(by Ezio Manzini, DESIS Network founder)
1st February 2021

This newsletter is the first after the handover in the role of International Coordinator from Carla to Teresa. I want to thank them again, and their fantastic teams for the work done in the past 4 years, and for the commitment made for the future.

At the DESIS Assembly on December 9th 2020, we discussed a great deal about what has been done and what should happen now. The synthesis is simple to say, but not as simple to put into practice: if the world has changed, DESIS must change too. That is, in the face of what has happened and is happening, it is not just a matter of adding new experiences to what has been done so far, but of changing the framework in which we act, redefining what we are, what we do and how we do it.

In its 10 years of life DESIS has consolidated some ways of being and doing, starting from what was our DNA of the origins. Which means, starting with how we saw and described the wave of social innovation that began 20 years ago, and what was design and design schools of those times.

Much of this original DNA must be preserved as a precious legacy of knowledge and experience. But as has been said, the framework needs to be updated. The health and environmental emergencies impose new visions and new practices. The same applies to growing social inequalities and difficulties of democracy. At the same time, technical innovation is becoming increasingly, and in a very direct way, social and political, for the bad and for the good. That is, in the direction of a dystopian and unsustainable society of control and automatisms and in the opposite: towards a society of collaboration, equity and sustainability.

Thus, if in the past we have had the possibility to consider separately technical innovation, social innovation and natural systems, focusing social innovation against the background of the natural and sociotechnical systems, today this separation is increasingly difficult and we must learn to work in order to support a socio-technical innovation (which is also cultural and institutional) in the context of the ongoing transformations of the natural context (which, referencing Bruno Latour, we can call “politics of nature”).

In this changing context, it must be clearer than ever that the transformative innovation that we aspire to, collides (and will clash even more in the coming years) not only with the inertia of the past, but also, and above all, with other hypotheses of the future driven by other ideas as innovative as intrinsically unsustainable (on the physical and social level) and unacceptable (on the ethical one).

Considering all this, and the conceptual and operational reframing that it requires us, there is something we need to keep of our original DNA: it is the ability to observe social reality and to find, in its complexity and contradiction, who are already experimenting new and promising paths. And, from here, find the best way to collaborate with them, with the aim of growing a new wave of transformative social innovation that should be, at the same time, socio-technical, institutional and cultural.

Stay in touch and take care.