Interlace Project
A platform that weaves together social innovation projects across communities and initiatives — reimagining mutual, peer-based support for community-led efforts.
Many of the most challenging problems facing our society today are inherently social in nature. Inaccessible healthcare services, unsustainable food production, and income inequality are just a handful of examples of wicked problems experienced across the globe. There is growing consensus that technological innovations alone are not capable of overcoming these complex social problems — social innovations are necessary. Design for Social Innovation (DSI) practice  aims to meet societal needs and catalyze systematic, scalable change by making social innovations more probable, effective, long-lasting, and scalable.
However, current platforms that support DSI have barriers to community initiation and involvement. Interlace is a platform that inspires, supports, and connects of positive social change, regardless of size and scale.

The Challenge:
How might we create a collaborative platform that inspires, supports, and connects projects of positive social change, while prioritizing community involvement?
Qualitative Research
Interaction Design
Visual Design

Digital Platform
Interactive Prototype
Exhibit Design
Project Overview
A platform that that weaves together social innovation projects across communities and initiatives — reimagining mutual, peer-based support for community-led efforts.
Case Study Deck
Demo Video
Social Innovations
Many of the most challenging problems facing our society today are inherently social in nature. Inaccessible healthcare services, unsustainable food production, and poverty are just a handful of examples of wicked problems experienced across the globe. There is growing consensus that technological innovations alone are not capable of overcoming these complex social problems — social innovations are necessary (Howaldt & Hochgerner, 2018, 17). 
Social innovations are new social practices that aim to meet needs in a way that is more effective, efficient, or sustainable than existing solutions. In other words, they are new ways of thinking, doing, and being from which social change emerges. 
Design for Social Innovation (DSI) is a practice that aims to tackle complex societal problems by making new social innovations more probable, effective, long-lasting, and scalable. In addition to a focus on positive impact rather than profit, projects and initiatives are not client-driven and typically involve a diverse range of stakeholders with differing goals and perspectives. The ultimate aim is to meet social needs, as well as catalyze systematic, scalable change (Holtgrewe & Millard, 2018).
Platforms for Design for Social Innovation
Mirroring the rise of platforms in other sectors is the increase of experimentation with innovation platforms, and specifically, platforms focusing on Design for Social Innovation. Their digitally robust nature, ability to support peer-to-peer connections and collaborative value creation, as well as their capacity to collect and widely distribute knowledge make digital platforms valuable to DSI (Pulford, 2018, 214). 
DSI platforms are able to link cross-sector stakeholders — the community, private sector partners, government organizations, donors, facilitation organizations, and NGOs — and facilitate a diverse range of engagement practices, from visioning and planning to shared learning and conflict management (Edlmann & Grobbelaar, 2019, 3-4). In addition, platforms have the potential to create connections between different types of actors within social innovation efforts — developers who translate problems into potential solutions, promoters who act as partners in innovation processes, supporters who disseminate social innovations, and knowledge providers (Butzin & Terstriep, 2018, 78-79).
I focused my research on Design for Social Innovation (DSI) practice and DSI platforms through literature review, expert interviews, desk research, and case analysis. 
Expert Interviews: DSI Practice
I conducted 8 semi-structured expert interviews via Zoom with design practitioners about the current challenges within DSI practice, tools, and opportunities for the growth of the practice. 
Because my original project direction aimed to create tools for designers working on social innovation projects, I recruited design practitioners from across sectors focusing on Design for Social Innovation, social impact, or socially-driven design. 
The practitioners represented a variety of sectors, including: private practice, nonprofit organizations, design firms, government departments, academia, and professional design organizations.​​​​​​​

Themes: The Five Most Prevalent Challenges
Analyzing interview transcripts from the expert interviews revealed commonalities across practitioners’ experiences. Many of the challenges faced in DSI practice overlap with those of commercial or for-profit design practice, but with added complexity of the involvement of many stakeholders, collaborating with often marginalized or disadvantaged communities, necessary balance of structure and agency, the systemic nature of social problems, and inherent power dynamics.​​​​​​​
1) Cross-Sector Collaboration 
Successful design interventions that arise from DSI initiatives balance bottom-up support from the community as well as top-down support from structures and organizations, meaning that collaboration must involve cross-sector stakeholders — government organizations, advocacy groups, policymakers, private firms, sponsors and donors — as well as local citizens. Engaging this many stakeholders from diverse sectors that operate in very different ways, exposes a complex challenge. 
