Our ambition with SDFWP was to learn to better understand how social designers can work together effectively with organisations while tackling wicked social problems. We believe that an ‘In-between language’ is needed in order to create a shared space and mutual understanding within both worlds to cater to the specific needs of social design. 

The different worlds each operate by using their own lingo, rhetoric and value systems. In the course of the SDFWP research project we paid close attention to which terms were used and which were important, useful or even indispensable in the process of reaching a shared understanding of what was taking place. These included new terms but also terms with varying connotations in both artistic and organisational contexts. Together, they formed the basis on which we compiled the following glossary. 

Any additions and improvements will be gratefully received. 


Social designers are more capable of working agenda-free and looking for ‘what the situation demands’. As a rule, employees of an organisation follow an agenda: there are expectations within the organisation about which targets its employees need to reach. When dealing with wicked problems people are required to think outside of the existing framework. This is exactly what is expected from social designers (also see Artistic mentality). 


The reason that a social designer needs to come up with to be allowed inside a place in order to soak up all available information from the participants. Only once you’ve digested a problem to the very last fibre can you arrive at new opportunities. You need an alibi when lacking an agenda (see Agenda-free). 


Ambiguous is the opposite of unequivocal: something is ambiguous when it means multiple things at once. Ambiguity is an important quality of most art, but it’s also an established characteristic of wicked problems. Artists have been trained in dealing with ambiguity and are well versed in leaving room for multiple interpretations. This is a practical skill needed when dealing with wicked problems. 


It is often tricky to describe what a social design project will amount to in unequivocal terms. We discovered, however, that it is possible and even useful to describe what it is not. We can predict what a social design project won’t amount to, that is, more of the same which has already proven to be ineffective. Anti-language is a tool for creating the space for not-knowing*. 


Raising questions about why the customary approach isn’t working properly for wicked problems automatically raises the value of the alternative approach put forward by social designers. Looking at it like this, there isn’t much to lose when opting to experiment alongside social designers. 

ARTISTIC MENTALITY Contrary to a project-based mode of operation with preconceived goals, social designers work more as if they are guided by an internal compass, reacting in an unstructured, intuitive way to everything that happens around them. Chance is admitted into the design process. Other characteristics of the artistic mentality: people matter more than systems; associative thinking; sensitivity to aesthetics and emotions; the quality of the process is at least as important as the quality of the product. By setting out without a preconceived goal, social designers can freely search for ‘what the situation demands’ (also see Agenda-free and Author-driven). 


An artistic process is generally author-driven: the personal motivations and preoccupations of the artist play an important role in achieving the results. Artists take responsibility for their subjectivity and attempt to make it imitable for others. In the realm of wicked problems there are no comprehensive solutions and subjective observations are inevitable. In such situations it can be productive when the designer isn’t afraid to take responsibility for their subjectivity and holds on to it during the design process. The quality of being author-driven can be used as a fruitful strategy for developing an approach for a wicked problem. 


A prerequisite for a valuable artistic process – and for good art, too – is that the artist is able to work from an autonomous position. From this point of view, there appear to be risks involved in teaming up with an organisation: the artist’s autonomy is under threat if they are bound to the client’s agenda. For SDFWP we used a different notion of the potential autonomy of art and artists in an attempt to create space for a way of practising art which can also be meaningful outside of the arts sector. Autonomy with regard to SDFWP is a condition which the artist can achieve within a certain context. It is not an a priori state that should be safeguarded. 


The goal of a social design is to change something. It is often thought that developing a new perspective is enough to effect change. Change is only brought about when the old behaviour and/or system that kept the problem in place are also included in the approach. In many cases social designers do not have the required tools at their disposal for this part of the change process. For this, teaming up with a change manager could be helpful (see change management). 


