Social innovation is by its very definition about people. So it stands to reason that any space wishing to encourage social innovation would have people at the heart of its design.

Sadly, this is rarely the case. Most space design still relies on the inspiration of one or more design ‘experts’, combined with the inputs of a client represented by one or two people. Together they articulate the brief, defining the needs of the wider users without consultation.

The inclusive design approach embraces the social, challenging this ‘top down’ thinking and replacing it with a multi-stakeholder, non-linear, interactive ‘action based’ co-design process. Co-design focuses on mutual learning, placing the users at the centre of the needs for space design and enabling participants develop an affinity with space and objects.

Using an inclusive design approach to foster social innovation can produce impressive results, but it is not without its challenges. The energy and effort required to facilitate and lead the process requires significant investment but the dividend in terms of improved space design capable of enabling innovation is clear.

Mapping and developing effective tools to manage and guide this process will be key to embedding it in the mainstream so that eventually the inclusion of the end user in overall design process becomes the default position.

Without this commitment to people, spaces that purport to support and encourage social innovation are failing to understand the basic fact that innovation comes from the bottom up and a refusal to trust and invest in the user community at the beginning of the process will ultimately lead to disengagement further down the line.

Too many well meaning projects have failed to grasp this concept and have invested large amounts of money creating hollow centres for innovation.

The key to developing effective social innovation is in its title.

Author: Dermot Egan

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