2) Consensus
Building off of the complexity of collaboration with many diverse, cross-sector stakeholders is the challenge of ultimately reaching consensus between all. Stakeholders often have differing and conflicting goals, constraints, and perspectives that they are advocating for on behalf of their groups and organizations. In addition, as opposed to traditional client-based work, there is often no one ultimate decision-maker, and rightfully so; meaning that decisions must instead be reached collaboratively, balancing feasibility amongst all parties. 
3) Limitations to Community Input & Co-Creation
As previously discussed, directly involving communities is integral to responsible, ethical, and effective design interventions. However, making community participation inclusive and embedded within and throughout the project process is a challenge. It can also be challenge-ridden in terms of practice, as designers navigate new roles as facilitators and co-creators, while also balancing when to step in as professionally-trained designers. This challenge is mirrored in research by Komatsu et. al, who highlight “contradiction between the idea of social innovation as a kind of bottom-up process and that of design as a process of design-driven innovation” (2016, 2019). 
4) Capacity-Building for Implementation
At some point in the process, the design intervention must be implemented within the community. Case studies and expert interviews reveal that successful, as-seamless-as-possible implementation involves community members actively taking part in embedding the design intervention into their communities. As a result, designers and other collaborators must inform, build capacity, and guide community liaisons, facilitating the implementation rather than leading it themselves. Building the capacity of community members also enables them to adapt the design intervention over time in response to changing needs, goals, and culture shifts, even when original collaborators may not be present or involved anymore. This challenge is mirrored in research by Meroni et. al, who argue the value the importance of making initiatives “self-sufficient and the community ‘competent’... by creating the condition for the innovators [community members] to be autonomous and committed enough to take the initiatives further” as they continue to adapt over time to changing needs, goals, and challenges (2013, 4). 
5) Engagement with Networks or Platforms
Though most practitioners use collaboration tools and platforms to engage in their design practice, no interviewees had engaged specifically in social innovation platforms. Most cited the reason being that their place of employment has already embedded other tools, or they were generally unaware of the existence of social innovation platforms. Through the conversations, the majority of practitioners exposed limited knowledge-sharing with other practitioners or organizations conducting projects addressing similar social issues in other communities and locations.
Research into DSI Practice: Summary
From these findings, I found the challenges exposed in community involvement and cross-sector collaboration to be most interesting, as well as the apparent gap in knowledge-sharing across projects for social change. Coupled with the value of platforms reflected by literature review, I began to focus on DSI platforms and their ability to address these challenges and opportunities.
Case Analysis: DSI Platforms
In order to better understand the current landscape of DSI platforms, I conducted a case analysis to highlight platforms' competencies and shortcomings. I selected exemplary platforms from three different platform types: idea generation, collaboration, and communication/networking. Each of these platforms are unique amongst one another in their goals, approach, and audience — while representing at least one other similar platform in the overall landscape of DSI platforms. 
Before engaging in competitive analysis of DSI platforms, I established four standards of comparison, and set them as the four points of a comparative radar chart.
Design Process Activities
The range of process stages, and the correlated design activities, that the platform supports.

Openness The platform’s accessibility to the general public and/or platform members.

Knowledge-Sharing The degree to which knowledge and resources are shared across projects, initiatives, and teams on the platform.

Initiative DiversityThe number and range of initiatives with varying visions, goals, and impact areas that the platform supports.
Themes: Current DSI Platform Landscape
Four main themes arose from analyzing the landscape of current DSI platforms: ​​​​​​​
1) High Resource Cost
Platforms take time, money, and expertise to build. Funding and other support from sponsors and partners is already a challenge for groups to overcome, just to cover their most basic needs and activities. 
