Navigating Change. A path to imagine Future Communities

10 October, 2018

Nesta Italia officially opened its doors last January: coming from the twenty-year UK experience and impatient of starting to build our own identity, in the last eight months we have thoughtfully observed a country immersed in political, economic and social changes.

From the beginning, as part of our unique identity, we decided to include the area “Migration” in our activities plan: considered the country we were starting to work in, it seemed an inevitable choice. Following our mantra “we never work alone”, we started exploring the Italian ecosystem looking for partners, needs and solutions. While migration was inflaming the European public debate, we traveled around Italy, talked to people, researched, took part to events and, above all, asked questions.

We decided to use the first months of our activities to get to know what was already there, what was working and what wasn’t. As summer brought Italy at the core of the debate around migrants, we decided to take a break in order to systematise the huge amount of information, hypothesis and projects we had gathered.

It’s been a long and strenuous journey, studded with discoveries that led us to question our identity and ideas infinite times, and ended with us facing the first changes of our structure. Many people asked us why we hadn’t officially launched projects in the Migration area. now, it is time for us to tell what we have done, learned and what we’re still trying to understand, the path we have traced and how working in this area made us rethink what we want to be and the value we have to offer.

And, for those still wondering: yes, at the end of the story, this time, there will be an announcement.

LEAVING

Nesta Italia is the result of a post-Brexit reflection, born from the strong desire to deal with the main challenges of our era with a collaborative and holistic approach, supporting participative processes characterised by an active exchange of information, projects and methods.We chose four operative areas, each of one particularly interesting as a field of experimentation of new practices providing solutions to build a more sustainable and fair society, able to benefit from emerging technologies.

From the challenges related to the need of a new way to perceive and innovate the Health system, to the ones offered by education and culture, those in the field of Migration seemed to stand out for their social urgency; years of difficulties of Governments in proposing efficient and adequate answers looked irresistibly appealing for someone like us, working in the social innovation field.

We started trying to slowly move forward among the infinite ramifications of an immensely complex issue, looking for an access: as problems, needs and actors kept increasing in front of our eyes, our vision started to shift from the initial hunches.

Inspired and encouraged by the guidelines of the EU Commission, some agencies like the UNHCR and some pioneering experiments at global level, we started looking with interest at the inefficiencies and lack of innovation of the reception system and hospitality for migrants. We immersed ourselves in planning an ambitious laboratory to experiment and scale successful solutions to one of the most multiform problems of our times, migration flows and displacement, deeply interested in the promises of implementing digital identity for migrants’ integration, the potential of Blockchain technologies to build an efficient and transparent service delivery system.

We hadn’t come to terms with reality, yet.

SAILING

Turin, Milan, Bologna, Naples, Palermo. Italy.

As our explorations continued and the conversations with people actively working from years in the field, kept becoming more and more articulated, we began question our ambitious and maybe not so effective plan.

While we were planning our project around experimenting emerging technologies and scaling the resulting successful solutions in the field of migrants’ integration, the bottom-up Italian ecosystem had already put in place a kaleidoscopic panorama of projects, initiatives and collaborations. Different civil society organisations with heterogeneous characteristics and geographically widespread, were experimenting alternatives to compensate the lack of innovation of the public sector and its ability to think about new methods and approaches, creating a wave of small and successful projects offering solutions to the challenges the local communities are facing.

Few of them were officially labeled as “experiments”: nonetheless, they appeared as a one (maybe it’s time to reinvent the narrative innovation labs have sealed themselves in): these local cogs were working to create tailor-made innovation, developing ready-to-use solutions and simple yet impactful narratives able to bring together different actors and competences. The proximity to the challenge had given the crucial input for a mobilisation of the social capital to create innovation hotbeds deeply connected to the real world, enabling unexpected alliances willing to use an holistic approach to complex issues.

Our certainties were falling apart in front of these microcosms, often chaotic and difficult to approach to an outside eye, far from the rules codified by the social innovation books, with few or no resources (and intentions) dedicated to scale their activities.

We’ve worked for months trying to structure a valid project to address one of the biggest challenges of our time: migration. Our fervour had prevented us to see the real complexity of the problem and the interconnections with other social issues lying underneath. We were losing sight of the element we thought was our strength : the vision.

FINDING THE ROUTE

The path created in the last months has brought us to go back to basics, experiencing first hand the reality, talking to people, but also making an inventory of our skills and competences, going deep into the exploration of the spaces we operate in and of the people inhabiting them with ideas and actions.

Here, our coordinates.

Our vision is deeply rooted in cities.

With the urban global population doubling by 2050, the European Union represents one of the most urbanised areas in the world with the 70% of citizens (80% by 2050) currently living in cities.

This constantly rising trend has developed a true urban momentum: cities have finally realised their double potential of places where the greatest challenges of our era explode and where they can also find innovative and effective solutions. In a time when cities have gained the right to sit at the table, making history as during the UN Conference of Quito in 2016, their potential to prosper as catalyst and innovation makers is undisputed yet to be fully explored.

We strongly believe in rethinking the role and characteristics of experiments, focusing on their potential to shape social change movements through hands-on, local actions guided by common goals. This shift requires a remarkable effort from intermediaries and field catalysts in facilitating and supporting the development of a learning ecosystem empowering cities to inspire each other and build stronger relationships.

Now, more than ever, we need to put aside the urge to scale as a supreme goal and start again looking at what’s happening at a small scale, to the promising initiatives that, conveniently coordinated, can activate a powerful process of change aiming at the development of truly supportive policy for innovation.

We think that this great number of experiments can converge in a new form of decentralised Laboratory, structured to support the interaction among tests and able to bring the innovation potential to the policymakers not only through data and information, but creating narratives and opportunities to experience what’s happening. This type of Lab could potentially contribute bringing to life “samples” of desirable futures to explore new possibilities, problems and opportunities.

THE JOURNEY

We realised that the area that we kept identifying as “Migration” had become a box keeping us from looking beyond the single problem.

Migration flows actually represent a complex challenge, deeply connected to the social and cultural interactions that have always crossed by and transformed our society. Inclusion, identity, intercultural relations, equal access to services, citizenship: all of these social pillars represent the elaborate reticle that we call community.

The challenges presented by migration is the same as those presented by pollution, poverty, lack of resources, ageing: will we be able to commit to a process of observation, research and implementation of shared and radical solutions able to shape a sustainable common future?

Telling the story of the beginning of a project, especially of the moments you lose orientation is never easy.

In this case, we found ourselves designing a new route. Future Communities.