All posts tagged brickstarter
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 I believe that our institutions are outdated technology and that the tools and attitudes of design are part of the fix.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.
And another two-for-one, which illustrates a) that we're busy, which is good, and b) that for many of us, holidays are approaching rapidly, like a broad sweep of clear blue sky appearing on the horizon, which is also good.
Summer is here, by the way.
After giving a talk at the European Centre for Living Technology in Venice, Bryan then took the opportunity of being in Italy for a quick well-earned break featuring la dolce vita, I believe. ECLT seem to be doing some really interesting work regarding "economically viable"/sustainable mountain communities in Italy—definitely worth a look, according to Bryan. Meanwhile, Marco and Justin have been knee-deep in Low2No as usual, partly working on this aspect, amongst other things. And Maija Oksanen has joined us too, as a summer intern. With Kalle, we now have a fuller team, and thankfully some more native Finnish speakers. That is already helping us hugely, though Maija and Kalle bring a lot more than just their exemplary language skills.
In the last few weeks I've been to Milan, London, and Amsterdam. Oh and I had to unfortunately cancel a trip to Moscow, which is probably just as well given that diary. (But still, Russian visa timelines! Why, in this day and age, is it still so difficult for non-Russians to do business in Russia? Legacy dark matter.) I'm sorry not to have made it to Moscow, but these trips are always a whirl of talks, lectures, meetings, logistics, and brief, stolen moments of peace and reflection amidst the bustle of these fine, old cities.
The Russia trip was to be a talk at Strelka Institute, which I'm hoping to be able to do later in the (northern) summer. Strelka are one of the more interesting design schools in Europe at the moment. They also happen to have recently released the essay I wrote about six months ago (Bryan referred to it last time): "Trojan Horses & Dark Matter: A Strategic Design Vocabulary."
This is part of the new Strelka Press series, curated by Justin McGuirk, which features other essays by the likes of Owen Hatherley, Sam Jacob, Keller Easterling, Julia Lovell and Alexandra Lange, as well as Justin himself. It's an interesting approach, exploring the e-book format for essay-length writing, and priced at a level that makes it accessible to a wide audience.
My essay covers a lot of the terms, and background conversations and thinking, that underpin some of the things we've been writing about — and more importantly, trying to get done. It's intended to be a kind of primer, or "playbook", which presents the idea of a vocabulary - as a way of starting and developing conversations in this new area. With that in mind, please do let me/us know what you think.
The other trips were to the Politecnico di Milano's architecture summer school for a talk, but with a short hop over to Frog Design Milano to discuss strategic design with them. Also, Joseph Grima of Domus magazine, to talk Istanbul Design Biennale amongst other things.
London was more of a meeting-based trip, featuring a catch-up with the indefatigable Tom Loosemore, an old colleague from BBC days, who is now doing great things at Government Digital Services, which is part of the UK Cabinet Office (we mentioned their design principles previously). They, too, are going well beyond "this is just a website" work. Also, a useful catch-up with Philip Colligan and Laura Bunt at our sister organisation NESTA RE Helsinki Design Lab 2012, and a good chat with Laura afterwards. Plus a meeting with Gill Ereaut of Linguistic Landscapes, who do fascinating work working with organisations (often public sector) to understand and unpick their habitual behaviours through the prism of their everyday working language.
I also met up with Ricky Burdett of the London School of Economics 'Cities' programme. Burdett is a hugely influential figure in the field of urbanism and cities generally, so it was a pleasure and privilege to meet him. It looks like we'll be working together on a new LSE Cities conference in London at the end of the year, where I'll be talking Brickstarter and beyond, hopefully, in the context of "smart" and "not so smart" cities.
Ricky and I are also on the advisory board - with Sir Peter Hall and Saskia Sassen - for a new Young Foundation project called "The Social Life of Cities", in association with Cisco. We had a first meeting of that last week, for which I had to endure a visit to a terrible business park in Espoo. The irony of being there - virtually alone, surrounded by concrete flyovers and lazy, ugly, damaging buildings - and yet talking about "the social life of cities" was not lost on me. Perhaps it's useful research just to be there! Still, the project could be very valuable and we got off to a good start with an engaging discussion.
Back in London, I spent a long but enjoyable day at BERG London, judging the Core77 Interaction Design awards, with Bonnier's Sara Öhrvall, BBC's Julia Whitney and BERG principals Matt Jones, Jack Schulze and Matt Webb. Results out in July.
While at BERG's studio, Sara and I were addressed by a certain Little Printer.
Finally, Amsterdam was a speech at the start of the 'kennisdag' (knowledge day) for the 500 staff of the City of Amsterdam's "spatial sector" (architects, planners, engineers, real estate etc.) The City had lined up a very impressive day of workshops for their staff, all held at the wonderful Felix Meritus building on beautiful Keizergracht. It was great to see a city government actively working at shared thinking and discussion, particularly given the challenges all city governments are beginning to face (and so the Brickstarter work was again germane to their thinking.)
