Relational approaches to designing social innovation: insights from Europe and Asia Pacific contexts

Petrella, Viola (2022) Relational approaches to designing social innovation: insights from Europe and Asia Pacific contexts. Doctoral thesis, Northumbria University.

Text (Doctoral thesis)
petrella.viola_phd (18018250).pdf - Submitted Version

Download (11MB) | Preview


This qualitative investigation explores different dynamics of interpersonal relationships in processes of designing social innovation (DSI). Combining practice-led research in Italy and online with insights from practitioners working in different contexts in the Asia Pacific region, it nuances the understanding of relationships and their significance for DSI processes.

This research uses Kasulis’s Intimacy or Integrity framework (2002) as a lens to observe both the researcher’s experience and that of practitioners working in different contexts and cultures. Reflexive thematic analysis is used to analyse the practitioners’ insights, while specific dynamics in the researcher’s practice are explored through reflective practice, dialogue and relationship with colleagues and collaborators, leading to the identification of three themes. These are organised in a Framework for Relational Literacy.

The first theme highlights the importance of building a system of reciprocity between those involved in a DSI initiative. The concept of reciprocity is explored through the identification of different dynamics of generosity in DSI initiatives, their benefits, and the risks connected to them. The second theme explores the establishment and maintenance of mutuality in relationships through core features of mutual trust and psychological safety; mutual respect and mutual learning; role-taking and power dynamics. The third theme nuances the construction of a shared relational identity in DSI processes. It examines tensions and overlaps between preserving individuality and prioritising reciprocal attunement, and discusses their influence on the designers’ identity in DSI processes.

The research findings depict designing social innovation as an intricate and complex process. They question solutions-focused, design-centric approaches to social innovation and problematise the emphasis on methods and tactics over relationships, as it can marginalise or erase contextual specificities and the political dimension of designing social innovation. This study supports practitioners in their transition towards intimate and relational ways of understanding, doing, and accounting for DSI processes, enabling DSI theory and practice to welcome a stronger plurality.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Uncontrolled Keywords: relational literacy, reflective practice, reciprocity, mutuality, shared relational identity
Subjects: W200 Design studies
Department: Faculties > Arts, Design and Social Sciences > Design
University Services > Graduate School > Doctor of Philosophy
Depositing User: John Coen
Date Deposited: 23 Mar 2023 08:22
Last Modified: 23 Mar 2023 08:30

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item


Downloads per month over past year

View more statistics