Actively designing the future: architecting and visualising a student centric university based entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Andrea Deverell
University of Limerick

Annmarie Ryan
University of Limerick

The future is an important part of organising. Organisations are inevitably affected by future-facing narratives, while attempting to comprehend and identify new opportunities, before they become trends, and emergent patterns before they are fully established. However, this is not always directly apparent in university settings. This article investigates the potential role of visualisation and systemic design as central tenants of an entrepreneurial university. In this context we define the entrepreneurial and engaged university as a future facing construct which is deeply embedded in the present. As such this study explores future-making, brining into focus the role of visual future making devices. We investigate how future making devices can be designed to embody the present tense voices of key stakeholders while paradoxically projecting towards an unknown future. In this context we align with calls from scholars advocating a reconceptualisation of the dynamic process of organisational change that accompanies organisational transformations such as the ‘entrepreneurial and engaged university’, in particular, we call for a deeper understanding of the role of visual architectures. The research behind this paper was gathered over the course of a longitudinal ethnographic study which can also be described as a strategic design initiative situated in a university setting. Ethnography requires some level of participation, often involving direct involvement in people’s daily lives for an extensive period of time. It is this closeness with the research environment and key actors that characterises ethnographic research and as such this project is well positioned to reveal the day-to-day nuances of future-making. This paper contributes in a number of ways: firstly, it advocates a systemic design approach to entrepreneurial architectures which we contend include both macro and micro level systems, such as; support structures, processes, people, culture, leadership and strategic direction. Secondly, we contend that systems are dynamic and as such require adaptive and emergent design. We understand entrepreneurial and engaged universities to be living systems and as such the design brief was set to meet this challenge. Thirdly, we note that successfully architecting an entrepreneurial and engaged university requires deep stakeholder engagement and in particular time spent mapping stakeholders’ journeys thought the existing system. These journey maps became fundamental in helping shape our future state entrepreneurial university as it was modelled and designed, effectively allowing voices to emerge from within. The maps helped highlight organisational touch points and moments of opportunity and vulnerability which are associated with the entrepreneurial journey. Finally, we observe that future making devices while rooted in the present have the potential to shape and inhabit the future carrying with them the ability to transport powerful actors both within and beyond the university innovation ecosystem.