Over the past decades the realisation has grown that there is no single change approach that will solve everything. This led us to distinguish various schools that make different assumptions about change and take different forms, each with their own adherents. In the Netherlands these approaches have been categorised by means of colour thinking: five contrasting ways to understand and realise change. These are: change based on power and interests (yellow); change based on rational research and planning (blue); change based on motivation and attention (red), change based on learning and experimenting (green); and change based on evolution and signification (white). In the case of complex change it’s often necessary to switch collectively between several of these approaches, even though this sometimes proves too much to ask from the involved parties. 


An umbrella term for the knowledge, craftsmanship and tools used by the people who see realising change as their job. This can, in principle, be done by anyone who takes (not has) the responsibility to effect change and makes the effort to pull it off. As a field, it was primarily defined and claimed by organisation advisers and trainers twenty years ago. Important divisions of the domain include distinguishing various change approaches*, shaping (iterative) diagnostic stages, planning and intervention, involving relevant parties and focusing on signification. 


You would expect that organisations struggling with a wicked problem are somewhat hungry for new tools to set loose on the problem, but this is actually not the case. Precisely when dealing with wicked problems we see a paradoxical inclination to reach for familiar yet proven ineffective methods. This can be partly explained by unfamiliarity with other options, such as social design. In general, however, we can recognise in this the change paradox: the more wicked a problem gets and the less clear we are about the right approach, the greater becomes the penchant for assurance. 


When an organisation decides to engage a social designer, this means there is the question of a client-contractor situation. This situation gives direction to the relationship, which can be problematic if the client is used to working in a very hierarchical way, for example. No Academy consistently calls clients ‘partners.’ This is a friendly way of framing the relationship from the start. 


We use the term co-creation for design tracks in which people who are part of the problem can also become part of the solution. Co-creation is a collaborative, interactive process which involves making use of all the participants’ expertise and creating support for the outcomes. 


Organising the environment around a problem in such a way that space is created for the social designer’s artistic input and for the design’s impact on the problem, the participants and the apposite (institutional) system. For this it is necessary to use language that is not only recognisable to the participants but also offers space for the idiosyncratic quality of the social design process. This is what in-between language is meant to accommodate. 


A language that is needed in order to create a shared space and mutual understanding within the domains of organisations and social designers for the specific characteristics of social design. Also see strangeness*. 


Social designers are dedicated first and foremost to the problem and not to an organisation’s interests or to any individual employee of an organisation. If dedication to the problem is starting to clash with dedication to the petitioning organisation the time has come to debate this issue seriously (see Context building). This is the moment when the social designer should reflect on whether there is sufficient space to remain dedicated to the problem. 


Breaking through a certain status quo. Developing a social design project with its participants requires space for innovation. It can sometimes help to first disrupt existing systems, as a way of opening the space of not-knowing*. 


The ability to sense other people’s feelings and thoughts, even if their perceptions differ strongly from your own. Empathy helps in trying to gauge how the design will influence the participants’ daily practice. 


The willingness and skilfulness to continue listening beyond your own beliefs and opinions. 


Expressions that signal a need for efficiency, such as lean management and risk management, should be called into question by a social designer as soon as possible. Efficiency can also stand in the way of the space of not-knowing* which is required for a successful design process (also see First time right). 


Sometimes the biggest value does not lie in an outlined approach, but in an unintended side-effect of the approach. Failures are opportunities. The best innovators frequently ask themselves the question: ‘Is enough going wrong?’ ‘Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.’ – Samuel Beckett 


A first-time-right culture dominates in many companies. Failure is essentially outlawed. This means that when a new product or a new service is offered to customers or employees it needs to be completely finished and in full working order. Social designers are more used to working with prototypes* and experiments and learn on the job. 


Social designers cycle through a design process by repeatedly diverging, casting a broad view and creating options. This is also the objective within organisations when new ideas need to be generated. The groan zone is the moment when diverging becomes uncomfortable, when the question arises ‘What does this still have to do with my problem?’ When change-makers steer clear of the groan zone they are not casting a sufficiently broad view. 


