Posts tagged ‘cases’

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


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?)


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)


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)


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. 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


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.


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


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