Design for Social Innovation Research Network: Bridging the UK and Asia-Pacific Practices

Lead Research Organisation: Northumbria University
Department Name: Fac of Arts, Design and Social Sciences

Abstract

The aims of the proposal is to create and establish an international research network on an emerging and relatively undocumented field of Design for Social Innovation by creating a platform for knowledge sharing between researchers and practitioners in the UK and Asia-Pacific region.

The term 'Social Innovation' has become widely used, actively promoted by governments, organisations, academia and businesses alike. According to the Design for Social Innovation Report published by the European Commission (2014, pg 2), they state; "Social innovation is the concept of developing new - often disruptive solutions that work towards meeting social goals." Arguably, communities and organisations have always tackled problems and effected change for the social and public good. However, in the last ten years, we have witnessed a growing interest and use of design to enable social innovation due to the on-going financial crisis in the UK, Europe and the US. Design is seen as a way to harness latent creativity and participation from various stakeholders' local, situated knowledge. With a rich history of socially focused initiatives and current political idea of the 'Big Society', UK has a leading number of practitioners and researchers currently operating in this field.

The strong economic development in Asia in the last 15 years has increased the West's interest in the region. A recent report from the Australian Government Trade Commission report (AUSTRADE, 2015) suggests that the ASEAN 5's (Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam) GDP growth will far outstrip the Euro zone. Furthermore, Australia is entering its 24th year of uninterrupted economic growth, with GDP projection higher than the US, UK or Europe. However, even prosperous economies like Australia, Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong are facing challenges to balance sustainable economic development with social and political changes. There are now strong signs that the interest in using design to facilitate social change is growing in Asia-Pacific by the increasing number of social innovation labs being established in Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan and Korea.

Our proposal aims to connect UK researchers with current practices in Asia-Pacific, leveraging the experience and knowledge of leading researchers in the UK to inform practices in Asia-Pacific, while at the same time using examples from Asia-Pacific to enrich and inform the understanding of Design for Social Innovation in the UK. As such, there will be three key activities in Thailand and the UK that will bring together this dispersed community of practice. A public symposium bringing together examples from the Asia-Pacific region will be held in Bangkok, followed by a workshop aimed at identifying issues, themes and opportunities for further research. The outcomes from the Bangkok symposium and workshop will be shared as points of discussion with participants in the UK and to shape the practitioner workshop that will be used to inform practices and identify research opportunities in the UK.

The interactions between the participants and presentations given will be made available to the wider community through a dedicated community-led project website. The community platform will house various resources created from the proposed events, and links to various social innovators, social enterprises, funding bodies, NGOs, project initiatives, research networks, governmental bodies and companies in Design and Social Innovation. It will also become a repository for academic research and publications relevant to the field, and house project notices that may arise in the future. The platform will enable us to not only enable the continued dissemination of the research outcomes but to facilitate continued dialogue between the communities.

Planned Impact

The proposed research network aims to facilitate knowledge generation and exchange between UK and Asia-Pacific academics and practitioners in Design for Social Innovation. It will generate impact in a number of communities linked to Design and Social Innovation.

Design practice community - For the design practitioners working on social innovation projects in the UK, participation in the workshop will be an opportunity to make connections, share best practices, learn about the Asia-Pacific context and identify project opportunities. For UK based practitioners looking to find opportunities to work in Asia-Pacific, the workshop will help them understand the similarities and differences between the UK and Asia-Pacific and to identify qualities, skills, mindsets and conditions. For Asia-Pacific practitioners, participation in the public symposium and workshop will enable them to hear stories of successes and failures from the region, and learn from UK practices. Attendance at the events will offer opportunities to connect with people from incubators, NGOS, think tanks, innovation hubs, social entrepreneurs, social venture funds and governmental departments. For the invited speakers, it would offer an international platform to showcase their work and to extend their reach beyond their locality. This will strengthen their standing in their community and demonstrate value they could bring to future project bids. The additional resources published on the project website will also provide a range of varied examples in different countries, offering inspiration and connection to other practitioners and provide a way to track project notices in the future.

Social innovators and social entrepreneurs - social innovators and entrepreneurs are the individuals and teams that are responsible for initiating, developing and creating social development projects and social enterprises. For the invited speakers, it would offer an international platform to showcase and disseminate work. It would also offer an opportunity to meet other people working in this area, share best practices and create new networks. The published case studies, talks, reports and academic papers on the website will be a valuable resource to help people outside the sector understand the range and type of work practiced in the region. The examples collected and disseminated through the online platform will also provide them with successful exemplars that can be used to lobby for funds to support current and new projects.

