Archive for ‘What? What is that we are designing?’

November 24, 2008

A cashless society?

I’m following a VERY interesting blog that develops scenarios of a cashless society or a society with alternative currencies system. The discussion in the blog called Kashklash is animated by very interesting people, such as Bruce Sterling, Joshua Klein, Nicolas Nova, Irene Cassarino. It explore the scenarios dominated by digital currencies, online communism, Bartering systems and many other hypotheses. There are also some interesting dilemmas: Bruce Sterling for instance, propose the question of how to rob a cashless bank. I was thinking of another question: what happens to tax and the whole taxation system?

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We can see the taxation system from two points of view:

1. The taxation system generates income to be spent in services of public utility, thus offering equal opportunities to access to fundamental social services, such as healthcare, transport, etc.

2. The taxation system redistributes the wellbeing created by value-creation activities.In this sense it is a way to withdraw a percentage of value created by some citizens, in order to reduce inequalities and redistribute wealth through public services and infrastructure

Currencies are a good tool to provide quantitative measurement for the second point of view: money is essential to quantify value creation and therefore to calculate the percentage of withdrawal, it may not be 100% correct, but it works reasonably. If we get rid of currencies or replace them with more uncertain or qualitative tools -such as solidarity, trust or time -the redistribution of value creation becomes much more complex. Some government have considered this. The Danish government, for instance is regulating Local Exchange Trade Systems (LETS), though I do not know how. The blog also report of a similar initiative taken by the Chinese government.

If we consider alternative currencies without considering alternative ways of redistributing added value we risk to end in a US-like individualistic system. How do we do that? Can we even think of a solution in this scenario? This, from my point of view (as a designer) is a very interesting dilemma.

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October 1, 2008

…And now something different

It’s not Friday night, yet, but there is enough time to have a look at this service, it is very interesting:

  • You go to out with your own car,
  • You get drunk,
  • You ring Scooterman,
  • A person will arrive with a foldable scooter, fold the schooter and put it in the boot of your car (even if you have a Mini)
  • He or she will drive you and you car back home, unfold the scooter and leave.

April 26, 2008

The strategic dimensions of design policies and highly individualised solutions

I discussed the need for design policies for local and highly individualised solutions in other occasions (Morelli 2007), in this post I would like to consider what the criteria could be for those policies and how those design policies can be articulated. I also consider some examples in some relevant areas of intervention.

Some design criteria

In order to support local and highly individualised solutions, design policies should support horizontal process of peer production and collaboration. Such processes are often developing as “natural” processes; the activation of such process “by design” is made easier by the availability of advanced communication technologies, such as social web applications, but still requires firms and institutions to abide to some criteria. The horizontal process of innovation has several analogies with the emerging cases of peer-production processes, which are being widely documented and discussed (Lessig 2004; Von Hippel 2005; Tapscott and Williams 2006). Therefore the characteristics of those processes may inspire a set of criteria for the definition of design policies to support this approach to social innovation. Tapscott and Williams’(Tapscott and Williams 2006) principles to address business strategies towards peer production, for instance, inspire the following criteria for design policies:

  • They should highlight and empower existing and emerging initiatives of social innovation Grass-root initiatives can be identified by observing emerging and spontaneous cases of cooperation between citizens, in order to solve relevant needs. Such initiatives provide information about local and individual needs and also about feasible and admissible solution strategies.
  • They should support the generation of a critical mass likewise natural and social ecosystems, local cooperative initiatives are based on a large and motivated participation to the co-production process.
  • They should supply physical, social and institutional infrastructures for cooperation by making sure that communication networks are in place, citizens are empowered to express their needs, their opinion and ideas, information is provided about the way local initiatives work or may work
  • They should negotiate governance structures and rights. Unlike top-down decision processes, design policies based on value co-production should build the rule and structure of cooperation on the basis of an iterative process.
  • They should make sure that all the participants can work for their own value. Identify and make explicit actors’ motivation. This is also the basis of negotiation among participants, in order to realise the value of their cooperation.
  • They should abide to community norms. The rules and structure of the cooperation should be built upon shared value and norms in the community. This requires a deeper understanding of tacit knowledge and shared experience that links people sharing the same local context, the same needs, or the same practice.
  • They should raise people’s aspirations. The development of new solutions depends on people’s aspiration and confidences in their capabilities and attitudes. Raising such confidence means increasing people’s responsibilities upon their own solutions, choices and lifestyles.
  • They should support and empower creativity at the community level. Examples, scenarios, test and mock-ups can be used to provide inspiration and tangible suggestions that would enhance creative process emerging from the cooperation within a community.

