Pretty much every presentation on innovation we attended in the last couple of years (including our own!) at one point or another included the famous quote attributed to William Gibson that “the future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.”
This has spurred us to look into a number of methodologies that turn traditional project planning on its head, by assuming that the solution already exists, but “at the edges,” or outside of our organizational walls: From user led innovation to positive deviance, from augmented ethnography to horizon scanning.
It became apparent to us that, although these methodologies have been around for a while, and they would seem a natural fit for the development sector, they are still not as widespread as one could have expected.
What better opportunity, then, than our post-2015 work to hone our skills in spotting outliers and weak signals that point us to a sustainable future?
The future oriented task of setting a new set of global goals, and how people are engaging across the world to come up with the goals, are a great place to start.
What if we followed up on the efforts we made to engage citizens in post-2015 consultations (from Armenia to Georgia, from Moldova to Albania, from Uzbekistan to Kosovo (hereafter referred to in the context of UN Security Council resolution 1244/1999) under the assumption that the post-2015 world is already here, but it is just not evenly distributed?
During these consultations we have tried to pose the question: What would make your future better? We asked a wide range of stakeholders (a.k.a. crowdsourcing) what should be contained in sustainable development goals – to be decided by the United Nations member states.
Globally, almost two million people have engaged in this process in one way or another, and in the region, approximately150,000 people have taken the time to reflect on their priorities.
This means up to 150,000 development experts waiting and ready to be a part of solving the problems brought up during consultations.
Would searching for solutions “at the edges” lead us to more “agile”, concrete, follow up to the consultations?
What would we need to do in order transform “the consulted” into assets for moving forward on this ambitious agenda?
After all, we would build on the priorities, wants and needs that have emerged in those consultations, and focus on what they are already doing (at least, some of them) – could this lead to a shorter gap between idea and implementation?
Based on these open questions, we are about to embark on a project that has two main components:
1. Spot the future: Can we identify people – and related activities – within a specific country that already point to a post-2015 world in action today? What kind of tools and methodologies can we adopt – beyond our current work on micronarratives – to explore innovation at the edge?
The inspiration here comes from MIT professor Eric von Hippel’s recent paper on “problem solving without problem formulation” – rather than expecting, as in traditional consultations, surveyed people to help articulate a problem, we want to scan the landscape for “need-solution pairs” that are already pointing to a potential alternative future.
After all, we know from von Hippel’s previous work that user innovators have little incentives to spread the solution they developed with others.
Could UNDP’s role be to play the facilitator for others who are already actively a part of creating the future we want (pdf)?
2. Make the future: Once we identified the “outliers,” can we co-develop tools with them that augment the impact of what they are doing and help them connect with like minded people?
This is in line with our projects aimed at mobilizing “citizen experts” and finding new ways for them to collaborate with local and national authorities.
- Meet Anna, the citizen expert that decided to help the health sector in Armenia
- Armenia’s innovation lab (Kolba Labs) is live!
The inspiration here comes from the Smart Citizen’s manifesto that in many ways turn the smart cities paradigm on its head.
We hope that this approach will lead us to identify new solutions that are organically emerging from citizens’ practice and ways to shape the discourse on post-2015 based on actual experiences (as opposed to theory).
After all, building beats talking – and since we are the ambitious types (!) we also hope to do our little bit to help spread the use of citizen as expert methodologies in the development sector even further.
As usual, we will share our learning along the way through this blog and welcome thoughts and comments from those who share our ambition, are interested to join forces… or think we are stark mad!
Tell us if you are already living in the future!