Introducing Design With: A Reboot Podcast Series

Last year, we hosted four incredible interviews with folks driving radical collaborations across the globe. Our world has transformed so much in the time since, but the wisdom of these great leaders sustains. Take a listen.

We are actively engaged in the dialogue and debates of our space: on issues of social justice, global development, and democratic innovation, and on the ethics and methodological evolution of design, mediation, and co-creation practice. More of our writing can be found at Medium.

Repurposed Yangon

This blog post is one of a series we are doing to host guest thinkers and researchers to participate in a broader conversation about designing for governance and development.  Today, we feature Zach Hyman, a Fulbright Fellow studying resource-constrained creativity and user-led innovation in China.  His fascinating piece takes us on a maker-hacker journey through Myanmar, where people are acting in very creative ways to manage the constraints of electricity.


Myanmar’s offshore natural gas reserves – speculated to be as much as 90 trillion cubic feet – give it the tenth largest reserves on the planet.

And yet this number may as well be describing a different country to people such as Aung Tun,* who, despite living in a relatively wealthy part of Yangon, is still subject to the vagaries of the electrical grid. For the safety of his apartment building’s residents, he has developed a system of car battery-powered fluorescent tube lights that light the building’s entryway when the grid shuts down. Read more

Putting Social Protection to Work: Complex Services in South Africa

From time to time, we here like to feature the voices of people we think are doing important and interesting work on topics of interest to us.  Today’s piece explores what is known as “social protection” or “cash transfers” – a method for improving life outcomes for low-income people – and it focuses on implementations in South Africa. Our author is Kevin Donovan, currently a Fulbright Fellow at the University of Cape Town, and a good friend of the Reboot family.


Consider Lindiwe, a middle-aged South African grandmother, responsible for both her daughter and grandson. Every month, she faces a steep struggle to buy basic supplies, let alone pay for school uniforms or save for special occasions. Like more than ten million South Africans, though, Lindiwe partakes in a monthly ritual.  Queuing at community centers and banks around the country – from the crowded informal settlements of Johannesburg to the remote farming communities of rural KwaZulu Natal – they receive a small grant of around US $30 to $120. It’s hardly enough to survive, but for those who qualify for the state-run pensions and income support grants, it makes a major difference.Read more

Youth, Justice, and Community Benefits: New Approaches in Harlem

Reboot is very proud to be serving on the Community Advisory Board for the Harlem Justice Corps, 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.  In addition to improving education and employment outcomes for Corps members, this new initiative aims to reduce returns to incarceration, and support community development in Harlem.  It is part of the broader New York City Justice Corps, and incubated through a partnership of the Harlem Community Justice Center, the Center for Employment Opportunities, Literacy Partners, the College Initiative, and John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

Phew!  That’s a lot of partners!  But it speaks to the rich variety of inputs flowing into this important new program.

Many people do not realize the intensity of the challenge of reentry in Upper Manhattan.  In East Harlem, 1 in 20 males has been incarcerated along a reentry corridor from 126th Street to 119th Street (a mere 7 blocks), representing the highest concentration in New York City (Source: Justice Mapping Center).  It’s a challenge that has intensified service needs for drug treatment, mental health counseling, public safety, and housing and employment services in the area — and is at the nexus of the human and system challenges that we care so much about fixing here at Reboot.Read more

Designing For Better Decision-Making

Consider for a moment the line outside a half-empty nightclub or the “billions served” tagline. These indicators signal popularity, and they instigate that quiet but undeniable human urge to see what all the fuss is about. This phenomenon is known in social psychology and behavioral science circles as “social proof,” and it’s one of the mostly broadly acknowledged mental shortcuts we humans make. In short, it means that people look to others to uncover the proper action, especially in uncertain environs. This herding behavior happens without the benefit of conscious thought, and it has long been exploited by advertisers great and small. As social designers, knowing how this and other cognitive shortcuts work can mean the difference between a successful social intervention and one that falls flat.

