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SDRJ Cfp 2016 : [SDRJ] Special Issue on: Exploring Participatory Design as a strategy to act within the city


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Submission Deadline Jan 31, 2016
Notification Due Mar 31, 2016
Final Version Due May 31, 2016
Categories    design   participatory design   strategic design

Call For Papers

Call for papers – Special Issue

Guest editors: Chiara Del Gaudio and Giacomo Poderi

Exploring Participatory Design as a strategy to act within the city

During the last decades, design has been changing: a system-oriented design practice has emerged and opened design's field of action to several different contexts which relate to human activities –both individual and collective (Manzini, 2014).On one hand, the design object extended itself from products to services and then to systems, made by tangible and nontangible elements. On the other hand, design has started to concern not only about the industry and commerce, but also about other areas such as health, energy, education and transport systems, urban planning and development, and well-being. In this sense, design is often considered to act within the public sphere and in those areas that aim at improving one or more aspects of people's life, particularly urban and suburban contexts transformation.

Among the main reasons of this evolution are the widespread scepticisms, fears and resistances against the predominant governance systems and the institutions’ ability to deal with contemporary societal challenges that call for greater and different efforts for greater and innovative efforts for tackling them. Moreover, they prompt society for the need for a change in the approaches and methodologies used for pursuing them. Simplistic, monologic or unidirectional solutions seem no longer efficient and hardly pursued. New configurations of actors, open solutions and a constant dialogue are necessary to change and foster a more sustainable society in an ecosystemic perspective. In this sense, a Strategic Design approach to problem setting and solving (Manzini, 2014) combined with the tradition and practices of Participatory Design (PD) appears as a fruitful path to follow. Actually, the main pillar of the former is to enable a strategic dialogue among different actors that can inspire and guide their diverse perspectives towards the construction of a shared and plural vision. Its core interest is the constant articulation of the ensemble of relationships existing and developing in the ecosystems made of different organizations such as consultancy, firms, institutions, governments, territories and associations. At the same time, the activities and techniques of the latter are able to regenerate “the local”, to rise interest around conflictual topics, and to point out different ways to conceive and to solve them by initiating and supporting human endeavours that are highly characterized by collaborative, open and participatory processes.

Ecosystemic, participatory and strategic approaches acquire an astonishing relevance in the public and urban sphere, where the paradigm of open-innovation and collaborative ecosystems is becoming a consolidated frame for attempting to tackle a very heterogeneous set of issues which can range, for instance, from public transportation to environmental challenges, from elderly care to education and integration of marginalized groups. In fact, co-design practices and services that are implemented in these collaborative ecosystems and that involve local population, enable and foster a dialog among local forces and resources, and urban governance mechanisms (Rizzo et al., 2015). Urban Living Lab and Human Smart City increasing initiatives are, for instance, an example of the promising interplay among the three approaches that consider issues intertwined, putting into action a great variety of actors at the centre of the process and solutions.

In this frame and in practical terms, the designer’s aim turns out to be promoting democratic spaces where different and conflicting voices and perspectives may be expressed, and where activities and institutions are implemented to mediate, mitigate and solve controversies (Björgvinsson et al., 2012). These spaces are social spaces. This means that they are both physical and abstract: they can be squares, streets, neighbourhoods, as well as intangible gathering places that work as arenas for questions and possibilities. This way, designers contribute to a resilient society in which diversity, redundancy, and experimentation make society itself able to cope with challenges without collapsing (Manzini and Till, 2015).

The mediation among different and conflicting voices, the experimental and on-going trait of these spaces move the designer’s focus of action. Designers have to set up, to enable and to nurture them: designers have to focus more on the process than the project. This means focus on infrastructuring (Karasti, 2014): the ongoing and open process involving the anticipation of future scenarios and the alignment of heterogeneous socio-technical elements, which shall support the emergence of such scenarios. Focusing on the process that allows a context change through different projects leads to the idea of having a metadesign approach. Actually, even if metadesign is a concept subjected to several different interpretations that are welcome in this call, we focus here on one of its most commonly shared features: the idea of developing a design process of the design process itself.

Considering the core interest of Strategic Design Research Journal, in this special issue, we welcome contributions – conceptual analysis, case studies or empirical findings – that critically engage with one (or more) of the provocative questions raised here:

How do Strategic Design, Participatory Design and infrastructuring relate to each other in conceptual or practical terms?

How does the infrastructuring process, as defined above, critically challenge the scope of Strategic Design?

If metadesign suggests “to defer some design and participation until after the design project, and opens up for use as design, design at use time or ‘design-after-design’” (Ehn, 2008), then how does the design process change the implications of its actions and the level in which it operate? At what level does the designer think and act? What is the relation between metadesign and infrastructuring?

In relationship to the key attention that Participatory Design and open design projects pay to the relational dimension, how does infrastructuring enter, contribute to or benefit from metadesign?

Which kind of interactions among citizens, local forces and public institutions does the designer stimulate to promote and feed collaborative ecosystems that support public democratic spaces? Which are the challenges and how could they be minimized by specific applications of the Strategic and Participatory Design approaches?


BJÖRGVISSON, E.; EHN, P.; HILLGREN, P.A. 2012. Design Things and Design Thinking: Contemporary Participatory Design Challenges. Design Issues, 28(3):101-116.

DISALVO, C. 2010. Design, democracy and agonistic pluralism. In: Proceedings of the Design Research Society International Conference, Montreal University, Montreal. Proceedings. Available at:

EHN, P. 2008 Participation in Design Things. In: Participatory Design Conference, 2008, Bloomington, Indiana. Proceedings.Bloomington, ACM Press, p. 92-101.

MANZINI, E. 2014. Design in a changing, connected world. Strategic Design Research Journal, 7(2):95-99.Available at:

MANZINI, E.; TILL, J. (eds.). 2015. The cultures of resilience base text. In: E. MANZINI; J. TILL, Cultures of Resilience. Ideas. A Project from across the University of the Arts London. London, Hato Press. p. 11-13. Available at:

RIZZO, F.; DESERTI, A.; COBANLI, O. 2015. Design and social innovation for the development of Huma Smart Cities. In: Nordes 2015, Stockholm, 2015. Proceedings. Nordes, p. 1-8. Available at:


Full Paper Due: January 31st, 2016
Notification of Review Results: March 31st, 2016
Final Version of Paper Due: May 31st, 2016
Notification of Acceptance: June 30th, 2016
Special Issue Publication Date: August 31st, 2016

Submission of Papers

Manuscripts must be prepared using the guidelines found at the Submission page (
For this special issue, the manuscript must be written in English.
Previously published articles will not be accepted. Submitted articles must not be under consideration for publication anywhere else. The publication of the article is subjected to the previous approval of the journal's Editorial Board, as well as to peer review made by, at least, two ad hoc reviewers using the double blind review process.
Manuscripts must be sent through the online submission system. You have to register in order to send your article:
If you have questions, contact us:

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