I have always been a bit skeptical about iLabs, Innovation Camps, Hackatons, Bar Camps and so on. And the reason is not that I do not believe in the process, the process is in fact almost always very collaborative, bottom-up and inspiring. The reason is because, aside from the process, I always find it very hard to figure out what is really achieved and what will happen after it.
Lately though, I have been participating in at least 3 of those events, and all of the showed me another side of the coin. One of the latest one is iLab YouthLINC, an event organized by Internews Country Office in Bosnia.
Internews in Bosnia is implementing the DRL-funded Youth LINC (Linking Innovators Who Network for Change) project in partnership with Youth Initiative for Human Rights Bosnia and Herzegovina (YIHR BH), a leading youth NGO based in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). This four-year project aims to address some of the major challenges to peace and stability in the Balkans region, namely widespread intolerance and discrimination, by supporting a core group of young people dedicated to building trust and positive social change across national borders.
The Youth LINC iLab brought together 18-24 year-old, multiethnic youth from six countries, Serbia, Bosnia, Montenegro, Kosovo, Croatia, Macedonia. More than 90 young people gathered in Sarajevo for 3 days to create and design projects in order to promote open dialogue, share commonalities and tackle obstacles to reconciliation and tolerance, the keys to further development in the Balkans.
The strategy of bringing people together to talk and design solutions about this problem was a very smart one – young people in the Balkans have not necessarily lived or seen the war, but they bare the responsibility of the historical memory of their country and their families, which leaves them little space to escape the logic of “us” vs “them”.
The iLab is just the beginning of a very interesting model; the all “Linking Innovators Who Network for Change” project in fact will be the based on the 10 projects elaborated and refined in this Lab. Each project has a team composed by youth coming from at least 3 countries, and all of then will have a coordinator from one country that will help them out. After they have spent 3 days designing and discussing their projects, they will continue working on it remotely. For around 2 months they will meet on Google Hangout, Skype, emails and they will work on their project to refine it, until they are able to come out with an actual project proposal and budget. All of the groups will then have a total of 10,000$ each to implement their project over the course of 3 years.
When going around and talking to the 10 different teams working on their projects, I realized that this kind of methodology really resemble the agile development methodology. Why?
Well let’s have a look at how agile development normally works (in this case I am using an example of one of the Agile development methodologies, extreme programming).
Looking at this diagram we can easily see similarities with the methodology of the iLab YouthLINC. First, we started with the user stories: young people from different countries proposed projects related to their life, their interests, problems related to their society that they care about and are involved in.
After that, they sit with other people interested in the same topic and started brainstorming about those issues. In the iLab in Sarajevo requirements and new users stories were added to the picture in order to refine the system. At this point nothing was created yet, but just simple demos or mockups, to start having an idea of what the final product may look like.
In the course of the next 2 months they will basically do a release planning and finally start rolling out the projects starting form September. In the following phases there will be an amazing opportunity for all the groups to actually look at their first release and then iterate again, fix things that are not working, test assumptions on the ground and then iterate again. The final product will hopefully be the result of this project management dynamic, and so hopefully more informed by the reality on the ground than by the ideas of the “creator” of the project.
We are not getting our hopes to high though: we are just at the beginning of this process and the Internews team in Bosnia will have to work had and figure out how to manage 10 projects in the same time and how to make sure that each one of those project maintains its independence and its “flavor”. On the other side, this project is a good test to use a different methodology to design projects, one that gets away from the “deliverables/timeline” dynamic, to go more into the “need/iteration” dynamic.
Stay tuned for more on this!