Osaka: Start At The Beginning

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imageToday begins a new journey as the Design Forum for the 10 City Bridge Run formerly commences. By way of introduction and explanation, this is a welcome note to many, and also an apology of sorts for possibly failing expectations, as we embark on this epic quest.

The Design Forum follows behind the 10 City Bridge Run, a running stunt that wove a narrative through 10 cities where the discussion will take place.

We have to go back to the beginning to understand where we are now. The 10 City Bridge Run was in response to an alarming rate of child mortality painted by large, institutional aid agencies. In 2010, much publicity was given to highlighting the 2008 daily rate of child survival: an average of 24,000 child deaths per day calculated by UNICEF. Considerable money and attention was given to highlighting this figure. I thought that we should instead be asking what we could do going forwards rather than be too caught up in educating a figure from the past. So the 24K formed a figure which framed a distance I then decided to run in 10 cities as a stunt that would culminate in a central Design Forum.

It was an ambitious journey. Epic. Impossible. Impossible because I made these plans with none of the resources at hand.

Friends and family responded by contributing, crowdfunding an amount to start the journey. The deficit fell on myself which has not been insignificant.

In early January this year, after a prolonged and difficult journey, the 10 City Bridge Run was completed in the cold rain on a dark night in Manhattan.

Many friends have said that media was key. Why didn’t I have more media? Why didn’t I have any media support for that matter? And they are right. Partly, the reason for not pressing ‘send’ on documents to the media is because it was just me doing this journey. Yes, me. For all of my failings. I admit fearing the thought of standing before the media, injured, unfit, lacking resources, with no certainty except for a foolish Quixiotic quest to drive me forward. Understandably, the media would want to know the plan, not just the dream. And there was a plan, but unfunded. I couldn’t say with any certainty what would come next even within days before the event because of a lack of resources.

Along the journey, out of necessity I chose homelessness over accommodation in many cities. To abstain from meals rather than to eat. There was no money for such things. And that made speaking with media all the more difficult. The rawness of the journey, the fraught nature of this quest is what has made it epic, but they are also circumstances that scare people. Their natural response is to tell you to stop.

Even getting to Osaka has been part of that narrative. I could point to a date on a calendar easily enough, but how to organise something without resources? I’m now not so sure if that is difficult, or foolish, or both.

The Design Forum began today because it was a date that ensured I was in Osaka ahead of HackOsaka tomorrow. A gathering of innovators and entrepreneurs to look at applications of the Internet of Things (IoT). When I first met the Director for this gathering after I ran in Osaka last October, it seemed to be a clear and definable line in the sand to start a series of Desig. forum. I used the expression “to convene a ‘Part B’ to HackOsaka” during that conversation, although it wasn’t clear to him what I meant exactly, partly because of language and partly because of lack of resources that I was reluctant to share a plan that was closer to a dream than to reality.

Before we get too far into a conversation talking about child survival, I think it is first important to ask how are we to ‘Design the Design Forum’. The Osaka gathering is in a foreign language to my own, set in a foreign culture, and format (hackathon) that I had a hunch might best be used to discuss the issue of child survival. A hackathon is a preferred format to a traditional conference setting involving a plenary which leans on the panel of experts to frame the conversation. I loved how Bono referred to that type of plenary at Davos in 2012 by saying, in a conversation about child mortality, “we don’t need another talking shop”.

Additionally, today’s date is important because it is the start of a free, seven-week, online course hosted by Acumen Fund and IDEO called an Introduction to Human Centred Design. A free course about Design Thinking. That date for the course was a coincidence, but very welcome, and it is that course along with the Hackathon tomorrow here in Osaka which defines this first Design Forum beginning in Osaka.

The HackOsaka event won’t be discussing child survival, but will be an opportunity to ask questions about conducting an event. Not just questions of the organisers, but amongst ourselves. I intend to conduct a straw poll of people who are attending about child survival, but only in as much as to find a baseline of where the current ‘person on the street’ conversation is found.

The seven weeks concludes close to the entry date for the 2015 Fuller Challenge, and the culmination of this Design Forum will both be framing a plan for the future as well as making a submission to the Fuller Challenge. The Fuller Challenge is inspired by the life and work of Buckminster Fuller.

In the meantime, I have been wrestling with Google Hangouts which I can’t get the Hang Of so that I might provide an overview of the journey to date. That too is perhaps an auspicious start to the begin of this new epic quest. Auspicious and not ominous. Auspicious because it highlights that there are many things we don’t know. I can’t just dismiss the problem by say “I’ll do it on an Google Hangout”. I have to really know how to do it, which serves as an allegory for our journey to improve child survival.

Why this is relevant is not because it highlights my own failings, but because it is a question I asked a number of people in an open ended way about six-months ago where I indentified that the most immediate challenge to be solved was working on a framework for collaborative exchange. I actually think that Google Hangout is close to the solution to that question, except for the fact that it can’t be accessed in China. By identifying that there was never a response to that earlier question six months ago, it is not blaming the earlier conversation, but addresses the fact that to resolve issues we need to have intentional commitment to a solution. Which brings us back to the Design Forum.

Another reason for the Design Forum, and approaching it methodically through Design Thinking is that it helps to engage unspoken and undiscussible assumptions and opinions about child survival. In a Facebook exchange yesterday, two friends shared informed view of funding about which organisations are best, and also by contrast which are less effective, for improving child survival. It is a welcome contribution, but this conversation is less about funding and more about our most precious and under-utilised resource: each other. Our networks are our most under-utilised resources, especially when it comes to solving problems. Our networks are fuelled by passion and imagination, not money.

There are some less conventional part to this Design Forum. One such example is using our networks to strengthen a petition (both in wording and in numbers) which is addressed to Australia’s Foreign Minister, The Hon Julie Bishop MP, requesting her to be the official Champion for the Design Forum (which will point to the culmination of this conversation at the final event in Seoul this October). Another example is a request to Bill and Melinda Gates to suggest a reading list for us to read right now. There is no time for delay. This is not a nice to have.

If you disapprove about anything relating to the Design Forum, that’s fine, but let us know why. This is a conversation. We needn’t agree with everyone on everything all the time. Share your perspective, and as loudly as you would like, but please remember your manners too. We need your voice, and I for one know that I am not always right.

Thank you. Thank you for being part of this journey, even if it is just through the reading of this blog. We really need you to be part of this journey for the Design Forum to ask an important question asking: “how might we use our networks to improve the delivery of child survival?” Bring your imagination, your enthusiasm, your criticism, your passion. But please do join us. This is an important question to address, and I suggest that the point of Bill and Melinda Gates Annual Letter this year which pointed to a reduction of child mortality over the next 15 years was to inspire action, not just Facebook Likes. Welcome to the conversation.

And with that, I am delighted to announce that this epic series of Design Forum has now commenced!

Some links:

Design Thinking course. Join here or leave a message below. https://novoed.com/hcd-acumen

Petition for Julie Bishop. https://www.change.org/p/the-hon-julie-bishop-mp-champion-the-global-series-of-design-forum-to-improve-child-survival

Question for Bill and Melinda Gates (and yes, you can forward this blog as well). http://youtu.be/tkrUlCm9GFs

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