The power of communities

I have already expressed a passion in previous blog posts for collaborative consumption and building communities but this has only been exagerated by signing up with IDEO‘s online platform OpenIDEO. Rachel Botsman recently posted a Twitter message that said successful collaborative consumption ventures ‘come down to two golden rules: convenience & choice’. This has proven to be very true – OpenIDEO has been my choice to join and it is very convenient to use, especially if you already think in a socially orientated way!

OpenIDEO logo

OpenIDEO logo


The online platform was set up to encourage people to design better together; crowd source information, build on others ideas and come up with sustainable solutions that can be implemented to help a community in some way.

I love the fact that it is unintrusive; I can browse the posted inspirations, read about the various challenges, choose which ones I want to take part in, post as many pieces of inspirations and/or concepts as I wish, comment on as many as I wish, applaude, bookmark, build…. you name it, they have thought about it. If I wanted, I could choose to be a passive member of the community. I could log on once in a while and simply read what has been added. On the other hand, anyone with an inquiring mind or slightly competitive nature will want to add inspiration, post concepts and build on other people’s posts.

OpenIDEO design quotient

OpenIDEO design quotient

The ‘design quotient’ adds another engaging aspect; it is a pie chart which shows how many points you have earnt for taking part in the challenges – what a fantastic way to encourage people to return to the site. I’m not sure if it is deliberate but it is not always that obvious where your points have come from – points definitely get added when someone has built on your idea but you do have to dig around to find out where from!

I first heard about OpenIDEO when Tom Hulme presented it at InterSections2011 in Cornwall at the start of March. He gave a very powerful and captivating talk about how the platform has grown and how building online communities in turn helps so many people around the world. I was intrigued and wanted to learn more…. Described on the website as ‘a place where people design better, together for social good. It’s an online platform for creative thinkers: the veteran designer and the new guy who just signed on, the critic and the MBA, the active participant and the curious lurker. Together, this makes up the creative guts of OpenIDEO’. It has been designed to be inclusive, community-centred, collaborative, optimistic and always in beta (open to continuous improvement). These are all words which are core to being a successful social innovator.

I highly recommend watching this video which explains how OpenIDEO works:

– No one should ever be left out because they are not a ‘designer’ or feel they are not creative.
– If socially orientated people (or anyone!) do not think community, they will get left behind and isolated at some point.
– Sharing ideas, knowledge, insight and experiences is essential for an idea to blossom. Two people with the same challenges can come up with very different concepts yet help each other with what they have learnt.
– I do not believe in pessimism
– Being open to continuous improvement is a very brave yet realistic point to make. How can your idea ever be 100% finished, especially as society is forever changing?

Example concept for food production challenge

The challenges are set with industry partners on real life problems which is another reason why I have become so attached to the community. I know that any inspiration, concept or evaluation of another concept I contribute with can help to build on the ‘winning concept’ which in turn will make a difference for many people in the world. The industry partners are able to take the well thought through ideas into the situations they are required in.

The blog ‘Failed Robot‘ has a interesting write up on the platform which shows a diagram to help explain who gets involved and why. Some great thinking has gone into why people take certain actions and this is particularly interesting when related to social issues within an online community.

Well done, OpenIDEO for
– being slightly addictive; twitter feeds are posted to show you the latest activity,
– for capturing content; the OpenIDEO community tribunal is regularly published providing an overview of the latest posting and stories and
– for allowing members to really feel part of a community; testimonials can be written, applauding can be given, comments are welcomed and the OpenIDEO community champions are fantastic at helping build on ideas.

It doesn’t matter what your background is, what your nationality is or what culture you are from, we can all learn from each other and this is fantastic. It removes any barriers from communicating with other members and instead encourages collaboration between like minded people.

IBM Start Jam

IBM Start Jam

Another example of successful online collaboration was this week’s IBM Start Jam. A two day event of collaborating on sustainable innovation took place online and a vast number of people took part. Guest contributors came on for set amounts of time while other people simply contributed over the 48 hours. The online platform appeared to be aimed at sustainability consultants, innovation managers, CSR consultants and corporate organisations.

