After two months of working in an office “shadow”, it was time to present our plans and the work of the UNDP Accelerator Lab in Bosnia and Herzegovina to the broader public. But how do we find the best way to present the Lab’s purpose and offer to those whom we find our main companions in the journey ahead? Well, by launching it in an untraditional and engaging manner that speaks of the breadth of the development opportunities and the width of partnerships in front of us! We wanted interaction, ideas, conceptualization, problem-solving attitudes, forward thinking, and imagination. We wanted to take everyone who would come on the Matrix’s “Take the red pill” development journey and plant seeds of curiosity.

After a Friday afternoon filled with brainstorming, we came up with a plan to organize a two-part event for approximately one hundred participants. The first part was a hands-on workshop titled, “My Neighborhood of the Future” for different age groups - from preschool kids to senior citizens. As part of the workshop, they were supposed to create LEGO models that capture their vision of the ideal future neighborhood. The second part was designed as a TED-style talk short presentation of the Accelerator Lab team, scope of work and the learning cycle, followed by a social gathering.

Easy-peasy, right? Well, after a few logistical hiccups and a few panic attacks, we managed to pull together an awesome learning event on October 10th in Dječija Kuća in Sarajevo. The Accelerator Lab in Bosnia and Herzegovina was successfully launched. The accelerated development journey kicked off with...

The forest of ideas for a better future!

After a dozen phone calls and emails, we managed to gather seven teams for the LEGO workshops. Preschoolers came from the kindergarten Mašnica, 1st graders from the Elementary school Aneks, teenagers (10-12 years) from the Elementary school Behaudin Selmanović, adolescents (13-15 years) from the IT Girls initiative, students from the Faculty of Architecture, employees of the IT companies NGS and Symphony, and senior citizens from the centers for healthy ageing and care in general.

The teams arrived at the scene in mid-day on the day of the event, and immediately hit the ground running. They were supplied with stickers, paper sheets, and LEGO bricks. We invited them to, through collaboration and practical work, dream about their desired living space and city. Thus, we wanted to demonstrate the Lab’s work principles such as human centricity, a culture of prototyping, bias toward action through intensive collaboration, and devising a portfolio of solutions for systemic social problems.

We started with the design thinking process, defined by IDEO as “a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.”

The members of our seven teams were our designers, and LEGO bricks were the technology. Given that design thinking is all about the human-centered approach to solving problems, focusing more on doing things in constant iterations instead of just thinking about how to do things, we wanted to see to what extent the thinking and doing part would differ across the different age groups.

The task was simple: create the LEGO model of your neighborhood of the future. The process of building the models was exciting. The design thinking process usually includes the empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test stages; however, what emerged during this workshop was the fact that different age groups allocated their time focusing on these design thinking stages differently.

The youngest two groups immediately opened the boxes of LEGO bricks and started working on the “prototypes” of their Neighborhood of the Future, sharing ideas along the way. Yes, they needed some help from their older mentors, but they “jumped” into the doing it part, and the thinking part was done along the way through collaboration and exchange of ideas. Constant iterations led to relative success, and they finished their models first.

The two groups of teenagers and adolescents spent a short time exchanging ideas, capturing them on the sheets of paper and stickers, drawing their visions, and discussing the best options. After a while, they started building their models, continued the ideation in the building process, and several iterations later, their model was finalized. Their imagination was endless. You could hear them saying: “In my future neighborhood, all flats will have Alexa. My Alexa will recognize if I’m tired when I come home after work and will immediately contact your Alexa saying:” Turn your music down, I am tired.” For them, future neighborhoods need to be smart, but also green.

Colleagues from the Faculty of Architecture and IT companies had a similar, yet more realistic approach. Their professional knowledge came through strong during the ideation process, and their imagination was controlled by their knowledge of what is feasible and what’s not.

And finally, senior citizens. Of course, their unique challenges and their vast life experience influenced the design thinking process, where they focused mostly on their current issues and spent little time thinking about the solutions. After a long ideation process, and with a bit of help from the youngest groups, they managed to build their not-so-futuristic, but still a neighborhood of the future. They warmed our hearts.

The seeds of change were planted during this workshop, simply by sparking curiosity towards new ideas, new ways of work and brave horizons in more than fifty individuals. Yet, as a first sign of gratitude, the Lab decided to plant a tree for each person contributing to this vision-setting. This is how the first 50 trees within the Forest of Ideas will be planted, nearby Sarajevo, and we know that before not too long, this Forest will grow one tree at a time, for each good idea and innovative solution generated as a result of the Lab efforts.

In the evening, following the successful LEGO workshop and the short presentation by the teams, it was time to change the scene and kickstart the presentation of the Accelerator Lab’s team and aspirations.

For this part, everybody moved to the Dječija Kuća cinema theatre with a circular stage, the sidewalls of which were decorated by the projected images of giant “floating badges” displaying key messages and resembling the constant movement and iterations of Lab’s work.

More than eighty individuals came from governmental, non-governmental and private sectors, academia, the international community, embassies, etc. More than sixty members of the Accelerator Lab global teams and some famous individuals were virtually present as well – as “holograms”. And yes, Yoda and Morpheus were there as well!

In a TED-style presentation, Amina Omićević - Head od Solutions Mapping, Kemal Bajramović - Head of Experimentation and myself, Arijana Drinić Tomić – Head of Exploration, introduced ourselves and our unique roles, but also our future plans, learning cycles, and experiments for a portfolio of potential solutions that will accelerate the development of our country. During the presentation, we invited everyone to join us in our very first experiment - how to reduce the single-use plastic in our working environment and everyday life?

To all of you out there - those who joined us for Lab’s public launch, or those who reached out just to get connected and expressed interest in our work and experiments - thank you!

Let our journey begin now!

By Arijana Drinić Tomić, Head of Exploration, UNDP Accelerator Lab in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

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