Social innovation for territorial ecology: active communities, distributed systems and design.

SEE and SEEK are two programs of the larger PERL initiative. Both are funded from the European Commission for the period 2009-2012. Their common aim is to promote and facilitate Framework Projects as projects that aim to promote and coordinate a multiplicity of self-standing social innovation Local Projects in order to enhance large scale, socially driven, sustainable changes.

SEE and SEEK are conceived to be (mainly) developed by design schools, in collaboration with other local partners. That is, it considers design schools as agents for sustainable changes.

SEE and SEEK are supported by DESIS Network (the international network on design for social innovation and sustainability) and it is an integral part of its activities


Design for sustainability and sustainable territorial planning are converging. In fact:

• Sustainable solutions tend to be localized. That is, to keep in account the territorial specificities of the place where they have to be implanted.
• Sustainable territorial planning tends to be articulated in local projects. That is, to be implemented through a variety of relatively autonomous small scale, self-standing projects.

Local projects are self-standing in the context where they are embedded. That is, they must be:
• Economically viable and, therefore, to be based on service ideas, capable to leave in the framework of the emerging distributed social economy.
• Technologically viable and, therefore, to use, in an innovative way, the existing technologies and knowledge.
• Socially viable and, therefore, to refer to locally already existing active communities or to communities that are activated by the same project proposals.

Local projects are expression of larger trends:

• They are driven by social innovation initiatives and, in turn, they generate new waves of social innovation. That is, they are based on local actors active participation and they create radical different ways of living and/or producing.
• They are coherent with the emerging distributed system scenario and, in turn, they are its concrete implementation. That is, they are nodes of large, flexible network that are, at the same time, both local and global.
• They are “living entities” of the territorial ecology and, in turn, they re-generate the ecology of the territory where they are embedded. That is, they are local systems that, thanks to their number and diversity, enrich the environmental and social resilience the larger ecological system in which they are embedded.

Local projects are (very often) triggered and supported by framework projects: larger meta-projects conceived as strategies for sustainable local development, to be implemented by several self-standing local projects (and that, in turn, have the capability to strength existing individual local projects, increasing their visibility and coherence).

Framework projects: main features

Framework Projects (FP) are projects that promote and coordinate a multiplicity of self-standing social innovation projects (Local Projects – LP) in order to enhance large scale, socially driven, sustainable changes.

They coordinate the Local ones both horizontally and vertically. That means:

• in a given space (as, for instance, a neighbourhood, a city, a region) in order to promote its sustainable development enriching its territorial ecology;
• in a given system (as, for instance, the healthcare, the school, administration ones) in order to promote its evolution towards a more effective systemic architecture, turning it in a distributed organisation.

Both FP and LP result from a positive interplay between bottom-up initiatives (by grassroots associations), peer-to-peer exchange (between similar initiatives) and top-down interventions (by local authorities, sensible businesses, other non-profit associations).

Framework Projects emerge from co-design processes where a multiplicity of actors is involved. To start and coordinate this complex partnerships, a set of specific design skills and tools are needed (to trigger and facilitate actors interactions). This design approach can be explicit (when professional designers are involved) or tacit (when there are used by non-professional designers). But, in any case, it will play an important role. In particular:

• Framework Projects require a (tacit or explicit) design approach to define their strategy, to recognize the existing resources and on-going social innovation processes, to involve the stakeholders and to facilitate the convergence toward shared visions and common decisions on what to do.
• Local Projects require a (tacit or explicit) design support in terms of appropriate strategic and service design skills and tools.