The Fuchsia Acorn of Social Innovation

In early 2014, LIS (Laboratorio Innovazione Sociale – Social Innovation Lab), local CSV (i.e. Service Center for Volunteering in Padua) and our small agency InTerritori, designed the first edition of FIRST (i.e. Festival for Social Innovation, Research and Territories). The festival took place in Padua (Italy) in late-winter 2014. It was designed as an open laboratory for active citizens, institutions, researchers, local and regional stakeholders, prosumers and start-uppers (to see 2014’s presenters and protagonists, please go to
The leading aim of FIRST was to activate a process of “literacy” and discussion on the fuzzy theme of social innovation.
The idea of calling ‘festival’ an open lab was the very first step towards social innovation field. So our transdisciplinary team imagined to design a set of tools to empower the connectivity among these components of the civil society, in order to move them up, towards the construction of an innovation environment. They were mainly tools of communication, they weren’t designed for a participatory process. The main reason was that we were focused on literacy and discussion, sending the participation back to the subsequent editions of FIRST.

During the design process (and some months before, in 2013) we made some focuses on specific parts of the general theme (i.e. social innovation).
The Social Innovation Lab noticed that (in our local context) it was not so clear that “socinn” could be read as a different kind of business, more equal in the distribution of positive externalities, usually based on collaborative research&developement and crowdsourced financial tools. Then the local Sevice Center for Volunteering in Padua wanted to add to the design process of FIRST  the third sector’s point of view (expecially in northern Italy): the third sector creates jobs , income and wealth , then the possibility of social and economic growth (in absolute terms , Lombardy , Veneto , Tuscany , Emilia Romagna and Piedmont collect the highest number of volunteers – more than 400 thousand units of volunteers). We founders of InTerritory (a private agency focused on improving land strategies) thought that we also must include a new type of physical-digital territorialization in the social innovation strategies: innovators must talk to planners and architects, and master plans and urban design tools could include more connectivity and network-based research&developement to be more suitable to the needs of a local innovation ecosystem.

To all of us it was finally clear that the two main keywords were learning and imagine. These are the two side of what we think creativity is about, as a process: open your mind towards new possibilities, then learn on what you can see and test there.

We started creating a set of digital tools: a website where we present FIRST’s people and themes (in partnership with Joomla Veneto, an association spreading Joomla, an open source code for dynamic html coding); social accounts (on Twitter – #beplayer, Facebook and YouTube) where to spread news and tips about the incoming festival; live streaming of the main speeches.

At the same time, in 2013, we presented the program of the festival to the municipality of Padua (but we still think that they really didn’t understand what we were talking about) and to the local Informagiovani (a pubblic office inside the municipality, which helps younger people in finding jobs; it also gives them information about calls and events). To engage local stakeholders and other institutions we designed four off-line workshop about City, School, Work and E-government. Each workshop was kept by an activator, whose’s roles were pushing the discussions and collecting needs and strategies from citizens.

Unfortunately we missed our workshop’s purpose, mainly for two reasons: low participation and too wide issues. Even if we used a pop aesthetics in our visual communication strategy, presenting a short advertisement (  on a local radio (Radiobue, the local college radio – and on APS HOLDING buses’s CCTV, at the end of the 2014 edition it was quite clear that there were some gaps to be filled. We didn’t match local business’s interests, and perhaps we also quite missed in reducing the divide between young and elder citizens.

These are two of few reasons why, for the upcoming 2015 edition of FIRST, we are designing a new approach: instead of imaging what we could offer to the pubblic we would try to empower the answer for innovation, including it in the design process.

In order to engage public administration we are now proposing some preliminary meetings (we intend them to be suitable especially for municipal employees).

Basically we propose to the Public Administration some small free literacy classes, with the pourpouse to activate a more specific collaboration in preparing the edition of 2015.

These short literacy courses are intended to be the very beginning, by which we want to engage also municipal employes towards social innovation’s strategies. After those courses we hope to have some people (among the employes) working with us in preparing 2015 edition’s themes and workshops.

For example we are now proposing municipality’s offices to organize free labs (addressed only to pubblic officers) on social innovation literacy and crowdsourcing tools. In our minds these could be an occasion to set also municipality needs, and a strategy to communicate officers the possibility to start some public-private labs during 2015 FIRST.

Analyzing 2014 edition’s limits (and negative results) we are now focusing more on participation and consensus building to engage active citizens, but at the same time we are imaging maps as a simple way to represent (and to link) local community’s emergent needs, bottom-up strategies and thoughts. We have understood that conceptual maps could be the very beginning of a real collaboration between community and institutions.

For the 2015 edition we will enhance the importance of FIRST’s symbol, the fuchsia acorn, spreading it around the city during some pop-up events (we are preparing a PARK(ing) Day, nearby the central train station – PARK(ing) Day is a annual open-source global event where citizens, artists and activists collaborate to temporarily transform metered parking spaces into “PARK(ing)” spaces: temporary public places).

It will be important to emphasize the link between our symbol and these urban actions.

We are also preparing a small exposition on local innovation, inviting exhibitors (start-uppers, small social enterprises, associations) to deal with citizen through some panels, showing potentials and benefits of their proposals.

Collaterally we imagine to develop an old dream: the “FIRST in a Box” tool. The idea comes from “TEDx in a Box”, a tool developed by consultants at IDEO to help poorer communities in organizing local TEDx events. TED (i.e. Technology Entertainment Design) is a conference about “ideas worth spreading” (mainly on urbanization, globalization, health and communities, science and research), organized in Monterey (California) since 1984, by  Richard Saul Wurman e Harry Marks. “TEDx” represents the possibility, for other cities and communities all over the world, to have their local TED event, and “TEDx in a Box” (developed for TEDxKibera). The Box included the basic tools to hold a TEDx conference (i.e. a projector, subtitled TED talks, a sound system, microphones and a how-to guide).

Like “TEDx in a Box”, we will be preparing an open digital repository of our visual identity symbols and colours, explanation panels, templates. We hope that other local communities will be interested in spreading FIRST’s ideas, enhancing the network, under the flag of the fuchsia acorn. To complete “FIRST in a Box” with the right tools, we still need to test theme during the 2015 edition (which will be slightly different from 2014’s one).