All posts by Bryan Boyer
On Monday we launched our latest (and last) book, Legible Practises. This post shares the thinking behind the book, but if you just want to get your hands on it you can download the full PDF or order a copy via print on demand.
We wrote Legible Practises because we hope to bring attention to the craft of involved in stewarding institutions towards new new behaviors, new roles, and new purpose. This stems from a hunch that built slowly over five years, which is best explained in the preface:
...We have been lucky to participate in a global conversation with communities spanning from design to public service, technology to activism. Although each has its own set of tools and approaches, what struck us was the degree to which similar themes emerged again and again. The words may have been different, but the nature of the challenges and the styles of response were often remarkably comparable. Yet each spoke as though they were working in relative isolation.
Perhaps this should be no surprise, given the challenge of a world where many things seems to be changing, including the ways we live, eat, communicate, and just about everything else. As our needs span the silos of today’s society, the boundaries of our disciplines and the relationships between them will inevitably also have to adjust. Some are already doing this proactively; they know that it can be lonely on the edge.
To be an effective practitioner during a moment of flux is to be concerned with the discipline of one’s work as part and parcel to achieving better outcomes. The most accomplished practitioners do this naturally, but are often too busy to stand back and reflect publicly on a meta-level, let alone take the time to package and publish their approaches legibly. Sharing tends to focus on the endgame, without much elaboration of how it was played. When we read about promising social innovations in faraway places, we get half the story: sanitised of missteps, triumphant over adversity, effortless.
But hop on a plane and spend a day with one of these practitioners and a different story is revealed, a richer and more informative one. Last summer we had the luxury of doing just that. We listened closely to project teams as they explained their work in detail. We hosted three sessions, each bringing together two cases for a simultaneous discussion, concluding with full notebooks, large audio files, and our heads happily aching.
With this book we have zoomed into the promising practises of six groups to highlight shared tools and approaches, as made legible by concrete examples. In many ways this was a selfish act, one motivated by our own inquisitiveness and interest in learning from the best. More importantly, however, we hope to spark a conversation about the deep craft of social innovation as a reminder that, even when dreaming big, the details still matter.
Nesta, MindLab, IDEO, Community Solutions, Tironi & Elemental, and Government Digital Services were gracious enough to allow us to study their work. They provided the big dreams. We hosted a series of discussions, each bringing together a pair of cases, and then set to work distilling the outcomes into this text. Our work was to make the bridge between the dreams and the details explicit. We did this because we think that it might help others (including ourselves) learn quicker.
Each case is presented with a basic overview, a narrative that's a few pages long, a 'network of practise' diagram, and a series of points of practise that are illustrated by the case in question but by no means exclusive to it. In the one page overview we itemize the goal, theory of change (in our words), and strokes of luck. This last item is particularly important: if there were aspects of the project that would be impossible or extremely difficult to replicate, we've attempted to notify the reader of that upfront so that they can immediately start looking for alternatives.
The narrative does what narratives do: it gives you the overall arc of the story, describes the starting point and the status of the project (at time of writing), and introduces the main characters.
The 'network of practise' is a diagram we've invented to show a web of relationships between the points of practice in the book. This comes out of a taxonometric problem that we encountered when compiling the list of points of practice. On the one hand, it felt like we should divide them into a taxonomy with categories such as tools (data map, project blog, audio interview), methods (create upside, public beta), qualities (work at the extremes, create upside)… but this felt premature given that we've only studied six cases. We could certainly create a taxonomy, but that already implies a formality of knowledge that we were not comfortable with. One of the starting points of the study was the fact that different disciplines were all aiming at the same problem, which indicates that this moment is one of flux more than fixity. Using this network rather than a taxonomy avoids the problems of moving from one set of silos to another, and instead puts the emphasis on the individual points and how they connect.
As an open-ended system, the network diagrams show linkages between items and help the reader come to their own conclusions about the relationships between them in terms of scale, importance, and directionality. The diagrams include a mix of the points in the case in question, other cases in the book, as well as some points which are not covered at all in the book. Again, open-ended. Still in development. Evolving.
We've put our emphasis on decomposing the stories into building blocks: it's up to you to recombine them in whatever way is useful. Twopoints interpreted the networks so that each takes on its own visual form, its own identity. This leads to a good question: might we find a way to draw different kinds of institutional changes as typologies that have similar forms? Could we draw similar challenges in a way that helps an emerging community of practise develop a shared language for 'spiky problems', 'flat problems', 'round problems', etc? We have not engaged with that possibility here, for want to a large enough body of cases to do the idea justice, but perhaps at a future date.
Next come the points of practise, which are a mix of tactics, tools, qualities, and probably some other broad categories we've neglected to see. Each point of practice is told through the case it's attached to, but is relevant to other cases as well (as exhibited in the network diagrams).
A subset of the points of practise are illustrated with drawings by Lucia Walter. This decision came out of a desire to add some visual content to the text. Choosing between photos and illustrations was rather simple: people rarely take photos of their process (unless they're like obsessive like the author of this post). But resorting to illustration was also important because it gave us a chance to bring the texture of handcraft into the book. We selected Lucia because her work in pen and ink is obviously rendered as a playful mix of purpose and happy accident. The style of the illustration is an embodiment of the notion of stewardship that we explore in the text itself.
Legible Practises is not attempting to be a definitive. Rather, we've hoped to nudge the discourse(s) on institutional change, on social innovation, on strategic design in a direction that engages the material practices as seriously as it does the cognitive ones. Like all of our publications, we've taken the liberty to experiment with the formatting and the execution without letting that diminish the thinking. Whether any of these experiments have worked it up to you to decide. We hope you like it.
In parallel with publishing Legible Practises as a hardcopy book on beautiful paper, with two color inks, and a swiss binding, we've also made it available via print on demand using Lulu.com. We have experimented with Lulu in the past and while it's not as nice as bespoke printing, their global distribution is important. By making the book interiors black and white we've also been able to offer it for a very low price.
And while we were at it, we also made In Studio: Recipes for Systemic Change available via print on demand.
T-Minus 3 days till HDL 2013.
That means we're on site at the venue doing AV checks, finalizing meals, printing programmes, and the like. Today we moved boxes upon boxes of HDL books, posters, and other material to Kellohalli. We'll be giving them all away to attendees.
Apart from that, we're working on a revision to the website that will serve as the final update. There won't be any major changes, but we're taking the opportunity to adjust things like the navigation and organization of the site so that it's as useful an archive as possible for people who happen upon it.
Because Everything Is Connected, redoing the website means also revisiting some of the publications. We've created print-on-demand versions of In Studio and Legible Practises, both of which will be cheap and available globally.
OK, back to event preparations.
In case you missed it, earlier this week we shared the story of the HDL visual language, how we brief photographers, and a few of our favorite spots around town (for those coming to the event and finding themselves with a bit of free time). That makes this a four-post week.
