Renewing Growth: Building Commons on Open Ground

The resource/manufacturing economy that has sustained Western society for the past two centuries is showing signs of rust. While the champions of weathered industries like print news, traditional manufacturing and fossil fuel extraction are applying fresh coats of paint and working double-time to undermine their opponents, global leaders are looking for a new way forward.

On October 27th/28th, the International Economic Forum of the Americas will be hosting its annual Toronto Global Forum, with a theme of Rethinking Growth. The theory is that if you put the world’s most successful, influential people in a room, they can collectively figure out big-picture solutions that can be fed down the pipe to everyone else. Or build new partnerships and land new deals, which is pretty much the same thing, isn’t it?

There are other big names working at the problem of rethinking economic growth and governance at the global level. Don Tapscott and the Martin Prosperity Institute are undertaking a landmark study of how global, web-based networks can be part of the solution to our collective structural woes.

To summarize – recognizing that the model of capitalism we’ve relied on for ages is maladapted to the challenges of our time, the world’s powerful people are either internalizing solution-development or outsourcing it to usual suspects.

Here’s what’s wrong with this model.

The basic decision-making processes these leaders are using differ none at all from the ones they’re theoretically recognizing as ill-adapted to the times.  They’re looking at policy as a product that gets crafted by specialists and then sold to the masses.  In this model, those who aren’t among the world-leader crowd are either seen as resource-providers, front-line implementers or consumers.

“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them,” said Einstein – but that’s exactly what the world’s power-brokers are trying to do.  It can’t work.  Fortunately, it’s not just the world’s power brokers looking for innovative solutions to our structural problems.

While we traditionally associate grassroots activism as being anti-system and anti-government, there is an emerging trend of community-focused social innovators who see themselves as part of the solution, not problem-fighters.  The rallying cry of engagement is shifting from “we can’t let them” to “how might we?”

The most prominent example of this shift in activism from opposition to collaboration is in the expanding world of Open Government.

Open Government is a global movement of public servants, private sector partners and engaged citizens committed to opening the process of government and empowering people to be part of the policy-making process.  In just three years, the global Open Government Partnership has grown from 8 participating countries to 65, with more than 2,000 initiatives on the go.

These initiatives are evolving from one-day hackathons and well-meaning but structurally exclusive panel discussions into more dynamic, engaging and sustained event series and projects.  My personal favourite is #OGT14 – Open Government on the Open Road, a civic-engagement-as-art project conceived and led by Richard Pietro, funded by Make Web Not War, but implemented by communities across the country.

Also noteworthy is Pakathon, a unique experiment in crowdsourcing.  Pakathon is a movement that seeks to reverse Pakistan’s brain-drain and engage its social entrepreneur community.  It does this by supporting community-led hackathons around the world that empower diverse groups of entrepreneurs, researchers and technologists to rethink growth in Pakistan from the grassroots up.

The sorts of solutions emerging from discussions like Pakathon are as much about realistic economic opportunity and community empowerment as they are about policy change.  It turns out that if you bring a cross-section of people and talent together in one space (in person or online) and challenge them to collectively figure out local problems, they will come up with some incredible ideas that can potentially be scaled up for global application.

Which leaves us with an interesting conundrum – the world’s power-brokers are convening in old-school forums to rethink growth on the people’s behalf (with an eye towards new partnerships) at the same time as global communities of engagement are catalyzing new growth from the grassroots up (and also looking for partnerships to fund implementation and support growth).

This is the challenge of our times: how might we bridge the gap between the world’s power-brokers rethinking top-down growth for tomorrow and grassroots social innovators planting seeds today?

Instead of reinventing the wheel, we need to be thinking outside the box.  Post-industrial growth won’t be about what can be extracted by one group and sold to another, but what can be built collaboratively on common ground.

REGISTER TODAY!

The Toronto Grassroots Innovation Forum:

Tuesday, October 28th at CSI Regent Park.

