Prompted by the notion that a city must innovate in the interest of everyone, we sought to explore, with curiosity and humility, what innovating via design practices really means today. What are the possible contributions of designers? How can those contributions be stimulated and supported by public action? How do we evolve toward a more systemic approach in a context of social and ecological transition?
Innovation is a team effort. The thinking required—and the ensuing actions—can only happen in collaboration with the municipal ecosystem. With that in mind, with our partners at the Cité du design de Saint-Étienne, in France, we took a first step by inviting the Montréal design community, municipal representatives, and practitioners from Montréal, Saint-Étienne, Paris, London and Barcelona to a day of exchanges as part of this 34th edition of the Entretiens Jacques Cartier.
In her keynote lecture, Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino of Design Council shared her vision of “next” design practices, among other things delving into working methods and four fundamental roles that designers and public actors can adopt to seize opportunities for systemic transformation. Here, innovation does not rest solely on the shoulders of any one person: each action and opportunity are part of a bigger movement in which everyone’s input is needed. This honest, pragmatic and inspiring presentation made a strong impression on the audience and will be instrumental in shaping our future action.
We learned about the work of public-sector actors who have boldly included novel design practices and collaborative mechanisms in complex projects, in a living-lab approach, to create a true space for innovation and provide stakeholders with the right mindset to contribute to it. We saw how others have implemented new types of calls for projects that are more open and geared toward the sought-after impacts to address the challenges facing cities, without losing sight of the requisite viability of the solutions developed or tested. In these examples to bear in mind, the designer is no longer engaged to give form to a predetermined solution, but is brought on board well in advance, and contributes to reframing the project questions and seizing opportunities.
We also heard stories of designers whose work is more emergent and occasionally subversive—or “punk,” to use a term that came up more than once throughout the day—who have had the opportunity to deploy their methods in public action to tackle complex challenges through interventions that are smaller in scale but no less sensitive and anchored in a systemic approach. We hope to provoke more of these kinds of encounters, which have great potential to be transformative if given the right platform.
Toward a call for action
For the Bureau du design, this symposium was an opportunity to rethink its actions so as to better harness the creativity and potential for innovation of designers in addressing the City’s true needs. All of the participants provided solution avenues regarding the conditions that must be fulfilled to achieve this. The next step is to connect the dots, and the people, to create a fertile collaborative ground from which innovation can spring—keeping in mind that sometimes, this will mean accepting a certain amount of discomfort.
We drew on the momentum of this event to push toward concrete actions post-symposium, convening several City professionals for a workshop inspired by the tools of systemic design, organized and facilitated by the Maison de l’innovation sociale. This exploratory exercise helped to define real opportunities for collaboration between the City and designers to contribute to implementing the municipal administration’s strategic orientations.
For more details
View the video capture of the symposium under the “Lectures” tab.
Read the full summary of the symposium presentations written by Caroline Gagnon and Guillaume Blum, respectively full professor and associate professor at the École de design, Université Laval.
Keep an eye on our website and newsletter for the announcement of a call for innovation later in 2023.
Reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org to continue the conversation!