Set up to encourage innovative collaboration around the globe with multidisciplinary and open mindsets, the Start Jam brought ‘different perspectives together to discover new solutions to long-standing problems’. IBM wanted to work across industries, disciplines, and national borders which they managed to do. I didn’t find the interface very intuative but once a question had been posted and people started to reply, the threads grew and I was soon hooked on reading all the responses. Seeing how conversations developed, how people responded and how focused people were on the original question fascinates me. Some people really thought on a corporate level yet the posts I could relate to more were the local, community focused ones. It didn’t mean they were not as relevant, I just felt they were more true to real life situations.

As the Start Jam was only for a short period of time (unlike OpenIDEO which is ongoing) it meant that people tended to have short bursts of collaboration (maybe in their break time or time allocated during their day to take part) which to me took away the community element. If you commented on someone’s post, they were less likely to comment back. This could have been because they had logged off and felt they were done with their contribution or because there was no incentive (no Design Quotient) to return!

I have to questions why these types of online platforms and community builders only seem to happen in the sustainability and social innovation sectors? Are other industries less happy to share information or maybe they do not see the power of building a community around a subject? Maybe their community are not ready or do not have the time to take part in an online platform? I think it all comes down to design thinking – design thinkers understand the need for concise storytelling, collaboration and are able to take a small piece of inspiration and realise it into a sustainable solution efficiently. This has to be done through engagement, empathy, prototyping (or all three!) and realising that it takes a team of different disciplines for an idea to be successful.

I wish I could have taken part in the service design, Global Jam 2011 where service designers in different countries set up Jams together to design brand new services inspired by a shared theme. Time and effort are required for these types of events but service designers and social innovators are forever inspired by them!

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Finally, an exciting employee engagement scheme!


Ecoinomy, the web start up founded by sustainability guru, John Grant has launched! Using employee engagement, service design and exciting innovation, Ecoinomy’s ‘eco.system’ rewards employees for actions they haven’t taken. The employees are then financially rewarded, communities are formed, employees gain a sense of achievement and motivation and the company saves money by saving energy.

You have to love win, win situations – the environment wins, the employee wins and the company wins!

I could write about this for hours but instead I recommend watching the launch video. It is great to see a famous dragon on board too to help spread the word!

For more information, go to the corporate website www.ecoinomy.com

Presenting ‘social cohesion’ to the Kingston MA students

A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to present ‘promoting social cohesion’ to the current MA Design for Development students. It is a subject that I am passionate about and always great to be able to discuss the topic with fresh participants. The current students are impressively up to speed with service design and social innovation and we had a great discussion.

Promoting Social Cohesion

I have been working with a charity shop in Dalston to see how social innovation and service design methods can help improve the shop and it’s been a challenging yet rewarding project. The main topics covered in my presentation were the challenges faced with real life social innovation projects; understanding the end users and stakeholders, having empathy with the people affected by the project/service, thinking on your feet, having time to reflect and understanding how to use design thinking to tackle different situations.

We then discussed the barriers and enablers for the four projects I am currently working on: Ecoinomy, a work placed engagement system that motivates employees to use less energy, the Water Design Challenge;, working with a school in Southampton to help them use design to reduce their water consumption, The People’s Kitchen;, a food waste collection initiative which provides a meal for the community and the charity shop project.

The People's Kitchen

Barriers and Enablers

It was a helpful way for me to reflect on the projects I am working on and very satisfying that we all came up with similar words/themes.

Continue to learn: a project never runs as originally planned. It is stimulating to be open to a change of direction (often for the better) and to use the insights gained along the way to benefit the project.

Keep a fresh mind: It is very easy to get too absorbed in a project, especially when you are the only service designer. Taking a step back or speaking to people outside about what you’re experiencing is essential. It is amazing how people unrelated to your project or service design can be helpful with an idea.

Be confident: There will often be times when a project isn’t going as planned or in the direction you had desired. Barriers come up all the time, stakeholders can change their minds about decisions and time can run out. It is important to stay confident at all times (or at least appear confident!) so that the rest of the team/stakeholders do not worry about the project. It is always possible to involve new people if necessary or discuss how to face a certain situation with the project team.

Add value: There is no point in carrying out a project (especially as a service designer/design thinker) if you are not adding value. Remind yourself that as the project evolves, you need to be able to measure how the project is going, think about where value can be added and refer back to your original aims on a regular basis.

NEWS FLASH: Louise joins Twitter…

…and she’s loving it!

I was very sceptical about getting absorbed by another form of social media but I have been converted. I hadn’t appreciated what a great resource it is for quick snippets of information.

I’m not particularly interested in hearing what people have had for breakfast or where they are drinking on Saturday night but the topics being discussed within the service design and social innovation community are excellent!

