Exploring Participatory Design as a strategy to act within the city
During the last decades, design has been changing: a system-oriented design practice has emerged and opened design’s field of action to several
different contexts which relate to human activities –both individual and
collective (Manzini, 2014).On one hand, the design object extended itself
from products to services and then to systems, made by tangible and
On the other hand, design has started to concern notonly about the industry and commerce, but also about other areas such as health, energy, education and transport systems, urban planning and
development, and well-being. In this sense, design is often considered to
act within the public sphere and in those areas that aim at improving one
or more aspects of people’s life, particularly urban and suburban contexts
Among the main reasons of this evolution are the widespread scepticisms,
fears and resistances against the predominant governance systems and the
institutions’ ability to deal with contemporary societal challenges that
call for greater and different efforts for greater and innovative efforts
for tackling them.
Moreover, they prompt society for the need for a change
in the approaches and methodologies used for pursuing them. Simplistic,
monologic or unidirectional solutions seem no longer efficient and hardly
pursued. New configurations of actors, open solutions and a constant
dialogue are necessary to change and foster a more sustainable society in
an ecosystemic perspective. In this sense, a Strategic Design approach to
problem setting and solving (Manzini, 2014) combined with the tradition and practices of Participatory Design (PD) appears as a fruitful path to
follow. Actually, the main pillar of the former is to enable a strategic
dialogue among different actors that can inspire and guide their diverse
perspectives towards the construction of a shared and plural vision. Its
core interest is the constant articulation of the ensemble of relationships
existing and developing in the ecosystems made of different organizations
such as consultancy, firms, institutions, governments, territories and
associations. At the same time, the activities and techniques of the latter
are able to regenerate “the local”, to rise interest around conflictual
topics, and to point out different ways to conceive and to solve them by
initiating and supporting human endeavours that are highly characterized by collaborative, open and participatory processes.
Ecosystemic, participatory and strategic approaches acquire an astonishing relevance in the public and urban sphere, where the paradigm of open-innovation and collaborative ecosystems is becoming a consolidated frame for attempting to tackle a very heterogeneous set of issues which can range, for instance, from public transportation to environmental challenges, from elderly care to education and integration of marginalized groups.
In fact, co-design practices and services that are implemented in
these collaborative ecosystems and that involve local population, enable
and foster a dialog among local forces and resources, and urban governance mechanisms (Rizzo et al., 2015). Urban Living Lab and Human Smart City increasing initiatives are, for instance, an example of the promisinginterplay among the three approaches that consider issues intertwined,putting into action a great variety of actors at the centre of the process and solutions.
In this frame and in practical terms, the designer’s aim turns out to be
promoting democratic spaces where different and conflicting voices and
perspectives may be expressed, and where activities and institutions are
implemented to mediate, mitigate and solve controversies (Björgvinsson et
al., 2012). These spaces are social spaces. This means that they are both
physical and abstract: they can be squares, streets, neighbourhoods, as
well as intangible gathering places that work as arenas for questions and
possibilities. This way, designers contribute to a resilient society in
which diversity, redundancy, and experimentation make society itself able
to cope with challenges without collapsing (Manzini and Till, 2015).
The mediation among different and conflicting voices, the experimental and on-going trait of these spaces move the designer’s focus of action.
Designers have to set up, to enable and to nurture them: designers have to
focus more on the process than the project. This means focus on
infrastructuring (Karasti, 2014): the ongoing and open process involving
the anticipation of future scenarios and the alignment of heterogeneous
socio-technical elements, which shall support the emergence of such
scenarios. Focusing on the process that allows a context change through
different projects leads to the idea of having a metadesign approach.
Actually, even if metadesign is a concept subjected to several different
interpretations that are welcome in this call, we focus here on one of its
most commonly shared features: the idea of developing a design process of
the design process itself.
Considering the core interest of Strategic Design Research Journal, in this
special issue, we welcome contributions – conceptual analysis, case studies
or empirical findings – that critically engage with one (or more) of the
provocative questions raised here:
How do Strategic Design, Participatory Design and infrastructuring relate
to each other in conceptual or practical terms?
How does the infrastructuring process, as defined above, critically
challenge the scope of Strategic Design?
If metadesign suggests “to defer some design and participation until after
the design project, and opens up for use as design, design at use time or
‘design-after-design’” (Ehn, 2008), then how does the design process change the implications of its actions and the level in which it operate? At what level does the designer think and act? What is the relation between
metadesign and infrastructuring?
In relationship to the key attention that Participatory Design and open
design projects pay to the relational dimension, how does infrastructuring
enter, contribute to or benefit from metadesign?
Which kind of interactions among citizens, local forces and public
institutions does the designer stimulate to promote and feed collaborative
ecosystems that support public democratic spaces? Which are the challenges and how could they be minimized by specific applications of the Strategic and Participatory Design approaches?
BJÖRGVISSON, E.; EHN, P.; HILLGREN, P.A. 2012. Design Things and Design
Thinking: Contemporary Participatory Design Challenges. Design Issues,
DISALVO, C. 2010. Design, democracy and agonistic pluralism. In:
Proceedings of the Design Research Society International Conference,
Montreal University, Montreal. Proceedings. Available at:
EHN, P. 2008 Participation in Design Things. In: Participatory Design
Conference, 2008, Bloomington, Indiana. Proceedings.Bloomington, ACM Press,
MANZINI, E. 2014. Design in a changing, connected world. Strategic Design
Research Journal, 7(2):95-99.Available at:
MANZINI, E.; TILL, J. (eds.). 2015. The cultures of resilience base text.
In: E. MANZINI; J. TILL, Cultures of Resilience. Ideas. A Project from
across the University of the Arts London. London, Hato Press. p. 11-13.
RIZZO, F.; DESERTI, A.; COBANLI, O. 2015. Design and social innovation for
the development of Huma Smart Cities. In: Nordes 2015, Stockholm, 2015.
Proceedings. Nordes, p. 1-8. Available at:
Full Paper Due: January 31st, 2016
Notification of Review Results: March 31st, 2016
Final Version of Paper Due: May 31st, 2016
Notification of Acceptance: June 30th, 2016
Special Issue Publication Date: August 31st, 2016
Submission of Papers
Manuscripts must be prepared using the guidelines found at the Submission page:
For this special issue, the manuscript must be written in English.
Previously published articles will not be accepted. Submitted articles must
not be under consideration for publication anywhere else. The publication
of the article is subjected to the previous approval of the journal’s
Editorial Board, as well as to peer review made by, at least, two ad hoc
reviewers using the double blind review process.
Manuscripts must be sent through the online submission system. You have to register in order to send your article:http://revistas.unisinos.br/sdrj
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