Ideas for Change & Public Good – an interview with Anna Higueras and Javier Creus

“Transparency in the allocation and distribution of resources, an active and informed society that has the capacity to transform public policies and add value to urgent decisions that affect them, as well as public management models that learn to integrate and replicate positive changes in a flexible and fast way, would be good starting points to approach regenerative & just societies,” says Anna Higueras as we speak about the DLT4EU accelerator programme together with Javier Creus.

The DLT4EU accelerator programme identifies and connects distributed ledger technology (DLT) entrepreneurs with leading public and private sector organisations for social and public good.

DLT4EU is led by a consortium comprised of MetabolicDigital Catapult and Ideas for Change, with direct support and advice of the European Commission’s Joint Research Center.

Anna Higueras helps with the strategy and communication, and is the DLT4EU project coordinator at Ideas for Change.

Javier Creus is the Founder and CEO of Ideas for Change as well as a member of the selection committee and acceleration coach at DLT4EU.

Sebastian Klemm: Which deep economic reforms do we need to tackle, in order to arrive at regenerative & intragenerationally just societies that manage to live within planetary boundaries?

Anna Higueras: The resolution of resource distribution problems must be approached from a systemic perspective. It seems useless to understand the needs of a part of the system without evaluating the excess of resources and their intensive use in those segments where there is availability. Transparency in the allocation and distribution of resources, an active and informed society that has the capacity to transform public policies and add value to urgent decisions that affect them, as well as public management models that learn to integrate and replicate positive changes in a flexible and fast way, would be good starting points to approach regenerative and just societes.

Javier Creus: I believe there are at least three ingredients that would surely help to build such a desirable mental framework. First is long term thinking, making “good ancestors” decisions in Roman Krznaris’s terms, and which is an essential balance to a real time society. Second is continue exploring system dynamics, what we need are better systems, capable of doing more, with less, and better. Third is to build upon new sources of trust. We are living at the midst of the biggest institutional trust crisis ever. According to the Edelman Trust Barometer more than 50% of citizens in the world don’t rely on their administrations, business, media or even NGOs. In the meantime Wikipedia celebrates 20 years of trust in openness, and Airbnb goes public built upon peer-to-peer trust. DLTs are in this sense a third source of new trust upon which to build new social institutions.

Sebastian Klemm: Why did you originally establish “Ideas for Change“?

Javier Creus: Science & technology open up new possibilities, they widen what is possible at any time. Ideas are needed about what is not only possible but desirable in order to conduct innovation towards the common good.

Sebastian Klemm: Ideas for Change together with Metabolic and Digital Catapult form the consortium that lead DLT4EU: What particular qualities of the DLT4EU accelerator distinguish this programme in your opinion?

Anna Higueras: The acceleration programme is the true experiment of this project, a leading bet – developed in a totally virtual context due to the presence of the Covid-19 – that has put eight software development companies to work hand on hand with public sector organizations, aiming to solve specific and real challenges, all of them related to urgent problems for society that these organizations face in their daily lives.

Javier Creus: I see lots of value in the selection and commitment of challenge owners into the process. This has allowed us to attract a wide array of startups and to provide them with a real opportunity to test their ideas, approaches and applications.

Sebastian Klemm: What are your particular strengths at Ideas for Change that you were able to add to the DLT4EU accelerator programme?

Anna Higueras: I feel that we have left behind a very complicated year to manage, and that the learnings are still beginning. In this context, developing and delivering results in a programme like DLT4EU, which is a very short project with immediate objectives, has been a challenge for the management team. In that sense, I believe that Ideas for Change has contributed its immediate reaction capacity and its commitment to discuss and co-create the adaptation of formats in the rare times of Covid-19. In the same direction, we have tried to make up for the lack of possibility of physical encounters and therefore the difficulty of obtaining more engaging communication materials and pieces, with the development of an attractive image and accessible, less-complex messages, to bring the citizens closer to the possibilities of DLT technologies and their relevance to bring trust and transparency to the public sector bodies.

Javier Creus: I believe that we have been able to deploy our coordination and communication skills to the process. We have also applied our Pentagrowth methodology, a process to design disruptive business models, to inspire startups as to how they could generate and capture value at scale.

Sebastian Klemm: How did you evolve the Pentagrowth methodology and what kind of “growth” is it all about?

Javier Creus: We analyzed 50 organizations that had grown more than 50% on users and income during five years in a row, and came up with a model of the “five levers for accelerated growth”. From then on we started applying these principles to help organizations design new business models. Five years later, Pentagrowth has evolved into a solid methodology to help all sorts of organizations explore new business models, taking into account not only the external levers but their actual assets and capabilities as well.

