Helsinki Design Lab visits Tokyo

Bryan Boyer and Justin Cook from Sitra, the Finnish Innovation Fund, has chosen Tokyo as the fifth city of their global tour upon Helsinki Design Lab closure, and together, we organized a talk event at Tokyo Midtown Design Hub. Despite of the event being held in English and offered for free (in Japan a free event often implies that there will be 10% in no-show), we had 120% turnout, which showed how excited people were for this rare opportunity to hear what is happening in Finland regarding social innovation. For those of you who are not aware of what we have done, please find the information here.

Despite of such an intensive schedule, they offered us a wonderful and thoughtful presentation which described what is Strategic Design, supported with actual project details of different durations. Participants then discussed in groups and showed us what they have thought Strategic Design is, in flip boards.


So what is Strategic Design? Best to ask to our audience rather than I give my own interpretation. Here are some of the takes from the participants.
strategic design

On the following day, together with 10 students from different institutions (the University of Tokyo, Lund University, NPO ETIC, Keio SFC, Keio Takeyama Lab of Service Design) who practice and studies social innovation. While we initially thought of doing a fairly fixed, well-defined workshop, we ended up being more improvisational and had more time to discuss of what we do and challenges we face in both Finland and Japan.


One of my favorite session was where Bryan and Justin have addressed statements and depending on our position against each statement formed a line (I named it “a spectrum of opinions”). “Top-down or bottom-up, which approach drives the innovation better?” “Laws and regulations, is it flexible or constraining?” – as we queued it was fascinating to see how our opinions varied: when we heard the opinions of the other side of the spectrum, it was interesting to realize that even the opinions from the other end of the spectrum seemed reasonable and understanding. Now how often does THAT happen in our everyday lives? When was the last time that you felt like you understand why the other people choose different parties, politicians, or policies over the ones you have chosen? This seemed like a very effective approach whenever we have multiple stakeholders whom you would need to work together to identify a better solution.

spectrum of opinions

While the previous day the talk was about the successful cases and the impact, the workshop was about conflicts, challenges, trials and failures. Bryan and Justin also emphasized that because of the vulnerability and the initial scale, social innovation projects should be open throughout the process so that even if the project is shut down in the middle, the learnings can be shared and ideas can be transferred to whoever is interested. As many of the Japanese social innovation practitioners wear themselves off in the current case and fails to leave those lessons unnoticed, their messages particularly left us a strong impression and a seed for further thought on our future practices.


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