Reboot: A Year in Review

Reboot was founded to realize open, inclusive, and participatory platforms for human development. Working with the world’s leading institutions, we sought to work towards a 21st century social contract.

2012 has been an incredible year for us toward reaching these goals. The end of the year is always a nice period of reflection, and we thought we’d share some highlights from our year.


We started 2012 with an article in Touchpoint: the Journal of Service Design discussing our belief that improving services is the key to realizing human rights in practice. Services matter because it is largely through these relationships between citizens and institutions where human outcomes are improved. To affect social change, the right policies are important – and we do plenty of work on those. But, ultimately, we frequently return to services because they are where ‘the rubber hits the road’.

Patrick and Jeremy

That same month we welcomed Patrick Ainslie, our Director of Operations, and Jeremy Canfield, our Service Designer. Patrick has formerly held positions with NYC Mayor’s Office, Wieden+Kennedy, and the Center for Urban Experience. He is a systems engineer, researcher, and storyteller who both runs the Reboot ship and conducts fieldwork across projects. Jeremy is an experienced systems designer who specializes in creating technology platforms that enable good governance. He was among the inaugural class of Code for America fellows, where he led the design of the Civic Commons Marketplace. He also previously worked for the US Government Accountability Office.


In February, we kicked off two projects near and dear to our hearts. The first was with Safe Horizon, a victims services organization here in NYC, to help them improve their outreach to trafficking survivors. This collaboration wrapped up in September, and saw us delivering an innovative intervention through over-the-counter financial services centers. While these centers are often stigmatized, they are also effective (and underutilized) channels to reach trafficked persons.


We also began work on a social accountability program for agriculture and healthcare services in Nigeria. Our system allows citizens to report on the delivery of these services using basic mobile phones, and uses their inputs to improve these services. This was the first of three collaborations with the Government of Nigeria and World Bank social accountability team that we initiated this year.

And we welcomed Beth Dunlap, Associate, to the team. Beth is an international development specialist with expertise in human rights, political transition, and cross-sector development programming. Prior to Reboot, she worked with USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives and the International Organization for Migration in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Indonesia.


In March, we published “Tunisia: From Revolutions to Institutions”. Launched just after the one-year anniversary of Tunisia’s revolution, and of the Arab Spring, it examines how the international community can leverage technology to support good governance, economic development, and social cohesion in post-revolution Tunisia. Our findings were featured widely, including at the UN’s World Summit on the Information Society, on Harvard’s Radio Berkman, and at the Information and Communications Technology for Development Conference – where we were also lucky enough to lead a workshop with our good friends at Grameen Foundation on “People-Centered Design for Marginalized Populations”.


In May, we helped judge the Ashoka Changemakers Citizen Media Global Innovation Competition. The competition yielded some fantastic entries, such as: Mideast Youth’s CrowdVoice, a way to view, share, moderate, and organize information about human rights movements and demonstrations; 5th Pillar, whose tools empower Indian citizens to help battle corruption; and FreedomBox, which enables digital privacy, anonymity, and security.


In May we also participated in “Recharging Communities”, an event hosted by desigNYC at the Wanted Design Fair, where we shared our experiences in addressing social challenges in NYC. It was great to see designers and social justice organizations come together to tackle issues from food security to economic development to green infrastructure.


PDF: Applied, the first hackathon by Personal Democracy Forum, in June saw two podium finishes by Reboot-infused teams. First place went to PollWatchUSA, a platform to crowdsource reporting problems at elections polls developed with our friends at Common Cause NY, Websava, and TurboVote. Second prize was OpenUp NYC, a user-friendly way to file Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, cooked up in collaboration with NYC’s Public Advocate’s Office and with friends from Code for America, GovHub, and Reinvent Albany.


July was a big month for us, beginning with the wonderful Kate Krontiris joining Reboot as our third principal. Prior to Reboot, Kate built an impressive portfolio of projects at Google Ideas, the US Department of State, and the Center for Court Innovation, spearheading a diverse range of justice-related initiatives in the US and abroad. At Reboot, Kate has continued to be a force of nature, leading our US-based client engagements and managing our internal culture.

Core77 Design Awards

Although July saw our Core77 series on design and international development conclude, we were pleased to captain the service design jury for the Core77 Design Awards. Along with colleagues from Deloitte GovLab, Method, Parsons, and Doblin, we evaluated an impressive number of entries from around the world and celebrated innovation in service design.


Our infographics for the World Bank’s Information and Communications for Development 2012: Maximizing Mobile launched in July, translating a complex set of ideas about technology and development into a format that inspires and informs. Ultimately, international development is about narratives of change; we embrace using strong communications design to ensure critical ideas are effectively translated, so they can be effectively acted upon.


In August, we were head down in project work, but did find the time to head to the Behavioral Economics Summit to learn about the latest developments in the psychology of decision-making to apply to our own project work. We also popped over to visit our good friends at SVA: Impact! Design for Social Change.  It’s our second year guest-lecturing, and we have a special place in our heart for Impact!, given that we found our incredible Creative Lead Mollie Ruskin there.


In September, we started gearing up for a very busy fall. The month started with us working with Internews to support the political interests of citizens in the most deprived region of Pakistan. The upcoming 2013 general election will be the first time communities from the region will have their interests represented on the national stage. To leverage this moment, independent and good quality information about the political process will be vital to these communities.

We’ll be sharing more about this work in 2013. For now, here are some key takeaways from a talk at MIT’s Center for Civic Media and a guide to using design research for media development that have come out of this project. Although the guide is aimed at media development practitioners, we believe it has valuable lessons for the broader international development community.


