Designing Wellbeing, Social Innovation and Policy in Europe
By Anna Whicher and Gavin Cawood
Issue 5 Fall 2010
Community wellbeing can be achieved through social innovation policies. By redefining the role design plays in policy making, the SEE Project aims to build upon political interest in social innovation. This article explores the role design will play on a policy level in the future and how policy making is changing, focusing on a bottom up approach to achieving results. It also explores wellbeing initiatives that have been put into action through several case studies in France, Italy, England, Belgium and Estonia.
“engagement is increasingly being initiated by citizens and communities in the form of wellbeing initiatives and community projects”
The social and sustainable development challenges associated with a globalized world require engagement from every player in society-from citizens to governments in order to realize behavior change. Such engagement is increasingly being initiated by citizens and communities in the form of wellbeing initiatives and community projects. Looking towards Europe, wellbeing initiatives are now receiving increased attention at policy level as the policy remit for innovation has expanded to include social innovation.
SEE Project– Sharing Experience Europe, Policy Innovation Design – has been trying to capitalize on this political interest in social innovation to promote design as the key facilitator of this enlightened interpretation of innovation.1 SEE is a network of eleven European design organizations exchanging good practice on how design can be integrated into regional, national and European policies. The SEE partners are engaging with their governments to bring design up to the top of the policy agenda. With the broader understanding of innovation, there is a real opportunity for design to make a difference for wellbeing.
Over the course of the past two years, the European innovation model has undergone a paradigm shift. Innovation no longer narrowly refers to technology, manufacturing and competitive economic advantage, but encompasses non-technological innovation, including creativity and design, service innovation, as well as social developments and wellbeing. In the fall of 2010, the European Commission will be releasing a new European innovation strategy. This strategy will incorporate all forms of innovation in both the private and public sectors, including design. Although the exact role of design remains unclear, this level of commitment is a significant achievement considering that design and social innovation were not mentioned in the previous policy at all. With an increased emphasis on social innovation, there is a concrete opportunity for design to prove itself as the process that maximizes citizen involvement in exploring local challenges and proposing solutions that are sustainable, fit for purpose, and that enhance community wellbeing.
‘The term social innovation refers to changes in the way individuals or communities act to solve a problem or generate new opportunities. These innovations are driven more by changes in behavior than by changes in technology or the marketplace and typically emerge from bottom-up rather than top-down processes.’2 Social innovation can be used to optimize wellbeing through design processes. Design is proving itself as the strategic process for engaging citizens in addressing an increasing array of social and wellbeing issues and proposing solutions that are desirable to use and enrich people’s daily lives. Europe is experiencing a wave of interest in wellbeing and social innovation projects that take advantage of design processes in order to encourage communities to articulate local problems and involve residents in creative processes that draw on local experience. These projects are building new morale, encouraging citizens of all ages to volunteer in the neighborhood, fostering a strong belief of belonging to a community, promoting a sustainable mindset and bridging diverse social demands.
Design for wellbeing and social innovation has come at a fortuitous moment when the public sector is looking for new ways to reinvigorate public services and make the policy process more inclusive. In the context of the enduring economic uncertainty, combined with a general lack of confidence in public administration, design is gaining political recognition as a dynamic process that can engage citizens and stakeholders in identifying inefficiencies and proposing innovative solutions. These two issues are bringing design initiatives closer to the public sector, which is no longer just a source of funding, but one of the most important targets for design.
Wellbeing and social innovation initiatives have resulted in a new approach to public governance. As electorates become more demanding, governments have had to make themselves more accountable and their processes more transparent. In Europe, policy-making occurs at three levels, the European Union, the Member States and the Regions.
“Policy-makers are now recognizing the untapped potential of local communities in addressing thorny social issues.”
