Making Commons: Public PhD Seminar on Sep 1

Anna Seravalli will defend her doctoral thesis in Interaction Design on September 1. The thesis examines “making commons”, the establishment and management of collaborative organizational forms with the aim to create things and services in a sustainable way – environmentally and socially. Seravalli concludes that local approaches, collective ownership, and the opportunity to try out things during the process, is necessary to develop social innovation.

The public defense takes place at 1.15 PM at STPLN, Malmö (details).

Text: Johanna Svensson, originally published on

Anna Seravalli is an industrial designer, trained at Politecnico in Milan. In recent years she has been inquiring how the collaboration between academia, business, and non-governmental organizations can be used to develop social innovations, together with her colleagues at Malmö Living Labs. In her dissertation Making Commons: attempts at composing prospects in the opening of production she examines how designerly approaches can be used to develop collaborative organizational forms to produce goods and services:

When you design a table, you work closely with people from the marketing department, mechanical engineers, specialists in materials and workmanship. You try things together with people with different skills and perspectives, and the earlier the collaboration starts the better it gets. You can use the same method for other topics, such as developing services. The main thing is just the opportunity to try out, improve and try again.

Involved in two different commons
There are two crucial issues in the thesis:

  • How do you cooperate to create more environmentally and socially sustainable ways of producing things and delivering services?
  • And how do you, as a designer, create not only drawings and prototypes but also collective ways of working, where actors with different perspectives cooperate and own resources and processes together?

Anna Seravalli has been working with two different examples of commons – the maker space Fabriken, and the non-governmental organization Herrgård’s Women Association.

She has arranged and participated in courses, workshops, and events together with the members of the two networks. She has also experimented with how to establish collaborations between the two networks and other stakeholders, from both the private and public sector, and inquired how commons between different stakeholders can be created and anchored in time.

Fabriken, “The Factory”, is a do-it-yourself workspace in Malmö where members have access to a space and tools for digital production, woodworking, and electronics – as well as each other’s expertise. Herrgård’s Women Association in Malmö was created by eight women who had immigrated from Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan and wanted to find a way to get involved in the Swedish society. Now, the association has several hundred members and their activities include everything from crafts and cooking to lectures on health and safety. They have been exploring how some of their activities could be further developed to establish their organization and create business opportunities.

Most important is the possibility to try out
Most important of all in order to create socially and environmentally sustainable forms of production, is the possibility to explore different ways during the process, according to Anna Seravalli. This requires long-term engagement, which is difficult in activities that are often funded on a project basis:

What is important is local approaches, to deal with ethical and practical concerns appearing during the way, but most important is long-term involvement and the opportunity and space to try out, change, and try again. In this perspective, ”commons” represent safe spaces for experimentation, since by sharing resources and knowledge, it becomes easier to try out new ways of producing things and delivering services. At the same time – since these resources are created, managed, and owned together by diverse actors – commons can foster the emergence of new alliances and collaboration between citizens and institutions, companies, and non-governmental organizations.