• Published Date: 21/03/2019
  • by: UNDP

Legitimate Change & The Critical Role of Cities

Civic Cities as the Minimum Unit of Change in the Great Transition.

We are living in the midst of rapid change and mounting evidence of the fragility of public trust in societal institutions. Increasingly our means of change are restricted not by capital or capacity (though we often like to point at these shortfalls), but rather by our means to create legitimacy, or shared coherence as to the proposed direction of travel, even as the climate threats to our civilisation become increasingly paramount.

How do we address the growing fragility of legitimacy in our increasingly complex contexts? There are multiple forces, trends and drivers in play — including major demographic shifts, climate destabilisation, nutrient system hazards, and industrial revolution 4.0 consequences — which are creating feedback loops with second and third order spillovers and unintended or unimagined effects.

Cities are the sites where these complex systems knot together — including property rights, food systems, logistics, financial systems, water systems, human development institutions, schools, universities, etc. Transforming these underlying systems in an integrated manner is required in order to address the challenges we face and open up opportunities to create the full decarbonisation of our society, unlock inclusive innovation capacity of our economy, and build climate stabilisation resilience. This requires system innovation at the city scale.

It is this complexity, knot of systems of systems and the need for socially legitimate solutions, which is forcing a new architecture of legitimacy and the growing global calls for the strategic devolution of nation states — and the rise of the city. But this transition is about more than just nation states handing over power to cities (which to date has been much of the call — understandably). If cities are to be genuine “engines” of Human Development 2.0, where we can address and transcend our societal challenges to create a regenerative industrial revolution 4.0, they will need to transform the lock-in of systems and unleash the economies of scope, context and systems change to create a legitimate landscape for solutions in a complex the world. It is this latter work that needs to be developed and reimagined.

Remaking legitimacy involves remaking the deliberative and participatory infrastructure of civic debate and civic policy making. This needs to go beyond just new tools of opinion harvesting (whilst they do have a space and a need). We increasingly recognise addressing complex challenge requires deliberative processes if we are to avoid meaningless simplicity or meaningless solutions — either addressing averages that don’t exist or wishing away reality as we are increasingly witnessing with the political denials of climate destabilization.

Remaking legitimacy in a complex world requires a whole raft of transformation, based on our work to date, below is initial and limited outline list:

1.The purposeful adoption of parametric policy making by national governments— creating legitimate space for contextual responses and innovation by cities. Whilst maintaining the capacity and capabilities to continuously sense, refine, adjust and augment these national, networked and shared objectives. This possibility and tool has been eloquently outlined by the brilliant work of Yuen Yuen Ang and her book “How China Escaped The Poverty Trap” and the deliberative use of ambiguous centralised regulation to support contextual and city region experimentation.

2.The purposeful remaking & redesigning of national centralised treasury functions— towards a new real-time, decentralised, network of city region-based treasury functions. Supporting a combination of radical fiscal devolution and networked aggregation.

3.The purposeful devolution of national innovation agencies— The purposeful devolution of national innovation agencies (where they exist) — addressing the systemic inequality of discretionary spend, and R&D spend.

4.The systemic and systematic use of deliberative process such as citizen assemblies, civic juries— but also Community (business) Improvement districts as an inherent & systemic component of our democracy (not as exceptional fixes to challenges).

5.Building a systemic culture of referenda and quadratic voting (combining intensity of intent with opinion)whilst deliberative processes are a powerful mechanism for building new consensus, we will go through difficult and complex challenges and need to complement the capacity of politicians and deliberative processes by building the capacity to crystallise these discussions into complex decisions (which cannot be functionally or effectively delegated). Building the architecture for an informed, legitimate debate is foundational both in terms of accountability, external influence and making the necessary transition.

6.Improving on Evidence based policy making to build Informed Citizenship based policy making — We need to fundamentally shift the flow of evidence and data from the current architecture of “Evidence to Policy-makers to Politicians” (where politicians are required to construct new social consensus) to an alternative — where we use evidence, data and civic visualisation to build informed civic consciousness (making invisible forces like air pollution visible and reducing information asymmetries to create the context for policy possibilities). In this new reality, it is the role of politicians to construct new social consensus and thereby direct policy and policy making (this proposal also seeks to recognise the diminishing role and contribution of local/regional newspapers).

