social innovation

New York New York

One week in NYC was a ( very cold )  whirlwind. I've put this together for 3 reasons:

Firstly, to connect the people I met with each other. Secondly, to practice what I preach cos I reckon if everyone captured their trips like this we'd all be more connected and inspired in a faster way. Thirdly, I realised after this trip there are many talented designers who want to put their skills to good causes and don't know where to start... maybe this list will help you somehow.

I ended up in NYC because I was sponsored to attend a course at MIT ( post on that coming soon ) so I had an excuse to pop over and a) meet some inspiring people doing amazing things and b) get a sense of what a Snook USA might look and feel like.


Day #1

The Public Policy Lab helps Americans build better lives by improving the design and delivery of public services. They are a not-for-profit organisation who deliver work with serious rigour and evidence (  and like to eat hob knobs ). Director and superwoman, Chelsea Mauldin, is challenging existing models around how this kind of work is delivered and it was a privilege to hear her perspective on how disciplines like service design add value in this space. 

Public Policy Lab

Day #2

Green Map Systems has engaged communities worldwide in mapping green living, nature and cultural resources since 1995. Green Maps is charting a sustainable future and is led by Wendy Brawer - an incredible woman who has been mapping data before it had a fancy name! Wendy reminded me that true grass roots innovation is scalable but it does take time.

Green Map Systems

John Brothers  has a remarkable track record of transforming not-for-profit organisations from the inside out. His consultancy QuidooConsulting are what John calls 'pracademics' - they do, write and share. John also gave me  a crash course in NYC road rage which was as awesome as it sounds. His energy is infectious and it's brilliant that organisations like ACOSVO in Scotland and similarly in Ireland are embracing his expertise. I'm delighted that John has invited me to write a chapter in his up and coming book about Design for Government.

Matt Klein is the CEO of the Blueridge Foundation - who house start ups using tech for good. They are home to:  Kinvolved who improve student attendance and graduation rate by involving families. TurboVote who make voting easy. DataKind who bring together leading data scientists with high impact social organizations that leads to positive action through data in the service of humanity. Code For America  who change how citizens participate in government through tech. It was interesting to get a snapshot into this organisation and how their business model works.


Celia Hannon  is a Fulbright Scholar exploring how the not-for-profit sector in the US impacts public policy and enhances social equity. She used to work at UK think tank Demos, and led the organisation’s Family and Society Programme and publishing widely across a range of social policy issues. Given my recent MIT experience, it was valuable to swap stories with Celia who is spending her time at a renowned academic institution.

Day #3

Hailey Brewer is the public sector innovation lead at IDEO and it was really valuable to have an open conversation about how IDEO position themselves around social design and public sector led work. Hailey really believes in working across sectors and that is something we are working on at Snook. It turns out that the model of design consultancy presents the same barriers and challenges no matter how big or famous or awesome you are! Timely reminder for me.


Stephanie Pereira is Kickstarters's  ambassador for the fine art's sector. She kindly gave me a tour of their new home in Greenpoint. Words can't really do it justice - it has a a music room complete with piano, a library, a lecture theatre, exhibition space and more. I LOVED it! I was so struck by the CEO's decision to step back from the org now this new home has been finalised - this new space is a big statement that Kickstarter will be around for a very very very long time. Brilliant vision and admirable mission. Stephanie also let me hang out in their library to get some work done which was a lovely peaceful place to defrost.

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Dave Seliger heard I was coming to town and organised an event so I could share my story with the 'design for government' community here. Dave is seriously and tremendously brilliant and he's really determined to make change happen ( from the inside out ) in a very complex space. He is the founder of the Civic Service Forum who are helping NYC Gov employees create a culture of innovation and design inside government.

Dave Civic Service Forum
 The Civic Service Event, hosted by Parons Desis Lab was a great evening and I met a whole bunch of interesting people:

 Designers working inside Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Centre, Design Gym who teach workshops based on design thinking and tackle real world challenges, Marshall Sitten who works for Citi Community Development & teaches Services Innovation NYUPoly... and many others. A huge thank you to Dave for organising and everyone who turned up and asked me difficult questions :)

Service Design For Gov

Day #4

I've been friends with the amazing gang at Doberman for a few years now - since our chance meeting in Oslo. They are building their organisation and recently set up their new office in NYC. We have been exploring different ways we can collaborate for a while now so I was excited to see their new space and say hi. It's remarkable how quickly they have built up a bank of impressive projects and clients. I can't wait to see what they get up to next, I particularly admire the way they have built up a seventy person strong team and yet remained agile and maintained a start up culture.  Their CEO  Lisa Lindström was recently listed as the fifth most powerful person in Swedish design and architecture by magazine RUM


Lonni Tanner is Chief Change Officer at the New York City Department of Design and Construction (DDC), where she serves as the Executive Director of See ChangeNYC, an initiative that designs places and experiences that empower at-risk citizens to take charge of their lives. Brilliant projects that are having an impact on the city.