Artistic interventions in domains outside of the arts (for example in companies and governments or in the public domain) are usually not appreciated in these places on artistic grounds. If the value of an intervention is even recognised, this will be for different reasons (‘It sure did shake things up again,’ ‘It improved the mood’). If an intervention has a disruptive effect this can cause annoyance or be perceived as sabotage. The most dangerous reaction is ‘Oh, it’s art.’ In effect this is an immune response: the disruption is isolated from the ordinary state of affairs in order to prevent reality from being questioned too much (let alone transformed). In the art world we witness an opposite reflex that also resembles an immune response. As long as an artwork disrupts an external system effectively all thumbs are up. But the moment when it does more than comment on social reality and actually transforms it – so when it really ‘works’ outside of the art system – the work is confronted with the question: ‘But is it still art?’ 


Part of a social design process is co-creation* with various stakeholders. In order to execute this productively and inspiringly, stakeholders need to feel invited to contribute to the result. A proposal that has been consolidated too definitively can give off the impression that the final result cannot be influenced any more. Designs need to be convincingly incomplete if it’s important that participants still contribute to them. 


During the second half of the twentieth century people reacted to scientific problems based on a belief in social engineering, supported by scientific objectivity. In the twenty-first century we have begun to understand the complex nature of problems better. With this also came the realisation that we can’t solve them by merely pondering them more. A combination of intuition paired with thinking capacity seems to be the necessary path to reaching new approaches. 


Social designers are interested in the moment when things ‘grate’. In the grey area of where things are and aren’t allowed, valuable information can be found about the positions and interests of the participants (also see Groan zone). 


The design task should be embedded in the organisation to such an extent that the people with hands-on positions in the social design project will have sufficient freedom to do what is necessary. This prevents the legitimacy of the social design project from being disputed the instant tensions rise (and they will!). 


Organisations are often part of the problem they want to solve. Confronting them with this can lead to an immune response* (also see Disruption


This is one of the aspects social designers focus on. The design causes the participants to relate to each other and to the problem in a new way (also see Opportunity owners). 

OPPORTUNITY OWNER Unexpected stakeholder. Somebody who can contribute different, potentially productive approaches to the problem in their capacity as a new participant. 


A social design will only lead to the desired change if it enables a new way of thinking and acting for the participants. Then a new perspective for action is created. 


Designers and artists are generally well-equipped to put the effects of current decisions in an experiential light by telling stories or showing images. This provides a richer insight into the meaning of the subject matter than when only financial or other quantitative data are used. 


In a power-driven environment, matters like an agenda-free approach, openness* and punctum* will be regarded as threats and a social designer will have a hard time gaining access to the heart of a problem and the stakeholders involved. 


For many types of problems it’s unclear who owns them: usually it’s the person most bothered by them. A characteristic of wicked problems is that it’s not perfectly clear over whom the problem predominates. In SDFWP terminology, a problem owner is somebody who feels they have to take responsibility to solve a problem or in any case develop a new perspective for action. 


A stakeholder will be disinclined to put much faith in a social designer who says: ‘I don’t know yet what I’m going to do and how it’s going to turn out.’ How can you give each other a foothold without reining yourself in too much? A good process description offers a foothold, which makes it easier to divide the process into convenient parts, but it isn’t a binding blueprint. Process descriptions like these make it possible to reach agreements per phase, for example about how to involve stakeholders, what will be the duration, etc. 


What kind of money matters more than how much money. Designers and artists are used to being paid from the client’s culture budget. However, this money usually isn’t meant for achieving the organisation’s key targets but rather its ancillary targets. In contrast, the project budget is meant for key targets. If the social designer is paid from the project budget he is expected to have a direct impact and will therefore receive easier access to the core of the matter. The labelling of the budget provides a good clue for the immune response* that needs to be taken into account. 


A proposed reframing* holds specific promise for a potential future*. The better this potential future meets the stakeholder’s interests, the greater the likelihood that they will want to investigate the proposed reframing. 