The dimensions of the design policy

The redesign of public policies in the new perspective should take into account of three dimensions:

People: this dimension defines the actors, the capabilities, tacit knowledge,

Contexts: this dimension defines the social, geographical and natural context in which solutions should be developed, including possibilities for interaction within each contexts and among different contexts

Solutions: this aspect defines the nature and the characteristics of the functionings in terms of products, services, technologies and organisational forms used, including the possibility to generate organisational structures that would support the reproducibility of solutions with different actors and in different contexts

The combination of elements in each of those dimension may generate different policy actions, for example:

Areas of intervention

Healthcare

Prevention strategies in healthcare may be based on the association of different people having the same problems. This is particularly relevant for people suffering of “social” diseases, such as Diabetes, blood pressure and heart problems, cholesterol and fat control. In many of those cases an adequate treatment and prevention strategy consists in creating “horizontal” communication systems between patients, that overlaps the “vertical” flows of information from the doctor to the patient. People can help each other in solving everyday problems that the “codified” knowledge of the doctor cannot solve (e.g. what is the right recipe for low cholesterol food? What is a nice walk for doing daily exercise?)

Example

Active mobs Mobs are small groups of people who carry out activity together on a regular basis. They are connected by the Activmobs system. Activmobs is a platform for activity. It provides webbased tools to help people find, suggest and start mobs, to monitor their progress, set goals and reward commitment. It provides support roles to motivate mobs and ensure their activity is effective.(Murray, Burns et al. ND)

Transport

An increased flexibility to the transport system may be created by linking people living in the same area, making it possible for them to coordinate their movements (e.g. sharing a car, coordinating shopping), and reducing the amount of local traffic. This solution may require the use of advanced communication technology (e.g. GPS), though the solution has to reach the user using existing technological devices (such as mobile phone or internet) and with a reduced complexity. The generation of solution of this kind would therefore benefit from a centralised policy for the development of the technological infrastructure, but would be operated at the local level. A policy to support those instances would be particularly effective for certain social groups, such as elderly people living at home or people moving across medium distance location (e.g. from city to city, when the trip requires a minimal planning)

Examples:

Car sharing Several car sharing systems are emerging in cities where traffic and parking problems are taking too much of people time, or in countries where the cost of owning a car is too high (e.g. http://www.northumberlandcarshare.com/). Special cases of car sharing are lift-sharing scheme that encourages people to offer and request lifts to their venue.

Lunch Couriers: Meal delivery services are offered to provide lunch to employees working in central areas, where companies cannot afford a canteen for their employees. Similar services are very common in India -where meals are prepared in peripheral areas of the city and delivered to central areas at lunchtime- and in some European countries, where meals are prepared by local restaurants and delivered by a courier service. The service reduce the need for movement at lunch time in central areas, while providing employees with meals that may not be available in the closer proximity of their office

Micro entrepreneurship

So far technological systems have created global markets in which even small sellers can reach buyers located far away. This kind of commerce is giving new chances to small producers, however some small firms are challenged by the relevant logistic problems that may emerge in the new market. The internet, however, may be also used to promote local communication among people, thus creating a market for small scale production and individual exchange of goods and services. Small scale production system are a resource for local economy, though they are often economically unsustainable for the lack of an adequate market, that links offering from small producers to the buyers. The presence of an adequate communication infrastructure at the local level can create a network that links producers directly with their final customers, thus reducing costs and in some cases creating opportunities to optimise production processes and increasing environmental sustainability. The communication system may require a centralised effort to generate the basic technological infrastructure (as for NEM), but can also work on the basis of local events (such as in Middelsborough) or use the existing social network and basic communication infrastructure, such as phones, and SMS, as for GAS

Examples:

Neighbourhood e-Market is a marketplace where anyone can directly sell their time, around other commitments in their life, with total control and all the information they need about localised patterns of demand/supply and pricing for the kind of work or services they wish to offer. The market works through the internet. NEMs are neutral, very low-cost, user-protecting, marketplaces with facilities that can barely be imagined in low level sectors today. They would be designed built and run by private sector companies but directly underpinned by the highest authorities in the land.

