Conversation equals innovation

Friday, 21 November 2023

Conversation equals innovation

By Ashley Thomson


In Kingston, ACT there is a strategic design consultancy firm which solves problems by suggesting alternative perspectives, drawing on peoples’ experiences and identifying opportunities for innovation.

ThinkPlace is one of many organisations involved in the inaugural DESIGN Canberra festival, taking place 19-23 November, 2014, and it may be one of the most unique, but its approach to the festival is remarkable for its simplicity.

“Conversations are at the heart of what we do, in the sense that we solve complex problems with people, and normally when we start solving any complex problem, we start off by listening to people.”

Cate Shaw is an Executive Designer at ThinkPlace and will be curating ‘Conversations with ThinkPlace’, a series of conversations which will take place during the festival at Centrepoint Plaza on Canberra’s City Walk.

“The thing about a conversation,” says Shaw, “is that it’s an exchange of ideas, it’s quite a plastic thing, a conversation evolves and changes.

“So often a conversation is a rich platform for developing a new understanding, or perhaps changing the way you think.

“It’s a great way to build new ideas in a very gentle way.”

Among the ‘open conversations’ that the public are invited to attend, there are several with pre-invited guests.

Ian Chubb, Chief Scientist for Australia, Shane Breynard, Director of Canberra Museum and Gallery, Greg Daly, Head of the ANU School of Art Ceramics Workshop, and Heidi Stratford of Brand Canberra will all be in attendance.

“Our idea,” says Shaw, “was to bring people together that are the thinkers, the artists, the craftspeople, the entrepreneurs, the policymakers, the various different layers that come together to build our culture or our innovation ecosystem in Canberra.

“We’re interested in how all these people who are part of Canberra’s innovation ecosystem see that ecosystem from within. What they see in terms of a vision, but also what they encounter in terms of barriers and challenges. I guess we’re interested in what it takes to catalyse that ecosystem.

“At a simplistic level, we’re just saying, well, what is it? What does the Canberra innovation ecosystem look like?”

The broadness of this question is deliberate. Fundamental, after all, to a good conversation is an open approach to the directions it may take.

“We’re trying to have a fairly broad perspective on what innovation means, and also on what design means,” says Shaw, “so that we don’t necessarily think of design as being the designers, but we look also at the enablers, in terms of economic and policy enablers, that create a fertile environment for innovation – or not.

“And we look at the relationships between more established and emerging educators and students, senior practitioners and emerging practitioners, technology and craft, all of those different intersections.”

The dictum of the DESIGN Canberra festival being ‘Change the way you think’, it was ThinkPlace’s intent to reveal at one of festival’s last events, ‘Reflections on Conversations with ThinkPlace’, whether or not such change had actually been achieved.

“What ThinkPlace does is, we ask a few questions, and then we do a lot of listening, and then out of listening come some patterns and insights that tell us a bit of a story.

“The idea at the end,” says Shaw, “will simply be to reflect back insights from the conversations.”

To participate in these conversations, visit or drop by Centrepoint

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