We have about 200 people joining us for HDL 2013 next Monday and a good portion of them are coming from outside Finland. In case you're not familiar with the city, here are some suggestions for things to do when you're not at the event.
nb. Restaurants in Helsinki can have idiosyncratic hours and often book up quickly. It's best to check online before you visit, or even give them a ring.
Modern Finnish cuisine in what used to be a sculptor's studio.
A little slice of Finland circa 1950. Try the meatballs or the salmon soup.
Dong Bei Hu
It sounds odd to have Chinese food in Finland, but this is some of the best to be found outside of the Middle Kingdom.
Glass of wine
Occupying a quiet corner in one of Helsinki's leafier neighborhoods.
Pizza and drinks with grad students and cool kids.
Coffee or a small breakfast
Coffee, tea, and snacks in a crisp space.
Yliopistonkatu 6 (inside the Kluuvi mall)
Good coffee & good people-watching on a busy downtown street.
Kolmas Linja 17
Part of Finland's new wave of coffeeshops.
See a bit of Helsinki
Relax in Helsinki's newest (and best) wood-fired public sauna. Like none other.
Go for the paintings by Finnish masters Akseli Gallen-Kallela and Hugo Simberg.
Have a walk around this island fort just off the cost. Public transport takes you there and back from Kauppatori, the market square.
Bring home something nice
Selling a wide variety of products by local designers.
More than sofas, but those are nice too.
Glassware and other things for the home since 1881.
In the design world there's an obsession with "representation," or the act of representing ideas and concepts in media (be it a poster, a book, or a building). In part this obsession stems from the recognition that an idea in your head is only as useful or as interesting as your ability to articulate it in a way that can be shared with others (in whatever medium suits you and them). How you present your thinking matters. But the term designers use is is "represent", not "present." The former shyly evokes two important relationships: one in time and one scalar.
To "re-present" an idea is to perform its meaning anew. Expressing something in new ways, perhaps unexpected ways, has the potential to help us refine the very thought that we were trying to express in the first place. This is the essence of "talking through" a notion: making successive attempts to explain something helps clarify the thing itself. Representing ideas is not frivolous, it's essential. Representation helps us understand the essence of what we are trying to share.
But "representation" is also important in the realm of political science, where it implies that an elected official represents the interests of their constituents. This is a scalar relationship where one vote effectively represents many, even if the many might each have their own variations if asked directly. Implicit in this one to many relationship is a basic fungibility: because it's impossible for one vote to capture all of the nuance of the many that it stands in for, there's always the possibility that the 'one' can change. The same can be said for any act of visual expression: when a book goes to press, for instance, the cover that is chosen is not some inherently perfect crystallization of the ideas, but it's the right expression at the moment a decision was made, for the people who made it. The selected expression sits at one terminus of a family tree of options (and families of options).
In the spirit of being concerned with representation in both senses of the word I thought it would be interesting to show some of the background thinking that went into the HDL brand itself. Before beginning work on the first HDL website, which would become the public face of our initiative, we invested some time (and a little money) into clarifying our visual language. To help us with this work we hired TwoPoints.net, a Barcelona-based graphic design firm who we've now had the pleasure of working with on multiple occasions over the past four or so years.
When I met with them in their small studio we started from zero. What is strategic design? Having arrived on an overnight flight from California, I was speaking in the weird metaphors that proper jetlag inspires. They giggled when I described strategic design as being concerned with "hairy problems". Even still, Martin and Lupi try to sneak this into our collaborations.
But no, it's not as literal as a hairy McNugget (though that would be problematic). By hairy I meant to imply that the sorts of issues we're concerned with are unclear, they're ambiguous, fuzzy, in motion, and often just hard to grapple with. In short, they're difficult.
The second starting point was the legacy of HDL itself. We had just recently discovered a wealth of photographs and other documents hiding in the archives. In 1968 the first HDL-related event was stylish, but because of its era it was also very paired back, appearing almost minimal to today's eyes. We wanted to evoke this and connect with the lineage of our thinking.
Third is the nature of Sitra itself. As an organization that reports to Parliament, Sitra is a serious institution, and our design-related work is no exception. We asked TwoPoints to respect the seriousness of work we were setting out to do by giving it a downplayed visual expression. The result, as you will see, if a visual language that can be rather austere in its most basic applications. We've carefully avoided graphic frills over the years. We've embraced the blank space, the negative space.
After our first meeting Lupi and Martin spent a couple weeks digesting the contents along with Irene Hwang of Constructing Communication, who was also contributing to the project. We asked them to provide us with a style guide that defined a visual language for HDL, including all of the basic such as typography, colors, and a family of layout concepts (expressed as common grids that we use in all documents).
When they finally came back to us, their document, a styleguide for HDL, opened with this:
The driving idea of the visual identity is drawn from the “space” occupied by the strategic framework of HDL, which draws together a diverse group of actors and entities from various fields. These actors, each one a specialist in his field, contributes a unique point of view within a group that can offer a more holistic definition of the problem, thereby creating the opportunity for a more effective range of solutions.
Here you can see the genome of our Studio Model already emerging. The general notion of a collaborative, multidisciplinary, design-led framework is certainly at the core of the Studio, but it's also true of our work in general. So how to express this visually?
In terms of visual representation, this space is filled by heterogeneous visual styles that serve to represent the actors with different backgrounds functioning in a holistic way.
The conceptual framework of this particular visual identity, in contrast to a “normal” branding, avoids homogeneity or uniformity in favor of highly diverse visual styles occupying the same space. Yet, given this embrace of heterogeneity, the visual identity maintains a sense of stability in order that the identity expresses trust, confidence and recognizability.
Thus, the visual identity is both flexible and constant. The identity contains two zones: 1) A flexible image space that may house corporate elements or images that illustrate a specific content and 2) The wordmark space. On the following pages we will outline the different applications of the word- and imagemark.
Facing the challenge of representing HDL as an entity that would constantly evolve as we collaborated with different actors and entities, TwoPoints chose to eschew a static logo and instead designed a visual system that is flexible, yet in all of its iterations remains recognizable.
The system is comprised of five key elements:
1. HDL elements. Shapes abstracted from the letter forms of 'HDL'. We always use at least one.
2. Colors. We are relentless in using HDL blue (Pantone 072 or RGB(0,0,120) for the curious) if you haven't noticed, and that's thanks an initial decision up front that we would use 'blueprint blue' in all of our work. The other colors are used for accent.
3. Network elements. These imply connectivity, intersection.
4. A 'composition zone' defined as a space to be filled with image and typography depending on the application.
5. Grid logic. Basic rules about how to handle negative space keep the logo system from feeling cramped to squashed.
This set of guidelines provides the building blocks needed to construct a wide range of documents and other visualizations. By spending the time to think about the visual expression—the brand—of our work up front we were able to move quickly at later stages. New publications, new documents, new projects didn't bear the burden of starting from scratch, but they were also not overly-constrained. We had enough freedom to produce a variety of visual expressions that hung together as a family, while each having their own character.