Policy-makers, legislators and their advisors - With the increasing use of design to facilitate social innovation, the research will be help policy-makers understand the role, impact and conditions for the use of design to facilitate more effective social innovation projects. Learnings from the events and resources should inform the creation of policies that will establish and build a support structure in countries where there is a lack of infrastructure for this space. Academic outputs such as a journal special issue and a conference paper will be used to support evidence based policy making approach.

Government departments and local government - Many governments are often supporting social innovation, and this traction is increasing globally. They are a key stakeholder in initiating, enabling and sustaining social innovation.The proposed events will help disseminate the work to a wider audience and provide more visibility of local initiatives to their respective national agencies and departments.

National Design Boards/Councils - Project exemplars and other resources collated will provide evidence of impact of design in social innovation to organisations tasked to promote the use of design for different purposes across different sectors. The coalescing of practitioners from a diverse background will enable tracking of a growing community of practitioners working in this field and help understand how to support future growth in this sector.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description Important new research questions have opened up and we identified 6 key themes to explore related to design and social innovation in Asia-Pacific: Cultural Nuances, Relationship, Precariousness (risk/uncertainty), Temporality, Ethics and Impact. We have used these 6 themes to frame a number of projects going forward beyond the project funding. Firstly its being used as a theoretical framework for our AHRC GCRF Network Plus funding proposal and project and secondly, as content for a special issue on Design and Social Innovation in Asia-Pacific in the 2018 Design and Culture journal.

Through the activities of the network, we have fostered new links and collaborations with organisations involved in social innovations in Thailand, Malaysia, Myanmar and Cambodia. These links are being utilised through the AHRC GCRF Network Plus funding bid and these organisations are named collaborators on the bid. We have also connected with Asia-Pacific academics and they too have been named as Co-Investigators in the funding bid. We have also carefully paired UK and AP researchers with AP practitioners to co-author papers for the Design & Culture journal based on those 6 themes. This will be published in August 2018.
Exploitation Route Design practice community - For the design practitioners working on social innovation projects in UK, participation in the UK-based workshop was an opportunity to make connections, share best practices, learn about the Asia-Pacific context and identify project opportunities for collaboration and work. For example, Bas Raijmakers from STBY(a member of the research network) has used the opportunity to explore the AP landscape and have took the opportunity to expand their existing REACH network into Thailand. For UK based practitioners looking to find opportunities to work in Asia-Pacific, the workshop has helped them understand the similarities and differences between the UK and Asia-Pacific and to identify qualities, skills, mindsets and conditions. This has led to an invitation to the RSA for example to share findings from the DESIAP Research Network. For Asia-Pacific practitioners, participation in the public symposium and workshop enabled them to hear stories of successes and failures from the region, and learn from UK practices. It offered them opportunities to connect with people from incubators, NGOS, think tanks, innovation hubs, social entrepreneurs, social venture funds and governmental departments. For the invited speakers, it gave them an international platform to showcase their work and to extend their reach beyond their locality. This has strengthen their standing in their community and demonstrate value they could bring to future project bids. The additional resources published on the project website has also provided a range of varied examples in different countries, offering inspiration and connection to other practitioners and provide a way to track project notices in the future. The website will continue to be updated with case studies from AP.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Creative Economy,Education

URL http://desiap.org/design-and-social-innovation-research-network-ahrc-report-2017/
 
Description The Design and Social Innovation in Asia-Pacific Network (DESIAP) has successfully facilitated knowledge exchange, learning, and increased collaborations among a geographically dispersed social innovation community working to deliver social impact. Impact for practitioners can be divided into 3 areas, Impact on: 1) Practice, 2) Professional Standing, and 3) Collaborations and Business Opportunities. Engagement through the network has led to changes in practices that are more culturally-situated and delivered improved social impact. It has created opportunities for multidisciplinary collaborations between designers, social entrepreneurs, researchers, and NGOs on sustainable development projects relating to Capacity Building and Impact Evaluation. DESIAP has been instrumental in bringing Asia-Pacific practices into international and comparative focus, improving the professional standing of these countries, leading to increased business opportunities.
First Year Of Impact 2016
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Creative Economy
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Economic

 
Description RMIT Enabling Capacities Fund
Amount $10,000 (AUD)
Organisation RMIT University 
Sector Academic/University
Country Australia
Start 06/2017 
End 12/2017
 
Title Social Impact Assessment Framework 
Description The framework consist of a set of questions to help social entrepreneur s define, track and reflect on their personal, organisational and wider impact of their work. We have turned these questions into a series of prompt cards that can be used by participants on their own or through facilitated sessions. These prompts are divided into 3 stages of the ASEAN Impact Challenge Accelerator programme: Define, Develop, Deliver. The prompts enable participants to answer a series of questions linked to social impact and their own personal development and help them reveal and track impact through their development. 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2017 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact The Social Impact Assessment Framework was used in the ASEAN Impact Challenge Accelerator programme in 2017 and has now been incorporated into the future Global Goals Labs Framework that will be used by the Scope Group in Malaysia. 
 
