Creating a fourth space for social impact collaborations across boundaries: Social Impact Project – Innovative Design Sprints as Online Internships

Case Studies


Griffith University


  • Health
  • STEM
  • Creative Industries
  • Business
  • Law
  • Other

Model/s of WIL activity:

  • Industry/community based placement
  • Industry/community based projects
  • Technology

Level activity is delivered:

Individual unit/course of study

Creating a fourth space for social impact collaborations across boundaries: Social Impact Project – Innovative Design Sprints as Online Internships

This project set out to ensure the ‘experience’ component of face-to-face internships was also available in scalable, cost-effective, and yet high-impact practice online internships.

The Social Impact Project – Innovative Solution Design Sprints (SIP-IDS) is a virtual service learning internship model where students spend 5 weeks working in a specially designed online environment alongside community partners.  It involves multi-disciplined teams of undergraduate and postgraduate students teams working on innovative solutions to complex social justice issues with multiple community partners.

Through a purpose-built platform, the online space is designed around developing the top ten skills identified by the World Economic Forum (2020) and creating an environment that stimulates creativity and innovation in a similar manner to physical freelance workspaces. Elements of the online space include collaborative break-out spaces, collaborative design spaces and activities, a coffee room, and collaborative work practices such as ‘world cafe’ and ethical decision-making workshops. Mental health and wellbeing are important design elements of both the workspace and the work processes. Students work with a variety of partners on a particular issue and design and implement a variety of solutions to identified issues according to prescribed budgets.

We are able to scale our virtual Internship from the planned 50 students from multiple degree programs to include an additional 600 first-year students (over 650 students).

Students work in teams, nationally and internationally, to address complex social justice issues as an alternative to face-to-face internship placements. A series of five Social Impact Projects (SIPs) focus on mental health and wellness, digital inclusion, homelessness, environmental sustainability and finally, empowering people of all abilities.  Because the internship is project and issues based, while the format and the structure of the internship remains the same, the work may be different for each iteration of the internship and is driven by sector needs identified by community partners.

Length of time the WIL activity has been/was in operation

Two years.

How does the WIL activity demonstrate good practice and/or innovation?

The SIP-IDS provides a cost-effective yet scalable solution for multiple students in different locations to work with a diverse range of stakeholders. With the increasing demand for WIL placement and opportunities, this model allows for universities to provide large numbers of students with a rich internship experience allowing them to exercise global citizenship identity, civic agency, and work on social change without having to organise individual internships. Cost is minimised and workload is distributed between stakeholders including key academics, and industry experts. People with lived experiences and other students from a range of academic disciplines, including business, engineering, architecture, creative arts, bio med and health, are supported throughout the process. Importantly, this internship model focuses specifically on developing important employability capacities such as complex problem-solving, critical thinking, creativity, people management, coordinating with others, emotional intelligence, judgement and decision making, service orientation, negotiation and cognitive flexibility and relevance across disciplines. Students are then able to evidence their work in project reports published on the relevant project website featuring key partners.

Who benefits from the WIL activity and how?

Students were overwhelmed by the experience initially but were quick to embrace the opportunity and described the experience as life-changing in terms of their learning and how they engaged with the world. In addition, the accessibility design elements of the internship ensured all students were able to complete an internship and continue their studies despite COVID-inspired lockdowns. Community organisations appreciated being able to continue to offer internships and work with students to find solutions to complex social issues without increasing their own workloads. Collaboratively the University, Industry Partner and students were able to provide vulnerable communities with project outcomes.

How does the activity embed successful evaluation processes?

We rely on Sam Kaner’s Diamond model of participation (2014) and Locke’s (1960) goal setting theory emphasizing the importance of intentional, wilful connection or selection of goals. Another important component of the design was SMART goal theory (Doran, 1981) a framework to ensure goals are specific, measurable of achievements and, because the project includes a budget and is reported, explicit and justified. The objectives of the project need to be achievable, and while there is an impetus for social change-making, students also need to moderate their expectations with what is practicable. Our Community partners are included in the project evaluation through a follow-up debrief session about what worked and what could be improved upon.

What are the broader/longer term impacts for stakeholders? 

    All of the project platforms, websites and communication tools are assessed for accessibility by the Centre for Accessibility Australia and any identified issues are rectified prior to students and partners working on the project. This ensures an accessible, virtual workplace. Students requiring accessibility adjustments are contacted prior to the commencement of the internship to ensure they are well placed to participate. The vision for these virtual Social Impact Projects is that they establish a model for a more inclusive virtual workspace leading into the Fourth Industrial revolution. These inclusive and equitable workspaces are supported by websites showcasing the projects that also provide an anchor point for both the social justice issue, and the solutions developed by the students.