We put this much effort into the visual language of our initiative because that was one low-hanging fruit of differentiation. As newcomers to the market of ideas in 2009-2010 we felt that we would have to stake a claim for ourselves, and while there are a wide variety of very smart people saying and writing very smart things in the communities of social innovation, sustainability, government reform, and the others that we've traveled in, the level of visual sophistication was somewhat lacking.
The ideas are what matter in the end, and I hope the value of our work is determined by the value of nothing other than our thinking and execution. The time we spent on the visual expression of HDL was our way of imbuing what we do with a great deal of care, and in doing so respecting the time and attention that you've given us.
This means our life is a series of checklists, one of Marco's favorite activities.
- Catering? Got it, delicious.
- And they have enough tables? Yup.
- High powered projector? Check.
- Speakers briefed? Done.
- Wayfinding? Working on that one.
We have been using Eventbrite to manage registrations for this event and I highly recommend the service if you have not used it before. It just works—and in the process of just working it casts off all sorts of useful data.
Data has been on my mind a lot lately. As Justin and I traveled from place to place, the question that kept coming up was, "how do you measure your impact?" We can point to specific successes, such as the number of large-scale timber frame buildings (4) that have taken advantage of the changes to the fire codes that our Low2No project helped unlock. We could (but have not had the resources) to do a business case analysis of the new life that timber construction could breathe into the Finnish wood industry. We could (but have not had the resources) to assess the economic impact of a more fluid food entrepreneurship sector.
What is the economic value currently unrealized because of the quirks of the food service real estate market in Helsinki? These are questions that can be answered on a reasonable timeline with the right skill and time. But when we are talking about systemic changes (like adjusting the emphasis in school curriculums, or even deploying new models for schooling altogether) are we prepared to wait a generation or more for results that allow us to assess outcomes? And will the results come in a form we're prepared to recognize? And while measuring outcomes is one useful activity, it is not the same as learning from activity and refining future activity.
What strikes me is the cost of measuring social and ecological impacts compared to the cost of measuring economic outcomes. We've had more than 150 years of practice (or more) at measuring (and building tools to help us measure) financial results. We'll be lucky if a fluency in measuring other forms of value can be effectively booted up in half that time—not that we should be so patient.
Tech startups offer a useful, yet frustrating, analogy. By virtue of their venture funding, many startups temporarily exist outside the realm of direct market feedback. That is, their founders worry about having a business model and the possibility of making money in the future, but they do not have to worry about finances on a daily basis the way a butcher shop or a plumber might. Venture capital turns income into an externality—for a little while. Yet in the absence of direct feedback from the market, tech startups are still able to make educated decisions based on data: usage data.
By virtue of operating websites and apps via centralized servers, vast amounts of usage data come for free in the form of server logs. The cost of measuring performance is built into the cost of operating an online service.
For instance, I can tell you with a quick glance at the Google Analytics for this website that we've had 4615 visitors in the past 30 days and that 1.72% of them arrived while searching the internet for "Marco Steinberg". The sheer wealth of data available to me, as someone who runs a website, is overwhelming, and this is using free tools available to any site owner. Those who operate their own apps and have their own engineering teams have the ability to further build custom reporting and analytics tools that zoom in on the details they care about most.
Friend-of-HDL Cassie Robinson wrote recently about using data to steward systems. Data, she writes, helps us re-route our actions when needed. And I do agree, but much of what we do is still beyond the reach of useful data. The real challenge is the high cost of measuring non-financial value. How do we make accounting for social and ecological impact cheaper, faster, easier? How can we achieve the same efficiencies enjoyed by services that run on servers for those impacts that only happen in classrooms, on the street, or in a forest for instance? The internet of things is beginning to provide more diverse ways to measure environmental performance by dropping the cost of sensors and making them smaller than ever before. Can we also find ways to lower the cost of measuring human experience, behavior, perhaps even mood? Can we drop the cost and pain of measuring outcomes as a key part of supporting social innovation?
Proving your value is always the obligation of an upstart, but asking social startups to prove their value and invent a way to cost-effectively measure their value at the same time is a tall ask. If you know of anyone who's taking this on as a challenge please drop a note in the comments. We would like to hear more about it.
In other news, Brickstarter was in the Economist last week (week of May 18th issue) and that book is almost done. No, really.
With two and a half weeks of travel behind us, and just a few more days left on our HDL tour, the most common question Justin and I have been asked is, "are you ready to kill each other?" On the contrary, we're lucky to travel well together. This kind of trip would be impossible otherwise.
Today is London, fresh off the plane from Dubai. Later today we will give a talk to the MA Design Futures students at Goldsmiths University. I'm especially looking forward to this, as I hope we can spark a discussion about the boundaries of the applicability of design fiction. HDL has been an attempt to push beyond the fictive and that's one of the things we're most proud about.
Dubai was a quick stop, but we enjoyed a couple of morning sessions hosted by Noah Raford in the Prime Minister's Office. The conversation there was focused on improvement of services, the importance of synthesis (and thus design ability), and prototyping towards solutions. Many thanks to Noah for putting these discussions together. Although it's more recognized for deep spending on hard infrastructure, it was impressive to see the amount of attention being poured into the soft infrastructure in Dubai as well.
We also managed to zip down to Masdar City, which has long been part of our discussions around Low2No. We've seen Low2No as an alternative model to Masdar, one that's more appropriate for cities with legacies of built form, legislation, and financial regimes that cannot be swept aside. Seeing Masdar in person was enlightening. It's hard for such a hugely ambitious project to ever meet the hype, and there's certainly plenty of room for Masdar to grow into the reputation that it has created for itself. Still, what is happening there now may end up being more interesting than the original Foster master plan. As the planning adjusts to a smaller scope and a smaller budget, perhaps something more modest and more replicable will emerge?
We arrived to Dubai via Hong Kong, where Justin and I stopped over to meet with Cees de Bont and Alvin Yip of Hong Kong Polytechnic University School of Design. They shared insights about the current state of design in China that have evolved since our last visit there in 2009, including a growing recognition of the role for designers in social innovation. In fact the Jockey Club, which makes a substantial purse off of track betting, has endowed the Design Institute for Social Innovation. They are just booting up now, but we will pay close attention. It was encouraging to hear about these plans, as it makes the HDL closure easier. HDL is fading out, but the ideas and the practices of strategic design certainly are not.
Before Hong Kong it was Tokyo. Justin describes it thusly:
After an overnight from Sydney, we landed on beautiful spring morning in Tokyo. The privilege of arriving at Haneda Airport, close to the center, is that some of the scale, complexity and diverse functions of Tokyo are revealed. From the air, Japan’s industrial base, which is mostly absent in Hong Kong, seems robust, busily making small things very well.
We were invited by the University of Tokyo i.School to give a talk to students, staff and like-minded practitioners on strategic design and our projects at Tokyo Midtown Design Hub. Our gracious hosts Fumiko Ichikawa and Hiroshi Tamura had teed up an engaging facilitated workshop following the talk where the audience was asked to define “what is strategic design” (which we probably didn’t help them with during our talk!) and how could the approach be used to aid in tsunami recovery. With this group the idea of building a rigorous and active feedback loop between understanding the nature of the challenge systemically, and acting to make change via proposals and projects, clearly resonated.
