BarnRaise was started by the Institute of Design in Chicago as a 2.5 day design-a-thon that brings together design firms, community-based organizations, and participants to come up with viable and unique solutions to social problems in the community. And MADE (Media Architecture Design Edmonton) is bringing BarnRaise to Edmonton.

This year’s BarnRaise challenge is to improve early childhood development in Edmonton for a poverty-free future, which aligns with the work of the End Poverty Edmonton Task Force. Here's how it works: participants will hear from leading experts in the field of design thinking and social innovation before working in interdisciplinary teams, of 8–10 people, to tackle the design challenges presented by community partners.

We spoke with Max Amerongen, the chair of MADE, about this initiative. Here's what he had to say:

Who are you and what do you do?

I'm Max Amerongen, I'm the chair of MADE. My background is in Industrial Design, but my work has been scattered across many different types of design. I really believe in blurring the lines between disciplines as a way of solving problems. MADE in Edmonton has been running events around design in Edmonton for 16 years. 

What are you making? (i.e. tell us about the project you're currently working on)

MADE is running a design conference called BarnRaise Edmonton from March 17–19. We're using service design to help people living in poverty in Edmonton. Specifically, we're focussed on early childhood development, the time where we have the best chance of making a difference. 

Service design is a broad field of design that looks at everything from interactivity to infrastructure, focussing on planning and organization of services, as opposed to the design of objects or visual materials. 

Is Edmonton lagging behind in terms of service design? If so, why?

Right now, the design programs in Edmonton touch on service design, but it's a big enough discipline that it should have its own program! We hope the increased profile from projects like this will be a catalyst for growth in this area. 

What’s the story behind your project? Was there a catalyst to you starting the project?

The format of the conference comes from the Institute of Design at IIT in Chicago. Our motivation comes from the End Poverty Edmonton strategy. They make it clear that we all have to work together to solve this problem, and they make it clear through their report that early childhood is the best place to make a difference. 

What do you see as the biggest obstacle in your way?

Most people in Edmonton don't know much about service design. That makes this conference a great educational opportunity, but it also means we not only need to describe the conference, but explain the field itself! 

How can people help? 

People should buy a ticket for the conference! An event like this is a lot of work to coordinate, and we'd like to have as many people there as possible.

What motivates you to keep going with your project despite the challenges? In other words, WHY are you making?

The field of design is so often profit-motivated, but I think most designers have a strong sense of ethics. If we harness the power of design to solve real, meaningful problems, we can make a huge difference in the world.

How did the social problem, which is the focus of this BarnRaise, get chosen and why?

Poverty in general, and the specific challenges it raises around Early Childhood Development are hugely important issues. As such a prosperous society, we have no excuse not to tackle these issues.

What is the potential of service design?

Rethinking how we provide services has huge potential for efficiency, and can benefit any field, including health, government, technology and, in this case, social services. 

"Service design is a broad field of design that looks at everything from interactivity to infrastructure."

BarnRaise Edmonton kicks off with an opening reception Friday, 17 March at 6:00 p.m. and concludes with design teams showcasing their solutions to improving early childhood development Sunday, March 19 at 2:00 p.m.

BarnRaise Edmonton is being held at MacEwan University in room 9-100 of the Robbins Health Learning Centre.