Nuno Gil, Research Director and Founder of the Manchester Centre for Infrastructure Development, jointly with Harvard Business School Professor Carliss Baldwin, have published a new paper that has quickly made the Social Science Research Network’s most downloaded lists. Titled ‘Creating a Design Commons: Lessons from Teachers’ Participation in the Design of New Schools’, it now features on the top ten list for ‘Organisations and Markets: Organisational Forms’.
Breaking the mould of ingrained paradigms, the thought-provoking paper uses the term ‘design commons’, and argues that such an organisation is at the heart of major capital projects. The study links design theory with commons theory – the latter developed by Nobel Prize winner Elinor Ostrom to provide a counterargument to the notion that collective self-governance always leads to tragic outcomes. In this paper Nuno and Carliss shed light on a conundrum that has long perplexed scholars, practitioners, and policy-makers around the world – why do capital projects seem to invariably run late, over budget and disappoint end-users?
The study is based on the intriguing decision made by Manchester City Council to share design rights with the school faculties as part of a vast capital programme to build 30 schools. Through careful analysis, Nuno and Carliss argue that the commons organisation encouraged teachers to volunteer their operational knowledge – something that was indispensable in helping the local council produce designs aligned with the schools’ needs.
While Nuno and Carliss stress that the governance of the design commons was a struggle, they optimistically show that across all schools there was no ‘tragedy of the commons’ in terms of budget overruns, inefficient processes, or disgruntled end-users. Using the principles of Ostrom’s theory, they demonstrate that underpinning this successful and sustainable outcome was a relatively robust design commons organisation.
The thought-provoking paper concludes by sketching out a ground-breaking theory as to when and why a commons can be an advantageous organisational form to help resolve complex design production problems.