2) Favor Large-Scale Initiatives
In part due to the high resource cost, large-scale initiatives are generally the ones supported with platforms. These larger initiatives, by nature, are often focused on a single, specific social problem to tackle.​​​​​​​
3) Support Focused Activities
Most existing DSI platforms focus on supporting a single, or minimal range, of activities within the process of seeing a DSI initiative from end-to-end, such as idea generation or prototype testing. 
4) Barriers to Involvement
Platforms that do enable “open” collaboration typically limit involvement to co-creative practices in the early idea generation phase of the design process. In addition, they commonly allow community members to propose potential projects, rather than empowering them to initiate desired projects themselves. 
Research into DSI Platforms: Summary
Despite DSI platforms that prioritize one competency over others, no platform does it all. Specifically, there exists a gap where an open platform could support the end-to-end activities of many diverse initiatives all in a single place. Despite the complexity and challenges faced with platforms, I was inspired by the potential I saw in them to enhance DSI practice. Here is also where the audience of my design intervention shifted from designers to community members.
Ideation Workshop #1: Project Directions
Building off of the exploration of the areas of platform capabilities that interested me the most, listed above, I conducted an ideation activity to detail out project directions within the intersections of these spaces. What resulted was a collection of 20 ideas, detailed with a name, one sentence summary, audience, pain points, and value. I noticed that many ideas fell into categories of similar themes, or had shared functionality of values — I grouped these ideas together to provide organization and to see where intersections were starting to arise. The results of this activity led to 5 relevant thematic groups — collaborative platforms, methods to support practice, impact evaluation, supporting grassroots initiatives, and Value-Centered Design within DSI.
Ideation Workshop #2: Ideal Platform Characteristics & Capabilities
First, I explored platform characteristics that might address the exposed challenges, and composed key questions for consideration in their design. 
Accessible & Cost-Effective: How might we design a cost-effective platform for initiatives of all scales? Can design assist in reducing barriers into and within DSI practice and initiatives? 
Modular & Scalable: How might modularity allow for nuanced levels of support from the platform? Could modularity help address the growing pains of scaling projects? 
Open/Closed Variability: How might the ability to open or close collaboration or information-sharing efforts to others provide value (or not) to initiatives? 
Connected Network: How might we connect initiatives to allow for increased cross-initiative knowledge sharing? What layers and levels of connection could be enhanced with a platform? 
Archival: Is there value to archival functionality that enhances cross-initiative knowledge-sharing? How might different audiences benefit from an archive of DSI projects?
User Archetypes/Personas
To aid in understanding the various needs and use case scenarios of users of the platform, I created four user archetypes and detailed out a specific persona for each.
Problems & Opportunities 
Intersections between the most prevalent insights from Research and the results of the Ideation activities led to an area of focus for the project, which then informed the selection of key problems and opportunities, and the creation of a project vision statement.
Barriers to Community Involvement and Initiation 
Research Insight:   Digital platforms are a next frontier for DSI — increasing diversity, skill-building, proper granularity and connections to activism address the importance of grassroots projects and deeper levels of community involvement.
Problem: Current platforms that support Design for Social Innovation have barriers to community initiation and involvement, despite the fact that community members hold a wealth of knowledge about their community’s needs, challenges, culture, and more. Platforms that do enable “open” collaboration typically limit involvement to co-creative practices in the early idea generation phase of the design process. In addition, they commonly allow community members to propose potential projects, rather than empowering them to initiate desired projects themselves. 
Opportunity: Opportunity exists to remove these barriers and empower community members to create the change they’d like to see in their community. 

Lack of Knowledge-Sharing 
Research Insight:  Interconnecting small-scale, local projects with larger visions would enable valuable knowledge-sharing. 
Problem: DSI platforms and networks have an absence of connection between projects and within larger initiatives. The lack of knowledge-sharing is a missed opportunity, given that the potential value of distributed networks of local projects that are connected to larger initiatives was first posed by Ezio Manzini nearly 10 years ago, and has been echoed by researchers since. 
Opportunity: Platforms are of greatest value as central hubs for an initiative’s collaboration and knowledge-sharing. There is an opportunity to draw deeper connections between these projects, initiatives, and collaborators at the source, where efforts and insights are being made.
