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The online seminar “Design as an urban innovation enablerfocused on investigating elements characterizing urban innovation initiatives active in the urban context of Lima, Peru. All PUCP students were invited to participate, though particulary those from Industrial Design, Graphic Design, Architecture, Anthropology, Sociology, Management, Industrial Engineering and Communication for Development. 

Through short lectures at the beginning of each day, students were introduced to the empirical lessons from the DESIGNSCAPES initiatives on design-enabled innovation in urban contexts, our ongoing research insights on design for transitions and the exemplary categorisation of city makers as a result of the research project Participatory City Making. After the lectures, students would use these insights to explore and analyze on their own the different characteristics of design-enabled innovation initiatives they had selected from the context of Lima. Afterwards, their findings and reflections were discussed together via Zoom. 

Screenshot of a short lecture by Alberto Magni during the seminar 


Unveiling Lima’s ecosystem of initiatives

Students started by selecting an initiative from the local context that they wished to analyze, and from there they gradually started to unveil who the people behind these initiatives were and what competences each of them brought to the table. Among others, the initiatives included community projects of public spaces requalification, initiatives for gender equality and sex education, fab labs and innovation observatories supporting other initiatives and stakeholders to connect and develop their ideas. 

Students discovered that most of these initiatives relied on quite diverse and multidisciplinary groups of people. Many of them included designers, but also practitioners and researchers as well as citizens. As a student said, “What it shows in most of them is that it’s people from different backgrounds, no matter what they are, what they study, what they work on…  it’s the drive that they have to make social change”. 

 “They (initiatives) quite not fit one type, because they have different objectives, and for each objective, they have different activities” one student nicely pointed out. Showing their ability to reflect, “reanalyzing the process… reanalyzing their structure it’s like something constant in these initiatives ”. While showing the complexity and richness of Lima’s urban innovation initiatives, these insights also interestingly aligned with some observations we had at PCM Lab regarding European initiatives in DESIGNSCAPES. Among others, the ability of urban innovators to constantly learn, through the use of reflection. 

Together with a multiplicity of competences in the city and a shared desire for social change, students ultimately discovered that collaboration, instead of competition, was one of the main ingredients enabling Lima’s initiatives to bring about positive change in the city.  

As one student put it, “there’s like this ‘friendship’ or partnership between them […] since they’re all trying to reach a greater goal, it’s not like a competition that probably could happen between companies”. “These types of initiatives” she concluded, “tend to be more aware that we’re all trying to change things and solve big problems” 

Mapping social initiatives in the local context of Lima. 


The role of the designer

Throughout the course, students showed the capability to reflect on their own role as design professionals, and within their own local context. As students pointed out, many different actors do actually design. “All the members of the group design,” said Luis, “even though you’re not doing design as a career […] you’re focusing your attention to other things, but you design those things”, whether you are a business professional, social communicator, psychologist, or community activist.  

While agreeing on the value of multidisciplinary teams, some students also pointed out that having a designer within these initiatives actually makes a difference. In particular, Camila explained how “you can see the difference between when there’s a designer and when there’s not a professional designer in an initiative, because of their creative outlet of the situation or just like the way it presents itself into the city, in the media or everywhere”.  

However, she also critically reflected on how in a context such as Lima, or Peru, it may not always be recognised “what a designer can bring to the table”, beyond conventional roles. “If we look at it through our cultural lens here in Peru” she pointed out, “the role of the designer is not much known and is really limited”.Looking for someone to know what an industrial designer does or a graphic designer knows, is really limited to the thought of ‘We design something aesthetically pleasing’, not at the depth of their career, or what we can do like grid systems, relationship networks and everything about that.”  


A motivation boost for the students

Next to an increased awareness of their potential role and capabilities, students also gained actionable tools and insights that directly benefit their projects. One student in particular, who was currently involved in a social initiative in the city, utilized the insights she developed in the course to facilitate an internal meeting with her team upon their ongoing project. “New concepts like the ‘city makers’, trying to categorize your initiative in certain types […] putting that into words was really helpful and useful to our team”, “it helped me to understand what we were doing in my project”.  

The feeling of ‘togetherness’ seems to strengthen students’ confidence and motivation in bringing their contribution to a positive impact. As she also added, “it was really helpful to see that we are not an isolated project, (but) we are a system” because “knowing that everything is connected helps you to make better connections”, she said, “and that it’s important in order to make initiatives work”.  

We are grateful for the opportunity PUCP has given us to share our lessons in Peru and learn from their perspectives. The pressure cooker setup yielded promising results. We were excited to organize the seminar two more times; by Alberto Magni on “Design as a Catalyst for Urban Innovation” and by a former fellow laboratory researcher, Chiara Marradi on “Strategic Design for Social Innovation”. We look forward to future opportunities to continue the necessary dialogue to advance design and innovation as drivers of better societies. 

Alberto  Magni

MSc Alberto Magni