For Brickstarter, we brought energy policy expert Robert Brückmann (of Eclarion) over from Berlin, to talk to Sitra and a few other representatives from relevant sectors in Finland. We had a great discussion about Germany's energiewunder - also discussed previously here. Again, we are hugely inspirted by what Germany have done here. This follows previous Brickstarter talks from Marcus Westbury and Rodrigo Araya, and more to follow after the summer break.
We'll have some major updates on Brickstarter.org shortly. I've been handling the stewarding of a clickable prototype "conversation starter", and that will soon be up. Maija has been plugging away researching 'adjacent' services. Expect to see lots of little 'fact card'-like blog posts up there soon. Kalle has also been developing some similar 'fact cards' around food scenes in cities - focusing on the legislative environment (dark matter), rather than cuisine as such - for use in our food-related projects. (Just after that, Kalle, who is a barista, headed off to Vienna for the World Cup Tasters Championships, where he placed ninth. Amazing. Well done Kalle!)
That food work is progressing rapidly now, in partnership with Antto Melasniemi & Elina Forss, as well as the City of Helsinki (Ville Relander) and will soon be appearing on its own project blog.
Meanwhile, it seems that every other week we're discussing what we do with representatives of various pioneering Canadian social innovation organisations and foundations - they seem like they are on the brink of becoming the most fertile place for that kind of work, interestingly. A couple of weeks ago, Bryan had a chat with Lisa Tjorman, of the aforementioned excellent Labs report, and last week, we were happy to discuss our work with Allyson Hewitt, also of Social Innovation Generation in Toronto. Watch that space, is all I'll say for now, but they're heading somewhere very interesting over there …
And finally, as they say at the end of British news broadcasts, we're spending a lot of time on internal culture, and particularly the notion of "ideas", "projects" and the relationship between those things. Which, of course, is not always self-evident, or simple.
With that in mind, Bryan forwarded on this post from Adam Mathes, formerly a product manager at Google, about his practice:
My conclusion after a few years is that the best product management is about providing the vision of what to build and why and then creating the context where great things can be made. That context usually involves the right people, space, time, and patience...
But for truly innovative and creative products, project management may not matter as much. If you are making something new and creative and different, it’s hard to know exactly how to make it. You may be building the tools and technology you need because they don’t exist yet. And may be impossible to properly estimate how long it will all take.
More on Adam's blog.
And finally and finally, we spied our "In Studio" book on John Thackara's bookshelf in the lovely "virtual tour" of his workspace recently posted. It's apparently creeping its way towards him, day by day. As it should you.
OK, latenote for last week. The highlight was perhaps a great conversation with various representatives of Canada's Social Innovation Generation partnership (SIG), who were in the neighbourhood (well, Stockholm) and were kind enough to swing by Helsinki for a chat.
They're doing really interesting work scoping out what they call the "change lab" model, preparing the ground in Canada. We were visited by Cheryl Rose (Associate Director of Waterloo Institute for Social Resilence and Director, Program Development for SIG), Tim Brodhead, (JW McConnel Family Foundation, SIG, MaRS Discovery District), and Sam Laban (Education Program Manager, SIG). We have lots of visitors to Sitra and HDL, and always enjoy and learn from the discussions and connections, but rarely has a group been so well-prepared and asked such perceptive and insightful questions.
I'm intrigued by Canada, having never been but idly marking it as a kind of mirror/inverse of Australia (vast, sparsely-populated, resource-rich, echoes of empire, Anglo in bits, fine cities, incredible landscape, great cities etc. etc.—and it is of course completely different, I'm sure). And we've been delighted to see the thinking emerging there—as noted previously, their summary of lab-like iniatives ("Labs: Designing the Future") is definitely worth a read—and so we're really pleased to open up this diaglogue. It looks like I'll be visiting Canada in return, this November, which I'll update you about nearer the time. Thanks to Cheryl, Tim and Sam for popping in.
Bryan had to rush off after lunch with the Canadians, heading over to Derry. After noting the preponderance of wind turbines in the Irish countryside ...
... he took part in the Academy of Urbanism's Annual Congress on The Resilient City, and he reports that It Was Good. The level of conversation was excellent, and the very particular context of Northern Ireland perhaps lent the affair a seriousness and motivation that is often lacking in similar events.
Bryan pointed me at one project—a comprehensive regeneration plan for Derry-Londonderry [read the full PDF or summary PDF]. It looks to have a good strategic edge, which foregrounds what I'd call the real drivers of cities (economy, culture, community) but views them holistically alongside some necessary strategic interventions (improving health, approaching sustainability) and then draws in secondary or tertiary matters like infrastruture, buildings and so on. Have a squint at the diagrams on page 7 and 8 of the shorter PDF:
Meanwhile, lots of work on Brickstarter. I've started designing the first 'alpha' version of the web service, which we'll share some details of shortly. As ever, we're using the website as a kind of token in order to open up wider, systemic issues—but you have to build the thing in order to flush them out. So it's been very interesting, and very rewarding, to finally be discussing the details of the various interactions we want to explore i.e. crowdfunding versus voting? What do we mean by voting? How do we balance a democratic model alongside crowdfunding? How explicit do we make the council? How to do a slow reveal on the dark matter so as to enable a low barrier to entry yet subtly unpack it over time such that the project proposals are robust enough to be taken seriously? All this and more emerging over at brickstarter.org shortly.