In September, we also began to support Merck for Mothers. Merk for Mothers is a new USD 500 million, 10-year initiative from the global healthcare leader that seeks to harness Merck’s core areas of expertise to reduce maternal mortality globally. While we’re keeping mum on this for now – pun intended – we hope to be sharing more in the coming year.

With such a busy month, we were pleased to welcome Meng Yan, Design Intern, and Megan Marini, Program Coordinator, to our team. Yan is a visual communicator and design thinker who brings creativity, empathy, and a keen eye for beauty to her drive for translating complex information into meaningful and bite-sized designs. Megan is an urban planner and architect who has taken a keen interest in the economic and political landscape of cities and regions.


And, of course, in September, we also celebrated our two-year birthday! It was a period of celebration (cake and bubbly!) and reflection. In looking back on what we had set out to do two years ago, we realized we’ve done alright. We are grateful to all those who have supported us in reaching this milestone.

In October, we were honoured to join the Community Advisory Board for the Harlem Justice Corps. Harlem Justice Corps is a career development and service learning program for justice-involved young men and women who are seeking employment, education services, and meaningful opportunities to serve their communities.

We were also pleased to see friends old and new at the Code For America 2012 Summit where our service designer Jeremy Canfield returned to show the new fellows the ropes.

And we welcomedlong-time collaborator Kate Petty onboard as an Associate Editor. Kate has been the editorial guiding light behind many of Reboot’s publications, and we’re lucky she’s chosen to work with Reboot, along with her other great clients such as Ashoka and Rebuild the Dream.


October also saw a good chunk of our team in Nigeria working on two projects. The first is an open government program with the Government of Nigeria and the World Bank, focused on public financial management in the Niger Delta, alongside PricewaterhouseCoopers Nigeria, Stakeholder Democracy Network, and a host of other partners. The other project focused on education reform broadly, and teacher management and support in particular. Given the nature of both projects, that’s all that we’ll share for now, but stay tuned for more updates in the coming year.


We also were able to share our vision for inclusivity at TEDxDumbo, where the theme was City 2.0. As we continue to make leaps and bounds in urban planning, sustainable development, and civic technology, we hope (and work hard to ensure) that our cityscapes of the future will be designed to benefit those most in need.

In November, Election Day saw the launch of our beloved PollWatch (mentioned above) – an event worthy of coverage by the New York Times. Take a look at some of the results. In the same month, at Parsons Desis Lab, we spoke about the need for designed ser­vices and explored how this plays out in the NYC landscape, with a focus on the criminal justice system. And we curated a conversation about the use of technology to tackle social issues, shining a light on how technology can help empower women at Ashoka Changemakers.

We also had the opportunity to flex our visual design chops, creating digital annual reports for the changemakers at the Bus Federation Civic Fund, to help them communicate about their successes in engaging young people in democracy during the 2012 election.

And that brings us to December.


Perhaps the most exciting news this month is welcoming Ethan Wilkes, our Director of Communications. Ethan comes to us by way of a diverse background spanning four continents and over 50 countries, including stints with the US Embassy in China, the US Department of State, and as Columbia University’s former media mogul. As our new chief storyteller, he’ll be responsible for bringing Reboot’s “people first” vision of good governance to a global audience.

In more team happenings, this month also saw our brilliant Communications Designer Jennifer Thibault present her thesis on personal brand and identity in the modern day at Pratt. Janessa Goldbeck, our amazing associate and one of the original Rebooters, also finished Officer Candidate School with the US Marine Corps. So that’s now Lieutenant Goldbeck to you!

We also had the great pleasure of supporting Internews’ Center for Innovation and Learning in its launch of its new Design Research for Media Development Guide [PDF] and its companion portal. Over the past few months, and into 2013, we are working together to leverage design to positively intervene in complex human systems and to catalyze information exchange. The journey of the site follows the design research study in Pakistan mentioned above.


We’ve also just wrapped a book on our work around financial inclusion in China, with the support of the Institute for Money, Technology, and Financial Inclusion. Embracing Informality: Designing Financial Services for China’s Marginalized explores the daily lives of China’s poor and discusses how to develop new services that can help increase these populations’ access to economic opportunity and security.


Alongside folks like John Maeda, Chris Anderson, and John Hockenberry, we had the opportunity to share Reboot’s vision in American Dreamers, a compilation of dreams from inventors, optimists, and mavericks with ideas for a brighter future. Read an excerpt of our chapter here.


And finally, December saw us showcase our work at Making All Voices Count, a partnership by Sweden, USAID, DFID, and Omidyar Network, that challenges solvers, technologists, academics, development specialists, and others to think different about accountability, transparency, and transitioning the way governments and citizens interact. We were invited to share our thoughts on how Reboot works towards this goal every day, and look forward to seeing how others will respond to this challenge.

It’s been quite the year!

We’ve tackled some big problems, we’ve made many beautiful things, and we’ve done it with a passionate, dedicated, and visionary team, and the best collaborators we could ask for. Thank you to all those who have supported, challenged, and engaged with us through the year – we’re all better because of it.

Of course, the above is just what we can share. There’s been a fair bit going on that we can’t talk about just yet, and a lot more that we’re cooking up for the new year, so please do come back and visit. But by all measures, 2013 is shaping up to be pretty exciting, and we can’t wait to dive in.

In the coming year, we hope to continue demonstrating how an empathetic, people-driven approach to governance can yield better and more sustainable improvements in human livelihoods worldwide.

And, as always, we’d love to hear from you, or to connect with you on Facebook or Twitter.

Happiest of holidays to you and yours, and see you in 2013!

Futher reading.