Learning from the past – Building for the future

Recognising the opportunity

There was time back in the early 2000’s when BEDA had very little visibility within the European Commission. We had no mechanism or relationship through which to talk formally to Commission officials. The understanding of how the institutions of the European Commission operated was not very sophisticated and our knowledge of where the levers of change might lie was a at a very low level.

If we were to create change for design at the European level, we needed to develop an informed view of where design might best fit within the complex policy landscape and across the rather bewildering array of officials and institutions.

To do this, we needed a ‘trojan pony’ to get us ‘inside’ so that we could meet the people we needed to meet in order to build relationships and create new dialogue.

Beginning the conversation

Our trojan pony turned out to be the BEDA Communication Series.

Between 2001 and 2003, each of five breakfast meetings attracted around fifty officials from a range of Directorates General to come and hear speakers communicating design’s relevance on a variety of themes including innovation, sustainability and the creative industries.

Through this activity and the publication of the summary BEDA reports, BEDA effectively improved the quality of its network and deepened its understanding of how the Commission works, as well as discovering who we needed to talk to.

Finding focus

But that of itself was not enough to create policy change. We had to agree upon a shared vision of the change we wanted to create. Over time, we realised the Commission needed policy at the European level for design and filling this gap became the focus for all subsequent lobbying with the Commission, In short, this goal set the vision for change and defined the tone for the decade.

However, it was not enough to simply say that design is important. Instead, we had to communicate how design could help the Commission meet its much larger objectives of creating jobs and growth through, for example, improving the innovation behaviour of SMEs across Europe.

By meeting with the Directorate General for Enterprise and Industry, (its Head of Unit for Innovation attended one of the Communication Series meetings), we were able to communicate how design supports better innovation, and place BEDA on the Commission’s radar as the only valid representative body for design at the European level.

Connecting and lobbying on many fronts

Throughout the 2000’s, BEDA lobbied for change on many fronts. All of BEDA’s activity succeeded in slowly establishing BEDA’s credibility with the Commission and stirred its interest in design’s potential to support jobs and growth through Europe’s innovation agenda.

Triggering ownership and momentum

In early 2007, Board member Henrique Cayatte invited BEDA to hold a Board meeting in Lisbon with the hope of meeting with EU President, José Manuel Barroso. Although this seemed wildly ambitious, we were finally able to meet with the Commission President in his home town in December of that year.

This was the key that unlocked the door to the Commission taking ownership of design in support of better innovation. Once the ‘Design File’ was opened the Commission moved swiftly, and, as history now tells, the effort of so many individuals and design associations working collaboratively over so many years, culminated in 2010, in the integration of design as a component of the ‘Innovation Union’, the Commission’s flagship for innovation policy at the European level.

The scene had thus been set for all that followed including the development of the European Design Action Plan.

The next cycle of change

But all this took place a long time ago. Today, the needs and drivers, and the policy landscape, are entirely different. BEDA will need to keep design alive in a new Commission in a new context and one way to do this will be to shape a new Action Plan for Design.

With a clear focus on strategic goals that are bigger than design alone, and empowering the collective intelligence of its Europe-wide network, BEDA will continue to achieve change for design that cannot be achieved by members alone.