Bridging Science and Societal Needs, 4.5 hp (ECTS credits)

This course is a central PhD course under the Openlab collaboration between Stockholm University, KTH, Karolinska Institute, and Södertörn University College.

Openlab addresses collaborations across disciplines in order to find innovative solutions to societal challenges. The course is open to PhD students from all departments in all faculties at Stockholm University. PhD students interested in problem solving and making a difference in tomorrow's society should consider applying.

The course content focuses on innovation processes through applying design thinking methodology as support for research, development work, and innovation in surrounding societal and/or scientific environments, in particular within the realm of social innovation. No previous experience with social innovation is required. The course is inspired by and builds on similar courses at the at Stanford University.

Course information at Openlab at Stanford University

Course content
Module 1: An introduction to design thinking
Main content: An introduction to design thinking theory and process methodology.

Module 2: Practical application of design thinking in improvement work
Main content: The module focuses on experience-based learning in groups, where students take on generically formulated societal challenges with design thinking processes.

Module 3: Design thinking and social innovation within research
Main content: The module focuses on design thinking in relation to the research studies of the students. The students identify how design thinking can be used to increase the societal quality and relevance of their research. Also, students identify different societal challenges that their research studies can potentially address.The course aims to introduce innovation through design thinking methodology and provide practical applications of design thinking in improvement work and in research within complex systems contexts from a cross-disciplinary viewpoint. The course contains a problem-oriented teaching and learning style, where students are provided with a pedagogy that enables them to take active responsibility for individual and group learning. In general, teaching will be performed through lectures, workshops, and through supervision of individual tasks.

Active participation and presentation are required in Modules 1 and 2 and an individual written exam in Module 3. Each individual student needs to complete all assignments to pass the course. The mandatory requirements for passing the Modules 1 and 2 are:

  • Participation in compulsory group work.
  • Oral presentations.
  • Provide feedback to at least one other student's work.

Absence from the compulsory sessions or assessment seminars can to some extent be compensated through supplementary activities. Assessment and grading are done according to the scale Pass/Fail [G/U].
Course literature
Cross, N. (2011) Design Thinking - Understanding How Designers Think and Work. Oxford: Berg Publishers.
Dorst, K. (2011) The core of 'design thinking' and its application. Design Studies 32 (6), 521-532.
Plattner, H., Meinel, C. & Leifer, L. (2016) Design Thinking Research: Making Design Thinking Foundational. New York: Springer Publishers.
Recommended readings for discussions will be distributed during the course.

The course will be given online.

Dates for the course: March 13 – May 22, 2024

The course consists of 6 full-time days with mandatory participation (plus individual work in-between).

Dates for spring semester 2024: Wednesdays 13+20 March, 10+17 April, 8+22 May.

Course registration
To be eligible for registration, you must be an admitted and active PhD student at Stockholm University, i.e. your pace of study should be at least 50%. The course will be filled on a first come, first served basis, taking into account a balance of applications from all four faculties at Stockholm University. There will be no departmental charge for participating. Before applying, make sure the course will be included in your individual study plan and approved by your main supervisor. The course is a collaboration between Stockholm University, KTH, Karolinska Institutet, and Södertörn University College, and students will be working in mixed groups. Each university has a quota of 4–8 participants.

Registration is open for 2024!
In the application, indicate which course you are applying for, as well as your name, social security number (for Ladok registration), home department, and which subject you are studying (many departments have more than one). Attach a copy of a certificate showing that you have been admitted to PhD studies at Stockholm University and (if possible) a short description of your thesis project (max. one A4 page, pdf file).

Send your application to and course content inquiries to


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