Click here to download the Pentagrowth Report in English and Spanish.

Sebastian Klemm: Growth in users or income alone does yet not say how fairly distributed thereof generated value and profit is or how depleting and unsustainable the underlying business practice. Impact – in terms of social responsibility and sustainability – has become a critical focus for a wide variety of businesses, policy makers, researchers and governments.

How did you include models for social impact and ecological sustainability when mediating the Pentagrowth methodology towards the DLT4EU programme participants?

Javier Creus: Thanks. Sure there are no measures of impact. What we can learn from them is not necessarily their business practice, ranging from Wikipedia to Uber, but how their value generating and value capturing models had been designed to grow leveraged on system assets and capabilities.

Our process starts by defining #FuturesThatRock: the outcomes of a system able to meet natural and social needs at a new level of performance. Scientific, technological and social innovation open up the idea what is already and what will probably be possible in the next wave. More, with less, better.

Pentagrowth guides through framing the outcome, discovering existing capacities in the system, looking for system leverage, designing contributive value models.

Sebastian Klemm: The five levers for accelerated growth identified by the Pentagrowth methodology are: Connect Network, Collect Inventory, Empower Users, Enable Partners, Share Knowledge. In our previous interview, Alice MacNeil – upon being asked about which deep economic reforms are needed to build towards a more sustainable world – states: “(…) we need to increase resilience. A big part of that resilience is increasing the decentralization and distribution of key systems. Distributed Ledger Technologies and programmes like DLT4EU can play a big part in that.” 

Could you give examples of how you see distributed ledger technologies being helpful to both utilize the five levers for accelerated growth while also increasing resilience within societies?

Javier Creus: Concerning connectedness, the internet of autonomous things will surely be a leverage to the use of distributed ledgers as it opens up a new space of possibilities and needs. The number of potentially valuable interactions augments exponentially with the number of autonomous data capturing and AI processing agents in the network. 

These new agents – let’s imagine a wallet equipped battery which buys, stores, uses and sells to maximize use of renewable excess energy – generate all sorts of new distributed and open assets, creating new opportunities to develop new huge inventories with little effort. Access to up to now uncategorized waste can be an inventory source as well.

Identity and data self management supported by DLTs will surely empower citizens to develop new capacities and roles. We can imagine citizens with notarial and scientific credentials, or able to select under which conditions they share their data with other parties.

We are already witnessing how new ecosystems are being structured among public, permissioned and private DLTs with infrastructuring players in each space. However, basic systems such as energy, mobility and housing are providing entry opportunities for new aggregators and other citizens institutions such as cooperatives.

Support from communities provides resilience or even independence from commercial exchanges as in Wikipedia support by donors. Open DLTs which enable a basic right – identity or property – could potentially leverage on shared knowledge.

Sebastian Klemm: Whereas we may still need growth in the poorest parts of the world, we may perhaps even need degrowth in the richest parts of the world in order to arrive at fairly distributed wealth. Recognising worldwide inequalities as well as planetary boundaries: What are your ideas for change to arrive at equitable growth? 

Javier Creus: I believe that distributed agency, providing all humans with the ability to exert their rights, is within reachable terms as technologies and connectedness become universally available, and thus citizens being able to locally influence their habitats. As payment systems in both Kenya and China have leapfrogged credit cards and fixed lines in very different ways, the same could happen with other rights such as relationships with the administration in Estonia.

We surely need to think about growth. GDP measures production. If I clean my clothes and dry them in the sun it only counts “cleaning”, but if I use the dryer then it counts the “drying” as well – accidents make GDP grow! On the other hand, dematerialization of many activities for which demand can be potentially infinite such as education or entertainment, low cost distributed energy production and new processes that exchange more information than goods may both generate human welfare and less stress on planetary boundaries.

Sebastian Klemm: The DLT4EU programme evolves around the focus areas of “Circular Economy” and “Digital Citizenship”: What characteristics of distributed ledger technologies (DLT) make them particularly suitable for meeting social and environmental challenges across Europe?

Anna Higueras: The use of DLTs enable that the “3 T’s” are met:  “Trust, Traceability and Transparency” – allowing for decentralized, transparent and validated data storage. These three characteristics are crucial for improving perception and levels of confidence when we speak about the use, life-cycle compliance or provenance of the resources in a circular economy, and on the way citizens can get registered, participate or understand how resources are used or how are aids distributed by public bodies, to name a few.

The two areas in which DLT4EU has been focused are segments of global impact for the European agenda, and the results of the experiences are a good testbed for future developments and experiments within the public sector.

