Design Role: Leading: an introduction…

Leading corresponds to a series of design activities oriented towards conducting or facilitating the overall Framework Programme. Often the Leadership is set up in the original agreements or partnerships at the beginning of the programme, and is often negotiated with the needs and aims of funding and partner institutions. In some case studies Design schools and designers practically lead the initiatives engaging various stakeholders in the programme or in other contexts Design acts more as an overall approach to change that brings together various partners and, eventually, methodologies. Design activities can have also a significant leading role when helping setting up a vision that guide the individual projects in the long term.
Tentative guidelines:
• Start with a design team, taking the initiative to set a tentative framework/local project by both involving local stakeholders and shaping with them a draft future vision…
• Organise project-oriented investigation, where field analysis, rather than an end is a mean to inspire new ideas and projects and an occasion to engage participation…
• Promote envisioning, simulation, experimentation, quick prototyping… that is more likely to create convergence in a complex and heterogeneous stake holders environment, …

Detailed analysis:
Partnerships and visions
What are the main characteristics/aspects/dimensions of the activity?
Design schools, organisations (see for example the Design Council) or studios can have a role in defining the original agreement or partnership that stand before the Framework Programme. In the DOTT07 project this is particularly evident as it has been the Design Council together with an international design thinker Thackara to set up the overall 10 years programme, its main aims and structure. At the same time DOTT07, as developed in the North East, needed to answer to the needs and objectives of the region and therefore develop as a partnership between the two organisations. In DOTT07 Design worked both as an ‘object of promotion’ (see Design Council) but also as the pivotal approach for change and public engagement (grass roots innovation and engine for innovation in the region).
Other initiatives have been similarly guided by Design such as the Feeding Milano and Chong-Ming Island project. In both the initiatives the Design schools have started the individual projects working with students to then use these project ideas to develop further initiatives. Feeding Milano started with design students’ work and is now a research project funded by the City of Milan and Cariplo foundation in collaboration with Slow Food. In these cases Design leads the project by collaboratively set up the vision and provide an ‘infrastructure’ for the collaboration to progress.
In the case of the NeWu project in China, a joint university project (Polimi, Milan & Jiangnan) has provided the synergy/platform for a partnership with Wuxi Municipality. Still in its early phases, the project is dependant on design leadership but the aim is for student service design proposals to serve as inspiration for local stakeholders.
Finally in the case of Malmö Social Innovation Living Lab, Design works by “infrastructuring” meaning creating the conditions for quick contextual experiments to explore a sustainable future among a diverse set of stakeholders. This happens by conducting a continuous match-making process that tries to align diverse actors into common projects and initiatives, looking up for synergies and opportunities as they emerge. In this case Design doesn’t provide a determined ‘vision’, but generate the conditions for opportunities to emerge; the real vision is more related to the process itself, which is to ‘democratise innovation’ within public sphere and everyday life.

Collaborative Design and open innovation
How to start/develop/disseminate it?
In many of the case studies Design works as an overall approach to change and social innovation. This doesn’t exclude the use of other methodologies or the integration of other professions such as artists or architects, in the territorial intervention. Design is actually often adopting methods and tools from other disciplines to better engage with the citizens and work on a wide scale. DOTT07 and Nord-pas-de-Calais Sustainable Periurban are a clear example for this. In DOTT07 designers have been engaged in the main Public design commission projects, but the ‘activation’ of the public and extensive visibility of the initiative has been often delegated to artists and media studios. The art-led initiatives had the capacity to reach out a wider public and sensitise about the overall programme aim, but they were generally not oriented to generate ideas and solutions.
In other projects Design has been working as main methodological guidance to enhance collaborative design processes and projects management. In particular when the design process is an open and participatory one, several questions emerge on how to keep the collaboration open while guiding it. In the Malmö Social Innovation Living Lab questions arise as for how: 1) to scale up, meaning developing new relationships, still maintaining old ones; 2) to set up collaborative decision making; 3) to set up experiments during the complex circumstances that emerge within social innovation; 4) to perform “friendly hacking” of civil servants? (e.g. to try to engage different stakeholders overcoming difficulties to change their working structures).

Emergent opportunities and grassroots change
What are the expected results/outputs/benefits?
When Design works at a wide territorial scale working with a large set of partners, starting from an existing set resources and opportunities, what can emerge is a potential transformation of innovation processes within single actors or among systems that explore and evaluate the potential of more grassroots movements and changes. Opening up cultural and operational barriers among different populations, organisations and professional groups is one of the key challenges to manage to generate more systemic effects.
Feeding Milano or Amplify both work for example to amplify and connect existing initiatives and show the potentials behind their connection and collaboration within a similar vision. Malmö Social Innovation Living Lab does a similar thing, but in unexpected ways, where the potentials for change often hides behind not foreseen connections and contributions. In all cases it is about showing how everybody can be an ‘active’ partner for wider transformations, instead of relying on other more mainstream actors.

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