Urban Farming makes it possible for people in urban areas to take care and use local green areas, cultivating small allotments with fruits and vegetable plants. The food produced locally is sold or made available to the community in kitchen playgrounds (where people learn new recipes) or in Meal assembly centres, where people can buy ready made ingredients for preferred meals.

Purchasing groups are set up by a number of consumers who cooperate in order to buy food and other commonly used goods directly from the producers or from big retailers at a discounted rate. Such groups can support local production of food and other local products, because they can create a solid local market for small local producers. By organising pre-ordering of products, local producers can plan their production in advance, thus avoiding wastes and inefficiencies. This is particularly relevant for agricultural products and food.

Residual capabilities

People’s residual capabilities are often held back by the lack of opportunities to use them. Besides their normal job or when retired, people can be active in cultivating their hobbies or exercising their skills. There are many things that people are good at and can help others in their own living area, but the lack of communication systems that make it possible for citizens to know who can do what hides this diffuse opportunity.

Example

Rent a Granny is an initiative that activate ageing people in Germany and Denmark, connecting them to single parents who need occasional assistance (baby sitting or even some suggestion). Ageing people and single parents are put in contact through a website managed by an association, which takes the responsibility to create trust between people. Public institutions are sometimes contributing by providing information and education.

+bici is an association of people with the passion for bicycles and the capability to repair them. The association has several workshops in Milan, where the members are teaching people how to repair their bicycles.

Creating local networks and reintegrating externalities

Externalities from a production system are often useful for other production systems. Yet this exchange does not happens and many resources are left apart, just because of the lack of communication between different production systems. Such a communication network would also generate opportunities for collaboration and exchange of knowledge among firms citizens and other actors located in the same geographical context. Stronger links have already been considered as the basis of success for several districts (Castells 2000; Becattini 2004).

Local business networks can be created with the help of technological platform that enhance communication and collaboration, sometimes sharing competences and experts among different companies-e.g. New York– or by transferring and integrating expertise and externalities produced in the same geographic area Costellazione Apulia

References

Becattini, G. (2004). Industrial districts. Cheltenham, Edward elgar.

Castells, M. (2000). The rise of the network society. Oxford ; Malden, MA, Blackwell Publishers.

Lessig, L. (2004). Free culture : how big media uses technology and the law to lock down culture and control creativity. New York, Penguin Press.

Morelli, N. (2007). “Social Innovation and New Industrial Contexts: Can Designers “Industrialize” Socially Responsible Solutions?” Design Issues 23(4): 3-21.

Murray, R., C. Burns, et al. (ND). Open Health, Design Council – RED.

Tapscott, D. and A. D. Williams (2006). Wikinomics. How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything. London, Atlantic Books.

Von Hippel, E. (2005). Democratizing Innovation. Cambridge, Massachusetts London, England, The MIT Press

April 23, 2008

A critical view of experience economy

A critic to the experience economy

Experience economy is seen as an opportunity for business to propose new services based on entertainment and immaterial contents

As such, experience economy is often presented as a way for industrialised countries to re-gain the competitive advantage lost with the relocation of production activities to developing countries: they argue that experience requires an advanced design and planning activity that can only be performed in developed countries (with technology, cinema, and other media) and anyway is strictly linked to the culture of the receivers, therefore it is strongly dependent on the market location (and the biggest markets for experience-based industry are still western countries).

In this sense experience economy is event based: the event is the product to be sold to users in the experience economy. Users are passive receivers of the event proposals

This is a top-down interpretation of the term, which is based on a dichotomy service provider/served client. Of course this perspective is also based on the direct involvement of the served client in the development of the experience, but the characteristics of being event-based, or ephemeral, is recurrent in several experience-based services and activities.

Although this view may have a strong economic foundation I would also consider an alternative perspective that starts from a different idea of what experience is. I am thinking of a bottom-up approach that focus on the true meaning of the word: experience, from ex-perire, that means to try, to get knowledge about something through direct involvement. For this reason a bottom-up approach should start from the assumption that users are in fact an active part of the process, not just spectators.

Furthermore the term experience refers to an activity that generates knowledge, in this sense any activity that implies direct involvement is experience, not just a special event organised by someone else. For this reason experience should be considered our everyday life, rather than a special event.

