Societal Impact Design

About Societal Impact Design

The Societal Impact Design research group of the Creative Business Research Center investigates how design as an approach helps to explore and address complex issues in networks. How can it lead to positive societal impact? Impact that involves social, ecological and economic values and meaning, both for people, team, organization and network and society as a whole.

To achieve impact, we work intensively, creatively and participatively with those involved in a complex situation. These may include issues around dementia, corona, privacy, security, undermining, obesity and circular economy. In so-called co-design processes, we want to discover and share the interests, research, experience and influence of all those involved. Do we have a better understanding of the situation and perspectives? Then we go on a joint creative search for opportunities to change the situation. Not so much to solve the issue, because with dementia, for example, that is not (yet) possible. But to better deal with it. Our research therefore focuses on understanding, describing, facilitating and strengthening co-design processes. And of the soft skills such as empathy that are needed within these for collaboration, concrete results and impact.

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For education and work field

Based on current social challenges from the field, the research group, led by professor Wina Smeenk, sets up co-design processes with stakeholders. The processes in practice inspire and make it possible to validate newly developed research. Residents, visitors, municipalities, students, teachers and (non-)profit organizations actively participate and are truly co-owners of the issue, which contributes to the ultimate impact of the social innovation. In addition, stakeholders (and therefore students and teachers) learn what the value of co-design and empathy can be for addressing social issues and how design interventions already during the process can ultimately lead to social innovation and impact.

Collaborating with Societal Impact Design

With Societal Impact Design, we tackle complex social issues. We do this partly in so-called living lab learning environments. Like in the Urban Leisure & Tourism Lab Amsterdam where we focus on the impact of the visitor economy on Amsterdam North and the nearby rural areas. But we are also active in other labs and in various minors, with interns and graduates. As a municipality, social organization or company, you can present your issue to our research group and join ongoing projects. Together, as a learning community, we then learn to find design opportunities that lead to new insights and hopefully positive social impact. Interested in a collaboration? Send an email to Wina.

The Co-design Canvas

Wina Smeenk publishes useful tool for co-design processes

Societal challenges are urgent and affect everyone, including politicians, citizens, government officials, business professionals, NGOs, designers and researchers. Understanding and addressing these challenges is difficult because no single stakeholder or organisation is solely responsible. Everything is interconnected and constantly changing, resulting in challenges being neglected and stakeholders being unable or unwilling to make important decisions.

The Co-Design Canvas is a practical and user-friendly tool that supports flexible planning, conducting, and evaluating of co-design processes for multi-stakeholder coalitions and facilitators. The Canvas: 

  • Helps you discover how to facilitate open and transparent dialogue.
  • Is a useful tool for initiating, planning, conducting and assessing collaborations.
  • Learns you about inclusivity and effective collaboration in addressing societal challenges.

More about Wina's publication

Read everything about the Co-Design Canvas

Inaugural lecture by Wina Smeenk: the world tilted

In her inaugural lecture in December 2022, professor Wina Smeenk explained how creative professionals can make an essential contribution to tackling social issues. The world is tottering, according to Wina, and we will all have to ensure that it tilts in the right direction. Want to know more about this? Watch the speech back via the video below (Dutch spoken).

Download inaugural lecture (English)

What can you do for a sustainable society?

The transition to a more sustainable society is often perceived as a challenge that can seem too complex to do anything about on our own. In her interview with Kees Klomp and circular platform CIRCL, Wina explains why this does not have to be the case if we apply principles from the design world. Then we can create a society that works for everyone.

Read the interview (Dutch)

Research topics

Societal Impact Design investigates how design as an approach contributes to exploring and addressing complex social issues. This research includes three focus areas: co-design, perspectives and empathy.


We want to strengthen the current co-design methodology by developing and testing newly developed processes and methods in the context of social issues. By validating our new models, methodologies, methods and experiences in practical projects with the field and education, we work towards relevant research for change makers, change agents, change agents, designers and researchers. For example, the design thinking game for innovation and transformation: Design Play Change. Or The Co-design Canvas; an empathetic co-design tool with social impact with which we want to connect stakeholders and ideas by using collective research and working together. The Co-Design Canvas exists in both Dutch and English versions.


Social innovation and impact can only be achieved by including all the different perspectives of stakeholders in an issue. Therefore, we chase three perspectives in each design process phase. First, awareness of one's own relevant experiences, assumptions and biases is important. Next, the perspective and experience of others. And finally, we include the work of others (experts), such as theory, data, documentaries and designs. This gives us a good overview of the playing field, opportunities and dilemmas to achieve positive impact.


Empathy not only fosters collaboration, but is also a key in finding new directions for ideas. What can empathy do to address social issues together, create social innovations and achieve positive impact? To this end, we developed an Empathic Co-design Compass and methods such as the Empathic Hand-over Method. The important thing is to harness the authentic stories, experiences, aspirations and feelings of people who are directly affected by an issue.

Expert Network for Systemic Co-design (ESC)

Complex and tough societal challenges no one can tackle alone. Think of tackling obesity, undermining, off-the-gas and cyber-security. These are issues that often fall outside existing organizational structures and must therefore be viewed from different perspectives. Lecturer Societal Impact Design Wina Smeenk is founder of the Expert Network for Systemic Co-design (ESC), together with lecturers Jürg Thölke and Guido Stompff. In this network, Hogeschool Inholland works together with De Haagse Hogeschool, Hogeschool Utrecht and Hogeschool Rotterdam to initiate and accelerate the sustainable, digital and health transition with concrete cases.

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Digital Rights Research Team

The role of digital technology in our daily lives continues to grow. This makes issues about data and digital rights increasingly relevant. In collaboration with lecturers Ander de Keijzer and Ben Wagner, Wina Smeenk has therefore formed the Digital Rights Research Team. With this, the professors focus their attention on a digitally responsible society. For example, they conduct research into how technology contributes to the quality of life.

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The professor of Societal Impact Design

Wina  Smeenk
Wina  Smeenk
Wina Smeenk

Collaborating partners

News about Societal Impact Design

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