I love getting to this stage of a project, as everything starts to come together. With a project straddling governance and democratic models, crowdfunding and emergent community actions, sustainable development across use of shared space, shared resources, energy and so on, it actually helps crystallise the project considerably. Then our job is to draw out the shifts in this otherwise imperceptible dark matter implied by such a product or service, such that we might enable their productive reshaping. (I also happen to love spending hours in Photoshop and Illustrator, frankly. For the strategic designer, the challenge is always to balance the lure of exercising your craft skills with the requirements of the strategic, systemic view. But one enables a better view of the other, and vice versa.)
Kalle's been doing some nice background research on 'food profiles' for other cities, for Helsinki Street Eats. We'll have a set of cards emerging for different cities shortly, to enable productive comparison with Sydney, looking at the regulations, governance culture, scene on the streets, and so on. We're also now in discussions about how and what we can fund in this area—more on that shortly.
I've also been helping out with the organisation's imminent reorganisation in our building. With Bryan, we've been leading a renovation of one of the floors, but again, really we're looking at the organisation's culture, the way we work, and interract, and so on. (Again, the balance of crafting a specific output with the wider strategic, cultural view.) We have a 'bootcamp' with the management team next week to draw up the first sketch of a new organisation.
And two good lunches. First, Bryan and I with Artek's Ville Kokkonen (design director) and Anna Vartiainen (marketing director). Artek are one of the genuinely great Finnish brands and operations, founded by Aino and Alvar Aalto (a bit of background). Their 2nd Cycle concept is a particular favourite in the Sitra office, indicating a form of "resilence" in which the firm buys back its own products and re-sells them, a simple concept that gracefully indicates the ongoing value of good design and production, as opposed to "throwawayism".
Secondly, I had a good catch-up with Tommi Laitio of the powerhouse that is Demos Helsinki, covering many topics: Baana, Brickstarter and beyond. In particular, we discussed the forthcoming event that Demos are curating at the World Design Capital pavilion (or "paviljonki" as it's known here), where we've invited Marcus Westbury of Renew Newcastle/Renew Australia fame to speak, on an afternoon/early evening session about urban development dubbed "City 2.0" (read a previous conversation with Marcus here.) More info on Facebook, and if you're in town, do come on down. (By the way, a tilt-shift time-lapse of the WDC Pavilion going up. It's designed at Aalto University's Wood Program.)
Oh, and it's the Helsinki-originated increasingly global sensation that is Ravntolapäivä (Restaurant Day) this weekend (May 19th) (for background, read our "Helsinki Street Eats" book-let). Make sure you visit Kalle's coffee stall—"Gaffebaari"—in particular!
Finally, some quick linkage: Brickstarter was mentioned in another scene-surveying post about crowdfunding urban development, this time at ArchDaily; John Thackara asks whether we need an Arne Jacobsen of urban food systems, and "Making Planning Popular: A Manifesto" (related to "Sub-Plan".)
And a little more controversially, an interesting take-down of the open data and transparency movements and a reaction to the perceived over-spending on buildings and infrastructure in Valencia, Spain, homing in on Santiaga Calatrava. Sadly, there's little public controvery here about the proposed (or is it?) road tunnel under central Helsinki, which is apparently still sitting on the city's plans somewhere, and has been for years—or is at least alive in the minds of the current generation of city planners. Not only is this a ridiculously outdated idea ("sell by" circa 1970) it is apparently preventing or otherwise hindering other projects from happening. The local media is asleep at the wheel on such matters, as far as we can tell. More here if/when we get it.
Oh, and I forgot to report: Vappu, a couple of weeks back, was a blast. Very special indeed, and no way near as bacchanalian as I had been led to believe (caveat: I went to bed early.)
What we learned in #163 is that Berlin has jumped straight to summer while Helsinki is taking its time with spring. A quick update to keep up the tempo, but not as much depth as usual because Dan and I are hosting a visit from the MaRS / WISIR / SIG in about 3 minutes! Edit: I did not make it, so this is being completed after a very good conversation with the Canadians, but you'll have to wait till next week to hear about that one.
In Week 163 Dan, Kali, and I were in Berlin to do some research for Brickstarter looking into the ways that people are working on community engagement and energy infrastructure. Separate things but deeply related, as we suspected, and as we found.
Perhaps surprisingly, amongst the many threads that tied these two together was the role of narrative. As Anna Poblocka of Eclareon put it, Germany's ability to create a narrative around the move towards renewable energy is an important part of their ability to aggressively pursue this transformation. The next day Dieter Genske expanded this notion by introducing us to the linguistics of this particular narrative which is called energiewende in German.
Use of the word "wende" connects the renewables effort with the importance and scale of another significant act, the reunification of Germany after the wall came down. This is an example of the way that we talk about a specific change helps prime conversation to be positive or negative, empowering or overwhelming, one that preferences the status quo as immutable or sees it as merely a current-state. And while linguistics is a soft topic in comparison to the significant rigidity of (current) energy infrastructure, it's a powerful bit of soft stuff. Narrative is the connective tissue of systemic change.
