Back to top

Replicate the Unusual Suspects Festival

Author: Daniel Han
Published Date: 18 February 2015

By Hwi-Jin (Daniel) Han, secondee from Seoul Metropolitan Government to the Social Innovation Exchange.

I was very lucky to have the chance of organising a session for Seoul Metropolitan Government (SMG) at the Unusual Suspects Festival with my other secondee colleagues, SeonAe and Youngwoo. As one of organisers at the Festival, it was like painting a picture on a blank piece of paper under the big subject of collaboration, and it should be done not by myself but by collaborating with the colleagues and other members from other organisations.

Why did we need collaboration? 

In fact, we had to collaborate with partners all the time because we did not know what we were doing or how to do it. To compare with painting a picture, we knew what we wanted to draw, but we had never drawn it before. Moreover we were not sure that we had enough paint (this being funds) to fill the whole page. 

We needed collaboration from the start - actually it was more help rather than collaboration. Spreadi, an innovation start-up that has studied innovation in Asian coutries including Seoul for many years, was the best partner for us. Our English wasn't perfect and we didn't know that many people in London. But we finally decided to go for it because of  the support from Spreadi. Sojung and Jungwon helped us to overcome the language barrier and to arrange the session, and advised on the presentation I would like to thank Spreadi on behalf of secondees.

Why should we replicate the event?

For one thing, the Unusual Suspects Festival gathered many hosts by making it very easy to participate. 

I will tell you a story on how SMG started to join having a session. One day I was at SIX office and I heard that we didn't  need to pay at all to host a session at the festival. What intrigued me was that host organisations can do whatever they want to, wherever available inside London. This meant that we could do whatever we like without money, as long as it was on the theme of collaboration. There were three sedondees in London who could work for free. Also we could find some volunteers to help with our session. On hiring the venue, we were able to ask SMG for financial support. When no budget was available, we thought we could run a session on the street! There was nothing to lose! 

The Festival was comprised of 28 different events run by 35 different hosts held at different locations across London over 4 days. Running a festival at various places was thinking outside the box for me. I had always thought that events should be held at just one place. The freedom of choosing a place gave us a lot of flexibility and helped us pioneer as a host. 

Fortunately, Seoul allowed me to spend some money to hire a decent place in Shoredicth so we didn't need to go out to the street. 

For another thing, I would say that the atmosphere at the festival did facilitate sharing and collaboration among many different organisations and individuals. The word 'Unusual' allowed us to do every kind of collaboration. It was excellent that any kind of organisations regardless of sector, size and location could and did collaborate with each other.

SMG, one of the biggest hosts at the festival, co-hosted with Spreadi, a innovation start-up run by a few innovative people. This kind of collaboration is not easy in Asian countries that think formality is important.I have seen how people with various experience and backgrounds can make a better idea by collaborating with each other. 

Why not replicate this experience elsewhere? 

Seoul's Session

Our session consisted of two parts: 1) presentation by three secondees from Seoul and 2) a discussion with the panellists.

The presentations were about: 

·       New communication tools and citizen engagement

·       Building urban communities

·       Participatory budgeting in Seoul City

At the panel discussion, Robin Murray from the London School of Economics led the discussion in the way that allowed the delegates to fully express their ideas and own opinions. 

Our unusual formation of international panel members included: Christine Wingfield (Greater London Authority), Hyung-Woo Bae(Innovation Division in SMG), Jungwon Kim(Spreadi) and Kristel Jeuring (Locality). This panel presented diverse views and really helped the audience engage with the subject. Any delegate could share his/her thoughts, which many did, and one hour of discussion was too short.