by François Jégou

How many design schools around the world are now focussing on social change towards sustainability? How many innovative projects inspired by social innovations are imagined by creative teams of students and their professors? But what is the visibility of all these efforts to stimulate new and more sustainable living? How to access them easily, exhaustively in order to spread good and promising ideas?

These concerns were at the start of the organisation of the DESIS Forum that just took place in Paris the 21st of May at Strate College back-to-back to the Cumulus annual conference.
The goal of a DESIS Forum is to provide an overview of design schools activities related to design for social innovation and sustainability and at the same time, to enrich a shared catalogue of projects within more schools involved in the network.
For this first edition of the DESIS Forum, we received more than 50 DESIS-related projects from 23 schools and universities and 13 countries all around the world.
Even if this only represents a very tiny bit of what is produced by the design schools community, it’s a snapshot that allows to get an idea of what is going on, stimulate debate and new vocations among the 80 participants assisting to the Forum last Saturday morning.

We designed the Forum as a new format on this very purpose: enhancing participation and exchange.
Contributing with a project is light and fast: 4 slides only providing an intro to present a project: 4 key-images, a title and short captions on the initial context, the main project characteristics and consideration on the role played by design. No matter to duplicate already existing boards, papers, webpages… Just a teaser to browse at a glance and a link to more in-depth documentation.
The design of the Forum event is also aiming at maximising interaction and exchanges. All contributors taking part are involved in a Pecha Kucha style round of presentations: 4 minutes sharp to present their 4 projects’ slides. The stickies cloud of key-words posted by the presenters provides a draft overview of their concerns: local, co-design, participative approaches seems to be the norm in the design processes presented. Fields as food but also public action, health, safety, social cohesion, micro-entrepreneurship, education, mobility… were also emerging.

And for the contributors who were not able to attend, a light exhibits based on a print-out of their slides allows to enlarge the project overview during a long coffee break. 14 meters of Strates’ corridor wall for 35 projects and participants tagging with more stickies the projects they were interested in. Here the purpose is also match-making between schools already involved or willing to involve in the similar projects to the ones on display. The DESIS platform will enable them to get in touch bilaterally and further exchange.
The platform will also provide access to the extensive catalogue of projects received: about 50 for this first DESIS Forum and more to come from all the schools representatives attending the Forum first, then from the next DESIS Forum that will take place with the next Cumulus conference in Denver in September.

Last but not least, the DESIS Forum is contributing to the Partnership for Education and Research about Responsible Living. PERL, a joint project lead by Headmark University College in Hamar, Norway and supported by the European Commission, UNEP, the Swedish Ministry of Environment and the Norwegian Ministry of Education. PERL and DESIS are aiming – among many activities – at investigating the roles that design schools may play as agents for local social change. The new projects collected during the DESIS Forum should enrich the series of case-studies investigated in the first year of the PERL framework and enable the DESIS-PERL team in the coming year to come-up with a draft toolkit to support the engagement of students and their professors in the sustainable transformation of their surroundings…