The embodied designer: A new draft

Kimberley Crofts
5 min readJul 26, 2021


You may recall my exploration in my last post of the model for an embodied designer engaged in work with communities that are not their own. At the end of the post I suggested this model needed to be refined further. On reflection, the model is too complex which fails, then, to fulfil a basic task of a model to represent something more simply. Thank you to everyone who provided suggestions and who have been interested in this model. The response supports my desire to let the knowledge I am generating through this PhD to have a wider audience beyond the academy.

Soon after creating this first model I attended a day-long webinar for the launch of the Indigenous-led Regenerative Songlines network. This event, co-hosted by NENA included talks from Professor Mary Graham, Anne Poelina, Tyson Yunkaporta, Chels Marshall, Jason Twill, Louise Crabtree-Hayes, Alana Marsh, Marie Dennis, Michelle Maloney, Dominique Hess, and Ross Williams. You can watch the event here.

After Anne Poelina’s talk on protecting the waterways of the Kimberley, I sought out some of her scholarship and found this paper—Sharing a place-based Indigenous methodology and learnings—co-authored with Sandra Wooltorton, Len Collard, Pierre Horwitz and David Palmer. In this paper I was introduced to the action research method of Cooperative Inquiry that cycles through active and reflective modes aimed at generating knowing four ways through direct experience, representation, conceptual interpretation, and practical action (Heron & Reason, 2011; Woolothorton et al., 2019).

Looking at the network compass from Schneider et al. (2021) through the lense of cooperative inquiry one can see how each point of the compass represents one of the ways of knowing within cooperative inquiry. Supporting the network community (blue) is an active process of co-producing knowledge through experience. Fostering co-production (brown) is about using representational knowing to amplify impact. Innovating the network (yellow) through research and advancing concepts is about conceptual representation. Finally, connecting actors and scales (green) is about taking practical action.

Annotated Network Compass. Adapted from Schneider et al. 2021

By using the network compass, the model of the embodied researcher, and the ways of knowing associated with cooperative inquiry, a model for the embodied designer emerges to guide designers involved in place-based, sustainable transitions through an interconnected set of strategies for action and reflection, starting with the heart and moving through the hands, head, and feet. These strategies for an embodied designer could be summarised as:

  • Making space for collective dialogue (heart/experiential knowing);
  • Amplifying community knowledge and concerns (hands/representational knowing);
  • Supporting the co-production of knowledge (head/conceptual knowing); and
  • Creating vehicles for collective action (feet/practical knowing).
A model for the embodied designer (draft 1)

This is a radically simplified model than the one I first proposed and one that could be much easier to use in practice. In particular I am concerned that it will be otherwise easy for me to fall back into practices from my former, professional design career. I wish this new practice of mine to be much more reflective, situated, respectful, and humble. As such, I need a simple heuristic to guide my early steps.

This model is also inspired by the work on feminist epistemology of Hilary Rose (1983) who pushed for abstracted, alienated, and masculine scientific thought to be feminised through the addition of the heart and hands to the brain. The co-production of knowledge in communities that places as much value on local, contextual knowledge as that of scientific and technical knowledge is surely an example of feminist epistemological attitude.

Again, would love your thoughts.


Again, I have had some wonderful contributions. Thank you. I’ve done some edits to the model and posted two new versions below. I think one of the problems with it is that it is trying to display both a process of cooperative inquiry and the roles a designer could play in that. Or perhaps that’s not a problem.

In the first edit I’ve changed the arrows to be circular to imply less of a linear model. Thanks to Richard Owens. Although not a linear process, the cooperative inquiry work, along with work on design conversations from Banathy, and Indigenous methods of knowing, all stress the importance of creating relationships BEFORE embarking on strategic work. So at least with the first step, the heart is the starting point. After this, the process is more cyclical.

The second edit I’ve added more overlap at Karina Kallio’s suggestion, to imply more crossover between each mode of knowing. I also changed the title of representational knowing to material, and the description of the role in conceptual. I think both of these are more accurate descriptions, but perhaps not. At least more understandable and/or actionable.

Edit 1. Circular arrows
Edit 2. More overlap. Edited language.


Horlings, L. G., Nieto-Romero, M., Pisters, S., & Soini, K. (2020). Operationalising transformative sustainability science through place-based research: the role of researchers. Sustainability Science, 15(2), 467–484.

Heron, J.& Reason, P. (2011). Extending Epistemology within a Co- operative Inquiry. In Peter Reason & Hilary Bradbury (eds.) The SAGE Handbook of Action Research. SAGE Publications.

Rose, H. (1983). Hand, Brain, and Heart: A Feminist Epistemology for the Natural Sciences. In Source: Signs, Autumn (Vol. 9, Issue 1).

Schneider, F., Tribaldos, T., Adler, C., Biggs, R. (Oonsie), de Bremond, A., Buser, T., Krug, C., Loutre, M. F., Moore, S., Norström, A. v., Paulavets, K., Urbach, D., Spehn, E., Wülser, G., & Zondervan, R. (2021). Co-production of knowledge and sustainability transformations: a strategic compass for global research networks. In Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, Vol. 49, 127–142. Elsevier B.V.

Wooltorton, Collard, Horwitz, Poelina & Palmer (2020). Sharing a place-based Indigenous methodology and learnings, Environmental Education Research, 26:7, 917–934, DOI: 10.1080/13504622.2020.1773407



Kimberley Crofts

Strategic designer and researcher on a quest for sustainable futures through a PhD in participatory methods.