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In this #PROFILE series, we touch base with the recipients of DESIGNSCAPES’ 3rd and final Open Call for design-enabled Innovation Scalability Proofs.

Last month, we caught up with Rita Duina from Italy-based Start Park, discussing the current state of the project, how the team has been facing the unprecedented health crisis, and what the future has in store for them:

Start Park in a word

Start Park is a project born to address the challenge of climate change through the building of a resilient community involved in the co-design of a Green-Blue Infrastructure (GBI). 

The project took off in the city of Prato (Italy) and is now replicating in Lucca (Italy).

What is Start Park currently up to?

Start Park is getting close to its first replication milestone: The project established a set of co-designed plans of the park — out of which one was selected during a couple of public events that took place around the time of our conversation. 

From Rita’s perspective, one of the main issues they face at the moment is the translation of the tools they designed for their first prototype in Prato — the original location of the project — into an online medium for the replication of the project in Lucca. For their prototype in Prato, the team had developed a set of physical “Start Cards”, “which aim at making every participant able to think as an environmental engineer,” as Rita explained. The team is looking now at the best way to translate these to an online session using the online whiteboard software Miro, keeping in mind that this type of tool may not yet be used with enough fluency by everybody.

About the impact of the COVID-19 crisis

As for countless other projects, the COVID-19 crisis has had quite an impact on Start Park’s activities and overall process, especially in the organisation of their participatory activities with citizens, such as the co-creation workshops or more informal meetings. As Rita explained, “the impact of experiencing the activity in person was higher […] and using online tools since the very beginning made it really difficult to reach some targets which otherwise would have been easier to reach in person.” The team is also busy “reframing the way in which we are attracting people,” particularly when it comes to adapting their engagement strategies.

“We aim at making every participant able to think as an environmental engineer…”


Ultimately, one of the aspects of Start Park’s work with the local communities that was most affected by the crisis is the “experiential impact” of their activities, as Rita called it: “Compared to the experiential impact and the rituality of doing a workshop, which has a beginning, a middle and an end, online engagement is definitely less impactful for the participant.” 

The team behind Start Park

Aside from milestones and challenges, we also spoke with Rita about the two collaborating teams that are behind the replication of Start Park from Prato to Lucca (Italy). Codesign Toscana acts as the transmitter: The organisation was created in 2017 and consists in a fluid team with expertise in Design — design practitioners (e.g. graphic design, interaction, etc.) and design academics —, Economics, and Management. Lucca Creative Hub is the recipient organisation. The team has a diverse background in political sciences, anthropology, and architecture. 

When discussing their collaboration, Rita told us about their respective approaches to co-designing with the community. As she put it, “[At Lucca Creative Hub] they are not that far away from what we do. But I perceive them as more skilled than us when it comes to research. I think it involves a slightly different approach in facilitating the activities: They are more about listening and participating and we are more skilled in design tools.”

These little differences between the two organisations extend to not only their approach but also to more obvious aspects, such as their background, or the two teams’ age average. What is interesting is that, to a certain extent, these seem to work as a strength for the project’s replication. According to Rita: “they [Lucca Creative Hub] are very careful about inclusivity; at Codesign Toscana we are a bit younger, so we are more likely to empathize with our peer users, with the risk of overlooking the needs of different generation when it comes to use online tools.” She added, “We belong to different generations, but at the same time, they are enriching our point of view and vice versa … so there’s a sort of complementarity, which is definitely a strength.”

Regarding what has helped upon moving to a new context

For Start Park, the interventions are planned at the local level — therefore engaging with the local community is crucial in their replication. Rita highlighted how Lucca Creative Hub acts as the first node of their network in the new context of replication: “They are the gatekeepers of the context and the activators. They are doing participation around multiple themes, already in Lucca, so they have a formed base and network, which is definitely a resource.” She also underlined how in their collaboration, the team at Lucca Creative Hub have the ownership over the engagement with the local context in Lucca. 

Any other instrumental stakeholders?

Upon discussing the involvement of the local education and participation alderman in the different sessions that Start Part hosts with the community, Rita elaborates on how she acts at times as a co-facilitator: She’s always present and following up with interesting questions. Sometimes there is someone who, because of their role in the context or specific knowledge and expertise, puts the facilitator in a condition of not being totally alone in developing and building the discussion.”

About the main lessons learned so far on replication

Rita shared her thoughts on what the replication has taught them so far, in particular about creating collaborations when moving into a new context — and how these necessarily involve a transfer of knowledge and “culture” around the project: “In the view of replicating Start Park, when you look for an activator, or a recipient of the context until you start working with them, you can never evaluate if it’s going to be easy or not to collaborate.”

“There will be huge differences in replicating Start Park in other contexts.”


She continued, “Transmitting the knowledge and the mindset of replicating such a project … it’s really unpredictable — until you do it. And I guess there will be huge differences in replicating Start Park in other contexts.”

Looking ahead

The team’s long-term goal is “to make Start Park able to work with its own legs”: “We are aiming to have Start Park as replicable without a recipient and the transmitter. So the idea is that people could download guidelines.” Rita specifies then: “I would like to come up with a clear idea of a tool which will be for sure modular and which is both informing people but providing them the idea of being open to specific issues”

Once this is achieved, Rita mentioned her next goal would be “understanding exactly what our role will be once Start Park is to work on its own.” And that won’t necessarily be a walk in the … park: Upon discussing letting go of the control over the project, Rita explained: “There’s both a sort of quality and requirements which need to be addressed by everyone who would like to replicate a Start Park. We would like to keep the definition of these “standards” as part of our project.” Could they then act, in the future, as some sort of “counselors” or “supervisors” of sister projects? As Rita concluded in our talk, “How we can manage to do that is certainly an interesting question…”

Photos: Start Park