My favourite hash tags at the moment are #bsngiving, #CollCons, #gsj11, #servicedesign but I’m looking forward to discovering more….

Follow me @cactuslouise

Are you a social innovator?

How would you define the term ‘social innovator’? The Centre for Social Innovation define it as ‘new ideas that resolve existing social, cultural, economic and environmental challenges for the benefit of people and planet. A true social innovation is systems-changing – it permanently alters the perceptions, behaviours and structures that previously gave rise to these challenges.’ This definition to me is what a sustainable designer does. It tackles the three pillars of sustainability for a balanced future and concentrates on behaviour change.

I used to call myself a sustainable designer but after giving a presentation on ‘creating social cohesion’ for the 15th Sustainable Design Network seminar I tend to say I am a ‘socially sustainable designer’. I see this as encompassing design thinking, service design and social innovation to help make our planet a better place to live. Some people would see this as purely social innovation but I feel it is important to keep the word design included – a designer uses their creativity to solve problems while a social innovator could be argued to make social change. It could be that understanding the design process or being able to realise the end result puts a designer at the forefront of innovation where as an ‘innovator’ is more business focused?

The website ‘Challenge Your World‘ makes the following observation that ‘the term social innovation is both vague enough to attract a diverse following and specific enough to afford its followers a sense of identity. But left poorly defined for too long, I worry that social innovation could lose its followers like chewing gum loses its flavour’.

Social innovation is very important for the current climate. The Big Society needs social innovators to help implement the governments goals.

Collaborative consumption, sustainable design, service design, design activism and co-participation/production are all successful contributers to helping The Big Society idea. There are plenty of people out there already contributing – but do they realise?

For example, my neighbour is setting up a new company to help companies recycle their unwanted goods but she thinks of herself fundamentally as a business woman whereas my cousin is helping reduce food waste yet fundamentally thinks of himself as a chef. I trained as an industrial designer yet now think of myself as a socially sustainable designer. I would call us all social innovators.

There are many people out there doing great things to help our environment which are socially orientated – let’s help them make their ideas happen and promote their work – this takes me back to the Challenge Your World comment about not letting social innovation lose its followers – the design activist in me is always on the look out for new adventures and projects which we, as a society can benefit from.

Speakers at Intersections 2011

I recommend having a look at the speaker profiles on the Intersections 2011 website. The list is increasing and I’m excited at what a great list of speakers will be at the event in March.

Anne Chick, course leader for the MA degree that I’ve graduated from is going to be part of the sustainability panel session discussing ‘The most beautiful curve is the triple bottom line. Does it make sense to be first to this market?’ I’m interested to hear what they have to say and see how they can make the discussion engaging for their audience.

Speaker profile

Seeing Anne’s prestigeous write up on the website reminds me how lucky we were to have such an influencial and inspiring tutor running the course!

The two day conference is going to look at how during global financial turmoil, political change, unprecedented cuts and local protests, we are finding ways to innovative and find sustainable solutions to the challenges of our times. The key themes are going to be:

* Business transformation
* Emerging trends in technology and design
* Sustainable design and the environment
* Social design and collaborative practices

I wonder how many of the speakers will be talking about incorporating service design into their projects/thoughts to help change our lives for the better!?

Critical Mass – making a change

I came away from an interesting conversation today about service design feeling very inspired. I enjoy a conversation where two minds think a like and share similar values, especially when you work on different types of design for different types of clients. We discussed co-participation, the need for understanding research and how research methods are only useful if used correctly, how clients think they know what their employees/end users want or are doing and how a large problem can be solved very simply with some deep thinking.

It reminded me of the ‘word’ I chose to represent me at our MA degree show ‘Critical Mass’ (ok, it’s two words but I was let off). The more people that understand what ‘service design’ is and understand its value will mean we will live in a happier, more sustainable place. We are getting there….

“Critical Mass”

To create a sustainable lifestyle we need to change our behaviours. People follow trends, especially from their friends, celebrities and the media. If we can create mass behaviour change in the way we live, we can start to make a difference to the world around us. Defined as the minimum amount of something required to start or maintain a venture, critical mass is something I associate with cyclists coming together at the end of the month to make their mark on the streets. This is a great example of people showing solidarity, unity and common attitudes. If enough people who feel passionate about a subject, come together to make a change, the change is likely to happen!