It’s been on my mind, as I’ve careered through Europe the past couple of weeks, that there is something elusive and important to be said about conversation, particularly formal ones, and how they shape the quality of our life.
In early colonial America a group of free thinkers gathered outside Boston for a fireside conversation. In 1885 A. O. Hume gathered some folks into a hall for a bit of a chat. In 1944, a whole clutch of public servants went off to a large retreat in New Hampshire. Out of these earnest conversations came Harvard University, the Indian National Congress and the Bretton Woods institutions that governs the international system. Large and small structured public conversations have the power to create new forms of life and new institutions and this is why Alfred Nobel included among his criteria for his peace prize the ‘holding and promotion of peace congresses.’
If we are to imagine new ways of organizing and directing capital, new kinds of flows of knowledge and opportunity, new ways of recognizing, coordinating and accelerating innovation, then the way forward for us will be to discover new platforms, formats, and techniques through which we may converse. This is the possibility presented by the on-going search and process, which is live at Design Public: the purpose of our conversation is to discover new ways of interacting and collaborating which can be generative new possibilities, which can then spin out and take on an independent existence of their own.
I’ve been asked, several times over the past few months, if there are any examples of how this process happens at Design Public, and of how we intend to bring this kind of generative process about. It is better to answer with specific examples, it seems to me. In DP1 we brought MindLab from Denmark to have a conversation about health services innovation, and with representatives of Government and the Gates Foundation in the room, the Bihar Innovation Lab was born as an idea. In DP2 we had a large conversation about whether people really understand or agree about what innovation is and through that conversation our Lab-School for Innovation took shape, which offers executive training in innovation management. It is early days for DP3, but I think the most interesting conversation there had to do with the future of India’s cities and how they can be made smart, a conversation which is still unfolding with many different stakeholders in India.
With our upcoming event in Mumbai and our future London event beyond that, my sense is that many people want India’s innovation ecology to be more complex and variegated and that specific kinds of work remain to be done to enable people to innovate, be it in start-ups or in the social sector or within government. We need to be able to discuss those challenges in a way that helps us discover what needs to be done, so we can build new routines, processes, institutions around them. In the intensity of collocation, in the creativity of the collective, new things become possible. That’s the power of public conversation.