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IN SESSION -  Can design activate a sense of agency towards others?

There is a lot of contemporary ‘noise’ surrounding the impacts of design on ‘society’ and we often think enough is enough. In parallel, there are discourses concerning collaboration and participation in order to design more sustainable societies and environments.

Sometimes we dismiss them as disposable buzzwords.

Finally there is extensive contemporary emphasis on ‘designers’ capabilities of ‘commoning’ and providing agency for the public.

For precisely these reasons, this is a positive time to reflect on how to navigate, as designers, to trigger societal change for the common good and public interest. After all, we are recognised as having a power: to conjure and embody preferable futures.

  • Can we dream about acting for sustainability and societal change?
  • Can we inspire, catalyse or support in people a sense of agency towards ‘others’, providing for post human and non-human assets?
  • Leading to proactively questioning, how we should implement… Do Nothing For Us Without Us…?

Interactive polls informed us that:

Among the most pressing and urgent challenges facing social design, 37% of the attendees voted for the search for social justice and equity, 35% chose distrust in institutions and in other people whereas 25% were for inclusion of diversities and 21% for lack of empathy.

50% of the attendees think that social identity and sense of belonging are the most powerful motivations that can drive us to sustainable social change, followed by 48% who voted for agency toward social and environmental issues. 42% think that social peace and collective wellbeing are motivating factors, 31% voted for financial interest and security for our families and younger generations as equally strong motivations toward social change.


Dr Rob Phillips

Senior tutor, Design Products + Futures MA Programme, RCA

Designer, researcher and senior tutor at the Royal College of Art. Rob's latest collaborative project with Interaction Design Research Studio (www.mynaturewatch.net) uses distributed design fostering people’s engagement in the natural world and was broadcast on BBC SpringWatch. His research seeks to ‘engage design’ for sustainable transitions. His latest book is FutureKind, Design for and by the People.

Anna Meroni

Professor of Design, Deputy Dean School of Design, Politecnico di Milano

Anna's research focus is on service and strategic design for sustainability to foster social innovation, participation and place development, with specific expertise in co-design methods and tools. She is currently Deputy Dean at the School of Design of Politecnico di Milano.

About POLI.design

POLI.design, founded by Politecnico di Milano in 1999, is a university institution of acknowledged excellence that represents a unique research and post-graduate, professional and business training centre.

Together with the School of Design and the Department of Design, it forms the Design System of the Politecnico di Milano, an aggregate of resources, skills, structures and laboratories, designed to explore the design culture at 360°. For more information, please visit POLI.design.

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