Minimal Support for Grassroots and Small-Scale Projects 
Research Insight:  Case analysis highlighted this clear gap for support of small-scale and grassroots projects, and lack of deep involvement for community members. 
Problem: Grassroots, or community-initiated, projects are often not supported with resources in the same way top-down, hybrid, or larger-scale initiatives are. 
Opportunity: There is opportunity to reimagine peer-based, mutual support as a tool for communities to create the positive social change they envision. In this case, mutual support could come in the form of funding, but also for building a team, collaborating with stakeholders, idea generation and product/service testing, securing sponsorships and partnerships, and more.
How Might We...
These problems and opportunities culminated in an overarching vision statement for my project: 
How might we create a collaborative platform that inspires, supports, and connects projects of positive social change, while prioritizing community involvement?
Design Principles & Functionality
After identifying these ideal platform characteristics and capabilities of an ideal platform for Design for Social Innovation, I detailed out design principles in direct response. 
Next I developed five key areas of functionality to focus on — the project database, the network of people created by the connected projects, Pledge and Request tools for mutual support, and a resource hub that collects methods and insights from across the database.
I connected each of the Design Principles to elements of functionality throughout the platform.
Relationship Diagramming
Projects and Communities
Next, I explored how the platform might organize and create relationships between projects, and simultaneously aimed to classify projects by their initiative, theme, and community. 
From research, I found that local projects are manifestations of a larger initiative, united by a common vision or goal. These local projects reflect a community’s unique approach to an initiative, based on the specific needs, challenges, and culture of that community. ​​​​​​​
For the purpose of further organizing the platform, I propose that these initiatives can be grouped into overarching themes, or impact areas, such as Education, Health & Social Care, and Environment & Energy. A community might have local projects spanning various initiatives that belong to larger themes. Simultaneously, an initiative and its larger theme might manifest in different communities as local projects with uniquely tailored design interventions.
A community might have other local projects that span diverse initiatives. In other words, an initiative can manifest in different communities as local projects with uniquely tailored design interventions. 
On the platform, these characteristics will be used to organize projects in the database, from high-level Themes to discrete projects. Through profiles, projects will be associated with their overarching initiative and theme, as well as the community, populated with “inspired by real” projects.
Stakeholders and the Platform
I began to think about how a platform might connect the many stakeholders that are involved in DSI projects, in a way that allows them to support one another in shared efforts. 
Similar to how the platform connects projects and their larger initiatives and themes, the platform could also associate each project with its team, partners, sponsors, and the community it takes part in and with. 
The platform provides tools and functionality so that stakeholders can engage in collaboration, knowledge-sharing, and mutual support. This support could take the form of secure funding, building a team, generating ideas, testing products/services, finding and securing partnerships and sponsorships, and more.
Connecting back to McIntyre & Srinvasan’s research regarding network effects and positive feedback loops, engagement on the platform contributes knowledge, insights, and connections back to the platform — developing even greater value for users (2017, 141). 
Final Design
Interlace is a platform that inspires, supports, and connects projects of positive social change, regardless of size and scale. This digital platform is a space where creating positive social change is accessible to anyone, through mutual support, inspiration, and resources. In the peer-built project database, users can get inspired by projects in other communities, learn about the specific methods the team used to initiate and facilitate the project, and explore insights. 
Each project lists all the stakeholders involved — including designers, researchers, sponsors, and partners — weaving a network of change-makers across projects who can request or pledge support. The platform’s design centers around empowerment for grassroots projects and non-experts, helping community members create the positive change they’d like to see in their communities, while still extending functionality and support to larger-scale and organization-led initiatives. 
Home Page
The home page is the central hub of the Interlace platform.
Explore Projects
Explore Projects to browse Interlace’s database of projects, organized by Theme, Initiative, and the Community they take part in and with. Because Interlace’s primary audience is community members who may be learning about social innovation projects for the first time, the platform highlights an exploratory browsing experience rather than a directed search. This experience eliminates the need for previous knowledge of DSI terminology, approaches, and classifications, reducing barriers for users from non-academic and/or non-professional backgrounds or familiarity with DSI.
