Insights from a motorbike

On Wednesday 17th October I left on a motorbike for an adventure to The Gambia. We plan to ride 3,000 miles in five weeks; we caught a ferry to Santander, rode through Spain and are now in Morocco.

Ahead of us we have the disputed Western Sahara, Mauritania, Senegal and The Gambia where we fly home from Banjul.

Many people have asked why?

  • What makes you want to travel to The Gambia?
  • Why do you want to ride your motorbikes that far?
  • Isn’t it going to be dangerous?
  • And how will you carry all your luggage?
  • The main reason was to leave our London lives behind for 5 weeks and experience new cultures. Being on two wheels allows you to visit places most travelers don’t reach, having no set itinerary will allow us to get immersed in local cultures and completing the whole journey on motorbikes means we have a 180degree view the whole way.

    It has taken a few months of planning, mainly bike preparation and paper work organisation but now we are in Africa our adventures really start here.

    The work I do ‘back home’ is all about collecting insights, understanding people and finding ways to help communities. I love being immersed into different cultures and finding out how we can influence behaviours for good.

    So, another aim of this adventure is to document what we see, who we meet and what we experience. We have a Canon HF10 video camera and where possible intend to film as much as possible. This may, however prove hard at times, especially in Western Sahara and Mauritania where reporters and journalists are forbidden. Luckily though, David is a native French speaker which helps for negotiating….

    I’m interested in social innovation and sustainability, especially when focused on communities and making people happy. This is what we’ll be looking out for en route.

  • What brings communities together? and
    How do communities survive, especially in developing countries?
  • What we’ve experienced so far:

    Our stay in Spain was only a few days but while with friends in Madrid, we went to their friend’s house for a birthday dinner. The evening revolved around chatting while eating tortillas, cheese and olives and drinking Rioja. Exactly what comes to my mind when Spanish food is mentioned. When we arrived at our camp site outside of Granada, the owner said we’d just missed the paella! There was a large group of locals sitting around a table with an empty paella dish…

    When we arrived at the Moroccan border at Ceuta there were lots of men trying to ‘stamp our passport’ and ‘help us through customs’. We had been warned of this and knew not to accept their help but they were clearly being very innovative and even had ‘official’ looking name tags around their necks. Morocco came with animals all over the streets, men on scooters piled high with luggage, taxis with broken suspensions and far too many passengers in them and women selling branches on the side of the road.

    From now on we can start looking for local insights and discover what makes each community different and what cultural differences occur. Two things we quickly learnt in Chefchaouen were that ‘every street has a guardian’ and ‘however little you trust a Moroccan, he will trust a Moroccan half of that’. Let’s hope Abdul really is looking after our motorbikes while we stay in the Medina.

    Motorbike focused updates are being posted at and @twowheelexp on twitter if you want to follow our journey, otherwise we plan to have a film edited together in the new year.

    And to answer the questions asked of me previously, here are some quick replies:
    1. Heading south to The Gambia means things become cheaper, the weather gets better and the cultures become more interesting.
    2. We wanted to ride our bikes to Cape Town but political situations are insecure in parts at thr moment and it would take much longer to plan/save up for.
    3. We don’t plan to travel any where ‘dangerous’. We are looking for an adventure but will move on if we feel unsafe.
    4. We have three panniers each to carry our luggage. The saying ‘over packed is under prepared’ is very true and we have packed what we need without going over the top. Yes, we will need to wash our underwear frequently…!20121023-160327.jpg

    Made In Brunel: Pecha Kucha 2012

    Made In Brunel banner

    I was honoured to be invited back to the Made in Brunel 2012 exhibition to give a Pecha Kucha presentation at the Barge House on London’s Southbank. Not only did I do my undergraduate degree in Industrial Design (back in the Runnymede years) but I helped organise our end of year exhibition and have always been a fan of the Brunel end of year shows.

    It was a hard task to speak along side this list of inspiring people!

