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Design in Social and Public Sector Innovation

Tamami Komatsu Cipriani, University of Bologna, Italy

The rising demand for new ways to meet social challenges has led to the emergence of not only new solutions under the shape of #socialinnovation, but also the engagement of a wider array of actors in the solution-building process through #co-design and #co-creation processes coming from the design field. The question of generating social good and meeting social needs has thus become collective in nature, no longer private or public, but distributed, converging on a common operating ground previously the domain of the welfare state. #Designthinking has likewise surfaced as an interesting method for innovating in the public and third sector, along with the use of design tools pulled from the areas of #servicedesign, #humancentereddesign and #speculativedesign. While these efforts have been insightful, they have so far remained on the outskirts of the organization as “add-on” programs, rather than as learning opportunities to be fed into #organizationalchange strategies. This has led to little or no change in the core organization’s culture and thus to marginal impact on solving the problem on a larger scale (Rizzo, Deserti & Cobanli, 2017). How can design tools and methods tested in the social innovation space be used to create a culture of #experimentation in the public sector? Beyond experimentation, how can the principles of design take on a more strategic role in organizational change strategies? How can the knowledge accumulated by social innovation in more user-centered, agile solutions be shared with and put to use by the public sector?

Likewise, social innovators are grappling with the imposed demand to #scaleup solutions that are often context-specific and dependent on a unique system of actors. How can the public sector enable social innovations and help #scaleout their approaches and methods as a means of scaling impact by providing the tools and insight necessary to find context-specific solutions, rooted in available resources?

While attention to #organizationalchange as an outcome of design intervention (Deserti & Rizzo, 2014; Junginger & Sangiorgi, 2009) is gaining importance in scientific research, more effort should be made to understand the relationship between design and organizational change both in research and in the field.


Deserti, A. & Rizzo, F. (2014). Design and the Cultures of Enterprises. Design Issues, vol 30 (1), 36-56.

Junginger, S., & Sangiorgi, D. (2009). Service Design and Organizational Change: Bridging the Gap Between Rigour and Relevance (pp. 4339–4348). Presented at the IASDR09 Conference, Seoul. Retrieved from

Rizzo, F., Deserti, A., & Cobanli O. (2017). Introducing Design Thinking in Social Innovation and in the Public Sector: A design based learning framework. European Public & Social Innovation Review, vol 2(1), 127-143.