July 2017

 Ezio Manzini

Thanks to our International Coordinator’s efforts, we finally have a map of what the DESIS Labs are doing. Of course it is not perfect (not all the considered projects were sufficiently up-dated) and it can and will be improved (as Carla has proposed everybody to do, in a collaborative spirit). Nevertheless, this draft map permits us to make a big step forwards in a phenomenological understanding , on the basis of what the DESIS Labs really do, of what DESIS Network really is.

Here I would like to consider, and underline, one particular point: looking at the map, it clearly appears that the majority of Labs projects are converging in three main areas. We have defined them: (1) Care exchanging; (2) Place making; (3) Income generating. It could be useful to make some first comments on them and on some steps could be done om the basis of their recognition.

  • Care exchanging. Here the main design and research questions are: how to build social forms where care encounters are possible, probable and lasting in time? How to improve their relational qualities and how to implement the needed enabling systems? The existence of this thematic area of design and research  could have been easily foreseen: the issue of how creative communities operate in the field of care has been one which, from the beginning,  many DESIS Labs have started to work on, and the whole DESIS Network has been characterized by.
  • Place making. In this case, the thematic area questions are: how to build social forms linking people with their physical context? How thanks to this, space can be transformed in places? How to co-produce communities and places in the present fluid world? In the past years we witnessed a growing interest of DESIS Labs in initiatives aiming at linking people and places and, more specifically, in exploring the possibility of city making by design. Now, with this map, we can recognize this trend as a concrete evidence. I think that there are good reasons to say that design for social innovation in place and city making, in the next period,  could become a DESIS Labs’ main area of interest. And, therefore, a characterizing topic for the whole DESIS Network .
  • Income generating. In this area, the main questions are: how to build social forms offering participants also an economic benefit? How positive relationships between the social and the economic values can be produced? It has to be said that, in the DESIS Network story, this theme (i.e. the theme of how social innovation can generate new income) has been rarely considered as such. But now something is changing and the map clearly indicates it. No need to be said how important this theme is and how urgent it is to orient more design and research capabilities in this direction and to find the way to exchange and discuss the Labs experiences (that, at the moment, seem to be quite scattered).

These first observations on these three emerging thematic areas are of course only the beginning of a reflection that, hopefully, will be much richer. The problem is where and how the needed exchanges, and the following discussions, could take place.

Dealing with this topic in the DESIS Assembly in Kolding, an interesting idea has been proposed:  to create a (digital) space where themes like these  could be discussed in a simple and open way.  These spaces, to be named Thematic Areas, could be hosted by the DESIS website and have someone who, in turn, take the role of caring for the debate quality in them.

These proposed Thematic Areas should be a new kind of DESIS activity, in parallel with the Thematic Clusters which are, and will remain, highly important moments in the DESIS Network life. It could be useful to clarify the difference between the two:

  • Thematic Clusters: they are result-oriented coalitions of DESIS Labs working on a specific design research questions. They are based on a well defined research questions and define a road map of actions to be done and results to be achieved. Given their nature, each Thematic Cluster cannot involve a large number of Labs.
  • Thematic Areas: they are spaces for curated discussions (i.e. a discussion with someone who takes care to trigger them and, at a given point, to orient them towards (temporary) conclusions. Given their nature they can involve a large number of DESIS Lab members and their results is mainly to create a common language and some shared work hypothesis (of course, at their best, these Thematic Areas could also become the culture medium for new Thematic Clusters).

Of course, this Thematic Areas proposal too is still  very rough and has to be discussed and its implications better understood: what do you think?