About Nesta

Nesta is an innovation foundation. For us, innovation means turning bold ideas into reality and changing lives for the better. We use our expertise, skills and funding in areas where there are big challenges facing society.

Human-centred design

"If you're not part of the problem, you can't be part of the solution."

This quote from Bill Torbert is fundamental to the concept of human-centred design.

Human-centred design is based on the use of techniques which communicate, interact, and empathise with the people involved, stimulating them and obtaining an understanding of their needs, desires and experiences.

These principles of design for social impact are woven into the work I'm leading on with the Rockefeller Foundation. We're working together to produce a starter toolkit for development practitioners that provides practical tools to support activity requirements at each phase of innovation.

We're faced with a big challenge. The world isn't short of toolkits, but producing a resource for innovators in the field of international development is particularly difficult given the range of practitioners that are working towards social change. Not only do we need to shift the lexicon beyond high-level design and 'development-speak', we need to give social innovation resources resonance amongst a wholly different crowd. And in that context, design thinking can only go so far.

At a recent UNESCO conference I attended in Paris, a fascinating crowd of multi-disciplinary and multi-lingual people were invited by Riel Miller (Director of Foresight and Strategic Planning) to help carve out a roadmap for the creation of what he's called the Know-Lab. The concept for the Know-Lab is based on growing evidence of a generic framework for understanding social innovation tools, a model of how collective intelligence can be used to make sense of context, discover what we don't know, and put that ignorance to use as a challenge for finding solutions. It looks something like this:

Alfredo Carlo, The Value Web

Put simply, it's a safe place for people to come together and share their aspirations for the future in a structured way to begin planning and creating new knowledge.

That's important because in all social innovation processes, regardless of which method or tool is being used, there's a role for the future. The future is implicit in everything: it's just that aspirations for the future are often not sharply focussed, not structurally, and clearly, factored into thinking, planning, and policy making.

And I think that's how Nesta and the Rockefeller Foundation can add real value: by integrating our toolkit for social innovation and international development into a wider ecosystem of futures thinking and knowledge creation. We need to embed the principles of social innovation into collective processes of planning and implementing for the future.

As we enter the next phase of our programme, which will involve rigorous co-design and user testing of social innovation tools, UNESCO Foresight is committed to working with Nesta and the Rockefeller Foundation to provide a clear path for enabling 'Communities of Purpose' that can dream about the future together, and share the design of their priorities and processes.


Theo Keane

Theo Keane

Theo Keane

Senior Programme Manager

Theo was a Senior Programme Manager in the Innovation Skills team, responsible for the design and delivery of innovation skills initiatives for international development and public sec…

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