Description DESIAP 2017 Bangkok Symposium and Workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Our 2016 DESIAP Public Symposium and Workshop was held at the Thailand Creative and Design Center (TCDC) in Bangkok from the 12th to 14th of July 2016. It was our second public symposium bringing together an exciting range of practitioners and researchers of design and social innovation from over ten countries around AsiaPacific. This symposium and its accompanying 2day workshop builds on the outcomes from our first event, From Things to Services Symposium and Workshop, which took place at the National Design Centre, Singapore, on 56th February 2015. The event heralded the Design and Social Innovation in AsiaPacific (DESIAP) platform initiated by RMIT and Northumbria University as a place for practitioners in this region working in the field of Social Innovation to coalesce.

A number of outcomes have emerged from the Bangkok event:
- The creation of a 'Playbook' aimed at creating a simple guide to explain what design and social innovation is and how to go about using design approach, tools and methods. Two thai practitioners have taken a lead on the creation of this playbook and is aimed specifically at a Thai audience.
- A special issue journal proposal for the Design and Culture journal. This involves collaboration between UK/AP academics with AP practitioners.
- Further collaboration with one of our network member organisation STBY with Thai practitioners who attended the event to set up a platform to deliver and train people in using the DIY toolkit which was developed by STBY with Nesta.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://desiap.org/desiap-research-network-symposium-workshop-2016/
 
Description DESIAP 2017 Symposium and Workshop on Impact and Evaluation 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact DESIAP KL was our 3rd public symposium following Singapore (2015) and Bangkok (2016), held at Majlis Rekabentuk Malaysia (Malaysia Design Council) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. DESIAP KL brought together participants from around South-East Asia who are already doing socially impactful work. 12 participants from Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia and Indonesia were invited to share their experiences on issues they are each tackling and to identify challenges and approaches related to evaluating their work for impact through a 2-day workshop. They were selected based on their catalytic role in social innovation and entrepreneurship networks in their localities, making the mutual learning they acquire go further through their sharing, mentoring and support to communities back in their own contexts. The focus of impact evaluation was selected because it is a significant issue and interest for many change-makers across the world. Evaluating impact is a required outcome of social innovation practice, and yet it is challenging when the scale and focus of change aims to address societal problems, especially in a community-centred and culturally grounded way. The participants reported that they have a better understanding of developmental evaluation and how to improve their practices around evaluation. The following public symposium attracted 75 people ranging from social innovation practitioners, social entrepreneurs, designers, undergraduate and postgraduate students.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://desiap.org/desiap2017kl/
 
Description DESIAP Rekanegara 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The talk was organised by Rekanegara, a not-for-profit group set up by Malaysian design academics and practitioners as a platform to discuss and debate current issues in design. They invited the PI to talk at a Social Innovation theme day on the issues and challenges of design working in the space of social innovation. The talk generated interests amongst the Rekanegara community evidenced by the discussion during the event and on their Facebook page. The event also gave the PI an opportunity to meet and make contact with a social entrepreneur (who was the other invited speaker) and help connect what she does in her work with designers. Rekanegara has also indicated an interest to support future DESIAP network events and discussions are underway to hold the next DESIAP symposium in Malaysia.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description DESIAP Sharing Workshop in Newcastle upon Tyne 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The aim the workshop is bring together UK-based practitioners and researchers working in design and social innovation to share practices as well learn from each other. The research team shared learnings from the Bangkok DESIAP symposium - distilled in 6 themes (Time/temporality, Ethics, Cultural nuances, Relations, Precariousness/risk & Impact) and used these themes to cohere thinking around issues. The workshop consisted of researchers and participants who have taken part in original public symposium in Bangkok as well as new participants from around the UK. Conversations with the participants sparked discussion around practices and models of social innovation and how it related to various sectors (private, public or voluntary). This has led to the PI and Co-I being invited to share the research findings at the Royal Society of Arts (RSA) in June 2017.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description DESIAP workshop at Impact Hub in Yangon 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact On the 26th April 2017, the DESIAP team ran a workshop at Impact Hub, Yangon, Myanmar. The purpose of the team's visit was to: 1) Bring local change-makers together to hear what people are already doing, 2) Introduce DESIAP through examples of projects from other countries, 3) Identify barriers, resources and opportunities for Design and Social Innovation and 4) Discuss how a regional network like DESIAP might play a role in sharing knowledge and assist in capacity building in Myanmar.