    How is the WIL activity integrated into curricula? Include how it incorporates the preparation, implementation, and reflection/debriefing phases of WIL.

    The SIP-IDS are able to be offered as part of, or separately to, the internship program. The internship is offered in multiple formats, with the preferred model being that students attend one day per week over five weeks with additional time to complete project tasks. The internship is also able to be offered as an intensive period over two weeks.

    There are 89 project partners across five projects include a variety of community organisations, Government Departments such as Oz Harvest, The Human Rights Commission, The Black Dog Institute, Micah Housing among others, with some partnering on multiple projects. The design of the model ensures students from a variety of institutions, and programs are able to participate. Students participate in training and induction prior to commencing the internship to ensure they are well prepared for the experience. Reflection is scaffolded through the project during each transition phase as students move through the experience allowing the students to build on what they have learned during the previous activities. Partners are also included in the reflective sessions. Students submit a reflective journal as part of their assessment requirements. Debriefing sessions are conducted at the end of each day in conjunction with the mental health activity to allow students to share what they have learned, raise any issues and ensure they leave the space well prepared for the following day’s activities. The internship concludes with an industry showcase where students present their project outcomes in a nationally broadcast online event to the industry partners and invite feedback. This final debrief session is conducted during the project showcase event providing students feedback on their work and asking questions about their experiences.

    Describe how the case study is informed by relevant theoretical or empirical literature, research and/or scholarship. Include relevant references.

    As a High-impact Practice (HIP) (Kuh, 2008), the SIP-IDS are active service learning practices that develop personal and professional identities through reciprocal links with our community partners (Jackson 2013; Patrick et al. 2008; Purdie et al. 2013). Student interns are able to deepen their understanding of citizenship and develop professional and personal skills (Kiely, 2005; Mezirow, 1997; Schor, Calton & Cattaneo, 2018) while engaged “emocratically-engaged in co-creation” with partners.

    What are the plans for the WIL activity in the future?

    We are currently working on developing a Global Social Impact Project and look forward to sharing this will you once complete. We have interest from several international institutions including Cornell University, Barry University and the University of Victoria in Canada. There is potential to run several projects through this portal and I invite your collaboration and participation.

    Websites and Videos

    Social Impact Project Websites

    Final Project Showcase

    The Australian Human Rights Disability Discrimination Commissioner Dr Ben Gauntlet was the keynote for this event.

    Griffith University Service Learning Social impact Project Interns presented their project outcomes to our community partners. Watch the event.

    Individual Project Videos

    Student Testimonial

    Social Impact Project Reports
    2020 Mental Health and Wellbeing Project Report Trimester 2
    2020 Homelessness Project Report Trimester 2
    2020 Digital Inclusion Project Report Trimester 2
    2020 Empowering People of All Abilities Project Report Trimester 2
    2020 Environmental Sustainability Project Report Trimester 2


    Doran, G. T. (1981). There’s a S.M.A.R.T. Way to Write Management’s Goals and Objectives. Management Review, 70, 35-36.

    Jackson, D. (2013). The contribution of work-integrated learning to undergraduate employability skill outcomes.

     Kaner, S. (2014). Facilitator’s guide to participatory decision-making. John Wiley & Sons.   

     Kiely, R. (2005). A transformative learning model for service-learning: A longitudinal case study. Michigan journal of community service learning, 12(1), 5-22.

    Kuh, G. D. (2008). Excerpt from high-impact educational practices: What they are, who has access to them, and why they matter. Association of American Colleges and Universities, 14(3), 28-29.

     Locke, E. A., & Latham, G. P. (2013). Goal Setting Theory, 1990 Gary P. Latham and Edwin A. Locke. In New developments in goal setting and task performance (pp. 27-39). Routledge. 

    Mezirow, J. (1997). Transformative learning: Theory to practice. New directions for adult and continuing education, 1997(74), 5-12.

    Patrick, C. J., Peach, D., Pocknee, C., Webb, F., Fletcher, M., & Pretto, G. (2008). The WIL (Work Integrated Learning) report: A national scoping study. Queensland University of Technology.

     Purdie, F., Ward, L. J., McAdie, T. M., King, N., & Drysdale, M. (2013). Are work-integrated learning (WIL) students better equipped psychologically for work post-graduation than their non-work-integrated learning peers? Some initial findings from a UK university. Asia Pacific Journal of Co-operative Education, 14(2), 117-125. 

    Shor, R., Calton, J. M., & Cattaneo, L. B. (2018). The development of the systems and individual responsibility for poverty (SIRP) Scale. Journal of Community Psychology, 46(8), 1010-1025.

    Case Study Leader

    Associate Professor Denise Jackson (ECU)

    Faith Valencia-Forrester

    Director, Service Learning Unit, Griffith University

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