Unusual Suspects Special: Seoul’s Mayor Park talks about Collaboration

The Unusual Suspects Festival on collaboration is rapidly approaching, and we took the opportunity to speak to the Mayor Park of Seoul, well known for his collaborative approach to running the city of Seoul, about his thoughts on how we better can work together with our ‘unusual suspects’.

Q1. Why do you think collaboration is important for social innovation?

A1. One of the reasons why I decided to run for mayor was to pursue social innovation. The majority of my career was about social innovation. Before I was elected as Mayor of Seoul, I worked as a human rights lawyer, a civic activist, and a social innovator. Throughout my career, I worked together with the citizens, pursuing social innovation. After my inauguration as Mayor of Seoul, social innovation became one of my main policy directions. For the first time in local autonomy history, the City of Seoul created the “Seoul Innovation Bureau” under the Office of the Mayor of Seoul. We began pursuing initiatives for innovation in administration to raise the quality of life of the citizens. We even planned and created a “Social Innovation Park” in Seoul.

I believe that the ultimate aim of social innovation is the process of working together – collaborating – to create a better, happier society for all. Collaboration is an essential part of social innovation. It is through collaboration that we can tackle challenges in society and ensure a better quality of life for the citizens. Thus in my second term as Mayor of Seoul, I will continue to emphasize innovation and collaboration. Innovation and collaboration will be the two wings of Seoul City administration. By continuing to pursue innovation and collaboration, I expect to see more job creation, more restoration of the sense of community in society, and more urban renewal.

Cities are originally platforms for collaboration and sharing. This can mean the sharing of urban infrastructure such as roads and parks. This can also mean the sharing of space and goods and products, or, the sharing of information, knowledge, and talent. Cities that hope to achieve sustainable growth in the future must continuously pursue collaboration and sharing. Today, “open collaboration,” based on advanced technology and transparency, is the most ideal form of collaboration.

Q2. Why is collaboration hard?

A2. Collaboration is difficult mainly because of 1) stubbornness to do things one’s own way and 2) preconceived notions that another’s idea will not work. To truly collaborate with another, one must open one’s heart to another – one must listen to another. Just as we open our eyes to see, we must open our ears to listen. We must communicate.

In our society, there still needs to be an ecosystem or network set in place to facilitate collaboration. There needs to be technologies or tools to facilitate communication and collaboration.

Q3. What are the most inspiring global examples of collaborative social innovations for you?

A3. Collective intelligence is a good example of social innovation through collaboration. Many people can join in the process of coming up with new ideas to create innovative systems or concepts. Wikipedia and Wikinomics are good cases in point.

In the City of Seoul, ordinary citizens, experts, and civil servants can all join in the process of collaboration and policy decision making. Through “Listening Workshops” and SNS such as Twitter and Facebook, citizens can participate in the process of policy making in real time.

I heard that SIX also actively pursues collaboration through various research projects and international conferences.

Q4. How can governments encourage more collaboration between citizens, but also between governments?

A4. To encourage more collaboration, we need to interact with each other, listen to each other, communicate with each other. Interaction and relationships are what make us happy and what facilitates genuine communication. Sadly, however, many relationships in society have long been broken. That is why restoring relationships, restoring a sense of community is so important for communication and collaboration.

I believe that creating a society in which citizens can freely express their opinions about various social issues and government is open to accepting their opinions and ideas is most important for collaboration.

That is why the City of Seoul is taking the initiative to create a “Social Innovation Park” together with the public sector, innovative companies and organizations, and research institutes to create an environment for exchanges and collaboration.

The City of Seoul is also taking the initiative to open official documents and data to the citizens and carrying out various sharing policies to create an environment for collaboration.

Q5. What is stopping governments collaborating with citizens? What are you doing in Seoul to change this?

A5. I believe that the biggest challenge is to restore the citizens’ trust in government. We need to move away from a system that centers and concentrates all information, power, and authority around government. A government that does not communicate with the citizens, a government that is not transparent cannot pursue genuine collaboration with the citizens.

Now is the era of communication, openness, transparency, sharing, and listening. The City of Seoul is striving to maintain consistency in its policies to regain the citizens’ trust, and is opening more than 90 percent of all official documents and data to the citizens to increase transparency in administration.

Also, since it is much more effective for communities to collaborate with government rather than individuals, the City of Seoul is actively supporting creating neighbourhood communities across Seoul.

Furthermore, the City of Seoul is striving to facilitate better communication and sharing among divisions and departments within the city government to allow for more efficient citizen participation and collaboration.