A few weeks ago, Reboot had the honor of participating in StartupOnomics, an invitation-only summit on behavioral economics and startups hosted at Public Works in San Francisco.

For the uninitiated, behavioral economics investigates how people make economic decisions in the world. It amends the most sacred theorem of economics, “the rational actor theory,” to argue that people are not perfectly rational in their consumption and financial behaviors. Nor are they completely irrational; rather, they exhibit something that the famous polymath Herbert Simon coined “bounded rationality.” Roughly, we make the best decisions we can, given the information, time, and willpower at our disposal.Read more

desigNYC Exhibit Features Reboot

On October 3, 2012 Reboot will be joining our partners at Safe Horizon at the opening of the 2012 desigNYC Recharging Communities exhibition. Our project aimed at reaching survivors of human trafficking in NYC was one of 15 desigNYC collaborations between non-profits & designers improving the lives of New Yorkers. To RSVP or learn more, click here.


Design Diary: The Design Industry Has A Lot of Waste.

Not the seemingly endless sheets of paper we use to sketch, visualize, then present our ideas; not the chemical-laden inks, dyes, and fixatives we use to produce our work; but rather, something less tangible, yet equally critical: ideas.

After spending an entire day designing first identity concepts for Reboot’s citizen-response SMS work in Nigeria, my fellow designers had finally hit a creative wall and called it a day. I was cleaning up my file, recovering from what the design team at Reboot calls “mushy brain,” or the feeling you get when you’ve been looking at the same word for so long that it no longer resembles familiar letters with meaning, but instead appears as a pattern of shapes that change with your selection of font. Mushy brain is a symptom that can be experienced after only a short time designing a logo, but our team had been at it for almost a full day, and with over a dozen concepts under our belts by the end of it, I was ready to have my words with meaning back. I was about to head home when I thought to give the project manager a sneak peek at the designs we would be presenting to her and the rest of the Nigeria project team the next day.

I hoped for her to sit down next to me and tell me we found exactly the right way to visually express the purpose of the program. I hoped she would be pleased and excited for the next day’s meeting. I hoped she wouldn’t tell me that after a whole day of iterations, we were not even close to getting it right. I never expected the first words she spoke to jolt me out of mushy brain and completely change my perspective on the work I had just completed. “The design industry has a lot of waste.”Read more

Panthea Lee at TEDxDumbo

Reboot Co-founder Panthea Lee will be presenting at TEDxDumbo on October 13th as part of TEDxCity2.0. She will explore how cities can serve as platforms for service provision to marginalized communities. Click through for details on attending.

Sarah Fathallah at Better World By Design

Sarah Fathallah will be representing Reboot at this year’s Better World by Design conference.  Sarah will be joining a panel of speakers addressing  “How to Design for Others? Research in Design for Development” on September 29th.  Click through for more details.

What Does Design Thinking Have to do with Maternal Mortality?

Merck for Mothers, a new initiative of the global healthcare leader Merck, is aiming to do something ambitious in the field of global health delivery: harness the their core areas of expertise to reduce maternal mortality globally.  The question at hand: how can a multi-national company apply critical personnel management practices, or supply chain expertise, or financial management capacity toward the issue of maternal mortality successfully and over a sustained period of time?

Merck for Mothers has boldly launched a $500-million,  10-year initiative toward the goal of reducing maternal mortality globally.  After the first year of this initiative, the company is at an inflection point: having collected key resources from across the company, surveyed the landscape to discover potential interventions, commenced initial grant-making activities, and built critical partnerships for scale, evaluation, and implementation; Merck for Mothers is ready to act.Read more

Reboot Covered in New York Times

Reboot’s work on a new civic engagement tool PollWatchUSA has garnered the attention of the New York Times.  Reporter Sam Roberts writes about the mobile website, which grew out of our involvement with the 2012 PDF Hackathon earlier this year.


We're Hiring!

We’re searching for an exceptionally talented set of collaborators to help expand our team as we enter our next phase of growth. You can find out more details on our Careers page. If you think you’re an ideal candidate, or if you know someone who is, we’d like to hear from you.

