widely understood as the program has demonstrated success and recognition by peers internationally. Implementing the DD concept necessitated many creative 'workarounds,' and the collaboration with the administration continues to overcome these barriers, some of which are internal and some of which are external (including regulations and legislation).
Vision for the Future
Identifying the potential contribution of individuals to the diversity of a collective is often easier said than done. OCAD University will continue to work to improve the methods and tools for identifying and assessing such potential, and conducting action research to articulate and validate the principles underlying identification and assessment so that others can more easily adopt and implement the DD approach.
About OCAD University
OCADU, university of the imagination, is Canada's largest art and design school, and is at the leading edge of innovation in the higher education sector. A dedicated Office of Diversity, Equity and Sustainability Initiatives reflects OCAD University's institutional commitment to developing and advancing a vision of 'just sustainability' that foregrounds equity and creates new ways of understanding and acting that strengthen communities, build social capacity and economic strength, and promote positive transformation and change. Incorporating sustainability into an office that is arms-length from the administration and reports to the president will enhance the profile of sustainability and will assist in meeting the strategic priority of developing and implementing an institution-wide sustainability plan that promotes constituent engagement.
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