Work in social change is growing, but often disconnected. How can we go beyond conferences and coworking spaces to make social change more social?
This post is part of a series from students in the Master of Arts in Social Design program at Maryland Institute College of Art, which focuses on how design can reimagine solutions to world challenges. For the next eight weeks, MASD students will each share part of their personal thesis journey. Follow the series at good.is/MASD.\n
From incubators and makerspaces to nonprofits and social enterprises, the energy surrounding social innovation is contagious, but as this ecosystem grows, social change entities become disconnected and often work in silos. Conferences like TEDx attract hundreds of people and connections are made, but the consolidation of brain-power, energy, talent, and resources isn’t permanent enough to create long-term efficiency and large-scale change.
Coworking spaces are specifically designed to inspire, connect, and enable individuals to realize entrepreneurial ideas, but how could this model be pushed further? How could the innovative work within these walls be shared with the public? How could untapped social capital within the public be leveraged, and how could collaborative innovators be connected to more resources?
In my thesis, I’m exploring a solution that involves a social space everyone has a relationship with: the restaurant and bar. Why? Because social change needs to be social.
People have gathered in these spaces for centuries to eat, drink, interact, ideate, and innovate. Restaurants naturally attract an eclectic mix of contributors to social change: business leaders, teachers, lawyers, political figures, and other community members. Why not elevate the productivity and purpose of this space so that organic collaboration can be fostered?
My thesis explores what a joint narrative between a restaurant and bar, coworking space, and makerspace could look like in the Baltimore ecosystem. I’m working with a group of local entrepreneurs to design this space, and each represents a different part of this equation. We’re also fortunate to have an expert design-thinker and facilitator from Gensler working with us. She’s lived in Baltimore seven years and her perspective has been critical in helping each stakeholder explore the potential of a blended narrative.
The concept allows entrepreneurs to work in the same space as makers, and more importantly, allows social change work and impact to be made visible to the public, offering greater exposure to social capital, greater transparency with the community, and greater opportunity for partnership and efficiency.
The restaurant and bar space will inform stakeholders about local initiatives, connect grant-makers to projects that need funding, bring together siloed organizations, and showcase local and global impact through visual communication and design.
I see social design playing a role in three distinct ways: facilitation, analysis, and visual communication. In using these three assets, perhaps we can reimagine the coworking model and transform the way we approach social change. As a part of this new team I hope to incorporate some of the values MASD has established such as embracing failure, honoring all ideas, actively listening, and consistently asking “what if?”
So, what if we connect innovators across sectors and disciplines? What if we rewrite a narrative full of social problems into one of creative solutions? What if we amplify social change efforts through consolidating resources? And what if this all happens through a publicly accessible social space?
Bar image via Shutterstock