 

Microtainer: social innovation & lab links we’re following (August 2014)

C/O Louise Boye

C/O Louise Boye

This mini blog, or bloggette, is part of our ongoing effort to spread information that we think will be interesting, insightful and useful to lab practitioners and the lab-curious. Below is a collection of resources that crossed our desks over the month of August 2014. In no particular order:

1. The final essay of a three part series on the future of independent work: “Fringe Benefits” by Bryan Boyer. In this third installment, Bryan discusses what independent workers have expressed as core needs (effort, flexibility, responsibility, pay, and security), as well as needs that are ripe for innovation (identity, community, professional development, and scaling ones own efforts), trade-offs that independent workers juggle, and questions that he is left pondering. Also see essay one, two, and zero (the prequel), the series is an interesting read for entrepreneurs, freelancers, contractors, consultants… that is, what Bryan terms: independents.

2. Another one related to Bryan: Blog post, “Bryan Boyer: Stories from 5 years at Helsinki Design Lab,” summarizes a GovLab Ideas Lunch session by Bryan, about his work at Sitra and the notion of “dark matter.” (for more on the vocab of strategic design, check out this book by Dan Hill)

3. Streamed half hour conversation with Bruce Katz (author of The Metropolitan Revolution) and Geoff Mulgan (Nesta) and moderated by Alexandra Jones (Centre for Cities), on “How to encourage innovation in city economies.” The trio explore the shifting innovation landscape: revaluing needs and assets; technology fusing with other clusters like education/health etc; countries leading the innovation charge; the role of creativity, etc.

4. Blog post: “We Need New Civic Institutions To Confront The Challenges Of The 21st Century,” by Thomas Neumark, explores the debate around whether to renew declining institutions or to create whole new institutions (as the title suggests, Thomas argues for the latter).

5. Blog post: “Why social entrepreneurship has become a distraction: it is mainstream capitalism that needs to change,” by the very wise Pamela Hartigan, Director of the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship at Oxford Said Business School. Some great lines include, “The key to sustainable capitalism is reasonable profits as opposed to maximizing profits…Fortunately, there are a growing number of people, particularly among the young, who embrace the notion of ‘entrepreneurship for society,’ rather than commercial or social entrepreneurship.  They are not waiting until they are 50 years old when they have ‘made their money’ and can ‘give back’.”

6. There is still a strong buzz about the book “Labcraft.” Here is a blog post about the making of the book on La 27e Région’s blog (en français) and Kennisland’s blog (in English). The book can be purchased from the Labcraft website (take a sneak peak of the book here).

7. Book: “Public Innovation through Collaboration and Design,” by Christopher Ansell and Jacob Torfing, with a chapter written by Christian Bason of Mindlab on “design attitude.” The book brings together empirical studies drawn from Europe, the USA and the antipodes to show how collaboration, creative problem-solving and design are important features of public sector innovation in many Western democracies with different conditions and traditions.

8. Article: “Finding a radical solution to a common challenge” explores the merits and potential of the Radical Efficiency model by describing the development of Family Voices — a project that emerged from work done by the Innovation Unit and the Children’s Centres in the Whiston Area of Knowsley (UK). Family Voices enables the Children’s Centres’ staff to achieve their universal mission, tailor delivery to local needs and reach more families, all while creating a measurably better service at a reduced cost. That is a win-win-win-win-win!

9. The DIY (Development Impact & You) Toolkit’s YouTube channel has a collection of thirty social innovation tools in the form of video tutorials. The DIY Toolkit has been specifically designed to arm people working in development with the tools to invent, adopt or adapt ideas that can deliver better development results and outcomes.

10. Nesta released a guide on 18 everyday social innovations – big ideas with positive socio-cultural impacts in the UK & beyond. They are:

  • Kindergarten
  • Cooperatives
  • First Aid
  • Girlguiding
  • Meals On Wheels
  • The National Childbirth Trust
  • Fair Trade
  • The Hospice Movement
  • The Open University
  • The World Wide Web
  • The Big Issue
  • Police Support Volunteers
  • Shared Lives Plus
  • Patients Like Me
  • Avaaz
  • BeatBullying
  • The Pennies Foundation
  • Code Club

11.  A great list (with hyperlinks) of the social innovation labs around the world, as part of next week’s Social iCon conference taking place in Singapore via the Lien School of Social Entrepreneurship. The list covers labs from Afghanistan (UNICEF Afghanistan Innovation Lab) to Zimbabwe (CCore Zimbabwe Lab),  and 40+ social innovation labs across Asia.