Users are provided multiple methods for narrowing their search: selecting characteristics from the Theme list and Community filters, interacting with the Weave to select Theme and world-regional location, or searching and selecting characteristic tags. As users select characteristics, the intersections are mirrored within the Weave and the characteristics appear in Tags.
A project list below the Weave contains all projects with the selected theme, initiative, and community characteristics. Here, users can save interesting projects, or navigate to the project’s profile. 
Visualizing the Weave and designing an exploratory experience in this way speaks to the design principles Accessible and Connected. Usually hidden behind financial barriers of paying for information in books, or educational barriers with information displayed in remote academic settings, DSI case study information on Interlace is public. 
The open nature of the information, as well as the intuitive experience to browse and search for projects within the Weave, lead to its accessibility to users of varied backgrounds, level of education, and technological literacy. The visible connectedness of projects to one another, as well as within and across initiatives, themes, and communities allows for insights and knowledge to be openly shared.
A project’s profile houses all of its key details including attributes, stakeholders and team, timeline, outcomes, methods, as well as Pledges & Requests. 
The page is organized so that project information is contained within the body of the page, while active Pledges & Requests — a profile’s calls-to-action — are always visible in a static panel. All underlined content or tags are links to cross-referenced content across the platform to draw deeper connections across discrete characteristics and variables. 
Project profiles are editable over time, so are able to scale in information, activities, and engagement as the project itself scales and progresses — an approach that reflects the Scalable design principle previously mentioned.
Pledges & Requests
The profile also lists a project’s Requests for support from other individuals, teams, projects, or groups. Below these are the team’s Pledges for providing support to others. Pledge support for the project in a variety of ways, from funding and feedback, to joining the team as a contributing member. Pledge and Request information is always visible in the panel card. Drop-downs allow users to learn more about what the details of each request are, as well as how many pledges have already been made, and how they have contributed to the project’s overall goal.
The Dashboard helps users monitor activities and data across all of the teams, projects, communities, and initiatives they’re involved in. As opposed to other spaces on the digital platform, the Dashboard is purposefully user-centered, spanning their activities, contributions, interests, and preferences. 
The Dashboard’s primary purposes is to display information and insights about project progress through metrics such as funding, team size, partnerships, and community engagement. It also keeps a log of Pledges and Requests, keeping mutual support top-of-mind and accessible in relation to project activity. 
In the case of a recently created project, Interlace prompts users with helpful hints about how to begin securing funding, building a team and partnerships, and initiating community engagement activities to launch their project. 
The Dashboard’s functionality aims to support the Scalable design principle, in the way that it is able to measure a project’s progress and deliver insights as it scales.
Create A Project
Anyone on the platform can start a new project by walking through Interlace’s project launch process. The platform provides guidance for characterizing a project with key details such as Theme, Initiative, Community attributes, name, descriptors, and more. Review the project details before officially creating the new project’s profile and sharing its launch with relevant people and groups.
Creating a Project, and the project launch process, is designed as an immersive walkthrough experience in order to have enough space and user attention to embed educational elements. For users who are not knowledgeable in DSI terminology or frameworks, the project launch process builds educational moments into the process.
The process of creating a project is outcome-centered rather than deliverable-centered, which is in line with the ethos of the typical Design for Social Innovation process. This value can be seen by the focus on characterizing a project by its goals and overarching vision for social change, through identification of Initiative and Theme, rather than urging users to commit to creating a specific type of intervention. 
Because project profiles are editable and scalable over time, as previously mentioned, any updates can be made later — keeping the focus at project launch on the vision and community needs.
Contribution to Practice
The conceptual platform design successfully reimagines a social innovation platform as a community-driven space that supports knowledge-sharing through the connection of projects and initiatives across communities. Unlike other social innovation platforms in the current landscape, Interlace allows anyone, but especially community members who have been historically barred from initiating projects, to launch their own social innovation efforts. 
Also unlike current social innovation platforms, Interlace embeds community members into a social innovation project as an equally-valuable contributor throughout the entire process, rather than a resource to be contracted when needed to inform expert practitioners. The conceptual design also created a novel way to connect local projects across initiatives and communities, creating the structure for a knowledge-sharing network. 
