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Making the heart bigger: The stories of the Unusual Suspects Festival

Author: So Jung Rim & Duncan Collins-Adams
Published Date: 19 March 2019

Stories can conquer fear, you know. They can make the heart bigger.

Ben Okri

In the small actions of how you eat or what kind of energy you use or how you study or how you work, there are big ideas implicit in these very small things, and that's what gives them so much meaning and purpose. So social innovation has to maximise meaning.

Charles Leadbeater

The Unusual Suspects Festival is a unique set of distributed events across a city, powered by SIX and local collaborators. The Festival provides spaces for unlikely suspects to come together to discuss, reflect and exchange ideas to tackle the challenges our society faces.

Following four consecutive years of running the festival around the UK, we reached a crossroads. While we were inspired and moved by the conversations we had at the Festival, but we started asking the questions:

  • How can the Festival be beyond the 3-day event?

  • What happens between the Festivals?

  • How do we keep the stories alive?

  • How do we unfold the multiple narratives that exist in the city?

Last year, we started asking these questions. With the support of Seoul Innovation Park and Seoul Metropolitan Government, we started a global digital ‘unusual suspects’ storytelling project. The purpose of the storytelling project is to build a global narrative of social innovation through an online multimedia space that highlights stories and insights of the ‘unusual suspects’.

We curated the stories of the people we met into six chapters. These six chapters of unusual suspects tell the stories of individuals, and the change they’re making in their surroundings.

Despite different environments and contexts, there were key narratives that connected the stories throughout different cities and people. They were about who we are are, how we create a sense of belonging and find kinship, and how we respond to the here and now. The unusual suspects also shared the process of building a new vision, how they are in continuous creative process, where old forms are dismantled and new forms are established.

During this process, we have learnt the significance of:

Moving from bubble to membrane

We were very aware of the ‘social innovation’ bubble that we are part of and wanted to be able to engage with more diverse groups of people. This meant that we needed to think about the stories we tell, how we tell them and how accessible they are. How can we challenge ourselves to be porous and be open to conversations that challenge us?

Embracing the emotional side

In this sector, there are lots of reports and tools that help us think logically. With the storytelling project, we recognised the more emotional and personal side of the social change process. The people we met through this storytelling project, opened up about who they are and the surroundings that make them. Through their stories, we realised that we have more that connects as human beings than that divides us.


We hope that you enjoy these stories as much as we have enjoyed capturing them. 

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