Lauren Kritzer who is the Chief Operating Officer at Applico shared her organisations journey of moving away from mobile towards platform design. We met on skype at the first ever Global Jam so a meet up in the real world was very fun.

Kaitlin Thaney from Mozilla Science Lab is doing amazing things around making science open. I'm not from this world but even a small snapshot into it left me feeling Kaitlin is working in an incredibly important space that will have societal impact.

Tina Roth Eisenberg, aka Swiss Miss who runs TattlyCreative Mornings and built Teux Deux. I am a HUGE fan of all three - check 'em out. You can also watch her Do Lecture 'Trust Breeds Magic'. When people ask me who I aspire to be like - Tina is always part of my answer so I did do a little dance in my chair when she replied to my mail and invited me to visit. Her studio was magical and her energy simply amazing. I will never forget our conversation. She's something else.

swiss miss

Andrea Coleman is the Chief Executive Officer of the Office of Innovation at the New York City Department of Education, the largest school district in the United States with 1700 schools and over one million students. Andrea has an impressive 15-year track record in public sector innovation with expertise in start-ups, curriculum design and social innovation. Through many of her projects Andrea works with design firms in NYC so it was helpful for me to get a sense of what that looks like from the other side and pick her brains on Snook's business model and ways of implementing.

Day #5

I went to Providence, Rhode Island and met a whole bunch of amazing people. But this day was so special it's getting it's own little write up somewhere else...keep an eye out.

Aaannd I managed to squeeze in some social time with some Hyper Island  graduates who are in NYC doing various digital and strategy projects.

And of course. I ate too much pizza. Hailed a cab. Lived in a microscopic apartment. Fell on my ass in the snow. Didn't get lost ( those who know me well will know why I'm particularly proud of this one ) Watched the superbowl. Saw a celebrity from a far...and despite now being absolutely exhausted I LOVED every minute of it!

Here are some organisations that were on my list but sadly I did't manage to connect with for one reason and another.

The Centre for Urban Pedagogy  (CUP) who use the power of design and art to increase meaningful civic engagement.
NYC Centre for Social Innovation who are creating a home for social innovation in New York City.
The Gov Lab who are improving people’s lives by changing how we govern.
Open Plans who are on a mission to make planning more open, more efficient, and more fun.
Breakfast  who are described as 'the custom tailors of the tech world'.
Yasmin Fodil  who is a strategist at social innovation consultancy @GOOD HQ.

Thank you to the following folks for introductions and help along the way...Stephanie Pereira, John Brothers, Chris Arnold, Mike Press, Cassie Robinson, Matt Klein, Chelsea Mauldin, The Point People, Peter Gerard and Robin Bini Schneider. And thank you to my brilliant business partner Sarah Drummond and our talented team for making a week away from Snook's HQ in Glasgow possible.

the grit of grassroots in glasgow

I described my time at Speirs Locks as a 'day with a difference'. So what was different about it? Well, I spent the first half of my day in an old glue factory which was inspiring despite being freezing. I then 'toured a site' with an architect, something I have never done before. I spent the second half of my day in Scottish Opera, after a behind the scenes tour -  a place I would never typically find myself and I played a beautiful grand piano at the coffee break - something I would love to do every single day but rarely get the chance to...

I was part of this day as a result of the work David Barrie is carrying out as part of an innovative collaboration between Architecture Design Scotland and creative organisations based in the Speirs Lock Area of North Glasgow.

David invited Snook to be part of an international workshop into urban regeneration through culture.  The purpose of this work at Speirs Locks is to provide a framework and implementable plan that identifies what forward uses and actions should be promoted that will help Speirs Locks become a world class creative neighbourhood.

As the appointed 'visualiser' I spent the best part of the day listening and translating what I could hear into pictures. You can click the picture below and zoom in to get a flavour of the discussions.

I was also the 'voice of social innovation' (as David put it ) which was interesting as the majority of the people there were from architecture, arts, performance, planning, regeneration etc and I believe social innovation and motivation has a key role to play in any venture involving communities.

