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Hacking Choices on Climate Change: Our project with the Brookfield Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship

On April 7th 2016,ThinkFresh Group, in collaboration with the Brookfield Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and the Ontario Ministry of Environment and Climate Change (MOECC) led an exciting hack-a-thon to spur some new ideas on changing human behaviour towards adopting low carbon choices. Specifically, the event looked to address the questions: “What challenges do people face in making low carbon choices?” and “How might we empower people to instinctively reduce their carbon footprint?”

IMG_2166This is indeed a complex premise. Embedded within these questions includes issues around how much control an individual exercises over their choices (think of the workplace – while one can choose to print fewer pages, the purchase of the printer itself is a decision the employee may have no influence over), how narrow are we defining the problems and what constitutes an individual, personal choice? Working with the Brookfield team, we went through various iterations of an agenda that would help participants tease out these issues, define the problem and ideate on a solution.

On the appointed evening, we arrived to find the room abuzz with inspiring and thought provoking conversations, doses of healthy competition and feelings of genuine concern for the environment. We were really happy to see that the event drew a very diverse mix of participants of all ages and across fields from data scientists, to artists, to policy makers to students.

The event kicked off with speeches from Alex Wood (MOECC), Julian House (OPS Behaviourial Insights) and the keynote speaker, Scott Baker (Adjacent Possibilities). ThinkFresh Group’s own Howard Tam then took the stage and outlined the hack-a-thon activities that each table would undertake and led the room for remainder of the activities. Table facilitators including those from the Brookfield Institute, the MOECC, and ThinkFresh’s Waeza Afzal and Estuardo Ibarra helped each of the tables through the activities over the next day.

To get the creative juices flowing, each team began by participating in a quick brainstorming session that led to the selection of a carbon challenge. This was followed by a revealing empathy mapping activity whereby teams tried to understand the carbon challenge through the perspective of a persona with specific needs. The teams then delved deeper as they embarked into a journey mapping activity that uncovered latent needs and hidden insights into the persona’s experience through the day. After the teams were able to narrow down to a specific problem statement, a visioning exercise was performed to envision what the world would look like if the problem was solved.

IMG_2159On Day 2, teams were challenged to come up with ideas to solve their problem and build prototypes to test them out. Participants were also encouraged to research their proposed solution in-depth to ensure that it would be desirable, feasible and viable. Mentors were on hand to help coach team on their ideas and pitches.

Final pitches were held at the end of Day 3. 15 amazing teams pitched their thought-provoking and very innovative ideas on transport, food, land and infrastructure. The winning team was Ease, who had proposed a transit app that would aim to tackle congestion and carbon emissions by providing info on emissions and fuels savings by comparing different modes of transport.

It was indeed a very successful hack-a-thon. We were delighted to see that participants were deeply immersed into the activities and, many times, it was hard to get the participants to stop cracking away at the challenge! Regardless of who won or lost, we hope that many of the teams will be able to turn their ideas into reality, because the world definitely needs more prototypes that can help us all tackle the climate change challenge!

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