Democratising Innovation

Increasingly closeted within the realm of the expert, innovation risks becoming detached from the common good. Exploring alternative ways in which innovation might be accessed through open source, the creative commons, co-design and participation – that was the focus of a RESTLESS FUTURES conference debate introduced by Lorraine Gamman, professor of design at CSM and founder of Design Against Crime Research Centre. 


- Ian Goldin, Director, Oxford Martin School at the University of Oxford
- Danilo Santos de Miranda, Director, SESC São Paulo
- Timothy Klofski, MA Communication Design graduate at CSM

Listen to a recording of the session:

Session Report

‘Why democratise innovation?’ asked Lorraine Gamman in her introduction, before weighing the clear benefits of rapid change and access to technology (life expectancy and income up, illiteracy down) against the fact that 99 per cent of world assets are owned by just one per cent of people. ‘Those who are left out are angry,’ said Lorraine, ‘and this has led to an empathy deficit.’ 

Championing open innovation with porous borders, Lorraine described participatory approaches that involve stakeholders as the best way to ensure design meets needs and delivers value. And drawing on Design Against Crime Research Centre’s collaborative experience, she argued that the management of crime issues in a public space shouldn’t be left to the police alone. 

‘What do people want more of or less of in their neighbourhoods?’ Lorraine asked. ‘We need to reframe crime prevention as an open innovation process that is participatory at all levels. This is about much more than cops, courts and correction.’ 

Progressive force

Having first extolled innovation as humanity’s most progressive force, Ian Goldin struck a note of caution, pointing out that yesterday’s steam engine is implicated in today’s climate jeopardy, and tomorrow’s DNA sequencing might yet lead to Armageddon scenarios beyond our control. 

‘Democratising innovation brings great empowerment,’ Ian said, ‘but it doesn’t solve problems on its own. Whether we take the good or the bad fork – whether this century overcomes poverty and disease or proves to be our last – depends on using innovation with wisdom and judgment.’ 

Asserting that access to technology means individuals are becoming as powerful as states used to be, Ian said he was optimistic about the future. ‘Are the new Shakespeare's or Einsteins in the slums of Mumbai?’ he asked. ‘And what will they do for us with their new connectivity?’ 

As we come together in more integrated ways, the choices we make ‘spill over’, requiring us to put the collective good before individual freedoms. ‘Yet more freedom means yet more choice,’ Ian noted. ‘But the responsibility grows too.’ 

Respectful dialogue

São Paulo regional director of Brazil’s SESC, Danilo Santos de Miranda offered a glimpse of the workings of a groundbreaking project that integrates the commercial and community life of the big city in exciting new ways. 

The programme, active in urban areas across Brazil, reconciles a bottom-up or community-driven approach to design with the need or desire to impose beauty and rationality from above. 

Publicly funded for the public good, SESC supports workers in the business and service sectors and their families, as well as the wider community. With a highly integrated approach to sport and leisure, food and health, age and youth, education for sustainability, and democratising culture, the project promotes quality of life while encouraging a respectful dialogue between generations. 

Exercising control

A desire to exercise more control over his computer as a business tool led CSM communication design graduate Timothy Klofski to develop his ‘Face of Code’ project, asking – what lies behind the WYSIWYG screen surface, and why can’t we bring the back end workings, off limits to all but professional coders as a rule, to the front? 

‘Face of Code’ presents ‘back end’ and ‘front end’ manifestations of a piece of communications simultaneously and side by side. ‘Code is just writing,’ said Timothy. ‘It’s like any language we learn. If we could see and understand code we wouldn’t need to use a pretty face to hide it.’ 

For Timothy, who taught himself code in order to deliver his project, the underlying message here is one of empowerment. ‘It’s about showing how we can take control as a way of overcoming some of the anxieties we feel in the face of technology.’ 

In the discussion that followed, speakers and audience touched on the nature and meaning of democracy itself, and on the idea that, although the urge to democratise or demystify is a basic one, we can’t all expect to be capable of acting on it.