7.Civic Hacking the future city— Whilst we recognise the historic asymmetric role of start ups in driving innovation and transforming the city. Increasingly, as technology and its impact go beyond the individual to societal affects, the need for a real-world “space” of experimentation becomes structural to innovating in complexity– hacking the future of the city requires the structural underpinnings of civic trust & legitimacy (as Sidewalk Torontoare discovering). In this future meaningful innovation will face the need for open collaborative approaches and practices which are civic first, system innovation orientated, and start up venture capital subordinate. Cities which are able to build the statecraft & economies of civic innovation will be able to increase the speed of experimentation and adoption of the future.

8.Remaking City RegulatoryThe changes suggested above require a new type of statecraft for cities — new division of powers (between civic data visualisation & policy information, between integrated public services and system compliance etc). It also requires a new architecture of regulation — which recognises that the development of information technology (eg. Internet, IT) and intelligent technology (eg. AI, IoT, Data) both require and enable us to update our traditional 19th century governance models by bringing about the possibility of a new digital age governance model. For example, automation and artificial intelligence technologies are bringing about radical efficiencies in the management of systems, reducing bureaucratic costs to near-zero. In addition, as we convert regulations into machine-recognisable codes, dealing with complex decisions using parametric variations, this regulation could be constantly re-tweaked, refreshed and reinforced to respond to the need of changes in humans and machines. This new reality requires us to the remake the democratic & legitimacy architecture for parametric policy making and new means for its social validation which go beyond internal regulation impact reports. This moment presents a strategic opportunity for recasting our architecture of trust or foundationally undermining it.

9.Rebuilding the legitimacy of politicians.Finally and perhaps most importantly for some parts of the world currently, a good deal needs to be innovated in this arena, but a substantial beginning requires us to acknowledge that the self regulation of politicians and their ethical standards is inadequate in our increasingly complex world. Simply by outsourcing ethics & governance procedures, standards, regulation and compliance of politicians to a standing citizens jury and civic assembly would radically improve transparency, understanding, integrity & trust in politicians and thereby accelerate capacity of our political system to operate and deliver in this complex world.

This list is just the beginning , and is limited primarily to the ‘dark matter’ change required, as opposed to the physical, cultural, or spatial manifestation of change required to build ecologically-healthy and socially-inclusive cities that will mean building our infrastructure differently and in ways that are regenerative to people and planet. Our attempt here has been to recognise the reality that if cities are to be the new minimum unit of change and transformation, they must not replicate the outdated procedures of the Nation State — they will need to be become structurally new instruments of 21st century statecraft — which means remaking fractal legitimacy, governance & innovation capacity from the scale of the street, the town square, and from neighbourhoods to the city as whole.

If the future is to be in the hands of our cities, then we will need to radically reimagine city governance and city statecraft fit for the scale of the civilisation-threatening challenges we face. And we must start by recognising that the current future trajectory is in many ways highly flawed; we must harness our collective wisdom to change course and realize a future that enables human flourishing and planetary healing.

Whilst we think radical work and experimentation is required in remaking statecraft at the scale of the city, the city as the site of the future of change and solutions is increasingly starting to be recognised by a growing community of friends and strategic innovators around the world — from UNDP Eurasia who have recently launched the new City Experiments Fund, the McConnell Foundation and their seeding of Future Cities Canada, the new emerging work by Climate KIC on full City Transitions, or 100 Resilient Cities, and Bloomberg Philanthropies with city governments around the world, to name but a few. And of course, this all sits on a legacy of city region devolution in many countries, including the UK, and the leadership work of C40 Citieshelping cities take the global leadership on addressing climate destabilisation. Also, it is worth recognising several other new platforms and networks focusing on demonstrating transformative potential for cities from Fab City Global Initiative, ParticipatoryCity, CivicSquare, and Co-Cities to name but a few.

Original content: https://provocations.darkmatterlabs.org/legitimate-cities-df8f5561780e

Written by Indy Johar

  • Published Date: 05/03/2019
  • by: UNDP

The era of development mutants

If you were looking for the cutting edge of the development sector, where would you go these days?

“Transition zones is where most edgeryders live. It is there that you will find the key to successful societal adaptation. Why? Simple: because only there do you find both the incentives and the capacity to drive change. In the center, the élites have little incentive to adapt – they are not on the firing line. In the periphery, the dispossessed have little capacity – staying afloat is a full-time job. But on the edge it makes complete sense to try long-range, radical stuff out.”

– Alberto Cottica

If you were looking for the cutting edge of the development sector, where would you go these days? You would probably look at startups like Premise who have predicted food trends 25 days faster than national statistics in Brazil, or GiveDirectly who are pushing the boundaries on evidence – from RCTs to new ways of mapping poverty – to fast track the adoption of cash transfers.