The Finnish experience maps onto Dieter's point very well, but in reverse. Whereas Germany has created a narrative of change-by-renewable-energy, big decisions about Finland's energy future two years ago relied on narratives of past success to rouse political will in support of maintaining nuclear and propping up traditional industries such as pulp and paper manufacturing. Today, small scale energy production in Finland is stymied by the overhead of permitting, which is designed for nuclear-scale plants, and a limited community of willing investors.
The way Robert Brückmann of Eclareon explained the German experience to date, Merkel's narrative worked in parallel with opportunities that could be acted on directly by individuals and communities. Well-designed feed-in tariffs made renewable energy a safe investment that has snowballed as more people take advantage of the opportunities in the marketplace. After two days of discussion around the growth of renewable energy I began to imagine in my head the German case as an Olympics logo of interlocking virtuous cycles: narrative and discrete opportunity, government and market, individual and community, environment and economic development, short term gain and long term security.
More on all of this in a future Brickstarter.org post but we came back from Germany with new insights into the importance of combined action on the level of large-scale cultural debate and discussion paired with discrete and delicate tinkering within the dark matter of our institutions.
Taking these findings up a level of abstraction and mapping it onto our work in Helsinki, we want to understand cultures of decision making better so that we can pursue innovation from two angles: first, by inflecting public debate towards a perspective of shared-value and shared decisions. Second, by de-risking innovative acts on an individual level.
Internally we joke about this as the glue and the tiny hammer. We're searching for ways to glue together things that have been silo'd or separated, and for ways to carefully begin to crack into big, opaque boxes (like most institutions).
While in Berlin Deiter shared his insights during a walking tour of his own neighborhood. Dan wrote it up on his site. How does he find the time to do that so thoroughly?
As a last note for Berlin, we also had a good visit with Neighborhood Labs which one of us will write up soon for the Brickstarter site. It was a compact but excellent excursion.
Brickstarter is making its way into the wider world as well: a post at Design Observer that has a good conversation going in the comments and there's another one on the Atlantic Cities blog. We're very happy to see the discussion spreading bit by bit. More of this, please!
Mike Monteiro recently wrote a good book for designers entitled Design Is A Job. It's geared for web designers, mostly, but relevant for others too. Actually, it's a useful book for anyone who is uncomfortable dealing with contracts, lawyers, management, and other business basics in the context of practice which is as much qualitative as it is quantitative.
On the other side of the Atlantic, the NYT graphics team have set up a blog that reveals their process behind some of the graphics featured in the paper and online.
This side of the Atlantic, The London Olympics have gone a bit appallingly off the deep end in an attempt to keep their sponsors happy.
Since the audio's a bit hard to hear, a snippet from Philip Colligan:
I think we should design all public services with people, not do public service to people. So it's about changing the way we think about delivering outcomes. Not about professionals giving service to people, but defining outcomes with people, and using all the resources available to us to deliver those outcomes.
And finally, it's not often that we have the wherewithal to post here before an event happens, but we do have two events coming up next week.
Friday May 18th: Marcus Westbury, of Renew Australia fame, will be here in Helsinki to give a public talk about his work revitalizing disused parts of the city. Dan has been putting this together with Tommi Laitio of Demos. Details are on Facebook. I'm shattered to miss it, but I expect to hear all about it via Twitter.
Saturday May 19th: I will be in New York to take part in New Finnish Design City, an ICFF satellite event. Friends of HDL Q&A are curating three days of panel discussions and workshops which you can read about here. I'll be sharing a panel with Dong-Ping Wong and Colleen Macklin about using design to framing the right questions.
And in honor of Maurice Sendak who passed away this week: Goodnight, Week 163.
As I return to Finland after some time in the US I'm writing in the sky, but not skywriting. Does seem like fun though, to fly in big broad strokes and puff-puff-puff slogans out of smoke with the horizon as a metric. We are not doing that aboard AY006 from JFK to HEL. Nothing but strong tailwinds and a full laptop battery.
I've been on the east coast of the US, mostly in NYC and Washington, DC. In New York my time was spent talking to groups like the +Pool folks and trying to understand how community projects take advantage of online fora. More about that on the Brickstarter project page, as Dan mentioned previously.
I've also been meeting new people, which is always nice. First was Hilary Hoeber, Senior Portfolio Lead of public sector work at IDEO. Over the past few years one of the questions we've been grappling with is whether or not there's a viable role for consultants in bringing design to the public sector in the long term. This might sound like a crazy question, but a challenge that all organizations struggle with, and particularly public bodies, is to execute on the good ideas that they have.
The "give and go" stereotype of consultancy leaves the clients to muddle through execution of ideas that well-paid-someones drop on their desk. Stewardship is part of the design process, which can make design consultancy a tricky thing. IDEO are concerned about this 'delivery gap', and have been helping their clients close the gap pairing project work with organizational coaching and transformation efforts as a way to address the issue. More on IDEO's public sector projects in Metropolis Magazine.
There's a similarity here to our Design Exchange Programme. As we place designers into public sector organizations we're essentially creating a context where the org and their new designer can work together for a year to both deliver a discrete project, but also begin the slower and more fundamental work of opening up to new cultures (on both sides) and translating or exchanging ways of working through the medium of a discrete project collaboration.
