BACK TO All CHallenge Labs

Social Impact

Understanding the role Design can play in unlocking the power of neighbourhoods; the single biggest unit of societal change.
A place where societies biggest challenges are creatively explored and co-created in virtuous ways.

Where student projects live outside of portfolios and firmly within the real world; winning back agency, affecting policy, providing opportunity and finding better ways of being human.

The social impact challenge lab is a place for collaboration, knowledge and change. We occupy a liminal space somewhere between academia and the real world. A safe and enabling environment, where all are welcome,  where all who engage have the access to re-imagine.
This is an endeavour that can only be collaborative. Need help with a sustainability challenge? Get in touch

What can service Design do?

“Moving to a lower-carbon future is not going to be a great, dramatic transformation – it will be slow and chronic….I hope what comes next is a more focused, locally rooted and inclusive politics based around asking people what they actually need in their lives, and working out how to fit those things within an environmental framework.”
Aditya Chakrabortty, The Guardian

After COP26 we have a destination: huge cuts in carbon emissions.

What we don’t have is a path. How do we integrate millions of EVs into our neighbourhoods? Sensibly install hundreds of thousands of heat pumps into leaky, poorly prepared homes? Adjust our appetites for fast fashion, carbon heavy diets and impulsive travel? And do all that in a way that is fair, thoughtful and even fun?

The Design For Planet Lab aims to help map this path. Through live projects conducted by students and staff and in partnership with NGOs, companies and government, we apply these 4 core elements of service design to the urgency of the climate challenge:

Empathy: Through understanding the habits, dreams, desires and fears of people, we design solutions that people actually want and use.

Systems Thinking: helps us identify how sustainable solutions need to fit into complex social, cultural and economic systems and helps us anticipate the potential unintended consequences of our designs.

Bias To Action: We create prototypes to allow people to experience and react to/against possible sustainable futures.

Fail safely: Rapid prototyping and speculative design allow us to test future scenarios quickly and cheaply. Letting us fail, iterate, improve with the urgency the crisis demands.


The social impact challenge lab is a place for collaboration, research and change.

These three areas develop a symbiotic relationship in how we see neighbourhoods thrive.


Collaboration with students & staff across the school of design, alumni, partners and most importantly neighbourhoods. At the heart of the Social Impact Challenge Lab is an abundant and co-creative approach. Working together as we see neighbourhoods providing answers to the challenges they may face. Collaboration as we see our partners become employers for our students and collaboration as we join forces with national and international validators and authenticators of social change.


Pioneering research undertaken across legacy projects to explore the complexities of networks and neighbourhoods shared with associate institutions, student project outcomes shared with partners to affect policy and systemic change and the learnings shared by and with neighbourhoods as we focus on what’s strong, not what’s wrong.


With challenges elected by students, partners & neighbourhoods our role is to consistently and expertly create safe and enabling environments for change to take place. Together we co-create opportunities for choice to be exercised, for agency to be reclaimed and ultimately to find better ways of being human.


Our projects are formed and informed by partners, neighbourhoods and the RCA family of cross disciplined students, staff and alumni. Our current focus explores the criminal justice system and homelessness.

Alternative to Recall

Working with Catch22, commissioned by the Ministry of Justice, provide a service design approach to the pilot programme running from January - December 2022 that seeks to prevent 300 men on probation returning back to prison by engaging with the terms of their licence.


A licence is the non custodial portion of a sentence that is carried out within the community. 

The purpose of a licence is to: Protect the public, Prevent Re-offending, Reintegrate back into society.

Non-compliance with licence conditions are the primary reason for recall, with most Prison Leavers re-entering custody for breaches unrelated to increased risk of harm. 59% of recalled prison leavers surveyed by Catch22 said that their reasons for being recalled had not been addressed and 63% felt they would benefit from additional support upon release, to prevent being recalled again.

Figures from September-2020 show that 11.7% of UK Prison Population (10,000 people) were in custody due to recall, but only 40% (4,000) of them had committed a further offence. Every year 6000 people are recalled for a breach of their licence that is unrelated to an increased risk of harm or committing an offence.


