This fall we were a part of something that proves the efficiency of innovation through design thinking. Design thinking means to walk in the user's shoes, and so we walked, this time in Söderåsens National Park. One of our team members, mechanical engineer and nature enthusiast Stina Hallström was one of 10 chosen participants of the Tourism in Skånes project. A project that originally grew from insights during the pandemic.
One of the biggest consequences of quarantine was a new found love for nature, which is a very good consequence indeed, but not without its backside. More and more people found their way to our forests and national parks and the increased number of visitations led to new insights on littering and accessibility. This inspired Tourism in Skåne to assemble a team, which consisted of 10 people from various backgrounds both geographically and professionally, to answer these questions:
1. How can we forge an anchored connection to nature among visitors so that they develop a sense of stewardship for a location?
2. What can other visitors do when communication methods fail? (other than calling the police)
The 10 strangers, divided into 2 groups, spent 7 days at Söderåsens national park to do field studies, ideation and research. Stina reported back her positive experience.
''It's exciting to be part of their big venture on modern innovation. From my many years in the design industry, I know how important it is and sometimes scary to put all trust into the design process. It certainly took courage for them to assemble this ‘Hackathon’ and to invest time and resources on total strangers''
The group identified many problems that have had a negative impact on the national park, such as:
• The lack of respect for nature from inexperienced visitors. A national park is labeled such because of its high biodiversity and nowadays rare life sources. There are certain rules that need to be followed in order to protect this, for example, not to disturb or disrupt wildlife. Therefore visitors can not play loud music or burn dead wood (home of insects). Dogs should be leashed and of course, no littering.
• Accessibility for emergency vehicles have been proven to be very poor during popular visiting hours. The more visitors, the more cars, which has resulted in wrongful parking due to a lack of parking spaces. What most people don’t realize is that the biggest consequence of this is not a parking ticket, but to be able to reach people in need of medical care.
To write down the rules was however not the challenge, but to figure out how to make sure the rules become respected and followed. How can tourism in Skåne encourage a more understanding culture in their national parks? Through conversations that were built from each other's ideas, Stina's team came to the conclusion that the relationship to nature is just like any relationship, and is based on the principles of respect, responsibility, sense of belonging and good communication. One has to push for the visitor's empathy, and to reach beyond the local people. This was the foundation of what they further built on.
The ‘hackathon’ proved to be a successful way forward. The next step is for Tourism in Skåne to present the results for Länsstyrelsen and together with them, based on all insights, move the project to the next phase. It can be hard to put all trust into design thinking without experiencing fears and doubts. The most important thing is to trust the process and let it play out, because in the end, this method will produce long term solutions based on well-rooted decisions.