Similarly, during a workshop we ran at the i.school on the following day with Tokyo’s leading social innovators, the need to better connect thinking and doing was a popular topic. I was struck by how the tsunami had cracked open the opportunity for individuals to rethink and possibly begin to take on Japan’s structural challenges such as the widespread expectation lifelong employment with a single large employer or the lack of funding for smaller enterprises. The social entrepreneurs in the room seemed well equipped to compel Japan to remake itself as a more resilient society after the crisis.
On our last day in Tokyo, we had the pleasure of visiting ETIC, which has been working for two decades to ignite entrepreneurship among Japan’s youth. Their experience during that time suggests that Japan’s entrepreneurs are heading in the right direction as they are now more professional and impact oriented than ever.
We also visited the Nippon Foundation, which like Sitra, has a broad mandate to spur innovation nationally. Impact, measurement, outcomes, etc. are all ideas that are in the water in their organization as well.
Tokyo was a wonderful stop on our tour. On the one hand, their highly sophisticated culture has produced incredible gains for society, but on the other the dominate cultures of decision making seem opaque and unbendable to many. But events like the tsunami are providing a way in for social innovators like the ones we met at the i.school.
Before that? Australia.
Amidst all of this, Legible Practises is going to press. No pictures yet of the printing process, but here's a glimpse of what it will look like:
Toronto, Melbourne, Sydney. That was week 217. In other words, a blur.
Next stop: Tokyo.
The last two weeks have been consumed by the task of finalizing our latest and last HDL publication. It's a book called Legible Practises that contains six stories about the craft of stewardship. Huh? Stewardship, as we define it, is the art of getting things done when many minds are involved in the conceptualization and many hands in the implementation. The six stories we look at are each examples of changing the tires of a car while driving. In other words, changing systems while they're still humming (or clunking and sputtering) along. More on this shortly, when it's actually out the door. Right now a more pressing concern weighs on our minds as Justin and I camp out at a cafe in Toronto: the weather.
Toronto is warmer than expected. Naturally, the day we spend enjoying the city and meeting with groups like The Moment, MaRS Solutions Lab, Ontario College of Art and Design Strategic Innovation Lab, and MASS LBP is the day that's rainy and gray. Today we are frantically finishing work before hopping on the next flight and it's gorgeous. Nevertheless, this has been another inspiring visit to Toronto thanks to the forethought and preparation of Social Innovation Generation. Thanks to Tim and Satsuko!
This is the second stop on our HDL Moi Moi tour. As part of closing down the initiative, we're visiting people in New York, Toronto, Melbourne, Sydney, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Dubai, London, and Dublin to share what we've learned. On Sunday Justin and I met in NYC to give a talk at the Centre for Social Innovation, a newly opened coworking facility catering to social enterprises and others with similar interests. It was an honor to be part of the first event that they've ever hosted in the lovely new space.
In a couple hours Justin and I will load ourselves onto a plane bound for Melbourne. There we have a public talk lined up at the University of Melbourne Faculty of Architecture (see you there?) as well as other meetings around town.
As we move from venue to venue I feel guilty because we keep mentioning the publication that we are about to complete. In fact, if I don't commit all of the final edits before we're airborne, it's going to be too late. So the pressure's on. Justin's working on edits now—very seriously, as you can see.
T-minus 40 days.
This week we hit an important milestone in text. Monday was a long day but we managed to deliver a 100% manuscript for the next (and final) HDL book. We're still figuring out exactly what to call it, but this one is about how people use projects to develop new solutions and new cultures of decision-making simultaneously.
After handing the draft off to the graphic designers I felt an almost immediate sense that we had left out a few things. We'll revisit that after the weekend. In the meantime, things like this are flowing into my inbox:
That's a draft of the layouts (zoomed way, way, way in). I've come to appreciate the shapes of the letters in the typeface Minion, which we always use. Quite a handsome gee, no?
As for unexpected details, here's another one that comes courtesy of the new Finnish passport design:
A pair of upcoming events deserve a mention here. First, Marco will be at the Institute for Government in London on May 10 to discuss design-led policy. More details here. Justin and I will do a similar session co-hosted by the Centre for Social Innovation in New York and the Parsons DESIS Lab. That's April 28th and you can register here.
Hope to see you at one of those events.
Last week Justin and Marco were in Boston to assist MIT's Collaborative Initiatives with a pair of studios. Things up there went well and it ended before the city suffered an attack and subsequent chaos. Luckily everyone is safe and accounted for, but our thoughts are with those who were less fortunate.
Video crews everywhere. That's the first impression of my time in Bangkok, where Marco and I spent a week observing and coaching Future Innovative Thailand (FIT) as they kicked off their initiative by running three parallel studios. Comes with the territory when some of the country's most recognized political leaders are sitting in on the studios. No pressure.
Our host, Nuttaphong, adapted the studio model to his own context and purposes and we got to see it all play out. Given the language, it was not always easy to follow along but we still gleaned a lot from being there. Thanks to our hosts for their hospitality, enthusiasm, and engagement during an impressive (and exhausting!) week. Congratulations to Nuttaphong and the team on the launch of their initiative.
Perhaps the biggest difference between these studios and the ones that we have done in the past was the presence of 'owners'—mayors, MPs, and other decision makers—in the room for the length of the week, as opposed to just at the end for the review. We never attempted to staff the studio in that way because, frankly, we didn't think it was possible to get a politician to clear that much time in their perpetually full schedule. Thailand, on the other hand, proved that it can be done!
For me one of the most useful realizations was also something that I probably should have recognized before. When we wrote In Studio we left a coy blank spot in the middle. Perhaps because it's labeled a 'model' people often assume that it's a model of facilitation. Rather, the studio model is about everything but the tactics of group facilitation. In that sense it's dogma-free on purpose. If U Theory is your thing, OK. If you prefer another means of facilitation, fine. You can use whatever process you are comfortable with so long as you move from learning and insights, to architecture of problem, to architecture of solutions, and you end with a review.
Yes, Bangkok was good in that it showed us how the studio plays out when the makeup is a bit different. When the parts are reconfigured. As for content, the focus on good governance (including anti-corruption) was an issue that was constantly in the air. As a topic that did not come up very often in Finland, I enjoyed talking through these issues with the studio teams. Scale was on the top of everyone's mind too, as it should be. How can we scale up good ideas quickly? Finally, it also showed us a few areas where we should revise the How-Tos in the book. If we manage to get a Print on Demand version done before June, that is!
Books, books, books. I spend most of my time writing these days, with Marco and Justin doing the same. We are about two weeks out from the 100% draft deadline for a title we're tentatively calling Stewardship: Leading into Practice. This will be the final HDL publication.
