REALITY CHECK: PRESENTING AT UNDP SUMMIT
We were invited to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Innovation Summit in Istanbul recently, to present our work and methods around designing futures using the Mūtō Labs Project as a case study.
Mūtō Labs was originally presented as a “real fintech company” at the FundForum International Expo in Berlin. In that instance were instructed to infiltrate the conference, and challenge assumptions about the future, right under the noses of the industry. We created an expo booth, and were placed right next to the likes of Standard Chartered Bank and HSBC.
Milica Begovic and her colleagues at the UNDP, as well as their collaborator Giulio Quaggiotto (then at NESTA) recognise the urgent need for creating more agile and resilient methods and projects within international development organisations. Rapid urbanisation, climate change, demographic shifts, and technological acceleration, are making nation states increasingly fragile. The world is changing, but the operations and attitudes of the institutions and organisations that make up the international development community stay the same. Although in fairness, they recognise that the focus needs to shift from attitudes of ‘short-termism’ and ‘risk aversion’ to start to urgently ramp up organisations internal capacities to become more agile and resilient.
We were asked to come and present Mūtō Labs at the Innovation Summit as the project’s methodology of presenting provocative futures through very tangible means could help unlock people’s ability to imagine their own contexts and challenges from a long term perspective. It could also increase the capability of sector leaders to consider alternatives to ‘business as usual’, and allow for greater debate on the potential ethical, cultural, social and political implications of policies.
We relished the opportunity to further test out Mūtō’s capacity for clandestine trespassing, and in a different professional sector to the one it was created for. At the event, we were both undercover, I was the Chief Technology Officer of Mūtō Labs, and Jake was the Chief Communications Officer. We had fake business cards, and were in disguise as FinTech innovators. Under our assumed identities, we delivered individual presentations for several hours to UNDP section heads from across Europe, Asia, and Africa.
It’s interesting to contrast reactions to the project between international development professionals and those working within the finance industries. Unlike the finance events, participants at the Innovation Summit expressed reluctance to submit genetic information for the Mūtō Labs Genetic Calculator. There was a lot more critical questioning, and reflection on the ethics of Mūtō, which was great as we were able to engage into in-depth conversations around the ethics and values of such financial propositions. By the middle of the day we had presented the project to around 70 UNDP staff, and had even co-opted Ban Ki Moon’s UN mantra that the organisation will leave ‘no one left behind’ into our presentations.
We then presented to the main conference room, still under the guise of our assumed identities, and over the course of the presentation we revealed our true colours. Members of the audience were relieved, and were immediately able to understand the importance of constantly testing possible futures to develop new strategies.
The value of delivering a project in this way, is that you are able to create a situation to test out new ideas, concepts, and recommendations, as if they had already been adopted and put into practice. Responses ranged from excitement, surprise, and scepticism, to shock, horror, and disgust.
The Mūtō Labs’ plausible future provoked people’s imaginations to consider the implications of technological, and social change, because it is right there in front of them.
The default operating parameters of the human condition seem to be precarity, chaos, and uncertainty. Shocks to the system, such as those delivered by Mūtō Labs, help people to overcome the inertia of despondency with an emotional experience, and help them to get into the headspace required to prepare to meaningfully respond to the challenges we face.