The long-awaited book Making Futures has finally hit the shelves. It is composed of stories that challenge the perception of what ‘counts’ as successful innovation.
The stories form a wide and multi-faceted view of how it is possible to work with design and innovation beyond the search for a ‘killer app’. It reveals how design and innovation actually can start in people’s everyday activities.
On Tuesday November 25, you are invited to join a discussion based on themes and examples from the book, which range from a collective of immigrant women who perform collaborative services (theme: designing conditions for the social) to the development of an open-hardware movement (theme: open production – design and commons) – from grassroots journalism (theme: creative class struggles and cultural production) to hip-hop performances on city buses (theme: emerging publics).
The day after the book release, there will also be a Medea Talk (November 26) on “Designing Transitions: Socio-Material Move-Making” with Cameron Tonkinwise, Director of Design Studies at the School of Design at Carnegie Mellon University. Sign up here!
Here’s an excerpt of the introductory chapter of Making Futures: Marginal Notes on Innovation, Design, and Democracy – a book edited and co-authored by people affiliated with Malmö University.
Editors: Pelle Ehn, Elisabet M. Nilsson, and Richard Topgaard
Haur du sitt Malmö haur du sitt varden. This was an underdog slogan two decades ago, when the industrial town of Malmö in the south of Sweden was dismantled and its quarter of a million inhabitants were not doing well. Shipyard and plant closures, high unemployment, class and ethnic segregation, crises – no future. In strong colloquial and ironic language, the slogan said “If you have seen Malmö, you have seen the rest of the world.” This is the moment when the march toward a more sustainable city started. The bridge to the continent, the new university, the transformation of the deserted harbor into exemplary sustainable architecture and eco-systems and home for a prosperous IT and media industry, successful culture-, design-, and innovation arenas, and a flourishing entrepreneurial creative class.
The international media often depict the city of Malmö less favorably. Sporadic riots in the most vulnerable districts, and numerous gang-related and criminal-network-related killings, form a picture of a violent multi-ethnic segregated town. A perhaps more nuanced scenario is given by the Kommission för ett socialt hållbart Malmö (Commission for a Socially Sustainable Malmö), a group of researchers and practitioners who have been investigating living conditions in the city for two years. They see innovative creativity and the potential in a multicultural city with people from nearly 170 countries, but also deep inequalities, high unemployment, and alienation. The citizens of Malmö have become healthier, and life conditions have improved, but the polarization is increasing. If you live in the low-income and high-unemployment neighborhoods, your life expectancy is five years less than in other parts of the city. The same holds for citizens with shorter versus longer education.
To “close the gap” in health, welfare, and justice, which is fundamental to becoming a socially sustainable city, they suggest a “social investment policy.” All of the many suggestions they have come up with to tackle the deep inequalities focus on investments in people that go far beyond a traditional economic growth perspective. They recommend more democratic forms of innovation and governance through citizen participation. They also recommend the building of knowledge alliances between industry and the university, underlining the inclusion of citizens, civil society, and civil servants in those alliances.
This proud but torn city is the context and the main focus of the research on and the experiments in innovation, design, and democracy discussed in this book, and it is where most of the stories told are situated. Furthermore, the interventions conducted and the stories told in the various chapters are very much in line with the mission and vision of the Commission for a Socially Sustainable Malmö and the challenges to which it has pointed.
The authors are all researchers associated with the new university situated in the prosperous Western Harbor area, the turf of the creative class. However, the stories are not primarily about new technology, economic growth, and scalability, but about possible futures for the people who have chosen to engage in changing their conditions. Typically, they are located in the less favored multi-ethnic districts of the city. Whether the designs and innovations concern local services, cultural productions, arenas for public discourse, or technological platforms, the approach is participative, collaborative, and engaging. The starting point is not the search for yet another “killer application,” but everyday activities and challenges in people’s lives. The main actors are grassroots organizations, non-governmental organizations, and neighborhoods gathering around issues of concern to them. Still, some of the participatory practices, in exemplary ways, travel far and wide through traditional, as well as new, technologies and media.
The stories do not suggest that “if you have seen Malmö, you have seen the rest of the world,” but we are convinced that to be able to understand mechanisms behind design and innovation we must situate these practices. However, many places in the world face similar challenges. By situating our stories of innovation, design, and democracy, we hope to make them relevant in other places, and we hope that they may travel far and well. Haur du sitt Malmö haur du sitt varden.