Between bouts of writing Marco has been on the horn with groups in the UK, US, and Switzerland as well as tending to meetings in Helsinki. I enjoyed a morning meetup with Eli Malinsky to learn more about the Centre for Social Innovation's expansion to NYC and also spent an afternoon with Eduardo Staszowski's students at the Parsons/New School School of Design Strategies. These were violations of a (not so) strict moratorium on all appointments until after the book is drafted, but they were worthy transgressions.
The Brickstarter book, by the way, is still forthcoming. It is coming along and we're hoping to have it completed before the end of the month but no promises yet.
The Design Exchange blog is still hopping with activity from Hella and Sirpa.
So then, back to the writing. And to the event prep. And the trip prep. And the coffee, actually.
T-Minus 66 days.
Good morning from Bangkok. Marco and I are here for the week as the Future Innovative Thailand Institute launches their Blueprint programme, which is an initiative to redesign policy around education, social economy, and governance. They've been using our studio model as the basis for the work. But more about that next week.
Last week we were able to post the finalized details for HDL 2013. You'll find more here, as well as registration which is open to everyone. The summary is that we will have an event in three phases: conference, conference with drinks, drinks. We want it to be a chance for the community of strategic designers to gather and if that sounds good to you, we hope you'll join. Here's who will speak:
- Timo Arnall on seeing the invisible
- Christian Bason on design as management and leadership
- Gill Ereaut on linguistics and change
- Alejandro Gutierrez on designing with communities
- Lärke Johns on innovative bureaucrats
- Chelsea Mauldin on design and government
- Carl Mossfeldt on changing systems
- TwoPoints on the design of HDL's visual identity
- Anna Valtonen on educating designers
Meanwhile, book logistics have been ruling my life. Last week included writing odd little things like the paragraph below and occasionally drawing very bad pictures to go along with it:
We see a woman standing, she is tapping a seated gentleman on the shoulder (he is wearing a coat) while holding a microphone behind her back. She’s about to ask him to stand up and make a pitch but he doesn’t know it yet. Perhaps we see some abstract indication of the other people at the table, or at nearby tables.
That's part of the briefing prepared for our illustrator who is going to be making drawings of different 'points of practice'. Since a lot of the book is describing abstract notions, we are taking some care to bring a visual dimension to the storytelling that errs on the side of being overly concrete. Before jumping into this I didn't have much of an idea how to brief an illustrator but it seems to be working.
In conversation these days I catch myself talking about "another six months" of Helsinki Design Lab, but we've only four months left. Maybe we should change the weeknote titling from incremental updates to a T-Minus format. T-minus 94 days.
The HDL 2013 event is heavy on our minds these days. It will occur in three seamless parts: conference, conference with drinks, drinks. We'll be at Kellohalli, the same space that hosted Open Kitchen, so it will be a pleasure to be back with our friends Antto, Elina, Jonna, and the rest of the crew. The outdoor spaces at Kellohalli will be in full bloom by June, and with 19 hours of daylight you will have plenty of time to enjoy them. We are planning to start the event around 11am and go into the evening to 11pm or later if people are up for it. June 10th is a monday, but why let that stop you?
Sign up here for further information and we hope to have the actual registration and final details available next week.
My focus is almost entirely on the as-yet unnamed book, which provides a never-ending supply of lists to make, emails to write, things to confirm, and schedules to align. Observant readers will notice one thing missing from that list… writing. That's happening too, but not as smoothly as I would like.
Recently I had the pleasure of meeting Fumiko Ichikawa, whose business trip to NYC provided a serendipitous opportunity for us to plan an HDL workshop in Tokyo with the i-School and potentially some other partners this May.
As we prepare to close HDL it's encouraging to see the studio model being adopted and adapted by others. This week I was in Toronto for a meeting at Evergreen (a remarkable organization, by the way) and caught up with people from SIG and MaRS who are in the midst of setting up their own lab, inspired in part by HDL. Next week Marco and I head to Thailand to assist the Thai Health Promotion Foundation as they launch an education programme also inspired by our studio model. This is why we spend time writing blog posts and making our practice legible. It's heartening to see the ideas and approach spread.
T-minus 94 days.
There's one thing we're not doing enough of right now and that's writing. Between Marco, Justin, and myself we have about four pieces of writing due to various groups and I think we've found just about every possible means of doing anything but writing.
Marco has been in Brussels for the Commission and Sweden for the Swedish Industrial Design Association. Justin is a new father (congratulations!) so he has mostly been on parental leave, but here and there I sneak him an email as we nail down our travels for April and May. We've also had help from Fumiko Ichikawa, with whom we are putting together a workshop in Tokyo and Tim Horton, who we hope to see again in Australia. Other stops are likely to be Toronto, London, Dublin, and Dubai. But not in that order, hopefully.
And in between, lots of time on the horn to line things up for our final HDL event. We're getting close to having a complete roster for the HDL 2013 closing event on June 10th in Helsinki (sign up here to be notified when we have full details). This event will be a gradient: we'll start around 11am with talks, move to talks with drinks in the late afternoon, and end the night by 11pm in celebration mode. The talks we're lining up are a mix of people doing things similar to HDL and people whose work has inspired us. Marco, Justin, and I will probably also give a talk or two about our work, and about strategic design in general.
More than anything, we want this event to be a good excuse for strategic designers to get together because there still isn't really an event or publication that anchors this community. When we relaunched HDL four (coming on five!) years ago we wanted it to be a platform to bring together disparate but similar threads spanning multiple disciplines and geographies. Hopefully HDL 2013 does the same.
We've been taking care of infrastructure lately. Still some work to be done there, but not a ton. This means: being on the horn to convince people to help us with publications and other wrap-up related efforts; writing contracts to hire them; organizing bits of the office; catching up on email so that we're free from that nagging feeling of being behind.
The Design Exchange Programme is hitting its stride. Sara is finishing up her year-long placement in the city of Lahti where she was helping them redesign their approach to public engagement. As Sara is also having a baby (congratulations!) she will not be continuing and we're sad to see her go. Nevertheless, her story has been blogged here (mostly in Finnish) and will remain for reference. Thanks for being our first very courageous embedded designer, Sara!
Sirpa at the Ministry of Employment and Economy and Hella at the Ministry of the Environment have also been blogging actively, including short summaries in English.
We ended last week by hosting a breakfast with members of the city, Tekes, and other organizations around town to talk about the possibility of taking Open Kitchen forwards. If this works, we'll have been able to play exactly the role that Sitra is best at: develop a new concept, test it out, and pass onwards bettered by iterated findings.
I've enjoyed following along the developments of some of our participants as they take steps now towards opening their own ventures. You can follow Jerome as he mounts a sourdough bread revolution in Helsinki. If you're lucky, you'll get a chance to try his products; the bread wowed us all during Open Kitchen.
Rory is waiting on me for final updates to the Brickstarter manuscript as I coordinate with Kali and Dan to get things just right. Meanwhile Rory is working with Bitcaves to take the manuscript forward into a book. This also serves as a reminder that I will soon need to think about revamping the Brickstarter website as we transition the active prototyping there to a project called AvoinKotka (Open Kotka).
