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Emergent Design. What Does It Mean?

Members of The Value Web recently returned from Dubai where we were working with the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN). We worked with GAIN to co-design their annual Business Alliance Global Forum, an event that brings together global and regional business leaders and influential stakeholders to discuss the latest in sustainable business models for the base of the pyramid and other strategies to fight malnutrition.

“The GAIN Business Alliance (BA) is a rapidly expanding global business network dedicated to promoting market-based solutions which address malnutrition. GAIN created the Business Alliance in 2005 with the goal of mobilizing business to play a greater role in combating malnutrition through engagement in the Base of the Pyramid (BOP) market.”

“The BA offers a platform for companies committed to reducing global malnutrition to network, build partnerships and learn about the opportunities and challenges for companies investing in nutrition initiatives for low income consumers. Member services include convening stakeholders, sharing knowledge and communicating progress in the fight against malnutrition.  BA events provide members with opportunities to engage with like-minded businesses, governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), international organizations (IOs), and academics within GAIN’s network and also help deepen member involvement in the fight against malnutrition.” [Read more about GAIN and the Business Alliance on the GAIN website]

The GAIN Business Alliance Global Forum 2010 was designed to serve as a platform for business, government, NGOs and academia to convene, collaborate and catalyze public-private partnership to continue the fight against malnutrition.

At the event, participants were encouraged to explore innovations that enable the delivery of high quality, affordable products to the most vulnerable consumers at risk of malnutrition. We kicked off the event with four Social Entrepreneurs who shared innovations with the Business Alliance community.
The four social entrepreneurs were:

Mr. Tobias Schüth, Swiss Red Cross, Kyrgystan
Power from below: test kits in the hands of retailers pressure producer to iodize salt

Mr. Hart Jansson, Vice-President of  Malnutrition Matters
Vitagoat, Malnutrition Matters

Mr. Thomas Stehl, Managing Director, Meds and Food for Kids (MFK)
Treating Malnutrition through Haitian Production of RUTF, Meds and Food for Kids (MFK)

Mr. Dave Dodson, Founder of Project Healthy Children (PHC)
Small-Scale Fortification: Innovative Technology for the Developing  World

To read more about the Social Entrepreneurs visit “Meet the Innovators” page on the GAIN website.

The core of the event consisted of four “action streams” or thematic pillars:

Business Models for the Base of the Pyramid

While many companies recognize that there are business opportunities at the base of the pyramid (BoP), not many organizations have successfully tapped them. Often they are unsure of the appropriate business model suited to engage these consumers and address their needs and preferences. As such, this workshop was designed to identify the key challenges that enterprises face while trying to deliver  high quality, nutritious and affordable product to the BoP and develop potential solutions to overcome those hurdles.

Read the session summary here.

Design & Innovation

Participants in the Innovation and Design Stream modeled a process for designing nutritious foods for the ‘base of the pyramid’. Jocelyn Wyatt of IDEO facilitated the group through three 100-minute workshops.  The process employed ‘Human-Centered Design’ which is based on the needs and preferences of actual customers. Rather than basing product and distribution ideas on technical understanding or on some aggregate view of market needs, participants learned about individual consumers in their own environment and kept these individuals in mind throughout the design and innovation process.

Read the session summary here.

Partnerships and Collaboration

The move to new partnerships, away from the “one issue, one country, one NGO, one business” paradigm, requires a systemic change. The emerging model will be more complex and more diverse, hence requiring stakeholders to connect in different ways. The workshop gave participants an opportunity to start to make these connections and brainstorm concrete ideas of partnerships.

Read the session summary here.

Measuring Impact

What matters when measuring impact? How can measures not only inform decision-making, but become a part of the operational DNA of an organization? In these sessions, participants explored these and many other questions in order to get a better understanding of how measurement can be used as the basis for stronger collaborations and more effective management of nutrition initiatives

Read the session summary here.

The environment and the collaborative process were designed to allow participants to engage, exchange and explore potential partnership opportunities around topic areas relevant to their role in the fight against malnutrition. This was the first GAIN Business Alliance meeting held in the Middle East, and so it also served to raise awareness about the importance of nutrition and the involvement of business in the fight against malnutrition in the region. The event is also an opportunity for the GAIN Business Alliance members to share their best practices and experiences in their fight against malnutrition.

