This year, I have the privilege of co-facilitating MIT's Ulab MOOC with over 75,000 participants focused on the theme of the Future of Cities. In partnership with The Institute for the Future and the Global network of Impact Hub's we are exploring leading from the emerging future through an incredible framework to understand systems thinking and change: "Transforming Business, Society, and Self, a global movement to build a new economy by co-sensing and co-creating the emerging future.
Midway through the "U" I experienced a new awareness of the political and social systems defining our moment in history. I could feel these systems as closed systems, outdated, and and sensed that something new was required to connect and adabt the existing systems in order for them to operate together. I was searching for a Theory of Interoperability.
I walked into Gray Area Foundation for the Arts and saw it. A free and open source 3D printable Universal Construction Kit (http://fffff.at/free-universal-construction-kit/) which connects any type of building kit (e.g. legos) to any other type of building kit (e.g. Tinkertoys).
This was the new "universal language" hybrid model, a way to join one or more closed systems together to form a new outcome. This is a perfect metaphor and provides a new vocabulary for interoperability which also hints at how we might transform social systems that are functioning in isolation, and therefore not innovating. We talk about cross-sector collaboration, collective impact, and de-siloing our work in order to achieve better outcomes, but we still seem to be creating outcomes that no one wants. The ways in which we collaborate seem clunky, because they are. We have hacked our 20th century models into various prototypes because these systems are not designed to go together, just like trying to get a lego piece to fit with a tinker toy. The Universal language of connectivity provides a metaphor for connecting these closed systems to work together in the 21c and help us prototype new solutions.
I use this model of interoperability to prototype certain "Hard" solutions to connect, de- silo, and join together systems, ideas, business in new models of working together to create innovative solutions based on collaboration and co-operation. "Synching" organizations, departments, or even community assets within a planning context, can yield great results. This process works when a new "thing" has to be created in order to work better together. Sometimes it is policy, process, or it is shifting the place and its shape. Yet, in our work in communities sometimes the process of transformation, either personally or collectively feels much more terrifying, like a cliff with no bridge to the other side. What is required then?
Next I will talk about the "soft" solution that addresses what happens when we need to dissolve the systems all together. What is the metaphor for systems change, for disruption and dissolution? What is a metaphor that helps us let go in order for something new to emerge?