Public Participation in Developing a Common Framework for the Assessment and Management of Sustainable Innovation

Lego® Serious Play®: a tool to improve the involvement of social stakeholders. How to turn the abstract concepts (eg. sustainability or innovation) in a tangible artifact that you can transform, modify, shape and share.

Lego® Serious Play®: a tool to improve the involvement of social stakeholders. How to turn the abstract concepts (eg. sustainability or innovation) in a tangible artifact that you can transform, modify, shape and share.
20.08.2015 | Giorgio Beltrami

Some months ago, I made a civic hackathon with Lego® Serious Play® method (LSP) for a municipality near Milan. The focus was “new projects for a new social innovation”. Results: people communicated better, the goals have been reached more quickly and the ideas have been more concrete and understandable.

Following the experience, I'd like to share some pillars of LSP as a tool to improve the level of engagement and participation in a civic panel. The method was born in LEGO® (at the end of last century) and now it is an amazing method used by organizations all over the world. The method deepens its roots in Papert's thinking, constructionism.

Known also as "thinking by hands", the LSP methodology is developed to enhance the knowledge processes and improves the performance of a team. When using LSP, it is said that you can obtain 100% of attention and commitment of the participants for the overall duration of an event.

LSP develops and valorizes the imagination and the creativity as a way to communicate and understand the world: “creative confidence is the belief that everyone is creative, and that creativity isn't the capacity to draw or compose or sculpt, but a way of understanding the world” (D. Kelley).

According to the “centered human design” approach, using the LSP methodology means believing that all problems, even the seemingly intractable ones like poverty, gender equality, sustainable innovation or clean water, are solvable. Moreover, it means believing that those people who face those problems every day are the ones who hold the key to their solution. Human-centered design offers problem solvers of any stripe a chance to design with communities, to better understand people they serve, to dream up scores of ideas, and to create innovative new solutions rooted in people’s actual needs (Field Guide to Human Centered Design).

Working with bricks and other Lego stuff implies to transform abstract thinking into a physical artifact, thus recuding the abstract level of discussions. When the goal is to get impactful solutions out into the world, we can not live in abstractions. You have to make them real.

For example, the term 'sustainable innovation' could appear as a very abstract concept: through the LSP methodology, everybody is encouraged to shape  abstract concepts into physical and malleable models. Using the "what if" method you can activate a strong problem solving process to identify the best solution.

Another plus of LSP is that the method allows people to shift the potential tensions from themselves to the physical artifacts. This is very important as it allows preserving the integrity of the group from some typical drifts related to internal group dynamics. On the one hand, this can encourage a transparent discussion between participants. On the other hand, the group can proceed fast to reach specific goals, thereby avoiding the marshes of problems within the relationship. I conclude with Plato’s aphorism of: “You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation”.

LSP methodology is a “bottom up” approach that can transform a civic panel into a real “physical” experience of co-production, co-design and social mutual learning. In this way LSP is a method to improve and to innovate both panels and workshops finalized to elicit a real public contribution.

Relevant themes: Public participation
Relevant tags: Social innovation, Sustainable lifestyles


  • Giorgio Beltrami - Universita’ degli Studi di Milano-Bicocca (Interuniversity Research Centre for Public Services, University of Milano – Bicocca), (UNIMIB)

    Giorgio Beltrami

  • Soizic Linford - Coventry University Enterprises Limited (CUE) 08.09.2015 16:47

    Soizic Linford

    This is a very interesting article and reminds us also that other than physical aid such as bricks or lego, it is more and more common that tools are used such as applied games or serious games to support the visualisation of an issue. This technique is used to develop possible scenarios or give the actor the possibility to trial some errors safely in a virtual way. Thinking about different tool to aid interactions, discussion or visualisation of a particular situations can be regarded as added value and enhance the engagement of stakeholders.