Is this a basis for an economical development? Is there anyone that could develop a profitable business out of this perspective? Probably not, because the term concerns an aspect of our life that we should be able to manage by ourselves. Yet, if we look at our life, we realised that many activities of our daily life could have been perfomed by ourselves, instead we ask for help from someone else, often (more and more often) from someone we pay for help. Our economic system, based on an invasive diffusion of products and technologies that have replaced several activities perfomed by ourselves is making us unable to perform basic functions and we need a help. Among such functions there are also social functions, such as talking with new people, visiting friends, knowing the right person. An opportunity emerges, whether it is acceptable to put it in business terms or not, to support people in recovering such daily functions, also considering that the lost capabilities to perform such functions are in fact implying a personal and social cost that must be paid.

In Amartia Sen’s terms (Sen 1985; Sen 1999) when we start missing the capabilities to use our own resources for get to our desired results (Functionings) we are in fact decreasing our well-being, therefore a socio-cultural system that makes us more and more dependent on external help to perform the most basic experience-related functions we are in fact decreasing our well being. From this perspective the experience economy may be no longer seen as an area of opportunities, but rather as a question that requires urgent social and cultural intervention, even at the level of public institutions.

In those terms experience economy may seem much less attractive to business and design, but I am convinced that, even in this perspective (or possibly especially in this perspective), huge possibilities for innovation can be discovered.

Sen, A. (1985). Well-Being, Agency and Freedom: The Dewey Lectures 1984, Journal of Philosophy, Inc. 82: 169-221.

Sen, A. K. (1999). Development as freedom. New York, Knopf.

May 15, 2007

Design of public services

Design for public administration

The theme of planning public administration services becomes more and more crucial in
Europe because of the stringent financial conditions imposed in this area, which is severely reducing the time horizon for the organization of services. The short term planning deriving from this condition often reduces the possibility to optimize the results and the available resources.
The ongoing informatisation of public services adds further complexity to the radical changes in this area. If not adequately designed, the informatisation process risks to increase the distance between public administration and its customers. On the other hand, an adequate design and development process for public service can emphasise broad innovation opportunity around the new services (that means at the local level). A new approach to health services, for instance, may generate opportunities for innovation for all the companies that are able to provide products and services to support the new solutions.The need to an adequate design process for public services is becoming more and more critical. Research in this area is growing, though there is still large scope for the creation of new knowledge, whereas the academic education is starting to introduce some programs on design for public services. Both the research and teaching activities, though, are mainly located in the disciplinary area of management and organization. Little contribution has been offered by the design discipline, although this discipline is slowly moving its focus from material products to immaterial values (service, experience, interaction) and is increasingly contributing to the design of new services.A strategic design process, that can really increase the qualitative level of public services must be based on wide time horizons and propose long term scenarios that can drive planning and political decisions. Another fundamental aspect to consider is the systemic perspective in service design. A tight cost reduction tends to separate each single functions in public administration, whereas an integrated vision of the service provided and the available resources would emphasise the opportunities for economies of scale and economies of scope.Service informatisation is the second crucial element that influences the interaction between customers and the organization in the back office. Several cases demonstrated that neglecting human aspects when configuring technological system may in fact inhibit the huge potential improvements made possible by technology.

The design discipline and the focus on services

Only in the last few years the design discipline has started a critical analysis of those themes. It has extended and moved its focus from material products to services, from manufacturing industries to all kind of public and private organization that can produce innovation. Furthermore a systemic approach to design supported the development of methodologies to manage complex systems in which new organizational logics that are replacing the traditional vertical and hierarchical structures. The new logics are based on horizontal forms of cooperation between heterogeneous actors who bring about their culture, knowledge, economic, social and cultural interests. Such forms of cooperation generate innovation that produce economic prosperity, but also increase the level of knowledge in local communities and create the condition for economies of scope.The design discipline has also been studying the interaction between new technologies and people when designing products and services, thus proposing different views and approaches to design the interaction between actors involved in services.While the most traditional approach to the design of public services keeps a rigid distinction between service providers and users, other studies on service design propose that both providers’ and customers’ roles are integrated in a process of value co-production, thus encouraging the active participation of customers in the definition of the solution. This is the condition for a better quality in public service and a better capability to provide solutions for individual needs. This perspective is particularly important in view of the increasing demand for a better use of resources. At present such demand has caused continuous and massive cuts to public services, whereas a perspective in which customers are actively involved in the production of solutions that meet their own individual needs suggests that public administrations can substantially improve the quality of their services, while specifying the target groups up to the level of individual segments.