At all three levels, traditional models of policy-making are being supplemented with new models (see diagram). Whereas policy was previously formulated by the government-led ‘top-down’ approach, grassroots initiatives across Europe are increasingly feeding into evidence-based ‘bottom-up’ approaches to policy-making. ‘What is more, initiatives begun directly by the people most concerned (bottom-up interaction) are often supported by information exchanges with other similar organizations (peer-to-peer interaction) and by different kinds of intervention by institutions, civic organizations or companies (top-down interaction).’3 Design is becoming not only a tool for bridging diverse social demands and promoting wellbeing but also for empowering citizens in the regional administrative decision-making process. Wellbeing and social innovation initiatives that take advantage of design techniques are providing more and more examples of good practice and contributing to better public administration. Policy-makers are now recognizing the untapped potential of local communities in addressing thorny social issues.
How Wellbeing Initiatives Inform Policy Making
The following three examples illustrate how wellbeing initiatives are informing policy at all three policy levels in Europe: the Regions, the Member States and the European Union.
At a regional level, one of the DOTT07 initiatives delivered by the Design Council and the regional development agency for the North East of England (One North East) was to set a challenge for the post-industrial community of Middlesbrough. In nine months the inhabitants had to organize a meal for 7000 people, serving food grown 100% within the city limits. A group of 1000 citizens from schools, police stations, hairdressing salons and a mental health hospital accepted the challenge. A mapping exercise was conducted to locate where food was already grown within the city limits, enabling a team of designers to connect the resources with willing volunteers and re-engineer food systems to make them more locally sustainable. The ‘Meal for Middlesbrough’ made such an impact on the Minister for Food, the Minister for Health and the Mayor of Middlesbrough that the Urban Farming project has gone on to a new stage with almost five million pounds of funding from three central government departments for more youth, community and work-base activities. Regional and national authorities have recognized this as a valuable exercise in social inclusion that will be replicated in other regions.
At the national level, the Irish government has set up a program called Your Country Your Call4 involving a competition that closed on 30th April 2010 where citizens could submit proposals for all forms of innovation initiatives. The two winning proposals will receive 100,000 Euros in prize money and 500,000 Euros is committed for implementing each project on a national scale. There were eight categories for submission, including design. This competition is an example of co-designing innovation on a national scale and forms part of the government’s policy for transforming Ireland into a ‘Global Innovation Hub.’ This program is certainly a more imaginative consultation process for innovation policy action.
At the EU level, research on wellbeing and community schemes conducted as part of Territoires en Résidence will feed into the European Commission’s work in preparing the new EU innovation policy to be published later in 2010. One of the projects set up, as part of Territoires en Résidences in Rennes, was a local social digital network called La Ruche with more than 1600 citizens as members. La Ruche means the hive and members are composed of bees – single participants – and hives – local participating NGOs and institutions. The future vision for this project is an ‘augmented citizenship’ using the local network to engage inhabitants in social initiatives but more importantly in local change. Communities and organizations can explore local concerns and engage in a process to transform regional experiences through inclusive design tools. As the project progressed, the function of the network expanded to enhance local governance. Local authorities have been observing these grassroots initiatives as a means to identify social innovation priorities in the region and have been able to catalyze certain projects to tackle public innovation issues. In this instance, design for social innovation is a governance tool to facilitate the creativity of regional communities and promote interconnectivity between the public and public authorities. The European Commission is currently collating case studies of this nature, as these examples of grassroots projects are effective in discovering what citizens really need. There are expectations in the design community that the EU innovation policy will facilitate social innovation grassroots initiatives as they encourage citizens to identify strategic priorities for innovation and wellbeing, thus increasing participation in regional decision-making by individuals.
The following five case studies from the SEE partner countries represent several forms of wellbeing and social innovation activities in Europe – enhancing citizenship for community cohesion, improving public services for increased participation and sustainability, promoting local production for optimizing regional resources, encouraging healthy living for better lifestyle choices, and implementing new trading systems for good deeds.
Case Studies in Wellbeing Initiatives
FRANCE Territoires en Résidences is a series of social innovation initiatives in France. A multidisciplinary team is integrated into a college, health centre, community hub, railway station or regional administrative body for four months, with at least three entire weeks spent living with local people. The aim is to co-design a future vision with local stakeholders articulated in a set of long-term scenarios and a program of concrete medium term actions for implementing the vision.Since the beginning of 2009, Territoires en Résidences has launched 15 different programmes.