    However, the theme ‘journeys fuelled by ideas’ did allow me to present how I went from an undergraduate in Industrial Design to being a social innovator today. Here is a summary of my 20 slides (each timed at 20 seconds long):

    1. I started my talk by urging everyone to read Victor Papanek’s ‘The Green Imperative’ – a book that changed by view on design, made me question the world of consumerism that I was experiencing and think about what the future will look like.
    2. This new way of thinking inspired me to see if I could wear/buy only second hand clothing for a year. It would be a challenge but a good challenge – I would need to think creatively about my wardrobe, it would help me save money and give me peace of mind that I was preventing unwanted clothes from going to landfill.
    3. Of course, buying only second hand clothing meant I spent a large amount of time in charity shops – then came Mary Portas!
      Pecha Kucha slide - Mary Portas
      Mary Portas presented a tv show where she transformed a run down charity shop into a fantastic retail experience. It made great tv and raised awareness around charity shops but… I didn’t feel it was true to reality. Not all charity shops have money, a film crew or a tv celebrity!
    4. I wanted to see if I could use my design thinking to help improve local and independant charity shops with little or no money.
    5. So, I immersed myself in a local charity shop and became a volunteer to see what it was like to be on the receiving end of donations. I steamed clothes to join in the back room conversations, I worked on the till to speak to customers and I hung around outside the shop to get a feel for what the community was all about.
    6. These insights, volunteer stories and community help allowed my to come up with a tool to provide recommendations for changes to the charity shop. The recommendations ranged from renting out the shop windows to community groups needing advertising space to changing the opening hours to attract a different type of customer.
    7. I had a real love for second clothing and wanted to learn more about the subject so I went with [re]design, the social enterprise and their ‘Chalky Van’ to the Vintage Festival. We facilitated sessions to find out how people might give an old shirt a second lease of life – the ideas were brilliant. My favourite was ‘blow my nose on it’.
      Pecha Kucha - Chalky Van
    8. I also ran a swishing event (where people come together to swap their unwanted clothes) with a twist. I wanted to see people’s reactions when a rack of clothing was placed in a busy street and people were allowed to swap their clothes. Some people swapped the clothes they were wearing, others negotiated with friends to swap and some went home to get something else to swap. It proved that people do like second hand clothing – it just needs to be displayed and presented in an interesting way.
    9. It was becoming clear that my passion was around behaviour change and encouraging people to swap bad habits for good ones and began to focus on using my design to do this.
    10. I became a design ambassador for the Design Council‘s Water Design Challenge and worked with a group of girls at a school in Southampton to enter the challenge. Their enthusiam, creativity and interest in reducing in their water consumption amazed me.
    11. I got involved with the People’s Kitchen in Dalston helping provide ‘food for the people by the people’ to encourage people  not to waste food.
      Pecha Kucha - The People's Kitchen
    12. Some people come to learn new cooking skills, others come to share their recipes, some come to eat an affordable meal and others come to meet like minded people. The best part is that everyone is helping to eat what would be unwanted food and change the attitude towards waste food. A People’s Kitchen has opened in Brixton which is fantastic news.
    13. And now, I’m Director of Behaviour Change at Ecoinomy helping large companies engage their staff to change their habits.
    14. It’s often hard for companies to create change within the organisation. Either the message is top down which feels like a stick is being waved to enforce change, or the message is bottom up and unheard.  Ecoinomy offer a system that motivates employees to change their habits by rewarding them for their actions and in return, money is given to a cause of their choice.
    15. Changing behaviours can be challenging and I spend most of my time working with the end users to find out how our system can be improved, discover what language needs to be used and how we can dig deeper into the world of good sustainable  habits.
    16. An area I had been wanting to work in was health and as a result teamed up with four other designers to enter the Design Council’s ‘Living well with Dementia‘ challenge.
    17. We decided to focus on helping improve the lives of the primary carer by encouraging families to collaborate to share the necessary care.
    18. This meant spending time with primary carers, speaking to people living with dementia and really finding out what life is like for everyone living with dementia.
    19. I am a real advocate for OpenIDEO – the platform where people collaborate to design better, together and recently ran an OpenIDEATION workshop with the Kingston University MA Design for Development students. We came up with concepts for the challenge looking at ‘how might we design an accessible election experience for everyone?
    20. And my latest concept ‘TED positive – sharing failures‘ for the OpenIDEO ‘how might we support web entrepreneurs in launching and growing sustainable global businesses?‘ is being developed as one of the winning concepts.
      Pecha Kucha - OpenIDEO conceptDo you have a failure story relating to your work/business/journey that you would like to share for others to learn from? If so, please let me know – I’d love to hear it!

    And lastly, I’d like to thank Brunel for inviting me to speak, not only did it give me an excellent reason to reflect on my journey over the last 2 years but I got to meet plenty of interesting people and many old friends.

    I also want to thank the lovely, Laoise Casey for taking photos while I spoke!

    Good For Nothing – 21/22 May 2011

    Here are a few photos from the Good For Nothing, Food Cycle team.

    Such a fantastically inspiring event in a great space in Shoreditch. I met some great people and really enjoyed collaborating!

    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!

    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.