Javier Creus: Tracking materials and exchanges is fundamental to the circular economy and DLTs are probably the best way to infrastructure those. Digital Citizenship is almost impossible to achieve without a solid identity system which DLTs can provide. On top of that, activities such as deliberation, participation and exchanges can be easily stated with their use.

Sebastian Klemm: Which other projects have you conducted at Ideas for Change that fostered new forms of participation and value for citizens in a similar manner to DLT4EU?

Anna Higueras: There are in fact several projects that we have carried out in this field. For instance, D-NOSES.EU is a project on odour pollution management, aiming to engage citizens in civic action to tackle odour pollution, by promoting engagement and participatory strategies at all levels.

CITIES-HEALTH is a citizen science project on urban environment and health, assessing urban air and noise pollution, wood burning, urban design and mobility, and the link between the exposures and health impacts.

WE-COUNT is a project on citizen science in mobility that aims to empower citizens to take a leading role in the production of data, evidence and knowledge around mobility in their own neighbourhoods.

SalusCoop is a citizen cooperative of data for research, seeking to legitimise the right of citizens to control their own data, while facilitating the exchange of data to accelerate research and innovation in the health sector.

FOODMAPPING is a pilot project that uses citizen science to map and characterise environments and eating habits. The aim of the project is to find correlations between the food supply available in different neighbourhoods and the diets and purchasing decisions of local residents. It was implemented for the first time in 3 neighbourhoods of the metropolitan area of Barcelona.

TRIEM is an ethical consultation tool that seeks to determine the most socially accepted conditions for sharing data according to each use case.

DECODE is a project about increasing digital sovereignty of European citizens by enabling them to produce, access and control their data and exchange contextualised information in real-time, and in a confidential, and scalable manner.

DataFutures is a series on new narratives about the transformative impact of data, launched together with El País.

The BRISTOL APPROACH is a conceptual framework intended to catalyse citizen innovations to improve cities. It can be used to address a wide variety of urban challenges, ranging from environmental pollution and mobility to health concerns.

Sebastian Klemm: In our preceding interview about DLT4EU, Alex D’Elia says: “The various masterclasses during the Barcelona Bootcamp in November and the mentoring sessions we have taken with some of the DLT4EU mentors were really valuable for us. But the most inspiring were for sure the moments spent together with the people from the consortium who advised and supported us during the whole process in the last six months.

What have been some of your personal pivotal moments throughout the DLT4EU programme so far? 

Anna Higueras: I especially enjoyed shaping and facilitating the ‘Charitable Aid Challenge‘ process: from the first brainstorming sessions with the Digital Future Society and the Spanish Red Cross, understanding what values ​​the use of DLT can bring to the process to simplify and add transparency to the distribution and justification of the aid, until the subsequent coaching process with the venture team of Alice during the acceleration programme. 

It has really been of great value to understand how DLTs can help the philanthropic sector – charities, NGOs and public bodies – in the complexity of the internal justification processes that charities go through – a long and winding road that often unfolds through bespoken platforms, poorly optimized and resource-intensive – and how much they can benefit from authentication and validation systems such as the one developed by the data analytics specialists on the Alice team.

Javier Creus: I remember our first working meeting among the challenge owner, the Sant Boi Municipal Council, and eReuse, the startup selected to help them retrofit and reuse municipal computers for social purposes. There was not much time to structure the pilot and everyone wanted to have as much impact as possible, so eReuse offered to add equipment coming from other donors. The municipality was at first shocked by the proposal and argued about how to proceed, but then we all agreed it was an excellent idea. This kind of mutual accommodation has been permanent along the pilots, it’s been great to experience how maximizing impact has served as a guiding principle in most decisions.

Sebastian Klemm: Throughout the programme and along the bootcamps with mentoring therein: What evidence of positive impact and benefits of the DLT4EU accelerator do you see already?

Javier Creus: First of all, challenge owners coming to realize their challenges can be solved by DLT technologies and motivated teams.

Anna Higueras: The accelerator has initiated the experience of challenge owners from the public sector and venture teams of developers working together in a collaborative and close manner, understanding naturally its inner processes, strengths and limitations. Similar experiences can now kickstart faster and easier by applying the lessons learnt from the process. 

With a bit of time, the experience can be a first brick in the wall to improve trust and transparency, helping public institutions and NGOs to ensure citizen confidence.

Sebastian Klemm: What is your objective beyond the programme’s winner announcements: How will you sustain your engagement beyond the final presentations at the European Commission in March 2021?

Javier Creus: We have already contacted a few of the selected startups for future opportunities in other projects. We now know what they are capable of. I am sure that more opportunities will be available in the future.

Further readings:

DLT4EU Project Page

Ideas for Change Website

DLT4EU article by Ideas For Change

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