Designers have recognised the expanded scope of when and where design happens; and the active role of local communities in designing the systems that they use or places that they inhabit. The scope of participatory designer’s role has also expanded to infrastructuring and staging design processes as participants in a community’s activities and in their socio-cultural environments. Often in situations that are rarely ever stable. In this changing context, this research investigates the increasingly ambiguous concept of openness in participatory design for social innovation. As such, openness deals with products, processes, practices and frameworks that are open to participation from a wide variety of people. As used in this research, Openness is conceptually and operationally bound to democratic values as a part of participatory design through a lineage of open source production and innovation practices; therefore, crucial for designers to unpack. At stake is the uncritical adoption of this concept by designers in initiatives that pursue socially progressive ends, often assuming it to be apolitical.
This research intends to develop capacity around the concept of openness as inclusion by prototyping of a practice. This prototypical practice aims to investigate the practice-based design ontologies brought to bear on sites and situations deemed to be open (open-to-participation) as a means of making the politics of participation visible; and to support and strengthen processes of inclusion where they appear inadequate. This research does not answer what openness is in general or impose a new taxonomy to understand it. Instead, it examines the work that particular notions of openness do to participatory design practice and how designers can respond to it.
The research practice consists of a series of three thematic enquiries, each of which includes a subset of smaller design engagements. The first set of thematic studies takes place amongst urban and rural food-producing communities, and the consecutive two studies take place within an open-innovation environment and in a higher education context, respectively. Each of these studies explores how designers can organise collaboration in a manner conscious of the constitutive effects of contemporary practices that call for openness.
Open collaborative design, the title of this dissertation, is a proposition for caring for a condition of openness as inclusion, implying the commitment of the designer to democratic values beyond the limits of design projects and site boundaries. The dissertation contributes a set of sensibilities and theoretical-practical anchors for participatory designers to reflect and respond to multiple interpretations of the openness concept, and to strengthen aspects of inclusion in sites and situations assumed to be open. This dissertation, in addition to contributing to the field of participatory design, also exposes the paradox behind some of the common interpretations of openness and in doing so contributes to fields that are concerned with supporting democratic values such as for social innovation.