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Design for Europe has had a larger sphere of influence than any previous European funded project on design. The figures are testament to its reach – as of August 2016 there has been over 65,000 web users and more than 5000 people have participated in 90 events. Through a targeted and strategic pan-European campaign to raise awareness and enhance the understanding of design, Design for Europe has created critical mass for a previously disparate set of stakeholders.

During the summer of 2016, I was asked to capture the impact of Design for Europe and produce 10 case studies based on interviews with 28 partners, experts and ambassadors. In this blog post I reflect on some key findings on Design for Europe activities and propose some recommendations for enhancing future impact.

Today it is not just about products anymore. It’s about solutions that address users’ needs. This is design: integrating the users’ needs from the start of the process.

Mark Nicklas, Deputy Head of Unit, Innovation Policy for Growth, European Commission

Design for Europe is the main implementation mechanism of the Commission’s Action Plan for Design-Driven Innovation. The mission of Design for Europe is to share knowledge, experiences and skills to strengthen the European design community of practice, and ultimately equip businesses, public sector organisations and policy-makers with the tools they need to implement design-driven innovation. The network has instigated a Europe-wide shift in understanding from design as the final touch in the innovation process to design being holistically integrated into every stage of the innovation process.
 
“Design is a tool to bring new ideas to the market. We have many good ideas in Europe, but if we are not capable of bringing them to the market, they will have no impact at all. Moreover, today it is not just about products anymore. It’s about solutions that address users’ needs. This is design: integrating the users’ needs from the start of the process.”
Mark Nicklas, Deputy Head of Unit, Innovation Policy for Growth, European Commission.

Based on the interviews I conducted, I developed 10 case studies, each focusing on the impact on a different country:  Bulgaria, Estonia, France, Greece, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Spain and Poland. These countries were selected not only based on the richness of data but also to provide insight into the spectrum of impact that Design for Europe has had.
 

Francine Closener, Secretary of State of the Ministry of Economy, speaking at the What About Luxembourg? event in October 2015.

For example, in the case of Bulgaria, the Design for Europe partner departed from a very different starting point than in other European countries with more embedded design traditions. Yet in Bulgaria, ARC Fund, the Applied Research and Communications Fund, has engaged with a large number of influential organisations within the innovation ecosystem to implement the vision for design in the Smart Specialisation Strategy. Alternatively in Estonia, there has already been a National Design Policy and the first design support programme called Bulldozer. As such, the Estonian Design Centre engaged with civil servants with an interest in the e-Estonia agenda to demonstrate the role of design thinking in creating user-centred digital public services.

In Greece, the Business and Cultural Development Centre – KEPA, has accelerated progress toward its ambition to establish the first Hellenic Design Centre and has also implemented the first design pilot programme for Greek SMEs.

 In France, the Design for Europe journey centres on Living Labs for co-creating products and services for business with the European Network of Living Labs (ENoLL) as well as Public Innovation Labs co-creating services and policies with citizens by La 27e Région and Nesta. In Greece, the Business and Cultural Development Centre – KEPA – has accelerated progress toward its ambition to establish the first Hellenic Design Centre and has also implemented the first design pilot programme for Greek SMEs. The Italian partner, Politecnio di Milano, has advanced the national debate on design policy kick-starting a larger discussion around the contribution of design to policy and politics.

Innovating Public Services event, Tallinn 2015

 With the on-going support of Nesta and the Danish Design Centre, the Ambassador at the Lithuanian Design Forum has been accelerating progress towards a Design Action Plan with commitment from the National Statistics Department to collect new data on design and from the Ministry of Economy to broaden the scope of the new DESIGN LT programme for SMEs. Luxinnovation have integrated design into the business support programme Fit4Innovation and engaged with the Ministry of Economy so that design will feature in the government’s new Creative Industry Cluster for Luxembourg.

Through engagement with Design for Europe, the Spanish Chamber of Commerce, one of the managing authorities of EU Structural Funds, will allocate 10% of their innovation budget of €24 million to support SMEs to use design.

Dr Anna Whicher

 
Under the leadership of the Design Council and Danish Design Centre, the Ambassadors at the Malta Business Bureau have benefited from expertise from across the network and have embarked on a new pilot initiative involving a series of workshops targeting 15 local companies from various services sectors. The workshops built capacity for the companies to perform a design diagnostic using self-assessment tools according to their specific requirements and develop design action plans for their companies. Through engagement with Design for Europe, the Spanish Chamber of Commerce, one of the managing authorities of EU Structural Funds, will allocate 10% of their innovation budget of €24 million to support SMEs to use design. While in Poland, with the support of Birmingham City University and Lancaster University design has been used to re-imagine public consultation and revitalise a rundown district of Warsaw.
 
With the current round of European funding drawing to a close, there are both shorter and longer-term opportunities for enhancing the impact of the network through further activities and strategic partnerships.
 
In the shorter-term there are opportunities to collaborate with some of the more active Ambassadors that have already contributed to the success of the network by providing additional support to develop design support programmes, provide evidence to leverage EU structural funds for design, provide evidence to engage with national statistics agencies to collect data on design, develop design action plans and train civil servants in design methods.

In the longer-term, there are opportunities for Design for Europe to forge strategic alliances with prominent European networks for business, the public sector, policy and design

In the longer-term, there are opportunities for Design for Europe to forge strategic alliances with prominent European networks for business, the public sector, policy and design. With European-funded initiatives there is the risk that activities and commitment dwindle and ultimately stall once the seed funding has run out. To create a self-sustaining model, Design for Europe could consider how some online services might be delivered. For example, the web platform could offer a matchmaking service between organisations for conference speakers, commercial projects and European funding creating an online marketplace for design expertise. Furthermore, with its current trajectory, Design for Europe could be a portal for the increasing number of European funded design projects bringing all the outputs to one place.
 
This is a very exciting time for design in Europe, and Design for Europe has played a fundamental role in accelerating a shift in understanding towards design as strategy. The Partners, Experts and Ambassadors now need to propel this momentum into a new phase to ensure longevity and lasting impact. We will all be there for the journey.

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