Anna Meroni, International coordinator.

Dear DESISers,
it seems that the (im)possible mission of turning DESIS into an Association is almost accomplished: the “constitution paper” with the new statute of DESIS signed by the initial founding members is about to be back at home in Politecnico for the formal establishment of the association. This means that soon we can start with the formal applications by the existing Labs and with the requests for application of the new labs that are in the pipeline.

But, we do not want to make it just a formal act. We aim to make it an opportunity to update the network about what’s going on in the different labs and to open up new challenges.
As we anticipated time ago, we like to start this “new deal of DESIS” with a program of international coordination which, in a couple of years, might help us to develop systematic reflections out of the already existing initiatives (projects, clusters, philosophy talks…). To do so, the aim of this program is to start up a process for the DESIS Labs to analyse, through a common conceptual framework, their current and future projects and generate a ’transversal knowledge’ that could reinforce the academic vision/mission of DESIS and make more explicit what design can do for social innovation.

As main final outcome of this activity we wish to produce a “DESIS publication” in 2016 that will collect into a structured framework the transversal knowledge produced in the network. This will be not the only outcome of program: it will go along with a series of other initiatives connected to the CUMULUS Milano conference in 2015 @Expo2015 and, in particular with an unconventional exhibition of the DESIS projects spread around the city in connection with the diverse cultural communities…Let’s call by now ‘Milano Social Expo’. We will go back soon to you about this.

Well: now we like to focus on the above-mentioned conceptual framework. Think about it as a matrix that can be created crossing a number of issues related to social innovation with our initiatives and that can allow us to “extract” the common knowledge. We propose that the concepts that we use for this framework are the same that we might use, from now on, to describe our projects and maybe to create new initiatives. Therefore we suggest the following issues to focus on:

  • governance and policymaking: the interplay between top-down and bottom up actions and its implications on governance and planning; the way diverse stakeholders participate in decision making;
  • activism and civic participation: the capacity of individuals, groups and organisations to undertake initiatives and foster change at an higher level; the democratization and openness of the processes;
  • social interactions and relations: the potential of the initiatives to enhance, collaboration, social cohesion, conviviality, connections and sustainability;
  • city and environmental planning: the impact of social innovation projects on the city, the media, the private and public space;
  • production, distribution and consumption: the new production/distribution/consumption chains, the new technologies and the local assets/resources for more sustainable value creation systems;
  • skill training and design education: the new design education; the need and opportunity of building new competences with and the project stakeholders;
  • job creation: the potential of the initiatives to create new job opportunities and social orientated business.
  • storytelling and visualisation: the stories design tells and the tools/formats it uses, the aims and the target of the communication.

Almost every project or cluster of our DESIS Network can be discussed with reference to more than one of these issues and therefore compared, adopting some common concept. In other words, they can be used to orient the reflection toward the DESIS publication and to organise initiatives from now on. All together, these issues will help to define the specific contribution and the role of design in supporting and fostering social innovation. We think that some of us can progressively take care of coordinating this transversal issues and to finalise it into shared knowledge. We will operate to facilitate this process, which is partially already going on.

We have made a first attempt to use these issues to describe a project, and we have developed a template accordingly. We hope you like it and you can find it useful. We aim to adopt it now for a couple of purposes:

  • to prepare the formal application for the DESIS Association: we will ask the Labs to kindly prepare the presentation of 1-3 projects with this template and, contextually, to update the presentation of the Labs.
  • to organise an updated “DESIS showcase” for the CUMULUS Aveiro Conference, on May 8-10. For those of us going there, there will be the chance to experiment with this new projects presentation in a dedicated format “DESIS what’s on”, on Saturday 10, morning.
  • We wish this to be an opportunity to strengthen the network and make it more incisive in the creation of knowledge about how design can contribute to social innovation. Please, tell us what you think about it.