Design Thinking Challenge tackles downtown concerns

Cindy MacDougall

Nine teams of university students from across Canada will grapple with how to attract more people to Victoria’s downtown core during the second annual Royal Roads Design Thinking Challenge.

This year’s challenge is sponsored by the Eric C. Douglass Centre for Entrepreneurial Studies and the Downtown Victoria Business Association (DVBA). The teams will try to solve the tricky problem of “downtown avoiders”—those people who have stopped going downtown to work, shop or relax.

“The DVBA is invested in enhancing the economic and social vibrancy of downtown and we look for innovative ideas to help us achieve our mission,” says Jeff Bray, executive director of the Downtown Victoria Business Association. “Students can bring energy and inquisitiveness to tricky business problems. We hope the teams will bring fresh perspectives on how to encourage residents who are avoiding downtown to revisit the core and support our local businesses.”

At each stage of the challenge, the teams refine their ideas and glean insight from experts, each other and people who visit and avoid the downtown core.

This year’s challenge emphasizes the importance of considering emotions when trying to change people’s behaviour, says challenge organizer Assist. Prof. Amy Zidulka of the School of Business.

“We want the students to develop skills in empathy, so they need to talk to people and work to understand the emotions of people who do or don’t come downtown,” Zidulka says.

“At the same time, the challenge emphasizes collaboration, innovation and creativity. Teams will receive feedback from the judges and collaborate with each other to refine their ideas. The emphasis is on solving a societal issue together as engaged citizens rather than simply competing.”

The teams began work in February with the online portion of the challenge. Each team explored the problem of downtown avoidance in their own cities and worked on early prototypes.

The students continue the challenge when teams arrive at Royal Roads Monday, March 18. The week-long event will involve feedback sessions, guest speakers, and an “amazing race” urban scavenger hunt throughout Greater Victoria in which teams explore the region, gather insights from people and compete to be the fastest team.

Join the teams to hear more about design thinking and nudging from experts Thursday, March 21 at 9 a.m. in person in Room 411 of the Learning and Innovation Centre or on Livestream. Educators can also join the design thinking roundtable Thursday, March 21 at 10:00 a.m. in the Centre for Dialogue. Follow the teams on their amazing race and throughout the challenge by searching #DesignChallengeRRU on Twitter and Instagram March 18 to 23.