The Change-Makers

Foossa is a network of global change-makers with a focus on community centred design. Drawing on their backgrounds in user experience, community organising and data science, co-founders Lee-Sean Huang and David Colby Reed have taken Foossa to governments, corporations, non-profits and startups across five continents to help people to better understand, and work with the community around them. Storytellers for social change, Foossa's recent work includes advising the United Nations on community engagement, and working with Rwandan genocide survivors to create new and lasting experiences at the Kigali Genocide Memorial.

We spoke to Lee-Sean Huang on the importance of a connected community.
Published —
10.15.15
Writer —
Movement —
,
Industry —
, ,
Can you tell me more about Foossa and the work that it does?

Foossa is a community-centred design and strategy consultancy. We are based in New York City and work on projects all over the world to unlock the power of community. We help our clients tell stories and craft experiences that build and engage their communities. As part of our process, we facilitate workshops and co-design sessions to help our client organisations ideate and co-create with their communities. We also incubate projects and participate in joint ventures where we build our own communities of shared interest and collective action.

Our recent work includes advising the United Nations on how to engage internal and external communities around a new innovation initiative; helping an international labour union think through the future of organizing in the digital age; collaborating with the European Commission to research and design new interfaces for large-scale civic debate; and co-creating new experiences at the Kigali Genocide Memorial with Rwandan genocide survivors.

We are also experimenting with new models of doing creative knowledge work. We have a network of professionals, experts, and other consultancies that we work with to build project-based teams. This helps us balance independence and flexibility with the ability to scale up capacity.

Foossa helps companies, non-profits, governments and agencies to better understand and communicate with their communities – what is the main barrier that people find when trying to connect with communities in a modern age?

One of the biggest barriers is a misunderstanding of the meaning of “community.” The language of community, sharing, and movement-building has become very popular of late among brands. But a community is more than just an audience or a customer-base. We are your fellow citizens. We are also your potential collaborators and and some of your harshest critics. Communities are fluid, and can also be fickle. As the saying goes, if we want to go far, we need to go together.

Communities can be cultivated, but should not be co-opted. And we can never be fully controlled. For some organizations, this can be a scary realization. It requires significant cultural change as it represents a letting go of power and a blurring of boundaries between the inside and outside of an institution.

You are currently working with Wisdom Hackers; In today’s digital age, where people are more connected than ever before, why is it important to revert to and revisit ancient and historical means, to unite and transform communities?

We are more connected than ever, but I think there is still room for more depth in our connections and more space for reflection and contemplation. We are often so focused on the next shiny and new innovation that we forget that there is a wealth of knowledge and wisdom in history and traditional practices that may help us solve contemporary problems. I have seen this recently in Hawai’i, where food activists are reviving traditional farming and culinary practices to promote food security and to fight obesity. I have seen it in Rwanda, where traditional forms of deliberative justice have been used to heal and reconcile communities in the aftermath of the genocide.

Wisdom Hackers is building a community of like-minded authors, artists, designers, entrepreneurs, and activists who are building a commons of collective wisdom and informal knowledge. Wisdom Hackers founder Alexa Clay calls it an “incubator for philosophical inquiry.”

Last year, Wisdom Hackers partnered with The Pigeonhole, an online publisher based in London and Berlin, to release our first anthology of “dispatches,” long-form essays written by members of our collective that reflect on various topics related to the contemporary condition, from mass consumption and digital overload, to inequality amidst rapid urbanization. I wrote a piece called the “Thinking Body” that addresses the disconnect between my ambitions for “real world impact” and the fact that most of my working time is spent actually confined to sitting and typing on a computer. I have been building a practice ever since that helps myself and others bridge the mind-body divide in our creative work.

Since the publication of our first anthology, members of the Wisdom Hackers community have been organizing workshops and meet ups around the world to continue building our community and creating space for reflection and philosophical inquiry.

You recently visited Rwanda with UX for Good. Can you tell me more about UX for Good and about the Inzovu Curve?

In July 2015, I was back in Rwanda for the second time to continue the work that began in the summer of 2014 with UX for Good as part of their annual design challenge. UX for Good was created in 2011 by Chicago-based designer and social innovator Jason Ulaszek, and Jeff Leitner. I have been involved as a design fellow with UX for Good since 2012.

Each year, UX for Good convenes a group of top user experience designers from around the world to help solve a social challenge submitted by a non-profit organization. After the one-week challenge, the designers present ideas, models, perspectives, and a plan to help the organization move the solutions forward. The organizations also have the option to continue working with UX for Good to implement the solutions.

The Inzovu Curve was one of the outputs from our design challenge in Rwanda with the Kigali Genocide Memorial. Our challenge was to address the gap between emotions and action. Visitors would visit the memorial, learn about the genocide, and leave with profound feelings of sadness, and even guilt. But then what? Exit through the gift shop? How do we recruit these visitors into supporters of human rights and activists against mass killings and genocide when the museum has left them heartbroken, and they leave the exhibition needing to focus on their own emotional needs rather than able to take a stand on human rights? We found that too much empathy can actually backfire and cause visitors to burn out or to shut down, rather than to take action and engage after their visit.

The Inzovu Curve is a storytelling and experience design framework. It maps a prototypical journey of a person going through the transformative experience of a museum reaching a state of motivation and action. In telling the story of the Rwandan Genocide, we can’t flinch from showing the facts and letting visitors feel the pain and the suffering, but we also need to offer hope and optimism, an opportunity for visitors to contribute to and to take action on. That could mean contributing to the rebuilding and rebirth of Rwanda today, supporting survivors and economic development. It could mean taking action to stop atrocities elsewhere in the world. That requires a belief that change is possible and that individual actions matter.

In a country such as Rwanda, where the unification of communities is important to the healing process of the nation, how does Inzovu Curve help to support this?

A team of fellow UX for Good designers are continuing our collaboration with the Kigali Genocide Memorial to apply the Inzovu Curve to various aspects of the visitor experience. The memorial is an important place for Rwandan history and attracts visitors and dignitaries from all around the world. It is a powerful conduit of the Rwandan story and experience. But for the survivors that we talked to and collaborated with, the memorial is also home. It is where their loved ones are buried. It is where they go to remember them and to be with them emotionally and spiritually.

Whatever we do with the Inzovu Curve to optimize the visitor experience, we must respect this idea that the memorial is “home” for the Rwandan survivors of the genocide. This is why we have collaborated closely with survivor groups and stakeholders from the government and community. The Inzovu Curve is a guide to direct our design process, which also open to the input from and collaboration with these various stakeholder groups.

How does the Inzovu Curve reach out to the international community, and what impact does this have?

A: UX for Good has published documentation about how to use the Inzovu Curve online. There is a workshop toolkit that designers and museum professionals can download and apply to their own experiential design processes. Last October, we hosted a number of simultaneous designathons in Amsterdam, Chicago, and New York City to see if we could apply the curve more universally to other museums and memorials. UX for Good has also presented a workshop about the framework at the Museum Next conference in Geneva earlier this year. We are continuing to test the Inzovu Curve as a framework and sharing it with others to use as a storytelling and experience design tool in their own practice.

My colleague and UX for Good design fellow Davide Casali, recently shared about the Inzovu Curve with the publication ECSite. Another colleague, David Colby Reed, will be talking about it at a Service Design Global Conference in New York. I have also been incorporating the Inzovu Curve into my teaching and coaching practice, were I have been applying principles from the curve to the storytelling needs of social enterprise founders and executives.

We welcome feedback from other practitioners about the Inzovu Curve, and we hope it can be used to help design more compelling experiences that drive real world social action.