3 Community-Driven Insights on Collaborative Innovation

Reflecting on five virtual conversations that challenged our global community to envision why we gather, and how we might gather for good

Growing Our Gathering Power

At OpenIDEO, we’ve been working to expand, connect, and empower our global community in deeper ways. We’ve seen that fostering inclusive spaces for passionate, diverse people to come together unlocks the power of creativity.

We started by bringing together a small group of diverse, committed OpenIDEO community volunteer leaders from around the globe at Gather—a weeklong community summit to think about how we might bring more impact to OpenIDEO initiatives in the year ahead. We were inspired to see that creating intentional moments to share courageously about struggles, celebrate successes, and deepen real human connection can fuel the challenging but meaningful work our community is doing around the globe.

Soon after, Gather participants and OpenIDEO team members began exploring ways to continue the big conversations that surfaced at Gather. Together, we synthesized insights and developed key opportunity areas to explore with the entire OpenIDEO community.

Considering these opportunity areas, we collaboratively identified specific pain points and scoped ‘How Might We’ statements so a broader group of community members could ideate and share insights on the topics. Take a look at these 15 pain points and guiding questions in the Digital Gather deck shared HERE.

With these opportunity areas and guiding questions in mind, we then invited our entire community to collaborate virtually during five unique design sessions: the Digital Gather Experience.

Over 270 community members that represented Chapter Organizers, Community Coaches, Community Fellows, Community Prototypers, Funders, Community Leaders, and Chapter participants from every continent (minus Antarctica) signed up to listen, ideate, collaborate, and explore these topics together.  

A snapshot of our global community during our digital design sessions.

Three Insights & Questions To Explore

Though each topic was discussed from a wide range of perspectives, there were three ingredients for impact we kept hearing. We hope these this might spark more questions, conversations, and activities to move our work forward.

Start with humanity—Often in impact work, we feel a sense of urgency and want to jump straight into action. When we instead start by sharing what makes us human, how we are feeling, and what’s going on in our life right now, we get to connect in deeper ways that lay the foundation for different types of collaboration.

Questions that surfaced:

  1. How might we create spaces where people feel safe?
  2. How might we build a common language that crosses boundaries and allows people to meaningfully participate?
  3. What rituals can we create to make connecting a habit?  

Move to action and collaborate—Once we have a foundation of trust, shared language, and a vision, make the move to stop talking and start doing. Set small goals and celebrate both the wins and learning moments.

Questions that surfaced:

  1. What are small things your team can do immediately to help you track and share learnings together?
  2. How might we divide and conquer to lighten the workload?
  3. How might we make leadership more about the number of people we empower rather than the amount of power one person holds?

Think big—It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Now that we've started working together, stay connected to a bigger vision and keep moving forward. If we want to change systemic problems, our work should support long-term action and growth.

 Questions that surfaced:

  1. How might we define a clear vision for leaders to align with, get excited about, and articulate out to others?
  2. How might we set the right goals? Research shows we can go further when we have a big, achievable and unifying goal, but we slow down as we get closer to our goal. To help when things get tough, we recommend going back to the foundational human elements that brought your team together around the problems you’re addressing.  

Want To Get Involved?

The core theme that came up in all five Digital Gatherings was a deep desire to collaborate and support each other as we tackle topics around global health, sustainability, and equity and inclusion. Here are three ways we’d love to keep the collaborations going:

  • Join a Chapter Near You—Chapters convene problem solvers in cities worldwide to take local action on global OpenIDEO initiatives.
  • Join an Active Challenge—Our global calls to use open innovation and human-centered design to solve pressing global problems.  
  • Continue the Conversation—Fill out this form to share your interest in volunteering or getting involved in a deeper way.
Let’s continue creating change together.

There’s never been more momentum for change. As millions of young people flood the streets around the globe to demand urgent climate action, cities and social entrepreneurs have taken matters into their own hands. Feeling this rising bottom-up pressure, governments, corporations, and multilateral organizations, like the UN, are accelerating their efforts to address massive global issues. The UN Sustainable Development Goals have provided a clear framework for action, and they’re helping align more actors than ever in the systems change we need.

OpenIDEO’s leaders, Jason Rissman and Luisa Covaria, spent the week diving into events and conversations, and came back to our team (and now you, our community) with three main themes they wanted to share as we work together to build a better world:

1. Ownership.

Since kicking off the Climate Strike a year ago, 16-year-old Swedish environmentalist Greta Thunberg has been extraordinarily influential in striking up fierce conversations around climate change and inspiring millions of young people to start taking action. She delivered an unforgettable message at the UN Climate Action Summit, telling world leaders: 

"You are failing us. But the young people are starting to understand your betrayal. The eyes of all future generations are upon you." 

There’s a new urgency and commitment to addressing the climate emergency, and it’s translating into actors at all levels—from individual young people to national governments—starting to take more ownership. As UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres stated, “We have been losing the race against the climate crisis. But the world is waking up. Pressure is building. Momentum is growing. And—action by action—the tide is turning.”

