Design and Social Innovation for Sustainability

DESIS is a network of schools of design and other institutions, companies and non-profit organizations interested in promoting and supporting design for social innovation and sustainability. It is a light, non-profit organization, conceived as a network of partners collaborating in a peer-to-peer spirit.

This international network comprises several DESIS-Local sub-networks within specified regions. DESIS-International is therefore the framework within which the different DESIS-Local coordinate themselves and undertake certain global initiatives.The DESIS vision
In the complexity of contemporary societies it is possible to recognize promising cases of socio-technical innovation. They are, at one and the same time, solutions to current problems and meaningful steps towards sustainability. These cases can be found in a variety of fields: from the ecological re-conversion of the production system to the social construction of a new welfare; from the empowerment of diffuse microenterprises to local sustainable development programs. Many of these promising cases have a common denominator: they have been conceived and implemented (mainly) by the involved actors, moving from their direct knowledge of the problem, and from their own personal capabilities. That is, they are the results of successful social innovation processes.

Social innovation mobilizes diffuse social resources (in terms of creativity, skills, knowledge and entrepreneurship). For this reason, it is a major driver of change. And it could become a powerful promoter of sustainable ways of living and producing.

Given its spontaneous nature, social innovation cannot be planned. Nevertheless, the “invention” of new ways of living and producing becomes more probable when creativity and design thinking are diffused and when there is a favorable social and institutional environment. In parallel to this, once new promising cases exist, they last longer and are more widely replicated when empowered by appropriate sets of services, products and communication. Favorable environments and enabling solutions are results of articulated co-design processes in which final users, local institutions, service providers and dedicated product manufacturers are all actively involved.

Regarding social innovation and the emerging new design networks, the professional design community has a major role to play. Designers and design researchers must use their professional knowledge to empower the co-design processes—that is, to trigger new ideas, to orient the resulting initiatives and to conceive a new generation of enabling solutions, i.e. services, products and communications specifically conceived to support them.

Design can give important contributions to social innovation, and vice versa. Social innovation can be a large and growing opportunity for a new generation of designers: professional designers and design researchers working to develop and sustain new networks, and feeding them with needed design knowledge. DESIS supports social innovation worldwide and reinforces the design community’s role in it.

DESIS aims
• Supporting social innovation using design skills to give promising cases more visibility, to make them more effective, and to facilitate their replicability; also helping companies and institutions understand the promising cases’ potentialities in terms of enabling services, products and business ideas
• Reinforcing the design community’s role in the social innovation processes, operating both within the design community (developing dedicated design knowledge) and outside it (redefining design’s perceived role and capabilities)

DESIS activities
DESIS pursues its activities on three different levels:
• Fostering social innovation and sustainability by taking part in support projects and programs, gathering together and offering greater visibility to significant cases
• Promoting design for social innovation both within and outside the design community, developing appropriate design tools and organizing cultural and didactic activities
• Fostering the circulation of ideas and experiences, with a peer-to-peer approach between the different DESIS-Local to carrying out comparative research and co-producing courses at an international level

These activities are mainly accomplished through the coordinating initiatives of the DESIS-Local, each of which organizes itself autonomously and freely. Nevertheless, some possible “standard” DESIS activities can be listed:
• Proposing and developing national and international research programs
• Organizing didactic initiatives (such as: workshops, seminars, courses and conferences)
• Preparing didactic resources (such as: teaching tools, course formats, bibliographic references)
• Collecting research information (such as: promising cases, projects and research results)
• Promoting cultural and communication initiatives (such as exhibitions, publications, broadcasts

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