Project Challenges & Next Steps
Due to time constraints, I was able to bring some, but not all, concepts to the high-fidelity design and prototyping phase in order to communicate the conceptual design proposal. There are also a few challenges with the current state of the proposal. 
First, because the project scope did not include primary research with community member stakeholders, the design’s functionality does not respond to specific, identified community challenges or barriers to engagement in DSI projects or platforms. Additionally, usability testing with community members could have been used to gauge the intuitiveness, legibility, or interactions of the platform. Finally, in regards to the peer-built project database, this proposal does not address “cold start” or adoption challenges commonly faced by platforms — most importantly because a large part of platforms’ value is that they derive increasing value from increased adoption, engagement, and populated content. 
To address these challenges, I plan to create a fully interactive prototype of the entire platform and test it with community members and DSI practitioners. Though the ultimate aim is for the platform’s project database to be peer-built, I plan to populate it with existing DSI projects, both to root the working prototype in increased realism, and to aid in overcoming the “cold start” problem. 
Finally, I am interested in developing the platform and making it available to the public at the purchased domain:
Areas for Further Research
For the design and research community, there are many opportunities to continue progress in this space.
Classification of Projects, Initiatives, and Themes  
This project scratched the surface of a complete taxonomy and classification for DSI projects and their overarching Initiatives and Themes. Further research must be conducted to determine the list of existing and potential Initiatives that might belong to each Theme, as well as an evidence-driven determination of the names of the Themes themselves. Community attributes, including community types, groups, and identities could be defined more substantially to aid in their robust characterization and the resulting specificity of the platform’s information. 
Primary Research to Uncover Community Barriers 
Though this project addresses community involvement and initiation of DSI projects in general, more in-depth research into specific barriers and pain points might highlight the need for additional or changed features of the platform. Testing the prototype of the platform with users could also highlight usability concerns, barriers to adoption, gaps in functionality, preferences, and other feedback. 
Intersection with Agency-Outcome-Structure Model 
Holtgrewe & Millard’s Agency-Outcome-Structure model provides considerations for a “double pronged strategy in which bottom-up approaches simultaneously solve problems and develop agency… whilst top-down approaches create supportive” structures (2018, 70). The goal is to achieve a balance of involvement in structures of power and community agency, for optimal results in social innovation efforts. Further research into these considerations, as well as translation of these characteristics into the working design of a DSI platform, might yield improved outcomes with increased sensitivity to existing power dynamics. 
Development of Resources for Capacity-Building 
Interlace’s conceptual design makes reference to a resource database, which collects the cross-referenced methods, insights, and resources from across the platform. Additional exploration into the contents and interactivity of such a database, as well as the design of new resources and collection of outside resources, would greatly improve the value of a DSI platform for community members. 

Considerations of Levels of Impact 
Researchers repeatedly note the differences in the level of impact of social innovations and DSI projects. Interlace currently does not distinguish projects and innovations of varying impact levels, however, this is an area of opportunity that has the potential to further classify and support projects with specific and varied needs. The questions of who and how projects are classified, the elements of progress and time, as well as resulting platform functionality, are all valuable points for further investigation. 
Overlap with Project Management 
Further research could help determine the value of a DSI platform that also encompasses project management capabilities. This thesis proposes a platform as a catalyst for making meaningful connections and engaging in mutual support activities, however there is opportunity for all of a project’s collaboration activities, creations, tasks, project timelines, and more to be housed in a central, digital space. Specifically, research could investigate whether creating new functionality or enabling integration with existing project management software may be of comparative value, how such functionality might be integrated and impact the platform’s use.
Research in Design for Social Innovation (DSI) has been both challenging and rewarding. In countless ways, it has prompted me to take a critical look at what design is, the value and intention of its aims, the power it inherently holds, and as a result, what my place and responsibilities are as a person who conducts design professionally. Navigating this complex space with humility and awareness was, and continues to be, paramount. I’m happy that, through this project, I’ve learned how important it is to lean into the complexity with intention and openness.
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