Brokering between heads and hearts: an analysis of designing for social change

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Ann Light & Clodagh Miskelly, 2008. Brokering between heads and hearts: an analysis of designing for social change. In David Durling, Chris Rust, Lin-Lin Chen, Philippa Ashton and Ken Friedman (editors), Proceedings of the Design Research Society Conference, Undisciplined! Sheffield Hallam University, 16th - 19th July, 2008.


This paper describes a fluid and responsive design process identified among certain practitioners involved in solving social problems or inspiring social change. Their practice is both user-centred and participative in its approach and addresses the shortcomings of many top-down initiatives. These people work tactically to weave together policy knowledge, funding opportunities, local initiative and ideas for improving social and environmental conditions, acting as connectors, activists and facilitators in different contexts at different times. Although their activities are recognisably related to more conventional designing practices, the materials they use in finding solutions are unusual in that they may include the beneficiaries themselves and other features of the social structure in which they are effecting change. We present an ethnographic study of practices in designing that focuses on social initiatives rather than the tangible products or systems that might support them. We explore the how design practices map to the process of winning local people's commitment to projects with a social flavour. To situate the discussion in a political context we draw on de Certeau’s distinction between strategic and tactical behaviour and look at how our informants occupy a space as mediators between groups with power and a sense of agency and those without.

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