PROTOTYPE – A prototype is a testable design proposal. Actually running a trial creates an opportunity to learn what can be adjusted or improved. Making prototypes is normal for designers but organisations are often unaccustomed to it. This can give rise to tensions in an organisation with a first-time-right* culture. 


In his book Camera Lucida the French philosopher and culture critic Roland Barthes describes the perception of photography using the pair of concepts studium and punctum. The studium is the reasonable interpretation of possible cultural, linguistic and political information provided by a photo. The punctum is the personal, emotional point in the photo that touches the viewer and which he or she can point out exactly. The punctum is the aspect of the image around which the viewer’s feeling of involvement organises. At SDFWP we use this term as a metaphor for the point of application of a complex problem field upon which the social designer chooses to base the design. Recognising the punctum is a type of action artists feel familiar with: a subjective choice which also draws on their own preoccupations (also see Author-driven). 


A frame describes a way of looking at a problem. Reframing proposes a new way of looking at the problem. This creates space to discover which solution pathways are feasible in a joint process with the participants (see Space of not-knowing). A good reframing is usually brought about after the problem has been made much more complex (Groan zone). Since wicked problems as a whole are difficult to chart, everybody involved inevitably has a different perception. Designing new shared perceptions is a productive way of creating support for the project’s outcomes. 


As an artist or designer you don’t say things should be different, you show that there’s another way. Mahatma Gandhi: ‘Be the change that you wish to see in the world.’ 


Designers and artists who want to impact social problems with their work. ‘Social’ carries meaning on three levels: 1 It is testimony to the designer’s mentality, the fact that he or she wishes to work on social problems. 2 The design manifests itself in the social domain and focuses on a desired change in behaviour and building new relationships*. 3 This type of designer uses social processes as a design method (see Co-creation). ‘Design’ means that the intent is to purposefully create an artifact that is to function in a specific context. 

SPACE OF NOT-KNOWING Just like ambiguity*, not-knowing is something that professionals in organisations usually try to avoid, even though enclosed in the not-knowing lies space to view and deal with things differently than you always have done. Along with the space in which something else can happen than you had foreseen. Recognising that you’re in a space of not-knowing (and that this is good) is no easy task in most organisations. Accepting and embracing the space of not-knowing is an important condition for the joint discovery of new solution pathways. 


People or organisations with an interest in the status quo, transformation or solution of the problem. Reframing* brings unexpected stakeholders or opportunity owners* into view. 


Broadly speaking, the artistic world and the world of (commercial) organisations are strangers to each other. It’s this mutual strangeness that enables a renewed perspective. This strangeness is valuable and should not be blotted out. In-between language is not intended to cancel out the strangeness, but to make it productive. 


See Punctum


A lot of art and design is meant to have a symbolic effect: questioning things, stimulating debate or creating awareness. This is the essential first step for behavioural change, but social design – according to our definition – also focuses on the next step: actually effecting beha-vioural change. 


Since it is impossible to reach concrete agreements about the nature of the final results of the design process (as this would shut the door on the space of not-knowing*), trust plays a major part in the joint effort of social designers and organisations. Integrity and openness are important qualities of the social design process (also see Power*). 


A problem about which there is both insufficient knowledge and insufficient consensus. A different way of characterising a wicked problem is open, complex, dynamic and connected. Wicked problems usually don’t have one (obvious) problem owner*. In order to take action it is essential to work together one way or another, since there are many stakeholders involved with the problem. 


For the greater part of the twentieth century, the place where the artist’s work was deemed to be shown to its advantage: a white space, devoid of any context, in a museum or gallery. The white cube has become a metaphor (metonym) for that which most people think of when they hear the word ‘art.’ The white cube is becoming an unsatisfactory place to an increasing number of artists because it isolates art from society. The white cube is a conceptual tool that can be used to indicate what social design is not about, which turns it into anti-language*.

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