We were very happy to see Brickstarter included in a recent issue of the magazine form, The Making of Design, with an essay by Justin McGuirk. There's also now an online video of a talk I gave at the World Design Forum in Eindhoven last autumn which discusses Brickstarter and our other projects:
Not so sure about the graphics of this video. Those are not my slides!
This week Marco is back in the office after a busy trip to the US. He and Justin were visiting the Cleveland Clinic to see an implementation the work we put together during Stroke Pathways, a research project at Harvard that served as a proving ground for our current strategic design approach. Sounds like it was an enlightening trip but I haven't had a chance to catch up with either of them for more than a minute. That's because as Marco returns I'm packing up. Tomorrow I move to New York and will be based there from February onwards as we wrap up HDL. A big change, for sure, but since we've been traveling more or less constantly for the past four years it's not going to affect our collaboration much. Though it does mean I will be waking up for some very early phone calls.
While in the States Marco also had some meetings at MIT and then gave a talk at HarvardxDesign conference, which Justin and I have been advising and helping to get off the ground. Great stuff there and I swear the color similarities are just a coincidence!
We're still working through the responses to our HDL road show announcement, which means there's time for you to throw your name in the hat if you would like us to come give a talk.
Undoubtedly, readers of this blog have already read Marco's post from last week, but in case you missed it, we've recently made an announcement about the future of HDL. Hearing from the community around HDL in the wake of the announcement has been encouraging. Thanks to all of your for your continued interest in our work. I hope we are able to sustain it for the next five and a half months because we have no intention of slowing down.
On the contrary, there's still lots to do. With the ending point for HDL clearly marked on the horizon, we're entering a kind of Benjamin Button mode. We'll be getting back into the habit of writing how-tos, working from practical issues ("how to budget a project", "how to brief a photographer") through to some of the more fundamental aspects ("what abilities are needed in a design lab", "how do you pick projects"). We'll be talking through and explaining how we set up HDL so that the site becomes as useful an archive as possible for others, elsewhere looking to do something similar.
Marco and I have been spending time at the whiteboard tracing out a loose plan for the HDL closing event on June 10th. It's going to be free and open to all, so I hope you'll sign up and consider joining us. We're also keen to hear your feedback and questions about HDL and the work we've been doing. This will inform our efforts to ramp things down.
Back on the whiteboard, we've also been revisiting our proposed table of contents for the forthcoming book on stewardship as well as generally trying to get a handle on all the things we want to do before sweeping the floor and turning out the lights. Tomorrow we'll have a conference call with Justin and loop him in. This is one of the ways we usually work: a couple people bat ideas around until there's something there, then we make a little presentation to the others and start over.
Open Kitchen got a nice write-up in Kauppalehti recently. We're happy to see the Facebook group for the participants still active and are hoping to join them for a small reunion next week. Right now Mariaana, a journalist we asked to sit in on the programme, is writing up notes from each of the courses and we will be publishing those online as soon as we can. Next week we're also hosting a small gathering with some local stakeholders to see if we can find a more permanent host for the programme.
This blog post is the second of the night, behind what I just put up on the Brickstarter site. Over there we announced that Sitra will be publishing a Brickstarter book in 2013 (yup, more writing) as well as beginning a very small experimental effort with the city of Kotka in eastern Finland.
My main focus at the moment (and through much of the holiday) is getting the manuscript into shape. We're using the blog as a starting point for that, but revising and updating things with new content as well as making sure they work equally well on the page. I particularly enjoyed writing the introduction, which includes the epic battle between wind turbines and glider squirrels. You'll have to read the book to find out who wins.
We've also been working on a quick project with Two Points, the graphic designers who created the HDL visual identity. I'll leave the content of the project a surprise for now, but here's a small clip from one of the files they sent. It's part of a poster.
Next week Marco takes off on a trip to the US where he will be participating in the By Design event at Harvard. He'll also meet with some people at MIT and make a visit to the Cleveland Clinic, which is now testing some of the ideas developed during Stroke Pathways, a project that Marco led at Harvard (and Justin and I contributed to) which laid the groundwork for our strategic design approach here at Sitra and HDL. We're anxious to hear how it's going there.
On the theme of travels, we're going to make an effort to be out and about even more than usual in the coming months. If you're interested in having an HDL or strategic design perspective at an event near you, drop us a line. No promises, but we'll try our best to be accommodating.
In another window I'm working on a draft of the feedback form we will send to the 12 Open Kitchen participants. That makes this weeknote a procrastination technique. Again.
We've been heads down these last three weeks.
Maija and I are working on a publication to wrap-up the work on Brickstarter. Sitra's not in a position to build the whole platform ourselves at the moment (though we are probably building a nano-micro-proto), so we're transferring our momentum there into a publication that coalesces three things: urbanism, governance, and emergent initiatives (or perhaps Peer Progressivism?). The goal of the publication is to simmer down our blog a bit and prepare a limited primer on these issues that will hopefully benefit anyone interested in building a platform to support bottom-up urbanism, and perhaps people who are using such platforms to build the city.
A recent call with Dan Parham, co-founder of Neighborland, helped clarify my thinking around the next steps for Brickstarter. As Dan Hill and I have always tried to emphasize when showing the Brickstarter mockups, the ideas are not the hard part necessarily, so I've been a bit embarrassed by the press our project has received because the attention should really be directed to Neighborland and others who are putting the ideas into practice.
Since we don't have a live platform we haven't been prototyping with users, but we have been prototyping with another group: civil servants. The reason we jumped right to high resolution mockups is so that they're plausible, and perhaps even a little scary, when we show them to our colleagues in city hall and elsewhere. Part of our challenge has been to find a language and a narrative that helps the public sector recognize the potential "threat" of citizen-initiated urbanism, and in doing so help them lean into it, rather than shy away. Because, of course, it's not a threat at all—quite the opposite. We're getting close to having an agreement with a town in eastern Finland to put a subset of the Brickstarter ideas into practice.
After talking with Dan, I'm retooling my thinking on the publication a bit and focusing more on how our work might offer a language and narrative that helps others build the connective tissue between government, citizen groups, and the technologists who build collaboration platforms. If we can do that, I would be very happy.
We've brought in Rory Hyde to help us as an editor for the Brickstarter wrap-up. It's great to have him, not only because his own work on unsolicited architecture overlaps with Brickstarter, but because he also brings structure to our work. Thanks to Rory's careful work on the table of contents and overall structure I'm now hyper conscious of the fact that our introduction is 35% too long. Time to lose 1000 words. This is my favorite part (really).
Maija's working on some text to summarize the Fact Cards, as well as a set of diagrams that map them out relative to each other. We'll crunch on this right up till the end of the year, but I'm resolved to have the final draft of the manuscript done by the new year.
Marco was in Chile to give a talk at the Architecture Biennale there, and a number of other things. He reports back that it's an exciting moment in Chile, but then again readers of this blog know that we're fans of the strategic design work happening in that country.