The assembled 14 participants were a mixture of researchers, academics and representatives from social enterprises and NPOs who were doing impactful work towards enabling and sustaining social outcomes. This gathering extended the events that Impact Hub Yangon was already successfully seeding and facilitating, and it brought together a range of different sectors, perhaps for the very first time. We conducted two main activities in the workshop. Firstly, we presented a framework to help participant understand how design might fit in their context and to help the DESIAP team understand the range of work undertaken by the participants. The conversations indicated that Design was often strongly associated with art, crafts and cultural artefacts, offered through some educational institutions and other forms of traditional approaches like apprenticeships. We also heard that Design as method or mindset was not taught commonly. Several participants indicated the need for such training, and how capacity building for Design and Social Innovation could be possible if resources were made available or if courses were developed and provided through Universities. This exercise also enabled the participants to get to know each other's work and enabled participants to build and expand their network. The 2nd activity was an asset mapping exercise. The participants were introduced to an asset mapping tool, adapted by Alison Prendiville for this workshop, to enable the group to examine key components that contextualises their work and cohere a collective understanding of actors, challenges, outcomes, indicators and assets in undertaking Design and Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

CHALLENGES FOR D&SI in MYANMAR: 1) Shifting to a democratic society- Some indicated that despite people wanting to collaborate, this practice does not come automatically or very easily. Main challenges seemed to centre on entrenched siloed behaviours, rigid bureaucratic processes, and lack of trust and transparency. These are common obstacles to Design and Social Innovation observed around the world, and it is not surprising that the citizens here are still learning how to transition into a democratic society, express their views and develop different alternatives to a top-down approach to decision making. 2) Transitioning from a NPO/NGO to a Social Enterprise - Discussions on transitioning charity models to become social enterprise surfaced prominently. Reliance upon donations and overseas aid may become unreliable, potentially trapping some organisation into short-term cycles of application and delivery. This makes it challenging to become self-sustaining and plan long-term impacts. The potential for social entrepreneurship is to create a business model from day one based on generating a revenue stream. However, the idea of mixing economic and social outcomes can be difficult, for many who believe being socially minded means to give to charity. Creating a business with social outcomes is a new idea for some. Here, Buddhist practices of giving money directly to the poor or donating to organisations seems significant to this context and was highlighted during the conversation. There was strong sense of giving back to those that had helped in many instances like the Buddhist monastries. How does such cultural and religious practices blend with Western entrepreneurship business models? Could a third, hybrid model be created?

Many other obstacles were identified as challenges to social enterprises: Lack of human resources, and difficulty in resource mobilisation; Accessibility (resources, people); Access to finance (eg. bank loans or micro-financing) for smaller enterprises; Lack of systems and infrastructures for sharing or transparency; Law, tax incentives or regulations for social enterprises are poorly implemented or communicated; Regional conflict, and language and cultural barriers; Stability for children and young people; Pressures on children to start work as early as possible; Limited experience of mobile technologies and social medial; Dependency on charity culture.

A vast amount of "ASSETS" were identified by the participants, indicating strong potential of an ecosystem of Design and Social Innovation to flourish: Generous, open and caring nature of citizens; Open-minded leaders, including some government ministers; People are wanting change. Energy and optimism for a new democratic society; Possibility to "leap-frog" to new models, technology and approaches (e.g. Grab South-East Asia's competitor to Uber and Uber itself to try and regulate the taxi industry in Yangon); Making change visible and transparent. Share failures as well as successes; Create spaces, forums, events and platforms to share lessons and stories of how things have been achieved. This can help incentivise people and shift entrenched behaviours ; Desire for innovation, and some acceptance for radical processes; Young people are beginning to create alternative futures to bring about changes quicker; Build trust through traditional, cultural and social practices, rather than replace them. eg. some identified how Buddhist monks or priests perform a unique role ina community, often perceived as trustworthy, knowledgeable, powerful and neutral (politically) to act as influential leaders and brokers; Build on existing international collaboration and opportunities (eg. MOU partnerships); Leverage existing knowledge, skill sets, social and cultural capital assets.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description DESIAP workshop at the Cambodian Development Resource Institute in Phnom Penh 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact On the 25th April 2017, a team from the DESIAP network ran a workshop hosted by Cambodia Development Resource Institute (CDRI), Phnom Penh Cambodia. The purpose of the team's visit was to: 1) Bring local change-makers together to hear what people are already doing; 2) Introduce DESIAP through examples of projects from other countries; 3) Identify barriers, resources and opportunities for Design and Social Innovation and 4) Discuss how a regional network like DESIAP might play a role in sharing knowledge and assist in capacity building in Cambodia.

