Why do we need #UnusualNI

Why do we need #UnusualNI

12 October 2016

With our Unusual Suspects Festival up and running, we thought it would be useful to think about why a festival of this sort is important. We caught up with Social Innovation Exchange Director Louise Pulford to get the low down...

Collaborating is key to finding new or better solutions to some of the world’s toughest social problems. We want more people to do more things together, because we think that a conversation with someone with a different perspective helps us to imagine new possibilities and develop different outcomes. In addition, the problems that require social innovation are complex – they often don’t fit neatly into one sector or thematic area – innovation is required between actors and across sectors.

In other words, for SIX, collaboration is a key part of social innovation: co-design, co-productions, co-working and coordinating. Collaboration is at the heart of a lot of our work. But it’s not easy.

Tim Draimin (Board member of SIX, Executive Director of the Social Innovation Generation (SiG) and SIX Global Council member) wrote a blog post on this subject in June 2013, where he quotes an observation from evaluation expert Michael Quinn Patton, which provides some context to why we are hosting this festival in London. He observed that collaboration is like teenage sex:

  • Everyone is talking about it,
    • Everyone thinks everybody is doing it, and
    • In reality, nobody is doing it very well.

A year after his blog was published, on this side of the pond, these points still resonate with many of us. Everyone is indeed talking about it.

Collaborative consumption, for example, is becoming part of our everyday life. From simple models of car sharing, house sharing, or book sharing, to entire cities like Seoul under the leadership of Mayor Won Soon Park, which has become the world’s first sharing city. These are all examples of collaboration to be more efficient and save resources.

We are also seeing an increasing number of organisations better coordinating what they do to increase their impact. From the Read Alliance in India, a new approach to develop partnerships that can bring together the public and private sectors on a multi-stakeholder platform, developing and fostering innovative and effective interventions in early reading, or the Alliance for Useful Evidence, and the Cabinet Office’s What Works network in the UK are 2 initiatives that together up to date knowledge and best practice on what is working in social policy. These are great examples of collaboration for collective impact.

There are also numerous technological platforms which enable several people to collaborate at any part of the day, from anywhere in the world, from crowd sourcing and crowd funding, to online campaigning. One of the newest policies of Mayor Park, is an online platform to encourage collaboration across government officials and departments. Change.org has enabled millions of people around the world to influence policies and demand change.

In addition there has been a focus on how to create the conditions that better enable collaboration. An example of this is design of physical space to encourage more accidental collaboration – connecting by virtue of being in the same place. There are now Impact Hubs in over 50 countries around the world, and several successful independent co-working spaces, including Good Lab in Hong Kong and Centre for Social Innovation in Toronto and now New York. Creating spaces for collaborations is a key way of fostering innovation.

And there are also much bigger, international or national collaborations like the SIX Boardand Global CouncilSocial Innovation Generation in Canada, and Basque Social Innovation in Spain. Collaborations to change culture and foster systemic change like these initiatives were the focus of the recent SIX event in Vancouver, “Shifting cultures, changing systems and preparing for surprise” .

So it’s clear that everyone is talking about it, and it makes sense that everyone thinks everyone is doing it. My inbox is regularly full of articles and blogs examining the process, conditions and cases of good collaboration – some of the best of these articles will be published on this blog over the next weeks.

Although intermediary platforms make connecting easier, working with other people is inherently hard, and working with people from different sectors, beliefs, cultures, and values is even harder – it requires trust. It sometimes requires someone to identify unifying strands between organisations that may think they have little in common.

This is what we are attempting through the Unusual Suspects Festival by mixing people and organisations that might not usually work together to run sessions and collaborate with each other to engage with participants from across the world in meaningful conversations about how we can better innovate across our differences to solve some of society’s biggest challenges.

We do not expect all of the organisations to develop new partnerships and projects together after 4 days, but we hope that by bringing different audiences together, and this event will act as a catalyst to show that what is possible when you think and act in different ways.

This blog first appeared on the Unusual Suspects NI website.

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