Jeremy Canfield at the Behavioral Economics Summit

Reboot has been invited to join a select group of early-stage companies at the Behavioral Economics Summit. Service Designer Jeremy Canfield will represent Reboot at the Summit in San Francisco on August 25th and 26h. Click through for more details.

Panthea Lee Lectures at SVA Impact

Co-founder Panthea Lee is lecturing at SVA Impact, an intensive program focusing on social entrepreneurship and design for social change. Panthea is discussing Reboot’s perspective on how design can make a positive difference in the realms of governance and international development. Find out more about SVA Impact here.

Reboot Featured in Core77

Design industry leading blog Core77 covered Reboot’s recent work with the World Bank.  The project, a visual narrative about the growth and impact of mobile technology for international development, takes the form of compelling and accessible infographics.  Click here to read Core77’s response to our design and call for communications design in policy making.

Visual Storytelling for Data & Development: Infographics for the World Bank

Here at Reboot, we believe deeply in the power of design. We often find ourselves applying its principles and processes in shaping programs that focus on meeting the needs of people. And fundamental to this challenge — that of addressing complex ideas with real world impact — is the ability to spread information through compelling communications design.

We have found that many of our colleagues in the social sector undervalue the role of communications design. This perspective is understandable – when creating a $200 million program to overhaul a nation’s water and sanitation system, the significance of fonts and colors and layout can seem quite minor.Read more

Kate Krontiris, Principal Reboot

Welcome to Kate Krontiris

It’s been a great year for the growth of our movement towards a more human approach to governance. We been lucky. The last year has brought collaborations with some incredibly and talented colleagues. Time and again we’ve been inspired by the passion we experience among those working to deliver on the promise of tomorrow.

We consider ourselves the most lucky, when we can welcome someone new into the Reboot family. Which is why I feel so lucky today to announce the arrival of a new Principal to join our senior management team.

Kate Krontiris will Reboot’s US-based client engagements, and will also help curate a public conversation about the interconnections of ethnography, design, technology, and policy. As we continue to grow as an organization, Kate will aslo help ensure our unique internal culture scales appropriately.

Read more

Technology, Institutions and the Future of Civic Participation

On May 16th, at the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) Forum, I presented Reboot’s recent World Bank report on post-revolution Tunisia, as part of a panel discussing how technology is transforming civic participation around the world. The topic posed was, how is technology changing institutions of governance, particularly those facing conflicts and crisis?

I started from the perspective that technology has always and is increasingly impacting the nature of public life. From our earliest collective societies, technology has made up a critical layer in our capacity to participate in civic affairs. As technology develops more quickly, and exponentially expands our ability to communicate and inform, the impact of technology on civic participation is only becoming more important. In several contexts, technology is eroding traditional barriers to entry for civic participation, enabling increasingly more citizens to organize, broadcast and advocate for their needs on rapidly scalable platforms. This expanded capacity for civic action has already helped topple governments, but now that citizens can more easily make their voices heard, how do institutions respond? The future health of governments that aspire to legitimacy through mature, peaceful and progressive political participation will hinge on the answer to this question.Read more

PDF:Applied image from flickr user : personaldemocracy

Notes from the PDF:Applied Hackathon

Recently, several Rebooters took part in PDF:Applied, a hackathon leading up to the Personal Democracy Forum’s inspiring annual Gov 2.0 conference.

Now, at first blush, Reboot’s process might seem contrary to that followed at hackathons. Read more

Rebooters win 1st & 2nd place at Hackathon

Several Rebooters participated in and won the Personal Democracy Forum‘s 2012 Civic Hackathon this past weekend. First place went to Jeremy Canfield‘s team created PollWatch: a mobile tool to help voters report problems at the polls on election day, while Mollie Ruskin and Panthea Lee helped build an NYC-based Freedom of Information request-and-track website.  Both teams presented their projects on the main stage at PDF, and continue to develop their projects.