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The concept of innovation is still deeply associated with technological innovation as motor for societal progress, emerging out of a competition of ideas. But is it possible to shift this perspective to social innovation, a process of learning collaboratively how to live better together? How might we involve mainstream stakeholders in the process of turning innovation to a public level in order to build dedicated infrastructures, and make it more accessible by communities?

Björn Müller @bjObj0
Co-founder and manager at STRIDE the unSchool,
an education provider and think tank supporting individuals, organisations and cities to turn social innovation into a transformative process of learning, stride-learning.ch

 

What could be reimagined now?

At the moment, we witness at the same time too much and not enough novelty. On one hand, there’s a whole infrastructure, from incubators to accelerators and competitions, dedicated to bringing innovation at a global level. But on the other hand, the fundamental issues and problems for which the world is suffering are not addressed, therefore we don’t see any concrete and deep change.

For this reason social innovation seems to be an opportunity. Is there a space or infrastructure to do social innovation across different sectors, not confining it to any sector?

How could we experiment with innovation as such?

Everything starts with challenging a very modern way of understanding innovation which is tied to the idea of continuous growth. This is coupled with the belief that a good life is reached by ever-increasing access and range into the world, making life as easy and fast as possible. Conversely, innovation can deal with a much more life-affirming side, based on participatory and collaborative aspects, putting life at the center, for example in our political, economical and social agendas.

How could social innovation be supported and look like in ten years’ time?

We can imagine a world where social innovation could be publicly supported by states and therefore having the chance to launch social experiments and endeavors at a different scale. Mainstream actors could be involved in shifting their orientation or innovation efforts to contribute in building a sustainable and meaningful lifestyle. In doing so, it is also possible to move away from the concept that makes innovation revolve just around technology. Innovation could then reconnect to its Enlightenment roots, turning it into a force of bettering (quality of) life for all.

 

Image: Björn Müller, twitter.com/bjObj0

In today’s business world, ethics are often overlooked for the sake of profit. Charles Armstrong’s mission is to reverse this trend.

Charles Armstrong, @car0lus
Founder of The Trampery, UK, thetrampery.com

 

What could be reimagined in the business world? 

Charles is interested in reimagining the core assumptions of capitalism, in order to find a new role for business in society. His interest towards this topic comes from the lack of discourses about ethics in the entrepreneurial world, an issue that has to be addressed to think about capitalism of the future; in fact, he calls for an urgent shift from a focus on profit towards the team’s well being in a company. He says he is “amazed” by the lack of attention on this issue from his peer entrepreneurs.

How do you think Untitled can help you with your vision? 

Charles wonders whether leaders of conventional businesses are open and prone to rethink the foundations of their activities to the same extent he is trying to do. He is already aware of the presence of the so called “social enterprises” in the UK that are trying to pursue his goal, but realizes their impact is currently very limited since they represent only a fragment of the current global entrepreneurial landscape. 

Who should join the Alliance to help you achieve this goal?

 Charles is willing to meet visionary people as him to build meaningful conversations on the topic, since such a community does not exist yet.

 

Images: Charles Armstrong, creativeconomy.britishcouncil.org

At the moment trade unions probably have slightly less influence in the civic discussion and have progressively lost their relevance. Mikko is proposing to get back to people and make them feel empowered by unions that can safeguard their rights on a professional level.

 

Mikko Laakkonen @mlaakkonen
Member of Palvelualojen Ammattiliitto (PAM),
The biggest trade union in Finland helping people working in private service sectors, pam.fi

 

 

What could be reimagined now?

We can reimagine the role of trade unions in the civic discussion, reaffirming their position within the society as strong advocates for social improvements. These days the unions are facing some difficulties in coping with changes in the society, because people have a broader range of uncertainties and they still don’t have a concrete way to tackle them.

How could we experiment with the role of the trade union?

Tackling insecurities can be done through the collectiveness of the trade unions, which is the basis of the union’s action. A union is its members, so how is it possible to use this collective identity of a group of people? By being a meaningful partner for them and supporting collaboration among both single members and partners, whom they usually do not work with. 

How social innovation could be supported and look like in ten years’ time?

Trade unions could be also interpreted and implemented as a democratic platform to ease civic discussion and collect feedback from people.

 

Image: Mikko Laakonen, twitter.com/mlaakkonen

How can we rethink our economy in terms of more inclusivity?

