Benchmarking public service design and social innovations in Milan

A group of representatives of the public sector, service designers and the University of Lapland visited Milan from 26 to 30 November 2013 in order to benchmark how service design and social innovations are used in public services renewal.

Theoretical background: A meeting with Anna Meroni at the Politecnico di Milano

Our trip started from the Politecnico di Milano. Established in 1863, Politecnico di Milano is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year. It is ranked as one of the most outstanding European universities in Engineering, Architecture and Industrial Design, and also regarded as a leading research institution in the world. Anna Meroni, Assistant professor of Service and Strategic Design, told us at Bovisa campus about the background of Service Science, service design master classes and DESIS network. The key reference disciplines of Service Science are ethnography, social sciences, management, engineering, behavioral sciences and computing.


Politecnico School of Design offers two-year master classes in such areas as Product Service System Design, Product Design for Innovation, Communication Design and Social and Collaborative Housing. The goal of the Product Service System Program is to integrate the designer to the whole service system instead of an individual innovation. The goal of the Product Design for Innovation Program is to integrate creative product development into experimentation, design and enterprise activities. The goal of the Communication Design Program is to cope with strategic communication problems and provide innovative solutions and coordinate all the roles and competences needed in a complex communication project. The goal of the Social and Collaborative Housing is to design and manage private social housing and public or private forms of collaborative living.

Politecnico is a member of DESIS (Design for Social Innovation towards Sustainability), which is a network of design labs, based in design schools and design-oriented universities, actively involved in promoting and supporting sustainable change. The network was established in 2009 and today consist of 43 design labs around the world. The nearest labs to Finland are at Linnaeus University in Växjö and Malmö University in Sweden.

Social innovations in Practice

According to Anna Meroni, the goal of design for social innovation is to “support and enhance the capacity of society (people, organizations, public administrations, entrepreneurs) to take action, become proactive and be innovative in sustainable way”. Politecnico di Milano acts as a partner in each of the following examples of social innovations.


Social and Collaborative Housing

Architect Giordana Ferri, who also teaches in Politechnico di Milano, told us about the concept of social housing in Italy. Ten years ago, the core of the concept was to offer a financial solution to housing for tenants who couldn’t afford a flat of their own in a big city like Milano. Now the core is to create new community participation. This new sociable, active and collaborative way of living presents the transition from concentrated housing to flats with semi-private places such as common kitchens, garage and laundry facilities shared with neighbors. The tenants are chosen from four different age and annual income groups: 25 % of the tenants are families under the age of 35, 20% are couples under the age of 35, 20 % singles under the age of 35, 15 % are senior citizens and 10 % are people in serious housing need referred to the service by the local council. All tenants are selected one year before they move in and are taking part in the community building workshop series.

Social promotion at PACO’s studio

PACO’s studio is a multi-disciplinary design collaborative and a network that is sharing design tools and education in order to make projects that have social importance at the institutional level in fostering social innovation, sustainable behavior and business opportunities. One of these projects is Super Heroes, a three weeks game together with school children fighting against candy eating monsters. Another project is a Design School for children.  PACO’s studio was also hosting Global Service Jam in March and Milan Kids Jam in November, which was a proto for a Kids Sustainability Jam.

Social enterprises at Hub Milan and in Make a Cube

Once a month Hub Milan organizes a Sexy Lunch, where social entrepreneurs present their business ideas to the public for the first time. We heard about hybrid products that are designed in a community and about the idea of a third industrial revolution, where products are produced only when needed; for example, furniture could be downloaded from the Internet and printed in a small 3 D studio anywhere around the world.

Founded 15 years ago, Make a Cube is a social enterprise incubator in the field of sustainable development and the first Italian low-profit firm. Make a Cube works together with businesses, NGOs, local governments and EU Commission. Make a Cube focuses on the early stages of the development process in the area of market failure of companies that have social mission. Services that are developed in the incubator can be from four different areas: Services for individuals (Health care, home care); Collaborative services for communities; Services for companies (Eco-design) or Services for Public administrators (participatory decision-making process). Make a Cube works also as a Think Tank creating new markets to social entrepreneurship by arranging twice a year workshops for different universities at European level. One of the mottoes of Make a Cube is “You can’t work at European level if only acting locally. “


This blog post was created as an assignment in SID course New Service Development and Innovative Service Systems.

More about public service design in Milan:

The Politecnico di Milano

DESIS network: Design for Social Innovation and Sustainability

Social and Collaborative Housing:

PACO’s Studio:

HUB Milan:

Make a Cube:

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