Durham: Changing the Game with Design Thinking

Game Changer is an innovation programme that uses a Design Thinking approach to find solutions to challenges presented by the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Its aim is to equip students with a new approach to entrepreneurship, tackling global problems with innovative solutions that link back to the user experience.

Development and Delivery

We developed the programme using freely available resources from Stanford d.school, Design Kit and Ideo, alongside consultation with academic colleagues and experts in Design Thinking both in Durham and in international institutions such as Cape Breton University, Nova Scotia.

Game Changer is a flexible, low cost programme to run, with very few resources needed and it can be delivered in person or online. It is scalable in terms of student numbers, as it can run with as few as 20 to over 100 participants, and is inclusive of all degree disciplines. We have developed a flexible delivery model to fit all timescales, with tools for delivering a one-off session, 2 – 5 day sprints to a full 6-week design project.

Since its inception in October 2019, Game Changer has engaged over 380 students at Durham University.


To date, 380 Durham University students (UG, PGT & PGR) have participated in Game Changer activity. This number exceeded initial expectations of take-up, and it is proving to be our most popular programme in the Careers & Enterprise Centre. Many students had not previously engaged with, or heard of, the SDGs, and so more students are now aware of the importance of tackling these issues either through future career choices, or by creating their own startups that actively aim to implement the SDGs. We are already seeing this impact in action: outputs from the programme have included a group of students setting up the Durham Environmental & Sustainability Association, highlighting careers in sustainable industries. Another group has pursued their idea for a food waste app and turned this into a viable business model, and are pursuing international business competitions such as HULT prize.

Impact Measurement

We evaluate the impact of Game Changer in three categories: knowledge (driving inspiration and aspiration), skills development (equipping students for the future) and delivery (student experience). We do this through online surveys to collect data and testimonials so we can evaluate how students are using the knowledge and skills gained in the sessions. We have also monitored the startups we see engaging with our entrepreneurship activity and have noted an upward trend in startups that are aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals – such as PIK, a nutrition and tracking app that uses AI to tackle food waste in households.

Entrepreneurial Organisation

Game Changer is contributing to the entrepreneurial landscape at Durham by providing opportunities for students to explore innovative ideas in a safe space. We use business tools such as the Lean Canvas as a way for students to articulate and pitch their ideas, to gain validation before considering pursuing them as a business. This is leading more students to engage with the enterprise programme and the services we have to offer, who may not have previously considered this as a viable option following graduation.

Next steps?

We are exploring embedding Game Changer into core curricular activity so that every student will have an opportunity to engage with the SDGs as part of their degree course. We have trialled this in the Engineering department, delivering an ideation session to 200 Engineering student as part of the IMechE Design Challenge in February 2021.

Contact Name

Rachel Bickerdike

Contact Email Address