Civil society at the heart of the Open Geneva Open Innovation Festival

By launching the Open Innovation Festival for Science, Technology and Society in 2017, Open Geneva had developed a unique vision of involving civil society in the innovation process. Indeed, whether they are young people, students, refugees, patients, people with disabilities, citizens are increasingly aware that innovation not only impacts them, but that they have the power to influence innovation.

Why is this important? Innovation is a creative process that requires the construction of a relevant "usecase ", which from the perspective of a university or institution is sometimes difficult to perceive. In short, beyond expertise, innovation is a compassionate process that requires the involvement of users(user-centric or user-led design ). 

Why has open innovation become more important? With the proliferation of technological and social innovations, often shared for free or for a small fee on the internet, the relative effort of innovation requiring technical expertise has decreased. For example, it is now possible to build blockchains or smartphone apps without knowing how to program. On the other hand, knowing precisely what users need requires understanding their increasingly complex environment, combining efficiency (e.g., saving time or money) with human, social, and environmental considerations. Therefore, instead of constantly asking users what they need, it is beneficial to involve them in the innovation process.

Are citizens just users? Because many technological and social innovation processes are democratised and therefore accessible at very low financial and learning costs, citizens can themselves become the actors of innovation. By building communities around a collective and collaborative practice of innovation, the financial and learning effort is better distributed while developing social ties. Open innovation aims to make citizens the primary actors in the innovation that is important to them and their communities.

How does the Open Geneva Festival help develop open innovation? During the Festival, Open Geneva and its partners offer moments of innovation that allow people to contribute to problem solving while learning. For example, in collaboration with the Canton of Geneva and other partners (AGPsy, Hospice Général, Foyer handicap, 2050 Today, Camarada, UOG, HUG, University of Geneva, Addictlab), Open Geneva has developed eco-challenges to involve civil society in innovation for the climate emergency The eco-challenges brought together people with disabilities, students, people with chronic illnesses, people in professional reintegration or affected by precariousness, migrant women, members of Geneva International and school parents. Indeed, although everyone is affected by the climate emergency, our emotions and reactions to this situation are very different. These differences are important and need to be expressed in order to be taken into account when developing solutions.

Why is transmitting knowledge horizontally key? Let's take the example of Tania Chytil, journalist at RTS, who organised a workshop open to 7 to 77 year olds and entitled: "Interviews, columns, videos: what if you started?"The aim was not to discover the profession of journalist, but to understand and practice the organisation and performance of an interview, as a human experience and a compassionate exchange between a journalist and the interviewee.

The reactions of the participants speak for themselves: "I am taking part in this workshop to discover the profession of journalist" - a pupil of the orientation cycle. "I create podcasts where people tell me their life stories. These are sometimes difficult. How do you conduct an interview in these cases?" - a social entrepreneur

And Tania Chytil concludes: "Explaining what goes on behind the scenes of an interview, opening up the exercise to everyone, is essential for me so that people understand how we work, as well as passing on my tricks, my experience acquired during all these years. What's more, the exchange is super enriching!"

How important is open innovation for citizens? For some people, practising open innovation is beneficial, but for others it can have major consequences for their career: Being over 50, having a CV full of rich experience and not finding a job? Many "seniors" are experiencing this. During the Level+ hackathon, the participants concerned by this problem took their destiny into their own hands. In a community spirit, they were able to get out of their confidence zone and mobilise collective intelligence to find original but very practical solutions to boost their employability. Thanks to the varied experiences and points of view of the people taking part in the Level+ hackathon, particularly the students, they were able to prototype solutions to put an end to stereotypes and enhance the expertise of "seniors" on the job market.

Why was the Open Geneva 2022 festival a turning point? Since 2017, Open Geneva has been promoting hackathons (i.e., open innovation marathons) as an effective way to mobilise collective intelligence for open innovation. But the hackathon is only one format, sometimes quite restrictive for the organiser, but also for the participant. In 2022, thanks to a wide variety of formats, such as those described in this text, the festival has become even more accessible to all kinds of very different audiences. Hence the slogan of the 2022 festival: Rethinking Hackathons, i.e., rethinking the format of hackathons to make all citizens actors of an open innovation even more inclusive and therefore more efficient for society!

Find the report of the Open Innovation Festival 2022(FR version)