Weeknotes Week 170

Summer was here, but then it left. We're back to gray and rainy skies. This has given me license to indulge, temporarily, some of the more arcane reaches of our team discourse. It starts here:

We talk a lot about dark matter because it's the focus of our work, really. But the problem with dark matter is that you can't see it and you can't detect it by definition. It's out there shaping the things we can see, but dark matter itself is known to us only by virtue of the effects it creates. Since we can't see the thing, those effects crop up at unexpected moments and in unexpected ways.

This means we need instruments that help us flesh it out, ones that show us the shape of the dark matter, and reveal its boundaries. If we were physicists we would be building space probes, but since we're not we make projects. For the strategic designer, a project (making a thing or interaction) becomes a way to flesh out the unknowns.

Or if we borrow from Joi Ito again, doing projects is often a cheaper way of identifying needs and innovation opportunities than it would be to analyze a situation. So that booklet floating in space becomes this...

Names blurred out, for the moment
Names blurred out, for the moment

...a token that's launched into as many situations as possible, to bump into as many edges as possible, and eventually send back details of its voyage. Now that our food booklet has been floating around the city for a few months we're building up a decent understanding of the situations it has ended up in—and hopefully the dots it is connecting. It's not the only tool we use, of course. We're also in regular meetings with various stakeholders. But that's the point: the probe/project takes on its own life. 

This is (slowly) leading to two bodies of work: one within other institutions, where Sitra can act as a neutral host for shared discussions and decisions. Another in the community, where we hope to be announcing a programme in September which will offer a way around some of the blockages and knotty bits that our space probe has sent us details of.

So, yes, we obsess over the documents, websites, spaces, and other things we're stewarding into the world, but those details are not the source of our motivation nor the locus of ambition.

Some examples:

  • 12 floor renovation: enabling a new culture of collaboration at Sitra
  • Food booklet: mapping out the diverse field of 'owners' of food business and bureaucracy in Helsinki... helping us define the opportunity space
  • Brickstarter as a product: creating concrete discussions about frictions existing in the regulatory & financial sectors and increasing community know-how around civic entrepreneurship

Speaking of Brickstarter, things continue apace. Maija has been doing a good bit of research on other crowdfunding and crowdsourcing initiatives, for example the Avoin Ministeriö or "open parliament" which is set up to receive suggestions for new laws. This is the first in a series of 10-20 summaries of relevant efforts from Finland and elsewhere.

It's great to have an expanded team and the impact of Maija and Kalle is already starting to show.

Marco spent the better part of an afternoon with Sara from the Design Exchange Programme, talking through the strategy for the next couple months. He was also working with the Helsinki Department of Social Services to finalize the selection for the exchangee who will begin working there in August. We'll reveal the name of that lucky individual after the summer holiday.

From his homebase in Boston, Justin has been contributing to the ongoing development of Sitra's sustainable economy thematic area which is under 'construction' at the moment. He has also been in talks with a Boston-based group who's interested in utilizing the Studio model.

On that front, we're officially done with the first edition of 1000 copies and the second edition has arrived. There are some small tweaks, of which my favorite is an adjustment to the page edges in the appendix so it's easier to flip to the each of the individual challenge briefings. There are other minute changes throughout such that if the book had a version number this would be 1.1. We're going to try to get some copies up on Amazon for those of you who've mailed asking about how to get a physical copy.

New on top, with the vertical lines making each of the three challenge briefings. Old on bottom.
New on top, with the vertical lines making each of the three challenge briefings. Old on bottom.

Otherwise: on the horn with Chicago, Geneva, San Francisco, and London. Partially for HDL 2012 prep but also for other assorted bits.

With July hitting next week we're a bit in scramble mode. Finland more or less shuts down completely for the month, which is both amazing and maddening. If you're on holiday it's great. If you're not, it can be a big impediment to getting work done. One of the open questions for us is whether the renovation of our 12th floor, a project which Dan and I have been spearheading, will actually be completed before our target of August 1.

Scenes from a recent meeting on the building site
Scenes from a recent meeting on the building site

A strategic design challenge of significant difficulty: convince the Nordics to split their holiday month into shifts so that no more than half a country is away for 2-6 weeks at any given moment.

Right. While some bright young designer is figuring that out, we'll be in various states of holiday! During the next month or so updates will likely dwindle but Maija, Kalle, and I will be holding the fort down while Marco, Justin, and Dan enjoy some well-earned time off.

Hyvää kesää kaikille!