DESIS network

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Description of what the network is about

DESIS Network originates from three main international activities in the 2006-2008 period: the European research EMUDE, 2005; the UNEP Program CCSL, 2008 and the international conference “Changing the Change, within the framework of Torino World Design Capital, 2008. In different ways, these activities introduced the notions of creative community and social innovation in several design schools worldwide and created favourable conditions to start an international network on these topics. The main ideas behind it were that social innovation could be a powerful driver towards sustainability and that design schools could help in supporting and accelerating the process.

Since September 2014, DESIS is a no-profit and cultural association, with the purpose to promote design for social innovation in higher education institutions with design discipline so as to generate useful design knowledge and to create meaningful social changes in collaboration with other stakeholders.

The network's visiom

In the complexity of contemporarysociety, social innovation is spreadingand its potential, as a driver of sustainable change, is increasing. To facilitate this process, the design community, in general, and design schools, in particular, can play a pivotal role.

Social innovation

Social innovation is a new idea that works in meeting social goals” (Mulgan, 2006). In other words, social innovation can be seen as a process of change emerging from the creative re-combination of existing assets (social capital, historical heritage traditional craftsmanship, accessible advanced technology) and aiming at achieving socially recognized goals in new ways. A kind of innovation driven by social demands rather than by the market and/or autonomous techno-scientific research, and generated more by the actors involved than by specialists.

Emerging sustainable ways of living

Over the past decade social innovation has spread: a variety of social actors throughout the world (institutions, enterprises, non-profit organizations and, most of all, networks of collaborative people) have moved outside mainstream models of thinking and doing, generating a variety of promising initiatives such as community-supported agriculture, co-housing, carpooling, community gardens, neighbourhood care, talent exchange and time banks. These initiatives propose viable solutions to complex problems of the present (e.g., social cohesion, urban regeneration, healthy food accessibility, water and sustainable energy management) and, at the same time, they represent working prototypes of sustainable ways of living.

Design for social innovation

Today, social innovation is generating a constellation of small initiatives. Nevertheless, if favourable conditions are created, these small, local social inventions and their working prototypes can spread. They can be scaled-up, consolidated, replicated and integrated with larger programs to generate large-scale sustainable changes. To do that, new design competences are needed. Indeed, social innovation processes require visions, strategies and co-design tools to move from ideas to mature solutions and viable programs. . That is, they ask for new design capabilities that, as a whole, can be defined as design for social innovation.

Design schools as agents of change

Design for social innovation can find in the design schools a major driver for its application and diffusion. In fact, design schools (and, more in general, all the design-oriented universities) can orient their didactic and research activities towards social innovation. That is, they can become design laboratories where new visions are generated, new tools are defined and tested and where new projects are started and supported. If a worldwide movement towards sustainability calls for the best possible use of all existing resources, design schools, with all their potential in terms of students’ enthusiasm and faculty experience, should be considered a very promising social resource: a potentially powerful promoter of sustainable change.

Societal problem they want to address


Societal domain

Social innovation. Higher education institutions.

Basic aim of network

DESIS Network aims at using design thinking and design knowledge to co-create, with local, regional and global partners, socially relevant scenarios, solutions and communication programs.

Scaling-up social innovation

DESIS Network main aim is to use design thinking and design knowledge to trigger, enable and scale-up social innovation. That is:

  • To enhance its potential by creating a more favorable environment (social, cultural, political, economic).
  • To raise its visibility by searching for promising initiatives and communicating their existence and significance to a larger audience.
  • To facilitate its transferability by developing enabling solutions to make existing initiatives more effective, accessible and replicable in different contexts.
  • To increase its synergy by developing frameworks and platforms to connect the diverse local cases into larger regional projects.
  • To stimulate new initiatives, by proposing visions and solutions as seeds to be developed in open, collaborative interactions with local communities and other involved actors.

Clarifying the design potential

DESIS Network’s second aim is to clarify the design for social innovation potential both inside and outside the design community. That is:

  • To make it clearer, inside the design community (designers, design researchers, design media and design schools), that social innovation is, and will continue to be at least for the near future, a fundamental field of application for all the design disciplines.
  • To give social innovators tangible evidence of the potential of design thinking and design knowledge in supporting the processes in which they are involved.

Promoting an open design program

DESIS Network’s most ambitious aim is to promote a broad and flexible design program. A design program where several local, regional and global projects may converge, reinforce each other and generate innovative scenarios and solutions. Our desire is to produce knowledge with the contribution of different partners (open processes) and that can be used by all stakeholders (open results).

In short the DESIS Network’s higher ambition is to generate an Open Design Program able to give different projects visibility, to facilitate their alignments, collaborations and synergies and, on these bases, to develop visions and proposals adequate to the great challenges of contemporary society.


For more information

DESIS network web page

Entry done by

Aleksi Salmela