Designing for Fluid Transitions to Sustainable Infrastructure: The Case of the Bedford & Milton Keynes Waterway

Rowbotham, Alex (2018). Designing for Fluid Transitions to Sustainable Infrastructure: The Case of the Bedford & Milton Keynes Waterway. PhD thesis The Open University.



The need for transitions to more sustainable socio-technical systems that underpin everyday life has never been more prescient. However, such transitions are daunting and difficult. Design initiates change in artefacts and therefore has an important role to play in transitions to more sustainable futures. Yet the power of design in assisting such transitions has not been fully realised. This thesis explores this issue.

A longitudinal case study of the Bedford & Milton Keynes Waterway infrastructure project was completed. Ethnographic observation and interviews provided empirical data on the design activities present in this nascent project.

The Fluid Transition (FT) approach was adopted as it identifies a role for design in transitions and provides guidance on how interpretative flexibility may be embraced through design to develop situationally specific solutions and realise a multiplicity of transition pathways. The FT approach was used as a theoretical lens to both analyse and practically guide design activity.

Analysing the project in light of key aspects of the FT approach showed that design activities did not sufficiently take into account the projects situated nature and the need for actor participation beyond the traditional nexus. Interventions were completed with case study actors to influence project design activities and included workshops employing visioning, co-design, as well as visual communication practices new to the project.

A framework for Fluid Design for Sustainable Transitions (FDfST) has been developed which identifies key design activities to assist socio-technical transitions. Visioning is the most powerful element of the framework, exerting influence over all others. The case study shows that the project has embarked upon a transition pathway toward a more sustainable infrastructure and design can play a key role in such transition pathways.

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