DESIS Philosophy Talk #2.1: Storytelling & Social innovation

Category: events, Storytelling

Emerging practices of design for social innovation are showing the relevance to make more extensive use of videos and narratives. Storytelling as such is becoming increasingly important for a variety of reasons. But what does storytelling mean? How can we make best use of it within the context of design for social innovation? Can storytelling be seen as that which facilitates the possibility for a public space to be opened up, where the commons can be re-destributed and where both dialogue and action can be shared and eventually lead to the construction of a higher quality public domain? Can it lead to the establishment of the pre-conditions for participation, condivision and dialogue to take place and lead to the co-design of a more participative society? How can this eventually happen? How can we exclude a manipulative character in the way we make use of storytelling? 

A first session in which we will start to discuss this topic will take place on the 9th of November 2013 and will be hosted by the Cumulus conference “More for less – design in an age of austerity”, organised by NCAD, in Dublin (Ireland). This starting session entitled “Designers from story-listeners to storytellers” results from the collaboration of Ezio Manzini (DESIS International), Virginia Tassinari (MAD Faculty (Social Spaces CUO – DESIS Lab)) and Francesca Piredda, Elisa Bortolotti, Walter Mattana (Design Dep. (Imagis – POLIMI DESIS Lab)) and Andrea Mendoza (DESIS Colombia)

Many emergent practices in the field of design for social innovation are nowadays showing the increasing relevance of the use of videos and narratives. Hence also the issue on which sort of language to use in order to tell the stories of social innovation becomes increasingly relevant, and an in-depth discussion on the topic appears to become necessary. Telling stories of social innovation is a way to communicate and organise contents that has a specific character, follows specific rules and has an old history, that is intertwined with the very history of human knowledge. To talk about the role of storytelling in design for social innovation means first of all to understand which of the multiple definitions and traditions of storytelling are closer to the sense in which the latter is used within the context of design for social innovation, and to define its cultural frameworks. This means also to look at how one can make use of an idea of storytelling which cannot be accused of being manipulative, and how to avoid for it to become a mere rethorical instrument. The ethical implications of storytelling need to be further investigated, in order to clear this up and to investigate what it can effectuate with respect to moving towards a more resilient and socially sustainable society.
As such, we need to look at the philosophical traditions of the past. There we encounter for instance thinkers such as Hannah Arendt that believed that storytelling was an instrument in order to re-open the idea of public space, and to facilitate the dialogue/action amongst citizens, in order to attain a more fully participative society. Can we also say that the use of storytelling in the practice of design for social innovation aims to open up the idea of public space, and enable the co-design of society? To what extent is this already happening? How are we telling the stories of design for social innovation nowadays? Can designers as story-listeners also become storytellers? How can the understanding of the idea of storytelling support our work as designers?

The topic embodies many aspects, and needs time in order to be investigated. On November 9th, hosted by the Cumulus Conference “More for less- design in an age of austerity”, a first attempt will be made to address some of these questions. The first of this Philosophy Talk series on the subject does not intend to be exhaustive on the matter, but can rather be considered an experimental forum of discussion where more questions will be raised. But it can also form the beginning of new lines of collaborative research within the Cumulus and Desis community, and provide a context or platform from which to continue this conversation in the coming months.


Eleonore Nicolas, Storyteller
Ezio Manzini, Politecnico di Milano
Davide Pinardi, Novelist
Mika ‘Lumi’ Tuomola, Crucible Studio / Aalto University ARTS
Francesca Valsecchi, Tongji University, Jiangnan University
Yongqi Lou, Tongji University
Anna Meroni, Politecnico di Milano
Sonia Matos, Edinburgh College of Art – Design School

(Updated: March 10, 2014)