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How design, social innovation and the circular economy can create and foster disruptive change

Sustainable Communities


  • Professor Rebecca Earley, University of the Arts London
  • Prof. Dr Lucy Norris, Weissensee Art Academy, Berlin


  • Simon Widmer, Ellen MacArthur Foundation, UK
  • Emma Fromberg, Ellen MacArthur Foundation, UK
  • Dr Jen Ballie, Design for Business Research Manager, V&A Dundee
  • Dr Clara Vuletich, Industry Consultant, Sydney, Australia
  • Bridget Harvey, PhD Researcher, University of the Arts London


Design, social innovation and the circular economy can act as complementary—and often opposing—forces, working together for the future of society, culture, business and the economy.

The rise and rise of the circular economy debate has resulted in new support structures for organisations that essentially enable business as usual rather than challenge the economic and social status quo. ‘Closing the loop’ offers us the opportunity to reimagine and redesign multiple aspects of our lives, our communities and our industries.

In saving valuable resources, we can use design to envision more equitable ways for us to be fed, clothed, housed, educated, entertained and transported. As designers, we can explore a extremely varied range of approaches to engaging with these issues—from evolving mindful and spiritual inner questions and processes, through ethics, agency and consent (von Busch & Palmas 2016), to the IoT and new technologies that engage and support in previously unimaginable ways.


  • Networks and coalitions do not emerge by chance; they are themselves the result of design” (Manzini 2015). How do we design a social circle? How do we connect between circles?
  • What new skills do designers need to engage with and form new social circles?
  • Who do they need to collaborate with and how do they do this?
  • What experts do they need to bring on board to ensure their efforts are successful in the long-term?
  • How can designers find new roles to support social movements, up-swelling and disruptive campaigns that may also lead to economic self sufficiency, and also contribute to more efficient use of (local) resources?
  • How can designers give up power and pack their egos away, to enable the creation of new, disruptive social innovation & business models?
  • How can designers foster local and regional regeneration through circular design – creating new materials, models or mindsets within social innovation contexts?
  • How can we as designers create new contexts for all design stakeholders to support excluded communities and individuals?
“Think big; think disruptive. Execute with full passion.”
Masayoshi Son