Things got really interesting when Adam, a member of the community, joined us and the conversation turned to the grits of grassroots and how we could make the most of what is already there. I asked the group to think about what we could all go and do tomorrow, that requires no funding or framework, just a thing, anything, we can do to engage with the people who live here...

The group split up into teams ; 'Wouldn't it be brilliant if?' | Touchpoints | Whales and Plankton | -Ing the thing | to explore this notion of growing the people and then growing the place whilst thinking practically and economically. The ideas that appealed to me the most were:

  • A 'social kitchen' where people go to share food, learn how to cook and prepare food and eat together.
  • A 'geek on a bike' who wears black baggy trousers who can come and set up skype for you or sign you up to twitter.
  • A 'grant writer' ( inspired by John's experience of people who sit on the side of the road in India and type letters for people on their typewriters - and something I experimented with myself in St.Andrews )

As always, the day ended with lots of questions needing answered;

* What are the demographics of the future community? * What will be the educational requirements of that community? * What jobs will be offered by the site? * What are the health and well-being needs of the future community? * How will the site contribute to and express urban identity and civic pride? * How do people socially interact on site? * What are the opportunities on offer for independent business? * What are the aspirations for micro-enterprises? * How will neighbouring communities feel that the site is beneficial to their area? * How will the site support the generation of new creative and social networks and enterprise? * What opportunities will the site offer for personal development? * What shopping facilities will it offer?

And last but not least, I made new friends : Tom Beardshaw Laura Mc Naught Gary Watt , Mhari McMullan and caught up with old ones. Definitely a day with a difference.

Photos from Tom Beardshaw

Jail Brake calls for Service Designers!

"Hello, We're looking for service designers to join us for the Jailbrake weekend, 26th-28th March, at the Young Foundation in Bethnal Green, London.

Jailbrake is a competition to find and support great ideas that could break the cycle of youth offending using simple web and mobile tools.

From our call for ideas back in January and February, we’ve chosen six early-stage ideas we’re going to be helping to turn into real projects in just one weekend from 6.30pm, Friday 26th March to 4pm, Sunday 28th March.

So now we’re looking for people who want to join us for the weekend and help build them.

Are you a great software developer or designer? Do you have have service design, business, legal or other expertise that could be needed to get an idea off the ground?

Want to come and help build one of these ideas?

We’re looking for all sorts of talented people to get involved and come for the Jailbrake weekend: right through from people who have first hand experience of working with young people and the youth justice system, to those who can hack together some software and people who can work out how to sustain an idea in the long-run.

You can come along for all or part of the weekend and get involved in one particular idea or help out several different projects – just let us know when you’d like to come and how you can help by signing up here.

Here's when and where:

6.30pm, Friday 26th March – 4pm, Sunday 28th March 2010

The Young Foundation 17-18 Victoria Park Square Bethnal Green London E2 9PF

Hope you can make it!"
Once again....this is set to be a brilliant couple of days and it is a great opportunity to put your talent, skills and knowledge to a worthwhile project! The design students who joined us last week had a fanatastic experience and have since been offered internships and invaluable contacts! Go go go!

The People's supermarket

"Currently being set up by innovative and forward-thinking chef Arthur Potts Dawson, The People’s Supermarket offers a new way of shopping that aims to change the way we buy food. This is a supermarket that is run by the people, for the people, selling the best food at the lowest possible prices."

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Lovely idea: A supermarket revolution... ? Althought it looks like Boston got there first with Harvest Co-op... (thanks Katherine)

Thinking in The White House

Project Health has been described as a new vision for American Health Care aiming to break the link between poverty and poor health. "Our model is simple and effective: in clinics where we provide services, physicians can "prescribe" food or housing for their patients and their families. Our undergraduate volunteers then connect those families to local resources to meet these needs, enabling them to achieve the stability and opportunity that lead to better health for their children.

Our vision is to mobilize the nation's first corps of student volunteers to connect low-income patients with the resources they need to be healthy and, in doing so, create the next generation of leaders committed to tackling this country's greatest health challenges."

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Project Health was  featured in Michelle Obama's remarks at the Time Magazine's 100 Most Influential People gala last week. The First Lady also talks more broadly about the need help nurture a new generation of innovators and entrepreneurs who will direct their skills and energy toward solving their community’s most serious social problems. The White House proproses a Social Innovation Fund to encourage social innovation and entrepreneurship.

Image: Arimoore