“The aim is to co-design a future vision with local stakeholders articulated in a set of long-term scenarios and a program of concrete medium term actions for implementing the vision.”
The teams involved in delivering the projects are made up of a combination of designers, researchers, students, architects, sociologists, social entrepreneurs and foreign stakeholders who share a design thinking mindset and use ethnographic observation and inclusive design techniques to define, explore, implement, simulate, experiment and find solutions to complex societal challenges. At the end of each program, the goal is to turn the scenarios and projects into strategic and political decisions at the regional and trans-regional level .
CATALYST INSIGHT: Work hand in hand with community members to achieve wellbeing.
The Laboratory of Possible Alternatives is a project aiming at waste reduction by taking advantage of the competencies and expertise of tertiary research and public administration. The project started in 2009 based on collaboration between the Industrial Design Course and the Level II Degree Course in Design at the Faculty of Architecture in the University of Florence, the Cooperative for Recycling and Solidarity Florence, the not-for-profit NGO Mani Tese and the Department of Environmental Policy of the Municipality of Scandicci. In the ‘Construction Site of Alternatives’ at the Mani Tese headquarters in Florence, the team is involved in reusing waste materials to create sustainable lifestyles and habits. The ultimate goal of the Laboratory of Possible Alternatives is to reduce waste materials by creating prototypes that respond to market needs and are made with 100% reused materials. In November 2009, the first workshop took place with 20 students from the university courses, which, supported by market experts during the preparatory steps and by the cooperative operators in the prototyping steps, created 30 products.
“The ultimate goal of the Laboratory of Possible Alternatives is to reduce waste materials by creating prototypes that respond to market needs and are made with 100% reused materials.”
Among the used materials for these products were drums, wood panels, clothes hangers, dishwasher components, jeans, used clothes, pieces of old keyboards and furniture, wool and mattresses springs and nets. The products created included furniture accessories such as chandeliers, coffee tables, pouf seats and chairs as well as smaller objects like table lamps, computer accessories, kitchen utensils and jewelry. The products have a strong social and environmental value that, together with their design, addresses several market targets. The next phase of the project hopes to include marginal groups for greater social inclusion.
CATALYST INSIGHT: Increase community wellbeing by designing products for markets that are environmentally sustainable
Designs of the time (Dott 07) was a two-year program operating from 2006 and delivered by the regional development agency for the North East of England (One North East) and the Design Council. The first year of the programme consisted of evaluating current community initiatives in the region and from the list of 200 projects, seven core projects were short listed for in-depth action. In the second year of the programme, the design teams examined new tools and platforms for creating sustainable and innovative solutions to complex societal problems through design. The seven projects short-listed were: Alzheimer 100 on dementia, DaSH on sexual health, OurNewSchool on building new schools, Low Carb Lane about domestic energy, New Work for improving the day-to-day experiences of SMEs, Move Me about rural mobility and Urban Farming on exploring local food systems. These projects were fundamental in unlocking deep sources of innovation present in communities using design processes, ultimately creating practical solutions that improve everyday life. The success of Dott07 attracted significant attention from regional and national authorities and is intended to take place every two for the next ten years. The next Dott will take place later this year in Cornwall.
In 2009, the Tourist Office for Limburg in Belgium commissioned the service design consultancy Namahn to devise a system to encourage young people to make greater use of the provinces cycle routes. The aim was to provide a talking audiovisual GPS navigation system that would guide cyclists along a themed route, telling stories and offering snippets of information about the region along the way. The assignment was to design a user interface that was as user-friendly as possible for a Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) in order to impart cultural knowledge of the area. Design processes were employed to transform the ethnographic research, conducted with representatives of the local community in order to capture the subtleties of real life, into an experience that would encourage identification with local history. The Limburg Cycle Story has built on the interplay between the local community and local history and has contributed to achieving sustainable transport targets and promoting healthy living.
