New approaches to social innovation: design thinking theory, practice and critique

Stream #03

Chairs: Jay Friedlander (College of the Atlantic), Laura Murphy (Tulane University), Lesley-Ann Noel (Tulane University)

Over the last ten years, design thinking has exploded into the social impact space and within social innovation research and higher education. There are calls to diffuse design thinking for social innovation (Brown and Wyatt, 2010)  (Mulgan, 2006), and we are seeing calls to decolonialize it—to liberate design thinking from its European, capitalist, and modernist associations and assumptions (PIVOT, Taylor Center and Pluriversal SIG, DRS, 2020). This stream invites papers across a breadth of scholarship on or about design thinking for social innovation.

What arose as a methodology for product and service innovation (mostly in design firms and social enterprises in the global north) (Brown and Wyatt, 2010) has evolved in different contexts across the globe as ways of addressing social, political, and environmental challenges. Design thinking models and frameworks from IDEO.org (“HCD”), Stanford d.school, the design squiggle;  DT language of empathy, ideation, rapid prototyping; DT mindsets of “Yes, And!” , “bias to action”, and “fail fast” ubiquitous in our social innovation vernacular and teaching. As its popularity has grown, organizations, educators, and designers are reworking  models, training methodologies, and theories, such as Diffuse Design, (Manzini, 2015) and building a body of empirical evidence of what works for the social sector (Ku and Lupton, 2020). 

Meanwhile, new language is spreading to communicate the value of design, what design means, and who gets to design. In particular, critical design scholars, especially from the global south, call for “decolonizing” design among other dominant practices of capitalism and European thought (Mignolo, 2018)(Escobar, 2018) Scholars are challenging the popular approaches to DT as embodying white privilege, capitalist and corporate values, as  alienating and oppressive in its assumptions of what entails design, and problems are identified, with critical design, emancipatory design (Noel, 2016) and others.

In this stream, we invite papers that investigate and explore the practices, discourses, directions, and dynamics of design thinking in relation to the field of social innovation, as well as empirical and conceptual contributions across the epistemological spectrum that investigate and share a range of practical experiences, theoretical stances, and/or critical perspectives. We also aim to offer space for sharing lessons from applications of DT for social innovation and for presenting new visions, formulations and theories of design. 

Examples of types of papers/ topics we seek: 

  • Rigorous empirical research on an application, or specific case of design thinking for social innovation across organizations of various sizes, sectors, structure, and profit orientations (i.e., DT for more effective and sustainable social enterprises).
  • Tools and cases of co-creation and participatory design for social innovation in community settings (i.e., cooperatives, community development).
  • Synthesis of “Best practices” in applications/adaptations in DT processes and approaches to meet a variety of conditions and contexts.
  • Pedagogical methods and tools that foster valuable design mindsets and practices for social entrepreneurs, changemakers, and social innovation training (esp. in higher education).
  • Reflections on experiences in translating design processes into other socio-cultural contexts, the limits/blind spots of design thinking, and situations where design thinking should be avoided.
  • New theories, frameworks, and models for (and comparisons of) design thinking methodologies and approaches.
  • Expositions and examples of bringing decolonial thinking into social impact-oriented design education, research, and practice.
  • And others.