Beneath the clattering deck of the Brooklyn Bridge I met Chelsea Mauldin, who is Executive Director of the Public Policy Lab, to learn about the developments of public sector service design in the US. Her organization hosts a number of fellowships that enable designers to allocate part of their time to work for different city departments and agencies.
Rather than full time placements, these fellowships are part time. Whereas our designers are hired into the host organization as part of their payroll, the PPL fellowships are 'work for hire' provided to the host but paid for by PPL. This is one of the options we debated too, so it will be nice to compare notes with PPL in a year or two and see how the different approaches worked out. The Public Policy Lab is also working with Parsons University to create opportunities for students to be involved in the early stage analysis work. Good stuff.
To round out a hattrick of good people, I bumped into Clay Shirky at a social gathering, who I've met briefly before but never had a chance to properly talk with. I'm a big fan of Clay's extensive writing, so I was quite happy, but this was also auspicious since I had recently listened to a panel that he participated in and I could quiz him about it further. During the Hacking Society panel Clay postulated that in the online world, one-vote-per-person style voting does not really work, and instead the three primary forms of expressing personal desire as part of an online community are:
- Forking: geek for using someone elses' work as a starting point for your own and therefore causing a fork in the history of that thing or idea;
- Collaborative editing: such as Wikipedia where authorship is essentially subsumed by the mash of changes and people making them;
- Karma: which is a way to grant users of a system an increasing level of capabilities/privleges the more they are deemed to be a positive addition to the site, through some combination of patient waiting and constructive commenting.
My gut reaction to Clay's point was to cling to the sacred democratic vote, but with further reflection I'm starting to see his point. The cost of communication online (in time, money, just about every metric) is so much 'cheaper' than it ever has been that online communities tend towards profusion more than scarcity. Our attempts to develop Brickstarter as a tool for 21st century community decision making will take this into account. Dan and I will likely spend some part of the upcoming week debating these points and trying to map whatever conclusions we come up with onto the Brickstarter work.
On that front, he has been working on mockups stemming from the numerous conversations we've had up till now. Good to get the ideas onto paper and I'm happy to let him do the heavy lifting of translating our pile of notebook scribbles into something sensible!
Dan and Kali have been busy while I've been away: Meetings with Finn Williams about recent changes (read: simplified and sane) to the planning legislation in the UK as well as the clear presentation of such; Akseli Tuomisto, a lakimies (literally "law man") with Castrén and Snellman Assocates whose thesis was on different models of wind power development across the nordic region and in Germany; as well as chats with Ossi K. and Karo L. here at Sitra about linking up Brickstarter with their work on open data. This was a week of Dark Matter for Brickstarter.
Marco was deep in Design Management Institute territory as co-chair of their event this past week. Besides making sure the event flowed well, he was also catching up with familiar faces like Darrel Rhea and Christian Bason.
Due to the cruel illogic of logistics, Justin and I switched places. While I was in the US, he was in Amsterdam participating in the 12th European Forum on Eco-Innovation hosted by the European Commission. Low2No was the topic, naturally, and in particular the work that goes into creating an ecosystem of innovation and opportunity around a specific nexus like one single block. From time to time we talk about this as the "trojan horse" approach to policy and market creation, or using projects to prototype policy.
At the Global Impact Economy Forum in DC Secretary Clinton announced a new partnership that will focus, amongst other things, on making it easier to create sustainable cities, particularly in developing economies. I was there to share our Low2No experience in the context of the question: how do public and private sectors work together to foster shared-value investment in the built environment?
David Wood did an excellent job moderating our panel. I was the pipsqueak in a row of heavy-hitters as we compared projects from the block scale of Low2No, up to the entire city of Songdo, South Korea, and then infrastructure efforts of CDG in Morocco. The core of the conversation was summed up well in a comment from a South American government official who will remain nameless, as relayed by fellow panelist Stewart Sarkozy-Banoczy: I can find money to build housing, but how to I deliver all the other aspects that make a thriving community? The traditional capital investment is one thing, but finding the ability to invest in the broader ecosystem of factors that contribute to the ultimate sustainability—or not—of a community is now the challenge.
The approach we're taking with Low2No is to consider the building as situated within a larger spectrum of activities that range from the dark matter work of lobbying for (and co-authoring) new codes & regulations, exploring finacing and operational models, developing programmes to spur low-carbon entrepreneurship and citizenship, and so forth. Coming on almost 4 years into the Low2No experience, we have a pretty solid idea of how to comission and design sustainable urban environments in this interconnected way. Delivery is another slog unto itself, but one that we're happy to be in the middle of at the moment.
It was a solid event that covered a lot of ground, often times deep in the nitty-gritty of finance where I struggled to keep up (my favorite kind). Because I know that the internet loves lists, and I'm not one to disappoint, the messages I kept hearing at the event were:
- Systemic from the start: initiatives should not be done in an ad-hoc way to get them off the ground and then redesigned for scale later. The up-front strategic work should take into account the possibility/mandate of scale from the very beginning and use this as an advantage. In my own words, I would articulate this as "design every platform as a product and every product as a platform"
- Data drives the market: there are still big opportunities for anyone who can provide data (or other comparative mechanisms) that simplifies the task of comparing a variety of options, be it which charity to give money toor which ship to hire for your intercontinental logistics, etc. Jagir Shah gave one potent example: the Carbon War Room began publishing fuel efficiecency data for ships. The availability of this data natrually fed into the exsting data-crunching machines of insurance adjusters and other analysts, effectively raising the price of fuel-inefficient ships. In other words, data doesn't have to be extensive, but it should be operative and useful for the right decisions.
