Bridging the volunteer gap


An update on the Forres students’ project

Our pioneering MDES Design Innovation students in Forres have reached another milestone in their studies – completion and presentation of their Stage 2 project.

This is the project that has its roots in Winter School, when Masters students from GSA worked with local businesses and community organisations.

The students worked to a research question of: “How can volunteering act as a two-way bridge between Syrian New Scots and the Forres community?”. They then engaged in an immersive research and design development phase with local groups. During this time the focus shifted from refugees themselves to volunteering practices in Moray.

You can read about the earlier stages of the project in our previous blog, Life at the Creative Campus: the teaching studio.

During their research activity, the students identified that the number of organisations in Scotland that rely on volunteers has rapidly increased and it is not uncommon for job seekers to find themselves being “voluntold”, i.e. forced to take a volunteering placement in order to receive their benefit package.

MDES volunteering

The Forres MDES students do some volunteering.

The students identified that this is in opposition to the very ethos of volunteering and that having not freely elected to volunteer, voluntolds are difficult to place. This creates challenges across recruitment, engagement and retention.

Addressing the challenge

To address this challenge, the students proposed a series of design concepts before finally refining their idea. Here one of the students, Finn describes their proposal in more detail:

“Bridge was designed to meet the challenges of ‘voluntelling’ as experienced by Scotland’s third sector. 

“Bridge is a service for connecting volunteers and volunteer organisations, through mini-experiences: short taster sessions offered by an organisation. It uses digital moodboards, an emotive collage of volunteer’s skills and interests or of an organisation’s experiences and values, to create an audial and visual profile. This profile can then be used to match or recommend mini-experiences based upon personal preferences, creating the opportunity for people to make an informed choice about which organisations they would like to work with and bringing freedom back to Scotland’s voluntary sector. 

“Volunteers placed within a context that they identify with and enjoy are more likely to make a valuable and sustainable contribution. Similarly, reducing the challenge of recruitment and retention of suitable volunteers could potentially have been both financial and time-saving impacts for organisations. 

“Bridge has an easy-to-use interface and can be downloaded as an app or used at pop-up events. As volunteers build up their portfolio of ‘mini-experiences’, this contributes to their work experience profile and can support them in future job-seeking.”

Communicating a concept is an important design skill and the students worked hard to refine their project into a clear and articulate message that was presented to the wider teaching and academic cohort at GSA’s Creative Campus.

Next steps

It’s now hoped that the idea could be disseminated by Scotland’s Third Sector Interface Network.

In addition, the students have recently submitted their project process journals (PPJs), a reflective record of their individual personal journal through the project for final assessment. The PPJs document the highs and lows of design activity, including any thoughts, ideas and decisions made throughout the 12-week project and are an important part of the learning experience.

The students are now working towards further dissemination of Bridge: first, a group exhibition to be held in Glasgow on May 22 with their MDES counterparts in Glasgow, and a final presentation on June 6 that will welcome the businesses and community organisations back to see the final concepts that have been developed.

To find out more about our MDES programmes, visit our Teaching pages on our website.

MDES student presentation

The MDES students giving their presentation at GSA Highlands and Islands. Image credit: Jane Candlish


Life at the Creative Campus: the teaching studio


An insight into learning and teaching on our MDES programmes

It was always part of the plan for the Creative Campus in the Highlands and Islands to bring postgraduate students to the region for Design Innovation programmes.

There are currently three Master of Design Innovation programmes based in the north: Transformation Design, Collaborative Creativity, and Interaction Design. Information on the courses and how to apply is available via the links.

A small group of students are pioneering the MDES Design Innovation at the Creative Campus during this first year: an exciting time for all involved.

But the location offers unique opportunities for the group.

MDES teaching studio

One of our MDES students Poopak with tutor George Jaramillo in the Forres studio. Image credit: Paul Campbell

Studio lead for this session is Leigh-Anne Hepburn, a Research Fellow who works with the Experience Labs. Here she tells the InDI blog about some of the students’ recent activities.

“Our Forres-based students attended Winter School 2017 in January, working alongside their Glasgow counterparts for the first time. This was a great chance for them to meet others going through the same experience.

“After this busy two-week event, they went straight into their Stage 2 group project and were tasked with writing a brief. This is a critical design skill and offered a unique opportunity for them to shape the direction of their study.

“Under the theme, Innovation from Tradition, the group considered the individual concepts developed during Winter School – of transient communities and the role of third sector volunteering – and worked to develop a shared direction.

Student presenting to group

MDES student Yara presenting her team’s project at Winter School 2017. Image credit: Paul Campbell

“This is essentially a live project and the students are encouraged to go out and actively engage with local stakeholders. Luckily the people of Moray are very receptive to the musings of MDES students!

“As an international group, they were particularly interested in exploring the refugee experience of moving to Forres and the potential role volunteering could play in supporting community integration. After identifying key stakeholders, the students build a strong connection with partner organisations during their field research.

“When you are working with participants who are enthusiastic about design – and who can see the real potential for change it offers – you want to deliver the best possible outcome and create some value in return. Our students had the chance to do this when they ran their first co-design workshop, ‘Designing your volunteer experience’ last month. Created in partnership with tsiMORAY for the organisations’s conference for the third sector, Join the Dots, the workshop was attended by more than 20 people. Delivering a participatory workshop is an exciting and immersive experience and our students were delighted that it went so well.

Scenario tool

One of the scenario tools created by the MDES students for the workshop. Image credit: Leigh-Anne Hepburn

“Every rich story and anecdote gathered during field research offers new insight and it’s tempting to keep listening instead of moving towards designing solutions. This is especially true of the fast-paced 12 week project that the students have embarked on. However, after this intense period of research, our students have begun to identify the key insights and are designing some exciting final concepts.

“In the middle of all this, we travelled to Glasgow to join the wider MDES student and staff cohort for interim reviews. These presentations give students an opportunity to share the journey of their project and emerging design concepts, receiving some essential critical feedback and peer review in return.

“And in addition to the studio project, the students have also begun working on their specialisms, with expert input from teaching staff across GSA. It’s a real team effort.”

Recruitment is ongoing for our MDES programmes starting in September 2017 in Forres and Glasgow – and there are funded places available. Click here to find out more on the GSA’s website.

Also, the GSA and Digital Health & Care Institute are offering a limited number of funded places on the Master of Research programme to students exploring health-related topics. Find out more on the GSA’s website.

MDES students conference workshop

MDES students who led the workshop at the tsiMoray conference. Image credit: Leigh-Anne Hepburn

*Featured image by Paul Campbell