• December 9, 2015

200 smart innovations for Europe’s Refugee Crisis. Created in one day

200 smart innovations for Europe’s Refugee Crisis. Created in one day

By Guido Jilderda & Frans van Hout, partners VANBLEND

200 smart innovations for Europe’s Refugee Crisis. Created in one day.

“Let’s be very straightforward and honest with you. The refugee crisis is here to stay with us, for a long time. […] We will all have to face the consequences of the refugee crisis – every single European, 500 million of us.” – Frans Timmermans, First Vice-President of the European Commission

Whatever your thoughts are on the subject, fact is that we are by no means prepared for what’s happening and what’s coming. European governments, NGO’s and our society as a whole, we are unprepared to face the challenges in this refugee crisis. The approach is chaotic; there is a lack of vision, total incomprehension and we are suffering from an overall inability to act. As a consequence, the crisis is poorly managed in every aspect.

In other words, whether we like it or not, we are being disrupted and we cannot cope with the drastically changing environment that lie ahead of us. This is not only bad news for refugees, stumbling through Europe under inhumane conditions. It’s also a bad deal for European societies.

So, how to start finding solutions that actually match the problems that we are facing?

Innovation consulting firm VANBLEND took on this challenge to develop new, outstanding, never thought of, outside-the-box practical answers – without thinking in constraints. We chose a businesslike approach and not a political one. And to get things started, we realised a one-day hackathon with approximately 100 designers at the Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven, the Netherlands. This resulted in 200 smart, constructive and sustainable innovations that can help cope with all sorts of aspect of the refugee crisis. From saving lives, to creating common grounds for future citizenship.

Here’s how we realised this …
“Where your talents and the needs of the world cross; there lies your vocation” – Aristotle

1. Ground work first

We started where we always start: with fact-based research, interviewing and collecting expert opinions. We then defined the context – supported by experts in the field – and started searching for actual, urgent problems that can be solved by taking a different approach.

2. Think in Solutions, instead of Constraints

Our thinking is rather straightforward: “When it’s raining, you can complain about the weather. Or you get to work and design the umbrella!” The fastest way to do this, is by starting with a blank sheet, without constraints and with professional people that are trained to think in creating solutions instead of problems: Design Thinking. Exactly the way VANBLEND successfully tackles challenges for its clients in the business arena with novel, sustainable and innovative solutions.

3. Collaborate Cross Functionally

“Real innovations are not created within the known playing field. They emerge if we change the playing field and start to think all over again.”
The objective was quite bold: Gather some 100 designers from technical universities and academies (industrial, product, interaction, social and applied arts) for a full day Innovation Hackathon at an inspiring location during the Dutch Design Week. And then, get to work with an open mind, with clearly formulated ‘designable’ challenges, that cover the whole journey of refugees, from crossing the sea to finding their place as contributive citizens in the country of arrival.

4. Innovate with just one rule: “Don’t debate. Ideate!”

“Create an environment to develop new concepts in complete freedom, without constraints.”
On October 23th we all came together and it became reality at Design for Humanity 2015 – The Refugee Hackathon! A hundred designers worked themselves into a sweat at De Lichtoren in Eindhoven. They were supported by the experiences of refugees, the expertise of senior design coaches, researchers, politicians and administrators. The ground rules were simple: “Don’t debate, ideate!”

5. Conceptualise & Differentiate

“We broke all the rules that day. Even our own.”
Powered by an extremely high energy level, some 200 extraordinary, outside-the-box and for the greater part feasible concepts were developed.
Some examples?

  • A DIY model to make a cheap and working life jacket from PET- bottles, that can save lives in the sea between Turkey and Greece
  • A ‘real time’ app that helps indicate places where refugees can get help and relief while on the road
  • A wristband that prevents parents from losing their children during their grueling journey through Europe
  • Smart ways to assess the various skill-sets of refugees, so they can get started faster
  • Augmented reality as a tool to quickly adapt foreign language and understand your surroundings better
  • … and 195 other surprising, crazy, in some cases sweet, life saving and sustainable concepts to help us cope with the European Refugee Crisis.
6. Make It Real … Now!

The Refugee Hackathon brought more than we could ever imagine. It generated inspiration for a new, more practical view on how the challenges in the refugee crisis can be met. And even better; the results are much more tangible than expected. And some of them are by their nature (saving lives) even extremely urgent.

Therefore, this leaves us – initiators at VANBLEND – with a huge responsibility. In the coming months, together with the attending designers and our business partners, we will do everything we can to get a range of these very smart concepts to the next phase: prototyping and realisation. A challenge we are happy to meet, because that’s what we do best at VANBLEND: Innovation Made Real!

We believe this brings new inspirations and can give a significant push to solve at least some of the issues in the European refugee crisis. Obviously, these 200 new concepts don’t provide the complete answer, but they do support a humane, constructive and sustainable approach.

Guido Jilderda is founder and managing partner, Frans van Hout is creative partner, both at VANBLEND.