- Collaboration is still hard: building up enough trust to do things differently, to invest in social impact, for example, still takes time. It was encouraging to see many of the world's large banks at the forum to have that kind of scale in the room, but more than anything their participation and movement towards adding social impact products to their suite of offerings is an important act of signaling to the market culture. As we are all making tactical efforts to deliver projects and make deals, we should also acknowledge head-on the broader cultural shifts in risk and trust, and the way that our various cultures of decision-making model these. Multi-disciplinary teams are able to internalize—and appropriately respond to—some degree of these different cultures, giving them a leg up.
- Reality is still messy: contexts change and plans change. An organization's ability to cope with change (both fast and slow) is still what determines its success. Particularly in the case of systemic change, where the full extent of needs and opportunities are in continual evolution (see point #1!), bouncing between the messy details of specific situations and the smooth abstraction of the 30k view is a useful practice, particularly when the problem at hand is without precedent.
- We still need first movers: Anyone who has watched as a potential match funded grant goes unmatched and unfunded knows how painful it can be to have the promise of funding but still come up empty handed. Right now is a similar moment. there's a developing interest in social impact investments, but strident first movers are still needed. As the investment community (and organizations like Sitra!) are able to better evaluate (see points #1&2) and build relationships with (points #3&4) social impact organizations/projects we will see the sector flourish. Who's ready to take the first leap?
Logistics were on the docket this week. Amongst other things, we've been finalizing some hirings that have been in the pipeline for a long while and laying down a bit of structure for the three month run-up to summer. This includes a fair bit of calendaring to make sure that our various travel schedules are well coordinated, especially in light of the new interns joining us and various events in town, such as the DMI conference which Marco is co-chairing.
Are you an aspiring strategic designer looking for a place to apply your talents? This week we officially launched our second Design Exchange placement opportunity with the Helsinki department of Social Services. Apply here if you're interested, and please help us spread the word if you know someone who would be a good fit.
On the subject of interns, Mr. Seungho Lee holds the honor of being the very first HDL intern and he has recently completed a publication entitled Beef Finland 2012 as part of his Masters of Arts coursework at Aalto University. Seungho has focused on constructing a briefing to frame the question of production and consumption of beef in Finland (as you may suspect from the title). We're glad to see that his time with us contributed to his own work and thinking, and the newspaper is a good read.
Our own focus on food has been a bit dormant this week. Glancing at the revision history of a shared one-pager on our Basecamp site it looks like there have only been a few nibbles since the last workshop. It's to be expected, though, and our next internal workshop on the food work is coming up this week. Workshop one was about putting some brackets around the concept, audience, content, and timeline for the programme we're looking to develop and it ended with a draft one pager. Workshop two will take the one-pager as a starting point and expand it into draft project plan.
We're taking a slightly different tack with Brickstarter. Because of the relatively high pace of global innovation around Brickstarter-like topics at the moment, we've decided to play that project out in public by sharing our research and eventually product development on the blog. Dan and I ended Week 159 by noting some immediate to-dos. Top of the list from a product design perspective: personas and use cases. We also continue to scour the countryside for appropriate NIMBY-potential case studies that we can sketch in code with.
Kali and I met with a gentleman who has been researching wind energy in Finland which was helpful in identifying further avenues for sourcing potential case studies. We also spent some time with Neste Oil in Porvoo, quizzing them about how they interact with the communities who live near their two Finnish refineries and are understandably curious about what's going on with their rather industrial neighbor. On the other end of the scale, we also had a moment to visit a group of designers, artists, and concerned citizens who are developing ideas for Baana, the sunken rail line that Dan wrote about previously.
Developing Brickstarter in public is also a way for us to demonstrate what a project-oriented way of working looks, feels, and sounds like as Sitra continues to move towards a new operational model. In that light, we're taking a play from our colleague Karoliina Luoto who managed the development of the newish Sitra.fi website in a very public way via a separate project blog.
As part of our internal development work we've also been coordinating the renovation of one of the floors of the Sitra tower. When it's completed later this year, the new space will give us more project spaces, which we desperately need. And what's a project space, you ask? It starts with a large table and as much whiteboard space as you can muster. Beyond that we're looking for a space which invites ad-hoc meetings, one that communicates a casual professionalism, and one can be flexible with the ebb and flow of work through our organization. We'll dedicate more time to these questions in a future post when there's something more to show!
Technically it was two weeks ago, but since we're on the topic of offices, recently I had the pleasure of visiting Marimekko whose entire operation—design, sales, marketing, production—are housed in one building and have been since the 1960s. Doing so allows them exactly the kind of effects we're seeking to maximize: collaboration, flexibility, and focus.
