How many integrated designers does it take to change a lightbulb?

How many integrated designers does it now take to change a light bulb?

So, what now for design in Adelaide?  Have we reached our design zenith now that the word ‘integrated design’ is no longer a government-sponsored term?

One wonders about the rationale for the decision to abolish the Integrated Design Commission (IDC).  In many ways, perhaps our well-intentioned friends in the former ‘***’ (I daren’t mention the three little letters for fear of being seen ‘so yesterday’) overstepped the mark too quickly.  Perhaps the bigger, better-resourced government departments (lets say the people with the power, resources and influence) that are responsible for spending tax payer’s hard earned folding stuff sought a respite from being told what to do by the IDC too earnestly.  And perhaps once too often.

I remember the announcement to establish the IDC on Boxing Day in 2009, down by the tree in Glenelg.  With much fanfare, and an earnest and welcoming (if a little sceptical) design community rushing to support a new model for design in government, it was a monumental day for design in South Australia.   Here we had a government showing some political vision (not to mention calculated courage) to integrate the benefits of design into the top levels of a state administration.  This was a headline act, and nationally significant.   To see its demise is saddening, and not just here in Adelaide…there are many others watching to see what happens from the other side of the Great Dividing Range. 

Also gone is the much under-valued ‘Thinkers in Residence’ program, which had a much longer history and breadth of thought.  Perhaps one of the more unfortunate cutbacks, in my view the program was quite unlike any other.  After all the Thinkers programme, headed by the amazing and talented Gabrielle Kelly, created the space for thought years back for integrated design in this state.    

So – from emergence to the gallows for integrated design – all from a left of centre government in a matter of years…

I think the model for the IDC was almost spot on, apart from one important detail – its structure.  Placing the IDC within the Department for Premier and Cabinet was always a risky strategy.  The IDC was effectively placed into direct competition with the infrastructure and development mechanisms of the state (DPTI, URA etc.), and over time this became clearly apparent and obvious (especially to the design professions who have to be nice to everyone).  There appeared to be a battle between power and influence.

Design-focused strategies and master plans are the essential roadmaps for our cities.  We all know their benefits.  Often they are more important to the political process than anything else, as without support from the powerful positions in government, they are effectively useless, though often beautiful, things.  Look at Port Adelaide…arent we up to Master Plan No. 9?

The biggest issue we face now is working out if there are any lessons to be learned.  There is no doubt we have a strong legacy to build on the work of the IDC, however we must address the fundamental flaws of the model and create a, dare I say it, more integrated model. 

Whilst the wave of shock and awe as a result of the abolished IDC starts to retreat, emergent and opportunistic ideas and actions are forming for design to continue as a force in Government decision-making.  

Strategies are never fixed, they’re always changing, and at the whim of our political masters.  Project delivery is something that governments are always undertaking, and there are many smart and intelligent people currently doing this within government departments.  It provides the chance for the design-focused and savvy amongst us to meaningfully engage with those charged with executing the state’s complex and ongoing projects, across the board.

The design community needs to consider better engagement with the people in government who need our assistance – the project directors, managers, procurement advisors and Treasury officials who have probably been over lectured on the benefits of design.  There is also a much-needed opportunity to also better connect with other professions – engineers in particular.  I’ve always said, for example, that Landscape Architects have more to gain (and lose) from Engineers than our collegiate friends, the Architects. 

The mechanisms for engagement ahead of us include using the design, planning and engineering institutes (EA, AILA, AIA, AGDA, PIA) to lobby and connect more effectively with Government.  Our cousins in the PCA and UDIA do this well (albeit with a more cashed up membership base) and there are others including the private practices (solo and emergent, large and established), local government and other forums such as Built Environment Meets Parliament.     

For a while there will be a vacuum, which will be difficult to fill with ‘fresh’ air, whilst we work out if we are further behind than where we started or whether we have moved forward.   Above all else, I am optimistic. I have to be. We have to support whatever is shaken out of the system, and pick up the pieces ‘moving forward’.

Oh, the answer to the joke is subject to an outstanding variation claim.  Could someone hand me a torch?

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