What a day: 72 talented and creative people spent a Friday together at Champlain College’s Emergent Media Center trying to reimagine Vermont’s localvore world through the lens of mobile and social technology. With little or no preparation six teams of twelve people each had less than four hours to come up with an idea. And what ideas they came up with!
We started the day listening and watching Richard Ting of R/GA and Liz Gerber of Design for America. Richard took us through some amazing examples he and his team have worked on, such as USAID’s FWD or Nike+ GPS. It was heady stuff but it made us start thinking of raising the bar on our own ideas. Liz talked about the idea of design thinking and the approach to start reimagining, well, everything. It’s just amazing to see what her students are up to. And that laid down a challenge to all of us “professionals”: If her students could do it, shouldn’t we be able to?
After that, the Vermont Agency of Agriculture laid out some of the basic goals of the Farm to Plate initiative. A recurring theme was how far ahead we were in Vermont (Liz even claimed that Vermont was “perfect”) but that it still wasn’t good enough.
We then broke into groups and, using a design thinking process, had to come up with one group idea in less than four hours. Each group was a combination of designers, developers, businesspeople, students, social marketers and well, anyone else who got their ticket in time. Very few were Localvore experts (there were one or two in all).
When the groups worked in small teams of two, the energy was through the roof. When they had to come to consensus and all work together, well some did better than others. It was interesting to see the effect of group dynamics on people and ideas. There was a LOT of learning moments all through this experiment, to be honest. One group actually splintered into two when they refused to agree on a common approach.
At the end of the day, we had some clear favorites. Team Arugula created a new business model, Beet Route, for delivering CSA farmshares to people too busy to prepare meals during the week. They reimagined the milkman, gave it a modern twist, and enabled it through mobile and social apps. The back end used the data to provide larger customer trends and preferences back to the farmers and producers. Don’t be surprised to see this one come to life in one form or another as a startup.
Team Kale went the gamification route, turning support of local farmers and consumption of local produced into a mobile and social game Ate02 (a play on our ONE Vermont area code 802). The idea was to allow people to compete (and brag) through their phone and to increase consumption of healthy, locally produced food. There’s a good chance that we might see Champlain College produce that for the Agency of Agriculture.
Team Beet created a system called The Core Card. It turned healthy eating habits into points. The points then led to both rewards for consumers and data for employers and insurance companies. Our one representative from the insurance industry was on this team and you could feel his influence on this one.The idea was that the card would lead to better health and lower insurance costs through the use of mobile and social technology.
There were LOTS of other great ideas. Right now we’re going through them and working on prioritizing the ideas with the Agency of Agriculture and Champlain College. We may end up extending this to some of the Startup Vermont initiatives. At least one break out group told me that they were so pissed that their idea wasn’t chosen by their group that they’re going to pitch it to the Agency of Ag themselves (Yay!)
Liz Gerber told me before the event that in an experiment, 50% of what you do will fail, you just don’t know which 50%. I think our percentage of success was a lot higher. This was a great experiment and it showed:
- We have a lot of cool people in Vermont
- You can do great things when you get out of your own way
- There should be enough smarts and energy to innovate our way into business growth. The big question is whether we have the structure for it.
- Sometimes you have to plan randomness.
My plan is to figure out a way to do more of these. We asked a lot for all of these talented people to take the day off and think with each other. Most, but not all of course, had a blast.
My biggest regret? It was that I didn’t really get to participate in the actual ideation and work, since I was running the day. That’s where I spent my energy. And it was worth it.