In addition to the co-design of the action streams, The Value Web also designed and built (in real time) a 60 foot knowledge wall that pulled together key ideas emerging from the plenary session and output from each round of the action stream working sessions. It also housed a partnership marketplace, where participants were encouraged to post “wanted” ads – a format that allowed them to express what their projects or businesses needed, at what scale, and in what part of the world. We built this exercise into the Partnership & Collaboration working session so that participants actually participated in the exercise. We have found in the past that unless you design interaction with the knowledge wall into the actual work that occurs during an event, participants typically don’t engage physically with the content (i.e. adding ideas, etc). Changing our patterns and embedding the partnership market into the assignments provided participants with clear direction and set clear expectations around what the knowledge wall could do and how they were meant to interact with it.

In terms of process design, there were a number of learnings that we had coming out of this event – everyone on the team seemed to feel that, although we used a variety of tools to cross pollinate ideas, there was still not enough space or time for the coming together of all the pieces across the streams. One reason for this, in my opinion at least, is that we are using, as a foundation for our process design work, a process that is intended to be used over the course (ideally) of 3-5 days. We’ve been struggling with how to effectively map this process onto a 1-4 hour working session, and I think we’re at a place where we need to rethink our approach, and more importantly, reframe our expectations about what we can actually accomplish in such a short time frame (either by setting our expectations much higher or by recognizing the limitations and playing with/pushing the constraints). I also think we need to be pushing for longer interventions. In every event that I have been part of over the course of the past year (and in recent years, but in particular the past year) I am sensing a strong need (and in fact a call) for processes and events that allow for much deeper vertical understanding of core issues (regardless of how they are framed) paired with wider cross-disciplinary, cross-sectoral/cross-industry understanding, linked to actual doing. In case – a systems approach to understanding the complexity inherent in the key challenges and deep rooted issues of these modern times. What’s exciting about this is that the processes, tools, methodologies of MG Taylor (which are core to The Value Web) are explicitly designed/constructed to do just this. The issue I see at the moment is that the convening organizations aren’t able or willing to make the time/money investment that is needed to actually accomplish this. The gap here seems to be the lack of a compelling enough cost/benefit analysis. I think you’d be hard pressed to find someone who would take the time to argue against the value of a systems approach to planning and solution development, but justifying the cost (of money and time) within a business/non-profit structure, educational institution, government system or multilateral organization seems to be an issue. In all of these organizational structures it seems that people are already struggling to keep their heads above water – balancing day to day demands with the strategic long term vision that is needed to steer clear of operational potholes and systemic failures – and so to justify any ‘time out’ from day to day management requires a very compelling story. This story is something that I hope The Value Web will continue to contribute to, and begin to find innovative ways to share this story with the world. Patrick Frick, a founding member of The Value Web, has already begun on this journey to highlight the importance of deep process intervention at this moment in time. He recently made a presentation at TEDx Munich on “The Complexity Gap.” You can see this presentation below (at time stamp 14:00). I think we are all looking forward to contributing to the evolution and proliferation of this story.

As a final note, in the spirit of doing more reflection after events, I asked the team to send along 5 words that represented their experience of the event. The tag cloud below is a result of their contribution to this exercise.

I think this post is long enough to skip the paragraph of text that could accompany this tag cloud with the explanations that the team included. If you are interested in understanding why these words were chosen, just let me know! In terms of reflection on our process, and our experience of the event – I think the key takeaways (all of which we know from past experience – they were simply reinforced at this event) were as follows:

  • Multi-stakeholder events are very difficult – because we often have shorter process design interventions, and because there are so many perspectives/assumptions in the room, there is practically no scope for identifying and building on shared intent and so, although we may move through SCAN and FOCUS phases, we never get to ACT. This calls for some redesign of our short (1-3 hour) interventions if in fact we want to be moving towards actionable outcomes.
  • Optional participation makes for unpredictable and small numbers.
  • The more cross pollination of ideas, participants and content across work streams (and longer work sessions) the stronger the experience of the participants and the stronger the output of the sessions.
  • When you put people together in a room, and let them play in a structured format, great things can happen, even with short process interventions. People want to collaborate and work/learn and play with one another around important issues.
  • Natural light is VERY important. Working in cave like conference rooms and dimly lit ballrooms drains peoples energy. Music is also very important.

There were many other learnings, but these seemed to be the ones that most had listed in common. It’s striking, because we know all these points already  – I look forward to ensuring that these aren’t “learnings” again in the future.

Below are a few images and quotes that some of the team included in their emails – so I thought I’d share!

And one final quote that caught our attention in one of the breakout conversations:
“When the wise man is showing the moon – the stupid man is looking at the finger.” Chinese Proverb


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