Old and new ( participatory design) challenges in the “democratization” of production
The field of participatory design has been long exploring how design processes might be arenas for democratic experimentation (what Manzini and Margolin defined as “design as democracy”). The focus has been on gathering actors with diverse interests to explore and learn together about a shared concern. Key questions in “designing as democracy” are how to enhance plurality (by giving space to different and marginal voices), how to ensure equity (by supporting encounters on equal terms) and how to foster mutual learning and collaborative creativity among participants.

This exploration has been happening for a long-time on the margins of design and innovation discourses. However, in the last years, participation has been spreading in both innovation and production processes. The frameworks of open and democratic innovation, in the technical realm, and the one of social innovation, in relation to societal challenges, consider participation (as a matter of gathering different actors and kinds of knowledge) as a key approach for technological development and for tackling complex societal issues. Additionally, participatory practices are spreading in different forms of production. From open-source software and hardware to co-production of public services and sharing economy, there is a growing number of initiatives where different kinds of actors, including citizens, collaboratively engage in developing products and delivering services.

But what do participatory innovation and production initiatives entail for “design as democracy”?

These initiatives are often framed as a matter of “democratization” since they ideally support plurality and equity by providing opportunities for citizens to appropriate and have control over innovation and production processes. Nevertheless they also present a number of shortcomings. While most of these initiatives are framed as “open”, they tend to engage only a small part of the overall population and thus they lack in plurality and, consequently, opportunities for mutual learning. Additionally, the majority of them relies on the presence of an actor that organizes and mediates participation and who is often retaining control and ownership over processes and the generated value. Thus, many of them tend to lack in equity. In looking for fairer ways of organizing participation, some initiatives have been developing organizational forms based on shared control and co-ownership, where participants are co-owners of (and co-responsible for) participatory processes and their outcomes. Even though these forms are often presenting flaws, they are also showing how transparency and shared decision-making can play an important role in making these initiatives more accountable to their participants.

For “design as democracy”, participatory innovation and production entail old and new challenges. The old challenges are how to foster plurality and mutual learning in these processes. The new challenges reside in how to strive towards equity in participatory organizational models, which means how to enhance transparency and accountability to participants. This entails to explore how citizens may not only engage in participatory processes, but also how they can decide over and have responsibility of the goals and outcomes of these processes.

Anna Seravalli

Malmö University

Malmö, Sweden

Fields of Action
It sets a stage on which diverse actors can come together and democratically collaborate in shaping their present and future world. It engages diverse people and publics in co-design and co-production processes concerning different aspects of their everyday life.


accountability democratizing production

democratizing production

participatory organizational models