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John Thackara is a philosopher, writer and advisor. He helps companies, cities and regions design place-based innovation platforms that benefit all life, not just human life. He is senior advisor on the new Masters in Relational Design at Pontio, in North Wales. His most recent book - How To Thrive In the Next Economy: Designing Tomorrow's World Today - will be published in China this autumn.

John curated the celebrated Doors of Perception conference for 20 years - first in Amsterdam, and later in cities throughout India. He has led xskool workshops in 15 countries. He was the first director of the Netherlands Design Institute, and has helped establish other innovation institutes in Italy, India, Japan, Hong Kong, and the UK. Thackara was commissioner of the social innovation biennial, Dott 07, in England, and the ecological city biennial, City Eco Lab, in France. At the Royal College of Art, where he was formerly Director of Research, he is now a Senior Fellow.

Event role
Keynote speaker & round table chairman


'Good growth: from transactions to connections'

An app for counting earthworms? Tomatoes on a blockchain? Local shops as service hubs? Are these a serious opportunity for service design? These kinds of projects address the central dilemma of our age. This is the fact that ‘doing less harm’, in a growing economy, means doing more harm in the long run - especially when growth is measured in terms of paid-for transactions.

One new story offers meaning and hope - a story in which care for life become the only kind of growth that matters. This kind of healthy growth is happening all around us in the form of local living economies that already exist: millions of projects in which people meet practical needs using local resources. But a question remains: are scattered local initiatives an adequate response to the global challenges we face? This is where service design comes in. Interconnection is a measure of health in living systems but social and ecological assets do not readily connect themselves. Design, by fostering new relationships among people and place - can create new value, livelihoods, and enterprise. John’s talk will revolve around real-world good growth stories.

Round table session
'Serving the local'

For biologists, the health of an ecosystem lies in the vitality of interactions between its component species. This lesson applies equally to the new economic models emerging at a local scale: New relationships are being formed in regional food hubs, fibershed and grain chains, peer-to-peer mobility platforms, elder care collaboratives, civic ecology, and place-based tourism.

Many global companies, and policy makers, are keen to connect with these edge projects and networks - but citizen engagement is hard. A valuable medium of connection can be so-called ‘anchor institutions’- from schools and colleges, to libraries, post offices, and local stores. The round table will explore how design can help large organisations engage positively with these local hubs.

Saturday, October 6th, 10:15 (keynote), 12:30 (round table session)

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