A Research Network: Bridging the UK and Asia-Pacific Practices

‘Bridging the UK and Asia-Pacific Practices’, funded by an Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) Network Grant, aims to create and establish an international research network on an emerging and relatively undocumented field of Design for Social Innovation by creating a platform for knowledge sharing between researchers and practitioners in the UK and Asia-Pacific region.


The term ‘Social Innovation’ has become widely used, actively promoted by governments, organisations, academia and businesses alike. According to the Design for Social Innovation Report published by the European Commission (2014, pg 2), they state; “Social innovation is the concept of developing new – often disruptive solutions that work towards meeting social goals.” Arguably, communities and organisations have always tackled problems and effected change for the social and public good. However, in the last ten years, we have witnessed a growing interest and use of design to enable social innovation due to the on-going financial crisis in the UK, Europe and the US. Design is seen as a way to harness latent creativity and participation from various stakeholders’ local, situated knowledge. With a rich history of socially focused initiatives and current political idea of the ‘Big Society’, UK has a leading number of practitioners and researchers currently operating in this field.

The strong economic development in Asia in the last 15 years has increased the West’s interest in the region. A recent report from the Australian Government Trade Commission report (AUSTRADE, 2015) suggests that the ASEAN 5’s (Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam) GDP growth will far outstrip the Euro zone. Furthermore, Australia is entering its 24th year of uninterrupted economic growth, with GDP projection higher than the US, UK or Europe. However, even prosperous economies like Australia, Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong are facing challenges to balance sustainable economic development with social and political changes. There are now strong signs that the interest in using design to facilitate social change is growing in Asia-Pacific by the increasing number of social innovation labs being established in Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan and Korea. DESIAP Bangkok 2016 brought together leading researchers in the UK and the US whose participatory practices have strong feminist and post-colonial undercurrents that recognize difference and pursue questions of power structures in their sites of intervention. Their participation enabled us to bring this endeavor into international and comparative focus.

What are our aims?

  • Create and maintain an international research network on Design for Social Innovation between UK and Asia-Pacific researchers and practitioners.
  • Make visible the current examples of Design for Social Innovation in Asia-Pacific through a workshop and a public symposium in Bangkok, Thailand in 2016.
  • Share learnings and case studies from Asia-Pacific with UK researchers through a workshop in Northumbria University, UK in late 2016.
  • Generate a working framework of terminologies, methodologies and theory of Design for Social Innovation through case study and literature analysis.
  • Identify opportunities to inform potential PhD studies, research collaborations and capacity building in teaching, research and practice.

What will we do?

There will be three key activities in Thailand and the UK that will bring together this dispersed community of practice.

Event 1 – DESIAP Research Network Public Symposium:This event will bring together examples from the Asia-Pacific region in Bangkok on the 12th of July 2016 at the Thai Creative Design Centre.

Event 2 – Asia Pacific Workshop: This 2-day workshop on 13th and 14th July 2016 follows on from the public symposium aimed at identifying issues, themes and opportunities for further research.

Event 3 – UK Workshop: The outcomes from the Bangkok symposium and workshop will be shared as points of discussion with participants in the UK and to shape the practitioner workshop (scheduled for early November 2017) that will be used to inform practices and identify research opportunities in the UK.

The interactions between the participants and presentations given will be made available to the wider community through the DESIAP website.The community platform will house various resources created from the proposed events, and links to various social innovators, social enterprises, funding bodies, NGOs, project initiatives, research networks, governmental bodies and companies in Design and Social Innovation. It will also become a repositoryfor academic research and publications relevant to the field, and house project notices that may arise in the future. The platform will enable us to not only enable the continued dissemination of the research outcomes but to facilitate continued dialogue between the communities.

Who are we?

Joyce Yee (Northumbria University, UK) and Yoko Akama (RMIT, Australia) are coordinating the DESIAP Research Network, supported by Kirsty Moegerlein, Cyril Tjahja (PhD research assistants) and Nico Leonard (web designer).

DESIAP Research Network Advisory Board includes researchers and academics from institutions from the UK and around Asia Pacific. They are:

  • Professor Ann Light, University of Sussex, (UK)
  • Professor Robert Young, Northumbria University, (UK)
  • Associate Professor Adam Thorpe, University of the Arts London, (UK)
  • Dr Alison Prendiville, University of the Arts, LCC (UK)
  • Dr Rachel Clark, Open Lab, Newcastle University (UK)
  • Dr Bas Raijmakers, STBY, UK and The Design Academy (UK/The Netherlands)
  • Associate Professor Shaowen Bardzell (Indiana University, US/Taiwan)
  • Dr Viria Vichit-Vadakan, G-Lab, Thammsat University, Bangkok (Thailand)
  • Dr Joon Sang Baek, Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (Korea)
  • Fumiko Ichikawa. Re:Public Inc (Japan)
  • Dr Penny Hagen, Innovation Change (New Zealand)
  • Dr Idil Gaziulusoy, Victorian Eco Innovation Lab (Australia)
  • Joseph Foo, 3nity, Neighbour Programme (Malaysia)