Many people are working for change these days. Citizens, institutions, and governments alike are enthusiastic about the promise new technologies hold for how we organize ourselves and help one another. In an often troubling and cynical world, such optimism is exciting. Enthusiasm alone, however, is not enough. The next generation of services and systems must be better, not simply different. To achieve such a reality requires more than technological tools; it requires a deep understanding of human behaviour. We started Reboot to bring that capacity to the change process.
The seed for Reboot was planted in March 2010 when we (Zack Brisson and Panthea Lee) met at Transparency Camp, a ‘Gov 2.0’ unconference. At the time, Zack’s efforts at the Centre for American Progress were gaining the attention of President Obama, and Panthea was managing child rights initiatives in Iraq and Suriname for UNICEF and researching mobile banking in Afghanistan. We immediately realized we shared similar inspirations, aspirations, and a penchant for rigorous work. Six months later, Reboot was born.
As anyone who’s started an organization knows, choosing a name is tough. We selected Reboot because we believe that human society is undergoing a substantive reformation in our modes and methods of organizing. We also believe that few organizations have truly recognized the possibilities of this transformation, and of the great potential for society to operate more effectively.
While daunting at first, we relished the advantages of building our own team. We both knew what it’s like to be in forward-thinking, ‘innovative’ groups within large institutions. We have both seen firsthand what happens when big bureaucracies attempt the small start-up’s ‘fail-fast-fail-often’ approach. Trial after trial, we learned the methods and processes necessary to successfully navigate this strategy. Starting Reboot forced us to step back and examine how we achieved results, to articulate why we believed things worked, and to refine the approaches — grounded in practice and complemented by theory, not the other way around — that enabled our client organizations to effect the changes they wished to achieve.
Our passion is understanding people and their contexts. These insights allow us to build better services and systems to meet their needs. As eternal optimists, we believe in investing this passion into the critical fields of governance, international development, and civic media.
Our approach borrows heavily from the field of design. Skepticism around ‘design thinking’ is not unwarranted — the market has been flooded with voices that seem to champion it as a silver bullet for any problem. Once popularized, concepts are often stripped of their value. Reduced to bite-size ‘anyone-can-do-it’ anecdotes, design thinking today conspicuously lacks the nuance that gives it power. We continue to believe in the process behind the term, though we recognize that execution is where substantive change begins and remains.
To demonstrate the value of design thinking, we’re currently working on an open source design research platform geared for the public and international development sectors. Our goal is to create a resource of attributes from traditionally marginalized populations so that public services and programs can be developed with real people and environments in mind. We are in the early stages, but look for updates over the coming year.
Since making Reboot official in September 2010, we’ve benefited from a network of amazing colleagues and collaborators. You have offered encouragement, advice, skepticism, and — perhaps most important for a start-up — work. For all your support, we are grateful.
With your help, we spent the tail end of 2010 creating a digital communications strategy and platform for the ACLU of California; developing a new platform for citizen-voting with the Independence Year Foundation; and presenting conference sessions on governance models, mobile financial services, civic media, and design research. We were honoured to speak at Harvard’s Berkman Centre, the G2P Payments Conference, the national Public Media Camp, and PopTech’s Social Innovation program.
What we enjoy most about our line of work are the opportunities to draw lessons from a wide range of disciplines. If you’re interested in the most compelling reading crossing our desks, we’ll be updating our Inspiration list regularly. Suggestions are eagerly welcomed. For more constructed thinking, we invite you to our Ideas section. We’ll be publishing there several times a month. In this space, we will explore the thinking that is driving us and our clients, and will feature voices who are making important contributions in areas we believe in.
We are all capable of realizing the world poised on the horizon. Our hope is that the right mix of optimism, impatience, good ideas, and a willingness to experiment will push Reboot closer one project at a time. 2011 holds some exciting things for us, and we’ll be sharing developments with you as we progress. We are expanding our team and looking for talent; please review our openings and get in touch if you fit the profile or have someone stellar to recommend.