Or perhaps you might draw your attention to PetaJakarta who are experimenting with new responses to crises by harnessing human sensor networks. You might be tempted to consider Airbnb’s Disaster Response programme as an indicator of an emerging alternative infrastructure for disaster response (and perhaps raising questions about the political economy of this all).

Airbnb’s Disaster Response programme

And could Bitnation’s Refugee Emergency programme in response to the European refugee crisis be the possible precursor of future solutions for transnational issues – among the development sector’s hardest challenges? Are the business models of One Acre Fund, which provides services for smallholder farmers, or Floodtags, which analyses citizen data during floods for water and disaster managers, an indicator of future pathways to scale – that elusive development unicorn?

Refugee Emergency programm

If you want to look at the future of procuring solutions for the development sector, should you be looking at initiatives like Citymart, which works with municipalities across the world to rethink traditional procurement and unleash the expertise and innovation capabilities of their citizens? By the same token, projects like Pathogen BoxPoverty Stoplight or Patient Innovation point to a brave new world where lead-user innovation and harnessing ‘sticky’ local knowledge becomes the norm, rather than the exception. You would also be forgiven for thinking that social movements across the world are the place to look for signs of future mechanisms for harnessing collective intelligence – Kawal Pamilu’s “citizen experts” self-organising around the Indonesian elections in 2014 is a textbook case study in this department.

The list could go on and on: welcome to the era of development mutants. While established players in the development sector are engrossed in soul-searching and their fitness for purpose is being scrutinised from all quarters, a whole new set of players is emerging, unfettered by legacy and borrowing from a variety of different disciplines. They point to a potentially different future – indeed, many potentially different futures – for the sector.

More than anything, these ‘mutants’ are a reminder that the palette of tools traditionally used by the development sector is increasingly inadequate for the task. Whether you look at the use of evidence or procurement, financing or planning; the inability to upgrade their toolkit has led traditional development players to a crisis of sensemaking and a lack of effective action. This, in turn, has led many to question their legitimacy.

With the notable exception of EveryChild, who have publicly committed to decommissioning by 2017 (arguably the most disruptive innovation in the sector in recent times), the reaction of the establishment to the rise of the mutants has been akin to the European reception of the first platypus specimen from Australia; long considered a “Chinese hoax” and for this reason refused from scientific collections. But what if we wanted to invert this paradigm? How could we move from denial to fruitful collaboration with the ‘edgeryders’ of the development sector and accelerate its transformation?

Adopting new programming principles

Based on our experience working with development organisations, we believe that partnering with the mutants involves two types of shifts for traditional players: at the programmatic and the operational level. At the programmatic level, our work on the ground led us to articulate the following emerging principles:

1.Mapping what people have, not what they need: even though approaches like jugaad and positive deviance have been around for a long time, unfortunately the default starting point for many development projects is still mapping needs, not assets. Inverting this paradigm allows for potentially disruptive project design and partnerships to emerge. (Signs of the future: Patient InnovationEdgerydersCommunity MirrorPremise)

2.Getting ready for multiple futures: When distributed across an organisation and not limited to a centralised function, the discipline of scanning the horizon for emergent solutions that contradict the dominant paradigm can help move beyond the denial phase and develop new interfaces to collaborate with the mutants. Here the link between analysis (to understand not only what is probable, but also what is possible) and action is critical – otherwise this remains purely an academic exercise. (Signs of the future: OpenCareImprostucturesSeeds of Good AnthropoceneMuseum of the Future)

3.Running multiple parallel experiments: According to Dave Snowden, in order to intervene in a complex system “you need multiple parallel experiments and they should be based on different and competing theories/hypotheses”. Unfortunately, many development projects are still based on linear narratives and assumptions such as “if only we run an awareness raising campaign citizens will change their behaviour”. Turning linear narratives into hypotheses to be tested (without becoming religious on a specific approach) opens up the possibility to explore the solution landscape and collaborate with non-obvious partners that bring new approaches to the table. (Signs of the future: Chukua HakuaGiveDirectlyFinnish PM’s Office of Experiments, Ideas42Cognitive Edge)

4.Embracing obliquity: A deep, granular understanding of local assets and dynamics along with system mapping (see point 5 below) and pairing behavioural experts with development practitioners can help identify entry points for exploring new types of intervention based on obliquity principles. Mutants are often faster in adopting this approach and partnering with them is a way to bypass organisational inertia and explore nonlinear interventions. (Signs of the future: Sardexsocial prescriptionsforensic architecture)

5.From projects to systems: development organisations genuinely interested in developing new partnerships need to make the shift from the project logic to system investments. This involves, among other things, shifting the focus from providing solutions to helping every actor in the system to develop a higher level of consciousness about the issues they are facing and to take better decisions over time. It also entails partnering with mutants to explore entirely new financial mechanisms. (Signs of the future: Lankelly ChaseIndonesia waste banks, Dark Matter Labs)

Adopting new interfaces for working with the mutants

Harvard Business School professor Carliss Baldwin argued that most bureaucracies these days have a ‘non-contractible’ problem: they don’t know where smart people are, or how to evaluate how good they are. Most importantly, most smart people don’t want to work for them because they find them either too callous, unrewarding or slow (or a combination of all of these).

