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 (Feb 2014)

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 the desks of Hyun-Duck Chung (MaRS Solutions Lab) and Satsuko VanAntwerp (SiG) over the month of February 2014. In no particular order:

  1. Blog post by Fast company with a round up of alternative design education options that “won’t break the bank” (ie. from $25/month to around 10K, instead of 100K and 4 years). Includes online options, pop-up design courses and boot camps from the likes of Austin Centre for Design, Stanford D.school, Behance, etc (found via Alexander Dirksen).

  1. Article on “The Nexus Effect: When Leaders Span Group Boundaries” highlighting three stories of cross-sector, multi-stakeholder partnerships and how this approach to leadership is becoming increasingly important for our changing times.

  1. This past Saturday, OCAD’s Situation Lab hosted a design jam, called Futurematic, where the group designed and created products from the future using the Extrapolation Lab’s foresight methodology. These products are in a vending machine in the main OCAD building — don’t miss this glimpse into the future: go see them for yourself! (My fave: In Touch – how do you really feel?) Stuart, we hope you will host more of these soon!

  1. Article in Stanford’s Social Innovation Review about how funders are exploring the deliberate reintroduction of risk-taking (ie. incorporating learning from failure and trial & error tinkering) into their processes and portfolios, in order to catalyze breakthrough change. Also, this blog post by Nesta’s Philip Colligan and Helen Goulden talks about how labs can make better funding decisions.

  1. A guide to prototyping new ideas put together by Nesta and ThinkPublic.

  1. Article highlighting nine strategies to deliver impact at scale distilled from Year Up’s lived experience of “scaling what works” (note: also appeared in SSIR). For another angle on the topic of scaling, check out this super interesting blog post exploring “Innovation for Development: Scaling Up or Evolving?” by Giulio Quagiotto, UN Global Pulse Lab, and Milica Begovic Radojevic, UNDP Europe & Central Asia. Also, this e-book,Scaling: Small Smart Moves For Outsized Results,” explores how to achieve big goals using minimal efforts.

  1. Two great publications from Accenture on public sector innovation: “Delivering Public Service for the Future: Navigating the Shifts” describes four profound structural shifts and a corresponding framework of practical actions governments can take to deliver the public service outcomes they want at a cost that can be sustained. “Radically Rethinking Public Services” makes the case for citizen-centred public services that are co-designed with citizens — in order to lower the cost of service delivery, while improving citizen outcomes (reminded of Nesta’s Radical Efficiency model, also awesome)

  1. Report and implementation how-to guide:Public & Collaborative: Designing Services for Housing” by Public Policy Lab, New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development and Parsons DESIS Lab, brings together 18 months of discovery and co-design with agency staff, service providers, and New York City residents. The report illustrates how the team applied user research and service design methods to the provision of housing services.

  1. Blog post by Momenteer Erika Bailey about culture and behaviour change and why discomfort is part of the process: “It Gets Worse Before It Gets Better – A Cautionary Tale.”

  1. Article in FastcoExist, “How To Turn Colleges Into Incubators For Changemaking Design,” provides five tips for reaching out to colleges. The article also makes the case for seasoned designers to work with design students in order to plant the seed for a future in social good design.

  1. Book:Enabling City 2” (and this cute, short video: Your Imagination Matters) by Chiara Camponeschi. In the words of MindLab’s Christian Bason, “Chiara Camponeschi has written a powerful contribution to our thinking about the future of cities. Collectively, the essays, articles and cases presented in this volume provide more than insight and inspiration – they demonstrate the emergence of a very different kind of urban reality: human, sharing, inclusive, resilient, innovative. The ideas in this book should influence anyone involved with urban and civic development, whether professionally or personally. Enabling City will be a tremendously valuable resource for many years to come.”

  1. Online version of Kennisland’s Annual Report for 2013 — beautifully designed and highlighting some great achievements including: a neighbourhood crowdfunding initiative, a series on social design for complex societal problems (the wicked series), and a social innovation lab gathering with leading labs from around the world (can you spot SiG@Waterloo’s own Sam Laban in the picture?).

  1. Excellent write up by Nesta’s Geoff Mulgan about public sector labs and social innovation labs: what are they, background, different methods, different typologies, and some great questions for the future of lab practice.

  1. Blog post exploring the differences between social entrepreneurship vs. social innovation (I’ve found this paper by France Westley helpful in defining this difference, particularly figure 1 on page 4).

  1. Fascinating summary of the book, The Moral Imagination: The Art & Soul of Building Peace, by John Paul Lederach – explores the theory of moral imagination, which has many overlaps with movement building, partnership brokering, facilitation, non-violent communications… all in the name of developing solutions (co-designing them!) to tough social challenges. The summary also has a lot of great metaphors: spiders and webs, partnerships, yeast – catalysts for movements.

  1. Blog post summarizing thoughts and perspectives from GovLab Ideas Luncheon Series on “Applying Human Centred Design Principles to Public Problems” with Jesper Christiansen of MindLab. Jesper illustrates the concept by talking about the Ministry of Employment’s approach to transforming the employment system — a cornerstone of their social welfare system and a significant public expenditure.

  1. The Natural Step’s Sustainable Transition Lab has updated the stages in their lab process on their website. Check out what happens during Pre-lab, Phase I, II, and III.

  1. Interesting blog post by Joe Julier, researcher at FutureGov and London’s DESIS Lab, exploring whether social design is a new tool for a designer’s toolkit or whether it is becoming ingrained in design philosophy (found via Terrie Chan).

  2. This is very cool: “ReFraming: The Art of Thinking Differently” is a website that takes you through, step-by-step, to help you reframe a situation or challenge – that is, to see the other side of the coin.

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

Hyun-Duck & Satsuko