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Listening closely to the next generation’s vision for the future

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Customer experience consultancy DNA recently held empathy interviews with a group of students from the Business School’s Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship to unearth their experiences, hopes, frustrations and vision for the future in regard to New Zealand’s relationship with its natural resources. Students interviewed were from a wide range of academic disciplines.

Interviews were conducted by Experience Designers Izzy Fenwick and Shirlee Xue, who both have a passion for human centred design. Their synthesis of the interviews shows indications of a generation who are frustrated and perplexed at the world’s current situation, concerned about our natural resources, but hopeful about their prospects for a prosperous future.

Q: What were the strongest themes that came through in your interviews?
Izzy: A strong theme was the gap in education, bridging theory and practice. Not just environmental education, or sustainability, but education around systems thinking in this space. You need to know and understand the “systems” in which an organisation operates before you can make many of the changes that have a real impact on the environment or society. Students expressed how frustrating it was that these systems were clearly very important to understand and yet not being prioritised within the education system. If understanding systems is so important, why is there not more pressure on this to be a focus in education and training when it comes to the skills and capabilities expected of this generation? Why aren’t businesses recruiting for people with systems thinking capabilities or universities teaching it?
Shirlee: Another strong theme was a desire for an equitable society – the world we live in today might not be fair but it’s by design and we have the power to change that reality. It’s really reassuring to hear a desire for progressing to a more humane and sustainable world. These natural resources are perceived to be a ‘human right’, but we know so little about our consumption and our ability to restore our footprint. We must educate ourselves and the next generation on the importance of our natural resources and the interconnectedness of our ecosystems. 

Q: What problems were most commonly highlighted with regards to New Zealand’s natural resources?
Shirlee: Waste. We produce too much waste for a small country. Waste that would be repurposed and utilised. And the fact we generally don’t know where, when and who is using our natural resources and how much. Without any visible or accessible measurements, how does one know that it’s an issue? 
Izzy: Another was the lack of visibility or transparency around certain industries’ impact on New Zealand’s natural resources and as a result of that, a lack of opportunity for individuals to know how to offset their impact as they engage with different organisations within certain industries. Those we spoke to felt like it was hard to have buying power to influence change when they didn’t have easy access to the “true cost” – environmentally – of certain products from certain industries. They saw that as a big problem.

Q: What solutions were most commonly suggested?
Izzy: There were a few common solutions suggested. One was around data driven accuracy. How can businesses better use data to predict the needs of their customers so less waste is generated? This is especially relevant in the food system where New Zealand currently produces enough food to feed 20 times our population. Another common solution was around more visibility between organisations, or industries, resource needs and waste streams so that other organisations could utilise those waste-streams allowing the redistribution of resources instead of just generating waste. 
Shirlee: Someone’s waste is another’s treasure – how does one know if it’s behind closed doors? We need to change our perspective. It’s not a competition and it’s not a dirty secret.

Q: What most surprised you that came up in interviews?
Izzy: It was a pleasant surprise to hear the common idea of industry agnostic collaboration. We can impact more if we collaborate – we can impact whole systems rather than individual organisations – so it was great to hear they were thinking this way. 
Shirlee: The altruistic nature of their desire to share their sustainable practices and the eagerness to learn from one another. 

Q: Where do you think students want and need support in terms of preparing for the future?
Izzy: I think the gap in education around systems thinking is where the next generation need and want the most support. Not just literally embedding that learning into a curriculum or a university education but also including them in those conversations once they’re in the workforce. A continued focus on growing their systems thinking skills and capabilities. 

Q: Has COVID-19 appeared to have changed or solidified participants’ views of the world?
Izzy: Yes, I think that was reflected in the conversations we were having – in regards to their world view holistically but even in their expectations around their own personal futures; will the jobs we were hoping to step into still be relevant in a post-COVID world? 
Shirlee: COVID-19 has disrupted us all, but it has also given us time and space to be retrospective. It’s also more evident now that these changes are needed.

Q: Is our students’ vision for the future dystopian or utopian?
Izzy: I heard a lot of hope in these interviews so I would say utopian. I think the “new world” that lockdown created – a simpler lifestyle – had our participants thinking change is possible. We have changed our normal to accommodate this pandemic, now we need to change our normal to benefit our country. 
Shirlee: I think it’s a bit of both, leaning more towards utopia. They have to carry the additional weight from previous generations which can cause hardship and anxiety, but they remain hopeful and optimistic for an empathic, equitable and sustainable Aotearoa.

Interviews were held in conjunction with the Future Voices Forum, a recent event where the University of Auckland community had the opportunity to workshop their ideas for creating a sustainable and inclusive New Zealand in regards to Energy, Transport and Food Systems. Organised by the Business School’s Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship in partnership with the Aotearoa Circle, the results of the forum were delivered to New Zealand Government and Business leaders.