Embedded in our internal efforts is a transition towards a Sitra culture that is more explicit about what we do, how we do it, and why we do it. With that in mind we enjoyed the ten Design Principles of the UK's Government Digital Service both for its content (many of the same rules apply in the Strategic Design Unit) and its clear and simple presentation.
Today we're also curious, are you as obsessed with Borgen as our whole team has been lately?
This week, the weeknote is really brought to you by Adelaide and Melbourne Design Lab, rather than Helsinki Design Lab. I've been in Australia all week, and have only the vaguest ideas as to what's been happening back home! Justin's in town, which is good, and he, Marco and Bryan have been knee-deep in our internal organisational strategy work, as well as keeping our Low2No food projects ticking over.
One thing; our Design Exchange operative #1 - Sara, embedded at City of Lahti - has got a new site live for the 'Radanvarsi' urban development around the train station in Lahti. The site is for the project competition, and citizen participation around the development in general. It's all slightly beta - of course - but will begin filling up from now on. (PS. Note, we're looking for another strategic designer in this progreamme, as part of Helsinki Department of Social Services - apply here.)
But as the team were slaving over a hot organisational strategy stove (?!) in a Helsinki which had momentarily turned its back on spring, I was in sunny - very sunny - Adelaide.
I was there for a quarterly meeting of the Integrated Design Commission Advisory Board (more info on the board here). The IDC, led by Commissioner Tim Horton, and part of the office of South Australian Government Architect Ben Hewett, is one of the most interesting design interventions in Australia. It's also one of the few other organisations worldwide also working as a strategic design capacity for core public institutions.
It grew directly from the work of one of Adelaide's Thinkers in Residence, architect Prof Laura Lee, and sits right at the heart of government - part of the Department of Premier and Cabinet. It's charged with aligning design disciplines, industries and efforts across the state. In practice, this means focusing initially on planning, architecture, urban design and other built environment issues - but given the state's manufacturing history, this also means some interesting incursions into industrial design, via prefabricated housing. In this respect, it's a little different to our mission - though we're often covering similar ground. But their work essentially concerns gluing back together core disciplines and perspectives that our societies have allowed to wander too far apart; which is certainly developing a similarly holistic view to that pursued by our Studio process.
(Tim and I often reflect on the ideal proxmity from seat of power, for a strategic design function. You need to be close to effect genuine change, clearly, but not too close as to be a political football. The IDC team seem to have it about right; see also Ben's work as Government Architect, and the major announcement of a City Design Review Panel, which was happening last week; a huge step forward to get qualitative assessment at all stages of the urban development process. As Planning Minister John Rau said of the announcement "If we are going to encourage more South Australians to live in the city, then excellent design is critical.")
Amongst other projects, the IDC team are at the heart of the 5000+ project, which is intended to be a replicable model for citizen participation in urban planning, or more broadly, discussions as to what Adelaide is for. This is particularly interesting as regards Brickstarter and Low2No, but worth checking out in general. IDC have even successfully taken the HDL Studio format into their work - which is exactly what we hope happens by publishing blueprints in such detail - which builds on several conversations we had when I was originally in Australia, pre-Sitra.
I think Adelaide is a great little city, as it happens ("little" in comparison to Sydney and Melbourne, both of whom tend to look down their noses at it, as is the way of such things. Adelaide, like Helsinki, is a good population size for a city; it's the distribution that needs a little work.)
Like most Australian cities, it's slowly beginning to develop a sense of its own urbanity, despite a good half-century of suburb-dominated misteps, and that is good to see. The work of the IDC, and the several other initiatives in the city, will be key to ensuring a vibrant and productive urbanism emerges. It was great to see evidence of 'emergent' innovation filling the numerous gaps left over by 20th century urban policies, such as this fabulous pop-up lobster taco stall and winery, occupying a vacant parking lot. From totally dead gravelled non-space to fine lobster tacos and some of the world's best wine, and 'one-in-one-out' by 7pm on a warm Friday night. (Please excuse the dark mobile phone video, but it captures something of the mood.)
One paper the IDC delivered to the board was SGS Economics' review of the economic impact of the Renew Newcastle intiative, revealing an extraordinary 10:1 multiplier effect of Renew Newcastle, as well as other 'shared value returns' on investment. (Though when assessing these 'economic impact of cultural initiative' papers, I'm always reminded of my friend Justin O'Connor's note that no-one ever asks for a 'cultural impact of economics' study, which would surely reveal the opposite of a multipler; a divider, even?).
And before our meeting in Adelaide, I caught up with Marcus Westbury in Melbourne. Marcus created the Renew initiative - first in Newcastle, NSW - and Renew Australia is now based in a good retrofit of an industrial unit in Brunswick, Melbourne. It was great to catch up with Marcus; he and I worked together on The Edge in Brisbane, and he's such an original thinker (and doer) in terms of genuinely shaping cities. Notes to follow on that chat over on our Brickstarter project site. (There's a Renew Adelaide, as it happens.)