The assembled 22 participants were a mixture of researchers, academics and representatives from social enterprises and NPOs who were doing impactful work towards enabling and sustaining social outcomes. This gathering extended the events that Impact Hub Phnom Penh and CDRI was already successfully seeding and facilitating, and it brought together a range of different sectors, perhaps for the very first time.

We conducted two main activities in the workshop. Firstly, we presented a framework to help participant understand how design might fit in their context and to help the DESIAP team understand the range of work undertaken by the participants. The conversations indicated that Design was often strongly associated with art, crafts and cultural artefacts, offered through some educational institutions and other forms of traditional approaches like apprenticeships. We also heard that Design as method or mindset was not taught commonly. Several participants indicated the need for such training, and how capacity building for Design and Social Innovation could be possible if resources were made available or if courses were developed and provided through Universities. This exercise also enabled the participants to get to know each other's work and enabled participants to build and expand their network.

The 2nd activity was an asset mapping exercise. The participants were introduced to an asset mapping tool, adapted by Alison Prendiville for this workshop, to enable the group to examine key components that contextualises their work and cohere a collective understanding of actors, challenges, outcomes, indicators and assets in undertaking Design and Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Participants candidly shared their stories and experiences. This can foster empathy, a sense of companionship and build stronger relationships, which are all central to create flourishing conditions of Design and Social Innovation. Beyond nurturing social capital and networks, this activity aimed to facilitate awareness of the local Design and Social Innovation ecosystem and to identify the assets participants all possessed in creating such conditions. In addition shared agendas emerged through some of the discussions. General insights from this activity are briefly summarised next.

Cambodia is transitioning from a lower to a lower-middle income society. We listened how this meant that overseas aid that was once relied upon by organisations may need to shift towards private, public and government sector partnerships to support the need of the growing middle-income citizens. Yet cross-sector collaboration is easier said than done. Trust was identified as fundamental to build new ways of collaborating, but many identified challenges of entrenched siloed behaviours, rigid bureaucratic processes, and lack of transparency. It may take time and generational shifts to foster openness and trust-abundant cultures. These are common obstacles to Design and Social Innovation observed around the world, and it is not surprising that the citizens here are still learning how to have trust in institutions due to Cambodia's political and social history, confidently express their views and develop different alternatives to a top-down approach to decision making.

Many other obstacles were identified as challenges to social enterprises: Lack of human resources due to quality education, and difficulty in resource
mobilisation; Accessibility (resources, people); Access to finance (eg. bank loans or micro-financing) for smaller enterprises; Governments infrastructures to support social enterprises (eg. law, taxes, accessibility); Many educational institutions might not have staff or teaching cultures to equip
students to be creative and critical thinkers; Working across different sectors due to siloed work practices; Lack of government support and funding for research in academic institutions; Young people in rural areas have difficulty in accessing quality education; Slow adaptation to new technology; Foreign aid, investment, agendas and actors can often dominate leading the change, so how to transition ownership and build capacity in local people?; Hierarchical society; Overuse of facebook as a social media platform with a slow up take of other mobile services. There is a level of mobile phone literacy that needs to be built.

A vast amount of "ASSETS" were identified by the participants, indicating strong potential of an ecosystem of Design and Social Innovation to flourish: Opportunities for Information Communication Technology (ICT) e.g. 80% mobile use; While small in numbers, educational courses in Universities are already teaching social entrepreneurship as units within specific programmes; Building on existing local and regional networks, to actively create international links; Create spaces, forums, events and platforms to share lessons and stories of how things have been achieved. This can help incentivise people and shift entrenched behaviours; Enabling the voice and activities of young people to become more visible; Leverage existing knowledge, skill sets, social and cultural capital assets; Making change visible and transparent. Share failures as well as successes; Creating opportunities to bring different people from different sectors together in a safe environment to 'rehearse' and prototype scenarios of collaboration; Identifying champions who could break down silos and work across government departments.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017