Justin was in town for a week, wherein he and Marco spent a good portion of it sequestered in a conference room hashing out a publication on Low2No. With that project transitioning to our market partners VVO and SRV this is a good moment to step back and reflect on what we've learned. That's the gist of the book, but I'll let Justin introduce it more properly when things are more fixed.
Somehow without trying to we've become a publications house. I'm glad that words are a renewable resource, or we might be in danger of using them all up.
Open Kitchen launched on December 3rd, but I think it's best to start with this, a new video that Kalle and I finished to coincide with the launch:
The Facebook page for the project is the best place to get a sense of how things have been going. Our participants spent about 1.5 weeks learning from experienced food entrepreneurs around the city, then the second 1.5 weeks have been dedicated to figuring our a shared restaurant concept and putting that into motion. Last night I had my second meal at Open Kitchen and it was—forgive me for bragging on behalf of the group—excellent! I'm really proud of what the participants have put together.
With things running more or less smoothly, we're now turing our focus to next steps for the programme. In January we'll be hosting some sessions to see if we can match the programme with a funder who would be interested in taking it forward on an ongoing basis. From this perspective, we've treated Open Kitchen as a mechanism to produce evidence. It is testing the viability and usefulness of a 3 week course as well as proving the market for such a thing. Sitra has taken the upfront risk in hopes that we will find a partner to carry it forward. That's always easier with even a modicum of evidence.
There will be more to say, but for now I'm going to end this post with some photos that document the first 2 weeks of Open Kitchen.
Between all of this, Marco, Justin, and I have been finalizing the goals for HDL 2013. I think we have a shared understanding of the goals now, but more on that in the new year.
Talking to students recently I was asked "what do you really do?" A lot of the work is setting conditions and context so that people can do their thing. Most often this means getting contracts right so that collaborations can set off without friction. Briefings are also of critical importance.
Another big part of what our team does is give expression to things that are otherwise invisible. We do this so that these unseen aspects can become part of our conscious decision-making, and so we can tell stories that help others broaden their decision-making.
Showing our work is not always easy, or at least not in a way that makes it interesting. What we do usually invovles people sitting in a room talking. Sometimes they stand up. Occasionally they scribble things on a whiteboard. So how do you show this in a compelling way—in a way that someone who wasn't there might actually want to pay attention to, and might actually glean something from?
In the spirit of legible practice below you will find the briefing that we sent to the photographer before HDL 2012. To see the outcomes of this brief interpeted by Johannes Romppanen a skillful photographer, you can check our gallery on Flickr or check here.
All shot suggestions are indicative rather than directives. In other words, they are to convey a sense of the 'story' we want to tell with the images, and I leave it up to you to stick to these suggestions where it makes sense, and contradict when you have a better idea.
THURSDAY 11th @ Helsinki Contemporary Gallery / Bulevardi 10
Best if you can come at the end of dinner, so that we can give people a head's up. Also good for them to get to know each other before being photographed.
We will begin dinner around 19:30-20:00. I propose that I text you when we are finishing mains and then you can come over.
1. GALLERY SEEN FROM AFAR. Perhaps from inside the park. A dark frame with a bright gallery in the middle, small but obviously alive.
2. PEOPLE! AT DINNER! Not sure how to do this, but maybe easiest if we actually get everyone to toast or something.
3. AFTERMATH. Either literally after everyone has left and the table is still set up with napkins on the floor and tipped over glasses and whatever, or perhaps when people are still around but done eating. Messier the better.
FRIDAY 12th @ Pajasali Suomenlinna
1. WALKING THROUGH KAUPPATORI. Our guests amidst the hustle and bustle, either as a string of people walking together, or as individuals. As if you were spying.
2. BOAT: People getting on, sitting and talking. A shot looking back towards city center, with people in foreground if they're out there, otherwise part of the boat in the frame so it's clear that you're not on an island, but actively in transit. Akin to:
3. SETTING. Some shots that establish the scene, the location, which may or may not have people in them. The entry to Pajasali is a small door on a massive facade, so it's nice to see small people in contrast to the structure. Possibly shots of the meeting happening, but seem from the outside, through the glass.
4. EVENT: Probably best if you sit for a while without taking any photos to let people get used to you being there. But use your judgement. No special directives here, but some shots of people discussing.
5. RING OF CHAIRS. We will have the chairs in a circle. Try to get a shot with the whole ring visible. Otherwise, please grab a series of shots that we can stitch together (I can do it so you're not bothered). This is a theme from last time:
6. PEOPLE STEALING A MOMENT AWAY: as individuals, pairs, or small groups, people will inevitably sneak away from the main part of the group to discuss something, have a phone call, etc. These are nice moment because they show a bit of humanity. The event is not consuming them. Example: http://www.archdaily.com/141823/mckinsey-company-hong-kong-office-oma/_mg_0127/
7. PROGRAMME BOOKLET: A shot of the book (ideally cover visible) in someone's hand, or just sitting somewhere. But an image of the book. Example: http://www.flickr.com/photos/helsinkidesignlab/6205412773/in/photostream
8. FOOD: food is very important to us because it's a natural opportunity to talk to new people, or change the conversation. So somehow to show that while people are eating, or grabbing food, they are also still "working".
In 1968 Sitra had a design event on Suomenlinna, so this is a bit of a homecoming. Here are the photos from that. They're pretty amazing.
Photos from a previous event that we like:
And something random but nice:
In the grand scheme of our work, photography briefings are not among the most critical things that we do. But given that this was sitting in my email and it might be of use to someone somewhere I figured, why not, let's see what the internet finds to do with this.
Note: Lately I've been returning to the habit of writing prepared remarks in an effort to stick to the strict time limits of various events. As an added bonus, this means I end up with a transcript that can be posted with relative ease. Below is one such example, originally presented at the World Design Forum (previously mentioned here) on October 19th in Eindhoven and curated by the indefatigable intellect of John Thackara. Attentive readers will notice that the starting point shares something with an earlier post, but it quickly diverges. And so...
I'm an optimistic enough to believe that humanity will find a way to weather the immense and multiple crises that are mounting today. I'm less optimistic for our institutions, however, and this is why I've chosen to practice design inside a government agency. I believe that our institutions are outdated technology and that the tools and attitudes of design are part of the fix.
At Sitra we've been testing this notion since 2009 with Helsinki Design Lab. We have projects at different scales, from 10s of thousands of euros to tens of millions.
On the small end, that includes projects like Open Kitchen, which is a bootcamp for food entrepreneurs. We've had an explosion of pop-ups thanks to Restaurant Day, a festival that happens 4 times a year which you can see an image of here.
But what pops up inevitably pops down. Open Kitchen is designed to fill a missing rung on the ladder of innovation. In doing so we hope to help restauranteurs move from pop-up to permanence. This is important because we want to combine the faster cycle speed of pop-up innovation with the reliability of everyday businesses.
On the bigger end of the spectrum, we do things like Low2No, a sustainable urban development project that looks like a block of 5 buildings, but it's actually a vehicle to work with the ministries, the city, and private developers to create climate friendly regulations and business models. We use the messy reality and imperative of the construction project to bring urgency to regulatory change.