I was in Melbourne for a crazy 36 hours courtesy of the University of Melbourne School of Design, and particularly the architecture department. I met some very bright urban design masters students for lunch, gave a public lecture (thanks to all who turned up; Twitter was pretty effective at getting a few hundred in a room with not much notice.) Ditto a lecture at Arup Melbourne the following lunchtime, part of the Innovation Forum series now curated by Stuart Candy.
Back to Adelaide, and meetings with TACSI's Brenton Caffin, around where might 5000+ go next, and IDC again, advising on how to handle discussion around smart city strategies, before an incredibly useful phone conversation with City of Sydney about their exemplary recent tender for food trucks.
It was great to hear about their approach, which Helsinki - and many other cities, for that matter - can learn much from. We're trying to broaden the conversation around street food here in Helsinki - including with the City, as previously noted - and these kind of case studies from other cities are often very important in terms of shaping opinions. Again, more details soon, as this one warrants a post of its own over at Low2No.
Week 157, and a touch of 158 if we're being honest, was mostly about getting things out the door. Almost by coincidence, we finally launched new websites for the Design Exchange Programme and Brickstarter, made some cosmetic tweaks to this very website, and published a 98 page book on street food in Helsinki. It was a lot, but a long time coming!
The Design Exchange (DEP) website is where you can track the progress of our embedded designers. The goal of the DEP is to move one step closer to policy by design. This entails enhancing the capabilities of the public sector: new abilities to frame problems, iterate solutions, seek feedback, and communicate clearly.
There's a quick intro to the programme and I've also shared a bit of the background of how the DEP came to be. When I look through our files on that topic, they stretch back to late July 2010. Although we had discussed it internally as a 'what-if', the concept first appeared in the Clues cards (especially the one about Tailor Made Municipal Services) and came up again during the Ageing Studio discussions.
Perhaps it's no surprise that Petri Lehto, a member of the Ageing Studio, has been one of the driving forces behind bringing the DEP to life and we're grateful for his collaboration, as well as that of the many other people involved at our partner organizations.
At the moment we have only one placement up and running, with Sara Ikävalko working at the city of Lahti to develop a new participatory process for a competition they are hosting there.
We're getting closer to having more placement opportunities open. When that happens we'll advertise them here on the HDL site as well as the Design Exchange site, so be sure to check back if you're a Finnish-speaking designer interested in working in the public sector.
In a nice twist of symmetrical history, the same week that we launch a project which took cues and clues from friends at MindLab, saw another group, the MaRS Discovery District in Toronto, looking to HDL for advice on their own explorations of a new lab. The report is quite informative, and we're happy to be a reference as they look for the best way to put "complexity, networked collaboration and design" to good use.
Next up was Brickstarter, a project we're developing that seeks ways to turn NIMBY into YIMBY (yes in my backyard). How might we reorient community action from no full-stop to "no, but how about..." or even "I'd really like...!"
As Dan explains in the introductory blog post, our thinking and work on Brickstarter is beginning to pick up, so we needed a place to bind these thoughts together into a big ball of ideas. The Brickstarter blog is a mix of notes from our field trips, quick dives into terms and concepts, and eventually some case study research. Some themes:
Community decision-making; new engagement tools; long-term investment in sustainable infrastructure; participation and representation; prototyping as research, iteration as planning; user-centred redesign of governance and legislation; different relationships between citizens, businesses and governance; potentially even prototypes of political systems...
To give you a concrete example, What's different about this shady courtyard on Tarkk'ampujankatu...
And this one on Tehtaankatu...?
It's hard to see with the trees full of life in the summer, but the biggest difference between these two courtyards is that features a garden and the other a parking lot. Otherwise they're about the same size, in the same neighborhood, and have the same solar orientation. They're essetially the same from a contextual point of view, yet one group of owners has decided to use the space for parking and another for a garden.
With Brickstarter we are trying to understand how these decisions get made, and eventually to developing a platform that enables them to be made with greater levels of participation. Why? Because we think that new tools will allow communities to make decisions like this with higher social equity, in a less devisive manner than typical NIMBY dynamics, and with heightened attention to opportunities that consider the long-term.
Recently there has been an uptick of interest in 'meanwhile' or temporary usage of sites. We see this as positive development, and in a certain way Brickstarter is our attempt to look at how the verve of these grassroots efforts can be grafted onto the institutions that shape everyday life. One of our hypotheses at the moment is that there is a missing interface to government. What would that look like? Figuring it out will require our usual dip into strategy, but it’s likely to also involve building product(s).
Helsinki Street Eats, the book which was our third release this week, has similar ambitions. We wrote the book to begin asking questions about the extremely positive developments of Ravintolapäivä and the Camionette. On it’s own a festival like Ravintolapäivä is a nice urban experience that happens a few days a year, but the next morning it's gone without a trace. With a bit of work on the dark matter, these experiments can be looked at anew as prototypes of a future regulatory, business, and social context.
The book was a way to crack open that question, and now we’re slowly but surely sketching out a way for those ideas to take root. If you’re the type who is into books and publications, I wrote a post about the ways we experimented with print-on-demand in the production of Helsinki Street Eats.
Otherwise there’s not much to say beyond get your copy here!
Beyond these launches, we're still working on internal projects. Parts of that effort is about to wind up soon, which is good because we have our hands full at the moment—as you can probably tell!