Lifehack loose in New York

Can you imagine, our team loose in New York City en route to Montreal?


That was our reality last week in the lead up to the global conference for IAYMH (see original post here). My name is Chelsea, I’ve been co-leading Lifehack for the past two years but I haven’t been very vocal on this blog before so hello! Nice to meet you :)

Gina and I spent three days in New York City in a whirlwind of fantastic meetings.


Some of the incredible people we spent time with we had been inspired by for months. Like the Thicket team – finally sitting down with the amazing Deepthi Welaratna. Thicket calls itself a “data driven design lab and consultancy”; they bring together the process of designing, planning and evaluating a project or programme into one tight process. They work with large and small projects like the Chinatown Youth Initiative and are building a product called the Possibility Engine which helps to facilitate data gathering as well as analysis to see clear links between the design of the project and the outcomes.


We received generous introductions to inspiring people from all over town, some of whom we hadn’t learnt all too much about before we landed in the US.


We met with Designing the WE, co-founded by April de Simone and Braden Crooks. They are a participatory design consultancy which often collaborates with Deepthi to pull together diverse stakeholders for creative engagements and social innovation projects. One of those is UnDesign the Red Line, which looks at undesigning the infrastructural racial segregation in the Bronx.

An introduction from our friends at Young & Well CRC led us to a coffee with David Haddad from Open mHealth. They are an inspiring non-profit trying to create a health data stack which is fully open-source and based on the principles of the internet: shared protocols to share data. We love how they’re sticking to their values and enabling citizen data to be connected and used.


Arielle Angel and Dr Michael Ben-Eli from Sustainability Labs found time to meet with us to discuss their Fellowship programme which they run in Costa Rica. Combining systems thinking, community building and installing practical solutions in real communities, they are developing a suite of programmes. Their ambition is to run those of hubs of sustainability innovation labs in different eco-zones around the world.

In Brooklyn, we connect with Hannah Calhoon and Bill Cromie at BlueRidge Labs, within the Robin Hood Foundation.  Blue Ridge Labs is the organisation most similar to Lifehack we have spoken to so far. Their insights about programme design and how to select teams and support them on an ongoing basis were the same kinds of questions we’ve faced for years. It was so wonderful to realise we can call on each other in the future to get each others’ advice! We’re looking forward to seeing their Catalyst programme in action as a follow-on from their three-month Fellowship.

We also had a conversation with Darren Bloch from the Mayor’s Fund to Advance NYC. The fund leverages individual, philanthropic, and corporate partnerships to support public programmes advancing key Mayoral and agency priorities like mental health and youth workforce development. This helped us open up our thinking to not only how Lifehack’s thinking can be shared and developed but also reminded us of the role of our wider Enspiral network. How can we connect up people working on similar questions globally?


On our final day we had pleasure of spending some great quality time with Mathan Ratinam  and Lisa Grocott from Parson’s Design School. They are part of the faculty for the Transdisciplinary Design Masters programme focussing on solving complex issues with a multidisciplinary design-led approach. Leading classes on everything from community resilience and wellbeing through to the future of learning, we loved meeting them and also attending their Studio class. Mathan put words to something we’ve been feeling too:  “There’s low hanging innovation called “Making more apps” and then there’s the higher-level innovation which is about community outcomes over time, not simply counting short term outputs.”

The Studio class was a great format, co-facilitated with Roger Manix from Stanford Graduate School of Business. Roger, Lisa and Mathan invest a huge amount of time into “Productive Play” as a mode of learning. The first two hours of their six-hour studio class was games, reflections, creative challenges, script-writing and more. This really opened up the students’ energy, listening and collaborating fluidly. Later in the session, Gina and I shared some of Lifehack’s work on collaboration techniques as well as our Experiment Sheet format.

That’s a very quick summary of some of the work we are doing on our way to Canada. Next stop, Toronto! Stay tuned…

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