Design Collaborative in the Context of European Social Enterprises

Innovative collaboration refers to the practice of working together to generate and develop new ideas, products, and services. It involves bringing together individuals, teams, organizations, and even entire industries to share knowledge, resources, and perspectives to drive innovation and achieve common goals. Collaboration allows individuals to draw on each other’s expertise, knowledge, and skills, leading to more creative and effective solutions than they could have developed alone.

There are many different forms of innovative collaborations, ranging from formal partnerships and joint ventures to more informal networks and communities of practice. Some organizations choose to collaborate internally, working together across departments and functions, while others seek out external partners, such as suppliers, customers, or academic institutions, to bring new perspectives and knowledge to the table. However, there is also a kind of collaborative economy based on open knowledge, which means sharing information that is not copyrighted and can be accessed by anyone at any time through a not-for-profit platform. This approach is particularly important in today’s fast-paced and ever-changing business environment, where staying ahead of the curve and adapting to new challenges are crucial for success.

Small & Medium Social Enterprises have important challenges nowadays, living in a world every time more competitive and digitalized. Many social entrepreneurs are developing interesting collaboration skills in their own sectors, others are willing to use a collaborative approach to improve their own businesses, but they don’t know how to begin! Effective collaboration requires clear communication, mutual trust, and a shared commitment to success. Therefore, organizations must be prepared to invest time and resources, define clear goals and expectations, and establish systems, methods and processes that support collaboration.

The partnership of Innovative Collaborations’ KA2 project, presents a collaborative model that will allow users (social actors: entrepreneurs, local authorities, social cooperatives, associations, etc.) to apply it in their own contexts. The collaborative model has been shaped using the term “collaborative design”, defining it as “the practice of involving people with distinct backgrounds and mindsets in the design process to achieve non-linear solutions for various kinds of problems.” With the word design, we refer to the creation of innovative solutions to specific problems to develop new initiatives with strategic vision.

The application areas of the Design Collaborative Model (DCM) are many and diverse but in the field that regards us, the social enterprises, we can say that it can be used for entrepreneurs that intend to solve a complex problem or intends to develop strategies for their own business inviting local social actors to collaborative sessions. It can also be applied virtually by the members of the Virtual Cluster at a broader level, involving in the first instance the partner countries: Italy, France, Belgium, Cyprus and Poland through the organization of collaborative sessions/forums based on an argument or problem proposed by one of the Cluster members. The main aspect for run the model is only one: having method.


(an Experimental Model)

Main Steps and General Overview:

The Design Collaborative Model is linked to fostering innovative collaboration among a group of people with different expertise to find or “design” a solution to a specific problem or to develop strategies. The word design is not referred strictly to the design of products but is used in our model to describe the creative process to produce innovative ideas to solve a problem, or to formulate a strategic plan or project for the development of social business.  

The six steps of the model involve important objectives and activities:

E0 Preparing for cooperation means preparing the context: what problem/issue/topic to discuss? Who will participate? Where will be made the sessions? How many participants? How many sessions will be organized? So, involves logistics, contents to be developed and methodology to be applied. During the collaborative sessions, some techniques of design thinking can be used, and some exercises could also be applied as free listing, Crazy Eights, affinity diagram, context map, etc..

E1 Find and share information is linked to the exchange of knowledge and experiences regards the problem defined in step 0. Regards problem documentation, means finding formal, informal or non-formal information that can support the reality of the problem and defining the main barriers.

E2 Reflect means to interact among participants invited to the collaborative sessions to discuss the problem on the basis of findings in E1. This step involves discussion, debate, and ideas generation. As we suggest in the E0, important tools to stimulate creativity as design thinking techniques can be used in collaborative sessions.

E3 Consult step is centred on presenting the main alternatives of the solution to the problem. Participants always through collaborative sessions, discuss problem solutions defining each alternative from the point of view of resources to invest, implementation time and the impact that can generate.

E4 Decide step, regards the selection of the best solution to the problem, here the implementation of the best solution is widely discussed.   

E5 Capitalize and Share involves a concrete action plan to implement the solution to the problem. What are the main activities? Who will be responsible for the plan implementation? What is the budget? Etc.E6 Act as the last step, means to implement the solution once the plan has been concretized. Put into practice the solution is not always easy and some difficulties could arise, so it could be useful to begin again running the model to analyse the main difficulties during implementation, fostering continuous improvement.   

Implementation of Design Collaborative Model, step by step.

During the practical application of the DCM, some participants could be entrepreneurs, social organizations, consultants, public authorities, and all stakeholders invited to analyse a topic, a problem, or an issue, defining in this way the frame for cooperation (0). With the collaborative team created, the next step (1) is to find and share information among participants documenting the problem, having inputs to follow the second step denominated reflect (2), which means interacting through collaborative sessions (virtual or in person) to discuss the issue/topic/problem. In step (3) define the alternatives of solutions that will be validated during step (4) by choosing the best one. Step (5) is centred on proposing a concrete action plan to be shared and discussed with all participants always through collaborative sessions. In the last step of the model (6), the action plan will be implemented.