Countries have moved past negotiation and toward ownership, showing up with their own commitments in unison with this year’s theme for UNGA: "Galvanizing multilateral efforts for poverty eradication, quality education, climate action, and inclusion." During the week, 77 countries committed to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, and 139 banks—representing a third of the industry—signed up to align with the Paris agreement objectives. The UN member states also adopted a landmark declaration on universal health coverage. These are just a few of many examples of stakeholders proactively bringing forward their solutions. 


Sharing his observations from listening to diverse groups of Americans this past year, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio told the audience that he saw a “tremendous urgency and a tremendous spirit of do-it-yourself … a deep sense that it had to become a matter of personal responsibility right down to the local level.” Echoing his statement, we’re proud of OpenIDEO's globally connected innovators for taking initiative and developing a sense of ownership around local problems. They’re tackling issues related to food waste, people on the move, education, public health, circular economy, and so much more, with dedication and ingenuity.

As we move forward, how might open innovation be a conduit for increased ownership and visibility into the work different stakeholders are taking on? How might the work of so many of the incredible innovators in the OpenIDEO community inspire leaders to develop a mindset around design and prototyping in the work they are owning?

2. Technology

"We will have wonderful machines and dumb people if we don't invest more in education,” cautioned musician and entrepreneur, will.i.am, during a World Economic Forum panel focused on the potential of the Fourth Industrial Revolution—or the multiple technological revolutions that are transforming the way we live and work—to meet global development goals.

“It’s not about connectivity—it’s about access,” noted Kate Wilson, CEO of the Digital Impact Alliance at the UN Foundation. “How do we provide access to 50% of the world not connected to the internet? SMS and voice won’t do it. How do we create content and opportunities that are relevant?”

It's crucial that no one is left behind. While technological innovation is surely part of the answer, uneven access and unequal digital skills will lead to adverse effects. For tech to improve lives in a responsible and even way, and to avoid even greater increases in inequity, we'll need new models of targeted education, responsive innovation, and real cooperation between economic, political, and social systems.


Tech needs to facilitate inclusion in addressing societal problems, by involving those who are most proximate to the problems that well-intentioned new technologies are aiming to solve. We believe that collaborative thinking leads to greater innovation, and that including the voices of those with lived experiences will generate even stronger solutions. Open innovation is in its infancy, and we’re excited to help it advance to better surface and support the social innovators our future needs.

3. Collaboration

Today’s problems are interconnected, and only through systems change can we hope to make real progress. This will require more cross-sector collaboration than ever, but first, we need to improve how these collaborations are created and sustained. It’s time to introduce new models of collaboration that distribute leadership and allow all sectors to pitch in.

The SDGs have provided a powerful framework for what needs to get done, and some of the biggest players in the public and private spheres are putting their heads together to unlock the resources necessary to meet them. During UNGA, Google and the UN launched a partnership to develop real-time maps on weather patterns and SDG development activity, while the Gates Foundation and the World Bank announced a multi-million dollar commitment to support small-scale food producers in the face of mounting climate impacts.

Public-private partnerships are a necessary ingredient, as are new collaboration models that offer participants more shared ownership and flexibility.

The road to healthy collaboration is fraught with challenges, from getting past cultural differences to agreeing to common goals to making the long-term commitments needed for systemic change. Making collaborations work is hard work -- it takes empathy, grit, and a real understanding that it’s the key to sustained progress.


We’re excited for open innovation to provide a unique opportunity to rally diverse stakeholders and together explore new possibilities. By providing shared learning opportunities, clear timelines and processes, along with compelling incentives, open innovation holds the potential to mitigate against these common obstacles and to quicken the pace at which solutions are being developed by scaling the design process globally. Direct competitors collaborating in a pre-competitive space to address environmental challenges is a promising sign, but we need to go further. We all need to adopt an experimental mindset as a collective and work to continuously improve our ability to collaborate.

The NextGen Circular Business Accelerator, which culminated in a pitch event at UNGA, was one such collaboration, with leading brands, industry experts, and innovators coming together to eliminate single-use food packaging waste by developing a more sustainable cup. 

It is incredible to be in a room where you can feel a community reach a turning point. This year at UNGA we felt that shift tangibly across fields and sectors. We look forward to a year of collaborations with our partners and community that reflect this movement. 


1 . National Institutes of Health (NIH). Handout on Health: Atopic Dermatitis (A type of eczema) 2013. 2. NA Gandhi et al., Targeting key proximal drivers of type 2 inflammation in disease. Nat Rev Drug Discov. 2016;15(1):35-50. 3. S. Weidinger et al., Atopic dermatitis. Lancet. 2016;387:1109-1122. 4. T. Zuberbier, et al., Patient perspectives on the management of atopic dermatitis, J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2006;118(1):226-232.

Header Image © 2018, Lurdes R. Basolí / EFA Atopical Lives Project

SAGLB.AD.19.08.1277(1) | September 2019