Seen from this angle, for most traditional development players, mutants are ‘non-contractibles’. Establishing effective partnerships with them requires abandoning much of the implicit paternalism that informs development work (see the World Bank’s 2015 World Development Report’s chapter on the cognitive bias of development practitioners) and developing new interfaces by innovating core operations:

Communications: in order to attract interesting people, you need to be interesting in the first place. How many development staff have been asked by their boss to be interesting? Much development communications is still dominated by corporate communications departments and geared towards success stories or fundraising pushes.

Procurement and financing: these are often biased towards established local NGOs or consultants, but struggle to accommodate others such as a self-organised collective or an individual user innovator. By defining both the problem and the solution, traditional procurement also stifles local innovators who might have come up with different, non-intuitive but locally relevant approaches to solving problems. The traditional financial toolkit of development organisations (grant, loans, microfinance) is showing all its limitations when it comes to unleashing local talent. Could one frame, for example, direct cash transfers or basic income as tools to unleash local innovation? India’s national innovation foundation’s set of financing tools to enhance locally grown solutions would make many traditional development players offering pale in comparison.

Human resources and partnerships: compare the job ads and staff handbooks of many development players with, say, a startup like Valve and you can immediately see where the problem lies. Often, establishing effective partnerships with mutants is a matter of trusting local staff to take decisions and giving them the freedom to bypass processes designed for a ‘command and control’ era. Unless human resource and partnership departments find new trust mechanisms and interfaces to enable seamless exchanges with outside organisations, working with the mutants will be left to a small group of lone intrapreneurs, taking risks against all odds to make things happen.

Embracing the mutants

“If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near.”

– Jack Welch

In our experience, a close observation of the edges and the identification of mutants does not come naturally to many development organisations. Not only does it require concerted horizon scanning and asset mapping efforts, but, perhaps more importantly, it requires challenging some deep cultural assumptions about the need for externally driven solutions and expertise.

Innovation practice is traveling faster than many development organisations care to acknowledge, let alone adopt. Keeping up with the mutants, partnering with them and leveraging their expertise is ultimately a question of legitimacy. Unless innovation initiatives can demonstrate results on this front, calls for the demise for traditional development players will continue.

Full Article: https://www.nesta.org.uk/blog/the-era-of-development-mutants/

Author: Giulio Quaggiotto


Submit Project

There are many innovation platforms all over the world. What makes Thailand Social Innovation Platform unique is that we have created a Thai platform fully dedicated to the SDGs, where social innovators in Thailand can access a unique eco system of entrepreneurs, corporations, start-ups, universities, foundations, non-profits, investors, etc. This platform thus seeks to strengthen the social innovation ecosystem in Thailand in order to better be able to achieve the SDGs. Even though a lot of great work within the field of social innovation in Thailand is already happening, the area lacks a central organizing entity that can successfully engage and unify the disparate social innovation initiatives taking place in the country.

This innovation platform guides you through innovative projects in Thailand, which address the SDGs. It furthermore presents how these projects are addressing the SDGs.

Aside from mapping cutting-edge innovation in Thailand, this platform aims to help businesses, entrepreneurs, governments, students, universities, investors and others to connect with new partners, projects and markets to foster more partnerships for the SDGs and a greener and fairer world by 2030.

The ultimate goal of the platform is to create a space for people and businesses in Thailand with an interest in social innovation to visit on a regular basis whether they are looking for inspiration, new partnerships, ideas for school projects, or something else.

We are constantly on the lookout for more outstanding social innovation projects in Thailand. Please help us out and submit your own or your favorite solutions here

Read more

  • What are The Sustainable Development Goals?
  • UNDP and TSIP’s Principles Of Innovation
  • What are The Sustainable Development Goals?


United Nations Development Programme
12th Floor, United Nations Building
Rajdamnern Nok Avenue, Bangkok 10200, Thailand

Mail. info.thailand@undp.org
Tel. +66 (0)63 919 8779