James Hutchinson
James Hutchinson

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Customer experience consultancy DNA recently held empathy interviews with a group of students from the Business School’s Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship to unearth their experiences, hopes, frustrations and vision for the future in regard to New Zealand’s relationship with its natural resources. Students interviewed were from a wide range of academic disciplines.

Interviews were conducted by Experience Designers Izzy Fenwick and Shirlee Xue, who both have a passion for human centred design. Their synthesis of the interviews shows indications of a generation who are frustrated and perplexed at the world’s current situation, concerned about our natural resources, but hopeful about their prospects for a prosperous future.

Q: What were the strongest themes that came through in your interviews?
Izzy: A strong theme was the gap in education, bridging theory and practice. Not just environmental education, or sustainability, but education around systems thinking in this space. You need to know and understand the “systems” in which an organisation operates before you can make many of the changes that have a real impact on the environment or society. Students expressed how frustrating it was that these systems were clearly very important to understand and yet not being prioritised within the education system. If understanding systems is so important, why is there not more pressure on this to be a focus in education and training when it comes to the skills and capabilities expected of this generation? Why aren’t businesses recruiting for people with systems thinking capabilities or universities teaching it?
Shirlee: Another strong theme was a desire for an equitable society – the world we live in today might not be fair but it’s by design and we have the power to change that reality. It’s really reassuring to hear a desire for progressing to a more humane and sustainable world. These natural resources are perceived to be a ‘human right’, but we know so little about our consumption and our ability to restore our footprint. We must educate ourselves and the next generation on the importance of our natural resources and the interconnectedness of our ecosystems. 

Q: What problems were most commonly highlighted with regards to New Zealand’s natural resources?
Shirlee: Waste. We produce too much waste for a small country. Waste that would be repurposed and utilised. And the fact we generally don’t know where, when and who is using our natural resources and how much. Without any visible or accessible measurements, how does one know that it’s an issue? 
Izzy: Another was the lack of visibility or transparency around certain industries’ impact on New Zealand’s natural resources and as a result of that, a lack of opportunity for individuals to know how to offset their impact as they engage with different organisations within certain industries. Those we spoke to felt like it was hard to have buying power to influence change when they didn’t have easy access to the “true cost” – environmentally – of certain products from certain industries. They saw that as a big problem.

Q: What solutions were most commonly suggested?
Izzy: There were a few common solutions suggested. One was around data driven accuracy. How can businesses better use data to predict the needs of their customers so less waste is generated? This is especially relevant in the food system where New Zealand currently produces enough food to feed 20 times our population. Another common solution was around more visibility between organisations, or industries, resource needs and waste streams so that other organisations could utilise those waste-streams allowing the redistribution of resources instead of just generating waste. 
Shirlee: Someone’s waste is another’s treasure – how does one know if it’s behind closed doors? We need to change our perspective. It’s not a competition and it’s not a dirty secret.

Q: What most surprised you that came up in interviews?
Izzy: It was a pleasant surprise to hear the common idea of industry agnostic collaboration. We can impact more if we collaborate – we can impact whole systems rather than individual organisations – so it was great to hear they were thinking this way. 
Shirlee: The altruistic nature of their desire to share their sustainable practices and the eagerness to learn from one another. 

Q: Where do you think students want and need support in terms of preparing for the future?
Izzy: I think the gap in education around systems thinking is where the next generation need and want the most support. Not just literally embedding that learning into a curriculum or a university education but also including them in those conversations once they’re in the workforce. A continued focus on growing their systems thinking skills and capabilities. 

Q: Has COVID-19 appeared to have changed or solidified participants’ views of the world?
Izzy: Yes, I think that was reflected in the conversations we were having – in regards to their world view holistically but even in their expectations around their own personal futures; will the jobs we were hoping to step into still be relevant in a post-COVID world? 
Shirlee: COVID-19 has disrupted us all, but it has also given us time and space to be retrospective. It’s also more evident now that these changes are needed.

Q: Is our students’ vision for the future dystopian or utopian?
Izzy: I heard a lot of hope in these interviews so I would say utopian. I think the “new world” that lockdown created – a simpler lifestyle – had our participants thinking change is possible. We have changed our normal to accommodate this pandemic, now we need to change our normal to benefit our country. 
Shirlee: I think it’s a bit of both, leaning more towards utopia. They have to carry the additional weight from previous generations which can cause hardship and anxiety, but they remain hopeful and optimistic for an empathic, equitable and sustainable Aotearoa.

Interviews were held in conjunction with the Future Voices Forum, a recent event where the University of Auckland community had the opportunity to workshop their ideas for creating a sustainable and inclusive New Zealand in regards to Energy, Transport and Food Systems. Organised by the Business School’s Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship in partnership with the Aotearoa Circle, the results of the forum were delivered to New Zealand Government and Business leaders.


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