CATALYST INSIGHT: Use design to encourage healthy behavior that has reciprocal community benefits
A group of young entrepreneurial designers in Tallinn have set up the Bank of Happiness, which is an online social platform for allowing citizens who are active in community affairs to exchange good deeds. In order to participate, individuals must register and list the helpful tasks they can perform for others. This can be anything from cleaning and running errands to what you do in your daily profession. In return, members choose what services they require and receive the benefits in exchange for credits that they accumulate by helping others. The first official transaction was a haircut carried out in March 2009 and the system is going from one goal to another. The Bank of Happiness was inspired because in 2007 Estonia was at the bottom of the European league table for happiness, and concern for a range of social issues including perception of crime, the recession and employment was the highest it had been for several years. The same group proposed the idea of the national cleanup day in 2008, in which 50,000 people participated, designed to change the population’s attitudes towards keeping the country clean. Civic participation was taken one step further in May 2009 when the Bank of Happiness organized a series of brainstorming sessions across the country to improve public governance.
Under the auspices of social innovation, design for wellbeing in Europe is receiving increased attention at all policy levels. The pan-European paradigm shift towards an innovation model that embraces wellbeing, society and services as much as manufacturing, technology and economic success has created a strategic role for design. Although these grassroots initiatives are providing more and more examples of good practice, policy intervention is needed in order to transfer these best practices into other contexts, replicate solutions and magnify results. SEE is dedicated to communicating the value of design in unlocking social innovation to policy-makers across Europe. This theme has been explored in the SEE Policy Booklet, Realizing Sustainability and Innovation through Design; Making it Happen in Communities, Industry, the Public Sector and Policy-Making. The design lobby across Europe is placing emphasis on design as a tool to reinvigorate public life and restore public confidence in local administration by increasing the proportion of people who feel that they can influence decisions in their local area through wellbeing and design projects.
STRATEGIES IN ACTION:
Utilize grassroots efforts to achieve awareness
Increase morale through community based projects
Work with the desired outcomes of the public sector to achieve results
Examine policy at every level of the public sector
Redefine policy making and work from the bottom up
Evaluate and augment what value is assigned to
Incentivize community involvement in wellbeing projects
About the Author:
Anna Whicher, Research Officer, International Institute of Design Policy & Support Anna is conducting policy research to promote design and innovation at regional, national and European levels as part of the SEE project and is editor of the SEE Policy Booklets. Anna gained an MSc in European Public Policy at University College London after finishing her BA in History and French, specializing in European integration, at the University of Reading. Her other experiences include interning for her local MP and working as Assistant Marketing and Communication Manager at Siemens in Paris as part of her year abroad.
Gavin Cawood, Operations Director, International Institute of Design Policy & Support
Following a career as a consultant and leading the industrial design team at Xerox Gavin gained an MBA and started working at the University of Wales Institute, Cardiff (Wales) to help launch a design support program for industry (Design Wales). Building upon this success and after establishing several UK and European networks of design organizations this work has now expanded to include design support, research, networks and consultancy to support other regions and nations in their use of design.
SEE Partner Countries
UK – Design Wales / International Institute for Design Policy & Support
Belgium – Design Flanders
Denmark – Danish Design Centre
Estonia – Estonian Design Centre
Finland – Aalto University School of Art & Design
France – ARDI Rhone-Alps Design Centre
Ireland – Centre for Design Innovation
Italy – Consorzio Casa Toscana
Poland – Silesian Castle of Art & Enterprise
Slovenia – BIO / Architecture Museum of Ljubljana
Spain – Barcelona Design Centre
[1-2] Manzini, E., (2010) ‘Design for Social Innovation, Creative Communities and Design-Orientated Networks’, SEE bulletin issue 3 p. 3 available at www.seeproject.org/publications
 Raulik-Murphy, G., (2010) ‘Living labs in rural areas, commitment of institutions’, 7th European Conference on Design Promotion, APCI, Paris. Available from www.iidps.org (Research & Publications page)