What design can do for refugees

Reframing Academy teamed up with What Design Can Do, the renowned international platform for demonstrating the power of design. This year’s live event in Amsterdam will address, amongst others, the refugee crisis. Following up on Nynke Tromp’s lecture on designing behavioral change, Reframing Academy hosted a breakout session to walk the talk!

At the What Design Can Do For Refugees session, 95 participants learned how to challenge the complicated refugee matter with simple means. By reframing conflicting concerns underlying the refugee crisis, the participants identified starting points for design.

What Design Can Do published the following report:

"A square with marked spots where people with the same cultural or sportive interests can meet. That was one of the solutions for the integration of refugees that was conceived by a group of participants of the WDCD for Refugees breakout session hosted by Reframing Studio.

Reframing Studio is a design studio that works with the reframing design method developed by Paul Hekkert and Mathijs van Dijk at TU Delft in combination with the social design method by Nynke Tromp, assistant professor Social Design & Behaviour Change also at TU Delft.

‘Being a designer comes with responsibility,’ Beatrijs Voorneman of Reframing Studio stated. ‘We start with the “why” and ask ourselves what meaning a product we design should evoke.’ The breakout session was used to introduce the participants into the reframing method.


Nynke Tromp shortly discussed the discipline of social design, warning that design is not a solution for all political and social issues and that social designs show flaws too. ‘You need to assess the impact of a design before you can tell whether it is successful,’ she said.

To give the participants an idea of the characteristics of the reframing method, the refugee crisis was taken as the subject, ‘because it is a theme that involves us all,’ Tromp said. Groups of 8 to 10 participants where all given a dilemma concerning two people with different concerns or interests.

One of the groups, for instance, was confronted with a citizen of Amsterdam on the one hand, who felt it as his duty or social obligation to do something for refugees in the city. On the other hand was a refugee, already six months in Amsterdam, who felt a little awkward when someone came along offering his or her help, as if he was a victim. The question was how to solve this inequality.


The groups were given three possibilities to deal with such a question. The first one is called ‘Resolve’ and is applicable when an immediate solution is at hand. The second, ‘Transform’, finds a solution by transforming a concern of society into a personal concern. The third option is to bypass the conflict of interest by offering a different solution.

The group mentioned above chose for the Transform option and decided to search for common grounds for both the Amsterdam citizen and the refugee to meet. This was taken quite literally when the idea came up to designate a square in the city as a place where people with the same interests can meet and for instance obtain half of a double ticket for a theatre play, a concert or a football match.

Time was short and all solutions presented where still rather premature, but participants definitely got a hang of the design method used by Reframing Studio and the possibilities of social design for pressing social matters."


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