Sprint Forward: Solving Your Problem – enrichment design sprints

The aim of Sprint Forward was to create pilot that used the ‘design sprint’ concept to address a living challenge relating to the University of Birmingham’s cultural engagement programme and to provide second-year undergraduates with an opportunity to enrich and develop their employability skills. In addition, it aimed to pilot a project that would allow the College of Arts and Law to contribute directly to the University’s commitment to the Civic University Agreement. A design sprint is a cross-disciplinary approach to solving real-world industry challenges, providing a range of experiences, skills development and networking opportunities for students.   Sprint Forward brought together 8 students from across five colleges in UoB and challenged them to create working solutions to issues of youth engagement with two of the University’s main cultural initiatives: the Green Heart and the Exchange.


October 2018 – July 2019
Beneficiaries: Year 2 students (cohort size: 8)
Theme/focus: Design Spring: Spring Forward
Discipline: College of Arts and Law

What we did

Sprint Forward was designed by a working group of academic and professional services staff, alongside two Postgraduate Research Assistants, drawn from across the College of Arts and Law. Sprint Forward also worked closely in collaboration with its project partner, Beetfreeks, a Birmingham-based youth organisation who provided expertise on the views of under-represented groups in Birmingham. Sprint Forward took place between 10-14th June 2019 with 8 second year undergraduate students from across the university. Students were divided into two groups, one focused on providing solutions to youth engagement within the University’s Green Heart Space, and the other focussing on issues of youth engagement in the Exchange initiative which is scheduled to open in the city centre in 2020. Throughout the week, students received additional training and mentoring support from Beetfreeks, which provided students with key insights into the challenges that face young people in the city.   At the end of the week, students presented their ideas to a panel of stakeholders from the Green Heart, the Exchange, Beetfreeks and Cultural Collections.

What we achieved

Student feedback for Sprint Forward was extremely positive. The skills audit students completed on Day 1 and Day 5 of the project, indicates that students felt a marked improvement in employability skills as a result of their participation. In particular, students commented that it had helped them gained valuables skills in tem working, project design and management, and their judgement/decision making skills. In addition, written feedback indicated that the students felt far more confidence to liaise with stakeholders and non-academic organisations in a professional setting.    

The response from our partners and stakeholders was also extremely positive. As a result of Sprint Forward, both student groups have since been invited to consult with the management committees of the Green Heart and the Exchange in the academic year 2019/20, on planning future cultural events. Other students have since gone on to successfully apply to take part in other youth-organisations in Birmingham.

What we learnt

  • Students liked the fact that they were working in small groups which allowed them to develop closer collaborative relationships with one another and with project partners. In addition, it allowed academic staff to develop more personalised and detailed actions plans to respond to particular employability skills that students wanted to develop,.
  • Sprint Forward was not designed as a competition and no ‘winning’ idea was selected at the end of the week. Student feedback indicated that they much preferred this and disliked the competitive format of a traditional design sprint. Rather, they preferred cross-group collaboration in the interests of achieving a good outcome for the project
  • The input and support from our external partner was vital throughout the project in providing students experience of working with a real policy focussed organisation. It also helped to raise student and staff awareness of issues that face young people in Birmingham who do not traditionally engaged with the campus or its cultural activities.   

Looking ahead…

  • The two student groups are currently working with Exchange and the Green Heart to help develop youth-focussed activities and events in the academic year 2019/20.
  • The academic and professional staff- steering committee is now in discussion to develop a similar sprint for 2020 which will address another issue with cultural engagement within Birmingham.

References, further links, resources, and communities of practice

Website: https://intranet.birmingham.ac.uk/arts-law/sprintforward/index.aspx

Watch Dan Reynolds talking about the Sprint Forward project


For more information, contact the projects office on hefi.projects@contacts.bham.ac.uk, quoting reference CSLP238.