A COOPERATIVE MODEL BETWEEN UNIVERSITY AND SOCIAL ALLIANCES FOR ENABLING YOUNG STUDENTS TO FACE PRACTICAL AND ETHICAL ISSUES IN THE DESIGN PROCESS LEADING TO SOCIAL INNOVATION: THE CO.META EXPERIENCE
This paper aims at describing an experimental model born from the collaboration between a Foundation formed by companies from the region of Trentino born to improve the quality of life for people with Autism - Fondazione Trentina per l'Autismo - and the Politecnico di Milano POLI.social.
Today social enterprises are operating in a subsistence market place context, characterized by growing competition for donors and grants: formed to address growing multidimensional social problems and insufficient resources, now they bring in the need for collaboration.
That is the reason why social alliances were born: they are voluntary collaborations between different actors, emerging as tools for tackling complex, indivisible social problems that single organizations find difficult to cope with alone.
From a resource dependence perspective, the resource complementarities between business and social enterprises motivate them to cooperate. An alliance can provide important benefits for an organization lacking certain resources since it links the organization to another with complementary resources.
Coherently with the shift toward a more strategic Corporate Social Responsibility approach and the creation of shared value for business and society, profit-nonprofit (P-NP) collaborations are nowadays evolving into more strategic partnerships where the two organizations work together with common goals and a higher level of involvement. This emerging kind of collaboration has been shown to result in higher benefits for both the company and the society: there is in fact empirical evidence showing that a strong commitment toward CSR can push the company to develop innovative products and services with a high social and environmental value. These innovations are named in literature CSR driven innovations and can be defined as “new market spaces, products and services or processes driven by social, environmental or sustainability issues”.
This paper suggests a specific collaborative educational model, describing how University could play a further role in helping social alliances developing their products since the concept phase, and at the same time in enabling design students to assimilate methods and expertise for facing Social Innovation projects, always keeping a User-Centered approach.
The course focused on the generation of product-system projects to be adopted in the "Centro Sebastiano" structure for children with Autism provided by the Foundation. The students designed several concepts for brand new products still not in the healthcare market: the whole designing process was documented and supported by a online blog, in a full open source perspective. The whole initiative was called Co.Meta - by merging the concepts of “Cooperation” and “meta” - and was also supported by POLISOCIAL, a programme aimed at developing international and local cooperation projects and at increasing the value of research and didactics.
The Co.Meta experience was able to trigger a positive knowledge exchange circuit between the Foundation, obtaining its lacking resources, and the University, giving its younger students the chance to face the main challenges and ties of such a specific user-centered approach since their early learning experience, by defining at the same time a brand new sustainable business model able to create new job opportunities and share social value.
keywords: corporate social responsibility
, no profit
, service design
, open source
, online tools