Alexa Clay, @alexaclay
R
esearcher, writer and public speaker. Director of RSA US,
A global community of proactive problem solvers building networks and opportunities for people to collaborate, influence and demonstrate practical solutions to realise change, thersa.org

 

What can be reimagined in today’s economy? 

Alexa believes that the moment we are currently living in requires us to rethink justice in our economic system, finding a way that to offer people opportunities to experience a social and economic mobility.

How would you develop this vision?

Her project requires us to create coalitions around cities, and this can only be done by allowing different social groups that normally do not interact to coonfront one another.

Who needs to join the Alliance to make your vision true?

People from different backgrounds should join the alliance (from grassroot societies, artists or historians). Alexa believes that the right people to help her to make her vision true are generous people, individuals with a natural instinct towards collaboration and with “fire in their bellies” in terms of what is wrong and needs to change.

 

Image: Alexa Clay, thersa.org

What if we shift the question to our states from “What responsibility does a government have in achieving decarbonization of the global economy?” to “If a government wants to achieve the outcome of decarbonization by the middle of this century, what can it do to achieve that?”

Ilmi Granoff @theilmatic
Director of ClimateWorks Foundation’s Sustainable Finance Program,
A foundation that has created an international network and a global platform for philanthropy to innovate and accelerate climate solutions, climateworks.org

What could be reimagined now?

The role of our states in pursuing a real climate transition. Right now they are powerful entities. States have capital, they have the ability to raise revenue, issue standards and regulations and represent our collective interest. So what could be the role of a fully committed and ambitious state which truly embraces the goals of the Paris agreement?

How could we experiment with a higher involvement of our states in fighting climate change?

First of all, of course, find a state. After that, ask the question “Given all of the tools that you have at your disposal, what impact can you have to achieve the mid-century outcome of global decarbonization?”. So basically it means to push a state to focus on where to put its tools to reach the goals instead of measuring emissions, for example. That kind of reorientation of the methodology can potentially reveal many underemphasized opportunities.

What kind of changes this reorientation in climate policies could lead to our societies in ten years’ time?

By analyzing 19th century global economies we realized that states have comparative advantages in their economic productivity and performance. Therefore it is imaginable that they can compete with other states on decarbonization advantages and, apart from reducing emission in their own jurisdiction, they’ll probably unveil great opportunities and actually achieve an incredibly important target.

 

Image: Ilmi Granoff, climateworks.org

Anthony Zacharzewski hopes that Untitled will be a place where to reimagine democracy. What if a renewed participatory system allowed for a better inclusion of civilians?

Anthony Zacharzewski @anthonyzach
Founder and president of The Democratic Society,
A non-profit organization focusing on civic participation and new models of governance, www.demsoc.org

 

What could be reimagined now?

Thanks to the profound experience in the political and administrative fields, Anthony decided to found the organization with the aim of imagining a new type of democracy, which may lie in unusual places or is not connected to the classic 19th century schemes. To achieve this, he believes it is important to re-design the timing of participation within contemporary democracies, which often offer political elections every few years or online consultations in rare events (such as referendums).

Examples of recent system changes can be found in Belgium, where some administrative areas have set up assemblies for the representatives to meet four times a year, in order to discuss and better understand the problems affecting those regions. In a similar way, but on a different scale, Poland operates at city level. While we are still in the early days, it is a sign that democracies are at the beginning of a systematic change, which will inevitably force them to honor the pacts made for decarbonization.

What could the new democracies look like in ten years’ time?

Anthony’s hope is that issues such as climate change will not remain just temporary trends, but will increasingly include a human dimension, thanks to a renewed participatory system at the civil level. Therefore it is necessary to understand how to bring democracies closer to people’s everyday life by setting up new organizations, which promote collaborative and participatory actions within the population and its representatives. In the next ten years, it is expected and hoped that these ways of managing local communities will be consolidated and rooted in other global democracies as well. For example extra-European countries, such as African governments, which have seen fast growth in the last decade and offer tremendous potential.

Image: Anthony Zacharzewski, demsoc.org

Social media has reshaped forever the way we communicate and get information. Nevertheless, the actions of the big companies behind them often raise a lot of criticism: what if social media belonged to the people?

 

Elina Iida Sofia Hirvonen @interneiti
Freelance journalist, for example
for Ylioppilaslehti, Helsingin Sanomat and Image.

 

What could be reimagined within the social media world?

Elina criticizes the entrepreneurial side of it, wishing that these platforms could belong to the people and not to companies: the current structure influences how information is spread among the population and does not foster equality. Current social media structures and algorithms are making profit out of people’s most intimate feelings and experiences, and it’s creating conflicts and affecting the media as well. 

