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It is a rare opportunity to have the ear of a city and to be invited to present a case for design as a strategy for growth and prosperity. This is why it is incredibly humbling to think that Design for Europe will have the opportunity in Lithuania and the Baltics to demonstrate first-hand how design can have a long term impact on the competitiveness of a city and help it to connect with its citizens.

The first series of events in our partnership took place in Vilnius, Lithuania and were a marked success. With the support of the Lithuanian Design Forum, we were able to bring together networks from the design and education sector, the Mayor’s office and a select group of representatives from the ministries of culture and economy. All conversations were open and honest about the critical challenges around how to embed design at a strategic level across business and public sectors. There was clear interest and enthusiasm however in gaining a deeper understanding and seizing the opportunity to learn from Design for Europe’s networks and knowhow.

Meeting with the Mayor of Vilnius

In the first instance, our initial visit aimed to open up a dialogue with the ecosystem that has the power to influence and bring change to the city, and to ultimately draw in the participation of the country. To that end, we participated in a number of high level meetings to discuss and learn more about where our programme could offer support.

There was a lot to say, but also a lot for us to learn. Listening to the conversations, the key themes were similar to those we have heard before. People often feel that they are facing unique and somehow insurmountable problems, but the reality is usually different. Many countries grapple with the broader concept of design and associate it with a product such as a chair or fashion garment. Our main objective therefore was to open up the debate to a much wider field of design as a process and a tool to initiate change. Some of those we met were already well aware of the value design can bring to an economy, and equally appreciative of how the design methods used can sometimes help facilitate complex and challenging conversations.

Workshop at the Arts Printing House

On day two of our visit, 35 delegates attended a half-day seminar and workshop held at the Arts Printing House. There were a series of presentations covering aspects of design support, measurement and impact, service design and design for cities and society. We showcased examples and invited the delegates to debate the challenges and barriers to integrating design more strategically across public and private sectors. We ended with participants presenting their key insights and identifying where Design for Europe could best support with overcoming these challenges going forward.

Our visit was enlightening and our presence seemingly timely. Vilnius and Lithuania are in a strong position to capitalise on the value of Design for Europe’s programme of work. Thanks to the openness and willingness of all those we met, we were able to debate some critical issues and identify a few key areas for further collaboration and support. We will build a plan and follow through with more activity in the region in the forthcoming months. Watch this space!

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