The Big Issue

How might we innovate & better articulate The Big Issue's 30 year street sales value exchange into a digital proposition aimed at both existing and new audiences?


The Big Issue is a street newspaper founded by John Bird and Gordon Roddick in September 1991 and published in four continents. The Big Issue is one of the UK's leading social businesses and exists to offer those caught in the most challenging circumstances, often individuals at risk of homelessness or experiencing homelessness, the opportunity to earn a legitimate income, thereby helping them to reintegrate into mainstream society. It is the world's most widely circulated street newspaper. The Big Issue’s famous maxim is a mantra for many social enterprises “offering a hand up, not a hand out”

Personal Wellbeing & Probation

Catch22, working with a consortium of partners, on behalf of the Ministry of Justice are delivering a programme seeking to provide enriched support to male persons on probation

The programme focuses on the personal wellbeing of the people on probation by delivering an integrated way of supporting those with identified needs in the following areas; Family & Significant Others, Emotional Wellbeing, Lifestyle and Associates and Social inclusion.

Design a service that captures the experiences and knowledge of the service users and maximises outcomes for those with protected characteristics.


At the heart of the Social Impact Challenge Lab is an abundant and co-creative approach. We recognise the inherent (and often latent) power within neighbourhoods - To that end, we are fostering a new neighbourhood, from associates to alumni and from creatives to communities. For this new neighbourhood to function, we strive to maintain a welcoming, safe and enabling environment where innovation can be nurtured together.


Our partners are like-minded organisations who are keen to see the role of service design applied to finding better ways of being human.

Catch 22

With its roots dating back to 1788, Catch22 brings a legacy of genuine transformation across the criminal justice system, delivering life changing experiences. We are delighted to be working with Catch22 on a range of projects that we hope will affect policy.


The Big Issue is one of the UK's leading social businesses and the world's most widely circulated street newspaper. We are thrilled to be partnering with The Big issue on a student led collaborative project.

Rhode Island School of Design

The Center for Complexity at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) is a platform for transdisciplinary collaboration and innovation, informed by global events and creative practises, founded to benefit scholars, practitioners, and a diverse range of partners.

Nurture Development

Nurture Development is Europe’s leading strategic partner in Asset Based Community Development, they support the proliferation of inclusive, bottom up, community driven change, through supporting local communities to identify, connect and mobilise its assets to the benefit of the whole community.

The Ministry of Justice

The New Futures Network is a specialist part of Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service. Brokering partnerships between prisons and employers in England and Wales. Partnerships that help businesses fill skills gaps and prison leavers find employment.


Andrew Nurse

Visiting Associate

InHouse Records

Baron John Bird MBE

Knowledge Partner

Founder of The Big Issue

Carl Corbin

Visiting Associate

InHouse Records

Cormac Russell

Visiting Associate

Director at Nurture Development / ABCD

Emilia D'orazio

Visiting Fellow

Service Designer at London Borough of Barking and Dagenham

Fran Sanderson

Visiting Associate

Director of Arts Programmes and Investments at NESTA

Judah Armani

Head of Social Impact Challenge Lab


Visiting Associate

InHouse Records

Matt Randle

Project Partner

Assistant Director at Catch22

Micah Sherer

Visiting Associate

Economist & Coffee Social Entrepreuner

Naomi McGrath

Project Partner

Senior Operations Manager at Catch22

Neil Sartorio

Visiting Associate

Partner at EY

Paul Cheal

Project Partner

CEO of The Big Issue

Tobin Shadlyn

Visiting Associate

Center for Complexity - RISD

Work With Us

Heading here

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Suspendisse varius enim in eros elementum tristique. Duis cursus, mi quis viverra ornare, eros dolor interdum nulla, ut commodo diam libero vitae erat. Aenean faucibus nibh et justo cursus id rutrum lorem imperdiet. Nunc ut sem vitae risus tristique posuere.

"Quote here. Quote here. Quote here. Quote here. Quote here."

-- Quote name.

"Quote here. Quote here. Quote here. Quote here. Quote here."

-- Quote name.