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Geoff Mulgan

Job Title: Professor of Collective Intelligence, Public Policy & Social Innovation, UCL

SIX is always trying to connect the head and the heart in terms of how we think about change. 

Who you are and what do you do?

My name is Geoff Mulgan, I’m a Professor at UCL and the former Chief Executive of Nesta, which is a foundation based in London. 

What are you passionate about right now?

One of the things I’m working on a lot at the moment is how to make collective intelligence into a field or discipline, which can help places solve problems around jobs or healthcare or the environment. In a way, it’s a logical extension of quite a lot of what’s been happening in the social innovation space - it’s essentially about how you mobilise insights from people of all kinds, and how you bring people together to design and implement solutions.

Can you tell us about why and how SIX was created?

SIX emerged in the middle of the 2000s out of a mixture of frustration and hope. The frustration was that there was quite a lot going on - in the social innovation field - lots of events and conferences, but they tended to be very superficial, just celebrating supposed successes and not much honesty about what was really happening and what was really being learnt. Yet there was a sense that this was a field where the time was right for it to become much more important and influential in tackling social problems. Out of that came the idea of a network of practitioners which would be honest, open, serious, very much dedicated to mutual learning, not too much showboating or grandstanding, or all those other things. 

What’s a particularly memorable SIX event that you’ve been involved with? 

Pretty much all the SIX events I’ve been to have been memorable, because they’re not like standard conferences. People are often walking around, or standing up, or sometimes getting quite emotional as well as quite rational. I guess some of the memorable ones have been where that method has been used in places where it was less usual - like China, for example, which often has rather stiff and formulaic conferences. To see all the energy being released when you allow people to be themselves and to really get deep into an issue, it’s always very memorable. And I think a lot of the people who get involved with SIX stay involved because of the human connections, because unlike many networks and many conferences I think it’s always trying to connect the head and the heart in terms of how we think about change. 

How do you think that SIX has influenced or changed the way that you think about your work? 

Lots of my work has been influenced by engagement through SIX with others around the world doing this sort of stuff. In the last ten years there’s been a whole host of experiment around public policy and social innovation and a lot of that has, in different ways, filtered through SIX - whether it’s lead to policies in Canada, Korea, Slovenia, France, or the UK. 

I’ve been part of a foundation and we’ve definitely been influenced in how we work and how we use money, and how we do impact investment, by the people in the social innovation space. I think many of the ideas which are probably fairly mainstream for people in SIX - which are essentially very simple - are about trying to tap into lived experience - the people on the receiving end of the problems - and harnessing their insights, as well as those that you’re getting from evidence, or universities, or governments. That key insight takes you a very long way. In a sense it’s an incredibly simple idea but nearly always useful and energising. 

What are you excited about for the future of your connection with SIX?

I’m excited by how SIX has started to bring together particular groups, like the Funders Node, which brings together foundations to reflect together about their role in making money go further. I think we’re going to see much more work around data and AI, that’s already beginning - trying to ensure there’s a social innovation angle on these hugely important changes happening in pretty much every sector. I hope SIX is also going to get more involved in some parts of the world where it’s had less engagement in the past, like sub saharan Africa, perhaps even at some point in Russia and places like that. A lot of the use of the network is to become a prompt or catalyst in places which perhaps haven’t been so engaged in the past, or maybe where there’s greater creative potential, which hasn’t been fully harnessed. It’s more important than ever that the people trying to make social change can support each other, can learn from each other, and can become stronger together.