How would Untitled help to develop your vision?

Elina sees Untitled as an opportunity to discuss how the ideal social network should be built, debating on which instruments would be necessary to undertake challenges such as ensuring privacy for all the users.

Who needs to join the Alliance to make this envision true?

Involving informatic experts for consultancy would allow to realise the technical side of the idea.

Image: Elina Iida Sofia Hirvonen, @interneiti Instagram

Nadia EL-Imam of Edgeryders thinks that part of the issue of institutions not being able to navigate the turmoils, like pandemic and climate crisis, is the excessive reliance on small groups of experts to solve messy interconnected problems. 

Nadia EL-Imam @edgeryders
Co-founder of Edgeryders
Resilience.edgeryders.eu

Why are you participating in Untitled?

My own motivation for getting involved in this initiative is having seen how quickly things fall apart during times of war, even in affluent, seemingly stable societies. Going from buying our groceries in a posh shop the one day to standing in bread lines the next because supply chains were cut off.

It happens so very quickly and the true costs of the damage plays out on so many different levels.

There are signs this understanding has started to “land” as a consequence of the ongoing pandemic.

During the first phases, institutions and companies all over the world were taken by surprise, unable to quickly adapt to the new reality. This does not bode well for our ability to navigate the turmoil that is sure to accompany climate crisis, ecosystems stress, geopolitical hostilities. Why?

I believe part of the issue is an excessive reliance on small groups of experts to solve messy interconnected problems – which is like expecting a neuron trying to fix things that exist at the level of the brain. Another is an impulse to behave as though the world around us can be tamed to obediently fit into neat boxes and processes of our design. And where it does not, attempt to make it so. When the models break, we are at a loss for how to move through the world in new ways.

My own family managed to weather the storm in no small part because we were embedded in a huge network of diasporas that spanned the globe. They are highly diverse in the sense that they deploy a broad range of approaches to meeting material, social and existential needs.

This is something I could contribute to the gathering and what comes after.

What could be reimagined now?

The community and organisation I helped build, Edgeryders, is working to extend the space of economic models that are conceivable and deployable to build a successful, fair civilisation, while preserving the planet’s ecological balance. Inspired by science fiction, we nurture and support new, radical ways to think about the economy and economic policy.

Conceivable: We are using techniques from modelling, speculative fiction, economic history, anthropology and design to broaden the space of “conceivable economies.”

Deployable: There’s already a “mutant population” of economic agents that operate in the current economy, while aspiring to a more long-termism one. Edgeryders has been learning from these agents, in order to come up with policies to thrive and grow further.

See Edgeryders on video.

Photos: Nadia EL-Imam

Imagining new ways of living through imaginaries and mental models – that is what Dan Lockton focuses on in his work. Imaginaries Lab led by Dan is one of the founding members of Untitled.


Dan Lockton @danlockton @imaginari_es
Interaction designer, Assistant Professor, Future Everyday, at TU Eindhoven’s Industrial Design department. Dan has previously worked at the Royal College of Art (UK) and Carnegie Mellon University (US).

What could be reimagined now?

Dan’s aim is to experiment with alternative ways of life and other life models. Design methodologies are involved in analyzing the correlations between social and environmental benefits. This can be done by defining connections between varied fields such as behavioral and decisional sciences, or human-computer interaction and cybernetics.
How can we live in a more sustainable way? Which lifestyle patterns impact our environment the least and which ones offer a potential solution?

How could we experiment with alternative life models?

The challenge here is to turn alternative futures into tangible realities, something that does not yet exist but is treated as if it were already among us. Potentially, “living laboratories” could be created where communities of people are immersed into different realities, worlds with rules and structures different from those we are used to. By doing so, it is possible to closely observe the alternative models proposed, making them directly accessible to people.

How do you imagine the “living laboratories” will be in ten years’ time?

To date, we’ve seen this kind of experimentation only at a mere technological level, for example within our homes with IoT and smart homes. But if the experimentation was conducted within “living labs” instead, shifting the focus at a social level, the scale could be extended, for example, to entire districts within cities. The “labs” could actually be visited and experienced by communities of people, to better understand their flaws and strengths. Social models are often discussed at a national and administrative level but appear vague and evanescent at a practical level. For this reason, they are perceived by people as distant, both temporally and mentally. Therefore concretizing solutions and allowing people to make their contribution in a participatory way could fill this gap.

Image: Dan Lockton, design.cmu.edu