Helena Hansson


The Design Unit
Visiting address
Kristinelundsgatan 6-8
41137 Göteborg
Postal address
Box 131
40530 Göteborg

About Helena Hansson

BEYOND THE BASKET: Creating structures for change by adapting to and building on to the existing “to do more with less for many with many” through design

My design research is pivoting around how a designerly approach in innovation and the role of design are contributing to sustainable change actions in situations characterized by institutional voids and complexities, resource scarcity and lack of affordances, aiming to ”do more with less for many – with many”. The research is connected to Mistra Urban Futures local platform in Kenya, Kisumu Local Interactive Platform (KLIP).

The starting point of the research was how to transform a social, environmental and economic threat - the invasive water hyacinths - to a livelihood opportunity for many through co-design. The aim was to improve the ecological, economic, social and cultural conditions in the rural/urban areas of Kisumu, by creating new structures for change involving multiple actors. A basket made of the invasive plant has been acting as the “Boundary Object”, inter-linking between the actors as a joint change framework.

Frugal innovation” is placed in the intersection between social innovation, institutional innovation and technological innovation, where the focus in this case has been the relation building aspects of innovation. The research work has been conducted in close collaboration with the local innovators in Kenya– the Jua Kali entrepreneurs - but also in collaboration with other actors, representing different societal sectors and social life situations. As the innovation process, has been taking place in both Sweden and Kenya, interconnecting frugal/non-frugal, rural/urban actors and situations, it is thereby both transdisciplinary and polycentric. Polycentric innovation means there exist several translations centers, why several on-going innovation processes have been conducted at the same time in Sweden and Kenya, interlinked but yet separated.

A core approach has been to adapt to and build on to the existing structures by immersing in practice, rather than creating something totally new, taking the starting point has been the local innovation culture in Kenya. My key design role in the research project has been to act as a ‘mediator’, working in-between research and practice, actors and situations, facilitating and triggering ’inter-actions’ between different shareholders involved in the process, for example: a Kenyan crafts organization, a Swedish commercial business actor, a Swedish faith based organization based in Kenya and individual designers, craftsmen, inventors and artists.

This in-between role has been challenging but interesting in many ways, and has required specific approaches, methods and tools. For example: design interventions and prototypes have been valuable means, making change concrete and real, which both have triggered and assembled the actors. The theoretical framework combines theories of frugal innovation, design in innovation and Actor-Network Theory.

Key words: Frugal innovation, frugal situation, water hyacinths, Jua Kali culture, sustainable structures for change, a designerly approach in innovation, Actor-Network Theory

Helena Hansson is a doctoral student at HDK since September 2012. she's got a background as industrial designer, strategic designer and as teacher. She has been involved in several national development projects within the field of crafts.