12. Great post: “6 Ways To Make Your Work More Effective, From Entrepreneurs Who Want To Change The World” on FastCoExist, by Finance Innovation Lab’s Rachel Sinha and The Point People’s Ella Saltmarshe. The six strategies highlighted are:

  1. Understand the system you are trying to change. But not too much.
  2. Experiment, prototype, test, and be prepared to be wrong. Dive in and act. Experiment. Learn. But don’t do it alone.
  3. Stop and learn. Reflection is essential to systems change.
  4. Don’t go it alone. Get smart about collaboration. If you want to create impact, you will have to collaborate. Full stop.
  5. Create liminal spaces that allow you to move in and out of the system you are trying to change. It can be hard to create radical change from within the status quo and it can be hard to influence a system from outside of it.
  6. Get humble. Become comfortable leading from behind. Don’t make yourself too central to the result. It’s often when you get out the way that the magic happens.

13.  Article: “Hacking democracy – nine interesting GovHack projects“ talks about GovHack – one of Australia’s largest hackathons — where teams of programmers and designers compete to come up with novel ways to use government data over the course of a weekend.

14.  Along a similar vein, UK’s FutureGov held a “Design Meets Social Care” Design Camp, which brought together the FutureGov team and 20 up-and-coming young designers for an intensive day of thinking big about the future of adult social care. The blog post contains images, tweets, and some of the provocations (“How would Zappos deliver social care?”) from the event.

15.  Blog post: “Reflections from Accelerate 2014: What does it take to collaborate?” by Saralyn Hodgkin of The Natural Step Canada’s Sustainability Transition Lab, emphasizes the need to collaborate across boundaries as the key to getting things done. Saralyn shares how she will pull this thinking into her work at the Lab; for example, “ask different types of questions, see their efforts within a system, and effectively shift systems to build a thriving society.”

16. Workshop: “Tapping the Power of Networks: Strategies for Innovation and Renewal,” with complexity inspired facilitator-coach-animator Liz Rykert, co-led by network weaving guru June Holley (a huge influence for SiG’s field building two-pager). The workshop introduced the network approach, an approach where everyone is potentially a leader. “Connections and relationships are key to unleashing innovation and amplifying your work to reach more people, more deeply.”

17. Article: “New Community Planning Method Evolves and Deepens Community Engagement” explores a week-long design charrette to build community engagement and consensus for an Official Community Plan in Tumbler Ridge, British Columbia. The process was led by Urban Systems, an progressive engineering firm with a sister social enterprise Urban Matters that is worth checking out.

18. Great (and humble) blog post: “Burnaby Summer Update,” by InWithForward, talks about which of their initial assumptions they got wrong and how they’re re-calibrating their prototypes based on what they learned. This post is helpful in getting a sense of why prototyping is hard and what it requires.

19. Also by InWithForward, an absolute must-read-immediately-if-not-sooner discussion paper, “Grounded Change,” about the next iteration of their approach. This approach dives deep into what the team has found to be the 7 missing links between Social Policy, Social Services, and Outcomes that keep coming up across the many projects they have led and been involved in. The team is also soliciting feedback on the paper, so please do read and respond with your (constructive) critique!

19. Blog post: “Minding the gap: Georgia takes a page from UK’s innovation guidebook” by the Public Service Development Agency of the Ministry of Justice of Georgia (PSDA), talks about their social innovation learning tour to the UK. The tour covered a wide range of organizations from different fields and foci, including government innovation labs, think tanks, and social enterprises. A nice way to take a virtual vacation!

20. From the i-teams blog: MindLab’s Christian Bason writes “Ask citizens and bring order to the chaos of society,”. In this post, Christian describes the value of i-teams (or innovation teams) within government. “…you might consider i-teams as organizations that help to create meaning in chaos by inviting, involving and engaging citizens, policy makers and other stakeholders to find new and more powerful solutions for society. You could say that they institutionalize innovation processes.”. Helpful in finding ways to articulate the value that labs offer~ thanks CB!

21. Adore this project: “The Community Lover’s Guide to the Universe” is a growing collection of stories about amazing people and their innovative projects — people who are actively and creatively nurturing community together and transforming where they live. The website is a wider collection of blog posts and reflective essays on this emergent new community culture. The aim of the Community Lover’s Guide is to surface and share this new community practice widely. How great is that! And, I heard that Zahra Ebrahim of archiTEXT is involved (why am I not surprised?).

What have we missed?
What lab-related links have you been following this past month?