Sunday, April 10, 2011

Towards a Design Platform for Flanders

Last year, on 23rd March 2010 and again on 28th May 2010, I had the privilege to ahape and facilitate two workshops with the key design organisations in Flanders at the request of Johan Valcke, Director of Design Flanders (which sits within the Economic Development agency of Flanders).

The workshops were held within the national context of Flanders’ economic vision, PACT 2020, which states the goal for Flanders to have a competitive and multi-faceted knowledge economy driving sustainable prosperity and welfare with increased employment, regained share in export markets, more widely and better distributed innovation (R&D spend up to 3%) and a top 5 entrepreneurial culture with more enterprises being formed creating more growth opportunities.

Equally important for the workshop process was the decision of 26 May 2010 of the European Council of Ministers in the context of "Creating an innovative Europe" which stated:

"The Council invites the Commission and Member States to give special attention to design considering its leverage effect on innovation performance, taking into account economic, social and environmental sustainability aspects and stresses the need to establish platforms for exchanging knowledge, experiences and best practices on design issues as a competitive advantage for European companies".

The workshops brought together 13 organisations, (the economic development agency Agentschap Ondernemen, Design Flanders, Flanders in Shape, Flanders DC, Flanders’ Fashion Institute, Designcenter De Winkelhaak, Designregio Kortrijk, C-mine, Humin, OVAM, IWT, VVSG and FIT), to map out, acknowledge and interogate the current design landscape in Flanders.

The goal was to explore and invent a variety options of what could be done to raise design’s profile and to make it a more powerful driver for transformation in Flanders’ economy and society.

Workshop One
The first workshop, (with DR Gisele Raulik-Murphy, then of Design Wales, and Špela Šubic of BIO, Slovenia also particpating), showed how, through an open and carefully facilitated process, representatives from different organisations with different focuses of activity and points of view, can come together to shape a vision for design that was bigger than each of them alone. As we moved through the workshop, it became clear there was a powerful dynamic in the room driving a shared understanding of design’s potential for transforming Flanders through a better uptake and integration of design and design thinking.

But how could this best be done? What was the mix of competencies across the different organisations that, if harnessed effectively, could enable a shift in the perception of design by Flanders’ government and society? How would the design landscape be re-shaped to empower new opportunities? What would the notion of a 'design platform' look like? What is our shared vision for design?

By the end of the first workshop, the participants had generated and explored a number of compelling ‘vision ingredients’ for a design platform for Flanders. They had also agreed to maintain the thinking and discussion on what sort of model/s the platform may follow; to set up a draft vision and to test it with other stakeholders and finally to map the network by size, skills, competencies as well as areas of activity.

Workshop Two
Two months later, during the second workshop in May 2010, what needed to happen next to achieve the vision to create a stronger mechanism or platform for design in Flanders became clear in a truly inspiring (even breath-taking) moment of revelation and shared recognition.

Six of the organisations agreed to combine their networks, skills, competencies and people into a single platform for design in Flanders. This was a very exciting and defining point of change - itself bringing a new confidence and self-belief - from which a huge amount of positive energy and good will has since flowed. Having come to this momentus decision, the work of building a shared vision and a set of values alongside mapping out the pragmatic necessities of the idea formed the remainder of the workshop.

These two workshops, which I had the privilege to lead, were followed by many months of subsequent planning and a wide consultation process conducted by the workshop participants. This involved workshops across the country to explore, enrich and embed the idea of the Designplatform Flanders.

As a consequence, and only one year after the first workshop, the launch ceremony of Designplatform Flanders was held in Brussels on 29th March 2011.

This event will be the focus of my next blog.

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