Design and Social Innovation

By Geoff Mulgan

Mulgan, G. (2010)  In Improving Public Services and Social Innovation the Design World has Vital Insights to Offer, Blog Post available at British Politics and Policy at LSE, London School of Economics Blog pages,

Geoff Mulgan, CEO of NESTA (National Endowment of Science Technology and the Arts), and Visiting Professor at a number of universities including the University of Melbourne, offers a very useful framework for assessing the contribution of design towards furthering social innovation.  He argues that the enthusiasm for applying design methods to help advance social innovation has many strengths, however it should be tempered with a recognition that designers cannot offer silver bullets to complex social issues, and that there are some challenges ahead if design is to realise its potential in fostering social innovation.

Although this is a blog posting rather than a formal article, it has sparked much debate and discussion and has been referenced in many of the articles included here.  For this reason I have included a diagram below outlining Mulgan’s framework, which explores the strengths, weaknesses and challenges of involving design in social innovation as a way to help shape this review of recent literature.

What I think it helps to highlight is that we should engage and celebrate the many strengths design practice has to offer social innovation, AND we should recognise its limitations and the challenges ahead in applying design methods more broadly in the social sector.  I have constructed the diagram as a see-saw – it’s easy to tip it too far in either direction (either over-enthusiasm for its strengths, or dismissing it for its weaknesses), and much rests on how we address the challenges over coming years.

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