One early success has been a change to the fire codes to make it legal to build large buildings out of timber—something we had never expected when we began but discovered and acted on along the way. We call it a success because 4 other timber buildings have been announced since the change, so this is early but important evidence of scale.
What links both of these is an interest in using tangible projects to help organizations, as Jan Van Der Kruis noted earlier, to "witness change."
We have not designed roads to have traffic jams, hospitals to have queues, services to remove personal agency, and tax forms to be confusing. Institutions and their procedures can appear immutable and static, but they are nothing more than an accumulation of human choices. We can make difference choices today, and have different institutions tomorrow.
To do so, we need to develop ways to grapple with something that Dutch architectural historian Wouter Vanstiphout calls "Dark Matter". It's a metaphor for the complexity of institutions: all of the invisible things like incentives, pay grades, organizational culture, and other issues that nevertheless shape an institution's interactions, behavior, and output.
Dark matter is not a barrier because it's massive or negative. Rather it impedes change because it is inscrutable and opaque. We use our projects to help us find the texture and grain of dark matter, and in doing so find specific opportunities for change at the systemic level.
Let me switch now and share a bit of recent history in Helsinki, which nicely explains the imperative for another of our projects.
This is part of a cargo freight line in Helsinki that was renovated into a recreational path earlier this year. It was designed for skaters and it opened on June 12th. Exactly 3 months after it opened, the city of Helsinki came back and vandalized their own work by digging a moat around it to prevent skating. This was done in response to complaints by citizens who live nearby.
One week later, on September 17th, the city came back and filled in their moat after other citizens complained about losing the skate park. By the way, the original project passed through all of the required due process. The city built the thing, defaced it, then restored it, all within a span of four months.
Because the city was responsive to its citizens —and quickly! But responding in a series of transactions is not the same as fostering an inclusive debate about how we want to live together. Technocratic silos can only respond with technocratic answers. Why not a sign with hours, for instance? Because public works only have trucks and shovels!
Ascriptions of incompetence would be too easy, too simplictic. Instead we find that the institution itself is not in a fair fight with today's society. We are connected through fast and agile networks. We expect engagement from those we take the time to interact with. We want to contribute, not just receive.
But our institutions are without inboxes. In most western countries we have a democratic right to say NOT IN MY BACKYARD, but how easy is it to say YES?
In Helsinki this dynamic is summed up rather poetically in the official portrait of a recent Director of City Works, seen here, seemingly without a face. One wonders if the metaphor was lost on them. And although this is from Helsinki, it's a useful emblem for many institutions in many places, I would guess.
At the same moment we see experiments on the fringe. Crowdfunding websites are providing an alternative for citizens to financially say YES IN MY BACK YARD. This potentially solves a funding problem but it skips questions of democratic process, of debate. One of the first spatial projects on the US crowdfunding site Kickstater was a robocop statue for Detroit. While I happen to like the project, who am I, living in Helsinki, to say that this is what Detroit needs? The local and the global collide in this example with no clear answers just yet. We will have to design one together.
The cost of interacting with institutions is so high that citizens increasingly prefer to accept the risks of self-organization. As our culture changes, the public sector will continue to find itself subject to competition in ways that it's not used to. Restaurant day, which I showed earlier, was organized on Facebook … inspired by the difficulty of the city's own formal permit procedures. This is an unexpected, asymmetric competition to be sure!
If we expect our municipalities and our ministries to behave differently, they will need new capacities as well.
In the Design Exchange we help governments recruit and host designers as part of existing project teams. In other words, we help government change its people, and therefore its tools. These individuals are employees, not contractors. They're part of the fabric of the organization.
By being on the inside, they are better positioned to help frame questions in a holistic way from the beginning. This happens both by bringing a human-centered perspective; by enabling new forms of more fluid communications between institutions and citizens; and by making co-creation with citizens a basic tool, rather than an exceptional one.
Rosanne Haggerty, who runs an NGO in the US aimed at ending homelessness, once told me that "people have a hard time accepting failure unless they also see a solution." With these projects we're attempting to manifest solutions promising enough that they help us engage the failures of the status quo.
Thinking about it today, our hypothesis with the Design Exchange and the other projects is that by jumping straight to possible solutions, and by doing that close to government, we can begin to have a more articulate conversation about how we will redesign our institutions from the inside out.
Ten thousand meters over Trondheim and everything is a luminous black. The only light visible is an icy blue dot, steadily blinking on the wingtip of this Airbus A330. So yes, another flight. I'm on my way back from Helsinki after almost three weeks on the road in Canada, the US, and Brazil.
While I've been giving talks in what seems like just about everywhere, Justin, Marco, Kalle, Maija, and Anna have been more than earning their living by keeping the projects on track.
On the top of our minds right now is Open Kitchen. We've been finalizing the roster of speakers, writing assignments, and briefing speakers. The first item has proven to be a little tricker than we anticipated and so we are finishing things at the last minute. All of the contributors to the programme are people who have a wealth of practical experience and are active entrepreneurs, regulators, restauranteurs, designers, right now. While this is great in terms of the experience they bring to the sessions, it also means that peoples' schedules are harder to contend with. Our neat and clean thematics for each day of the programme have become slightly less crisp in the transition from top-down planning to emergent reality. We made the explicit choice to favor quality of content over ease of scheduling, though, so this is what we get!
We're also excited to have selected two Aalto University students who will work with the Open Kitchen participants to design their collaborative restaurant. It's going to be a barnstorm—they will have two days to do everything from menus to interiors—but the pair are talented so I think we'll see good things from them.
Marco had a busy day yesterday. He started the morning with an appearance on MTV3'sHuomenta Suomi (Good Morning, Finland) show to discuss the World Design Capital and then spent the day in Finlandia House MC'ing the closing event of the WDC. Lots of familiar faces were in town for that, so I'm especially disappointed to have missed it.
Maija and Erkki have been in eastern Finland meeting with a town there about the possibility of doing a sort of micro-Brickstarter prototype. I happened to run into Candy Chang, a friend and former neighbor, while I was in Rio de Janeiro, and we were able to share notes. She is part of the team behind Neighborland. Meanwhile, we are pushing ahead with a reflective summary and wrap-up of our research in this area. I'm rather behind on some writing for the site. That's likely to be part of my weekend.
Jaana, our embedded designer in the City of Helsinki Social Services dept, is off to the races with the redesign of the website and access channels for their in-home family care services. We should have something to show there by the end of the year, but no promises just yet. It's about to be pikku juolu (lit. "little christmas") season in Finland and that always seems to stretch timelines.
As a last thought before dutifully stowing my laptop and preparing for landing, I'm grateful to the many people I had the pleasure of meeting across Canada recently thanks to my trip there hosted by Social Innovation Generation. Nate Archer, Cameron Norman, Geraldine Cahill of MaRS, and ISIS at the Sauder School of Business in Vancouver took the time to blog about my various talks there.
And there's the red light and the reliable bing-bong of the landing preparation ritual.