Posted by Damien on August 02, 2011
No it hasn’t been that long since you last visited. We did jump from week twenty to over a hundred and eighty. Its just that I stopped to think about how long it has since we’d been in business. And in 2008, The Central Office of Design received a business license from the city of Sausalito and we’ve been trading as Central ever since. All a hundred and eight four weeks since.
The week is busy. But really quiet.
Jonathan has been in Korea. And since we’ve not read anything in the news about him, we’re assuming he’s back in the office on Monday. Emma is likely in Africa now. Perhaps torturing the three people she’s with, of stories of her awesome internship here in Sausalito. Perhaps.
Keela has been working on… everything. The Toolkit. The Picturebook. The Web site. The contracts. The performance. The banking. The bookkeeping. The numbers. The Ride. The event. The call. The machine. And likely more.
One of the things she did was arrange a conference call between ourselves, Amy Benziger from SOCAP, from COMMON: Alex Bogusy, John Bielenberg, Rob Schuham and Sarah Brooks from Hot Studio. Only two couldn’t make it. The rest of us brewed up some ideas for the upcoming SOCAP 11 in September. It should be pretty interesting.
Which reminds me, I should be preparing my stuff for speaking on the Design for Social Innovation track. Which is being curated by the above mentioned Sarah. It looks to be a very interesting set up for the four days. I’m honoured and thrilled to be going this year.
We have a couple of projects in what might best be called ‘development’. Many of our projects evolve through development to become long-term engagements. In a traditional consulting practice a client comes to you, explains their needs, or you help the client define their needs and then you write a proposal to meet those needs. Proposals become easier and easier the more you write them, as they tend to borrow from prior versions as you do more work. However, in our case, the people that tend to pay for the work aren’t the ones who are actually impacted by it, or perhaps even the ones who suggested the work be done in the first place. So business development works very differently. Which is a fun distinction between the two worlds.
In our consulting practice, we have to develop the projects, the funding and the stakeholders. Even if someone brings it to us. So much like the film industry, we get a kernel of an idea, perhaps from an outside person who brings to us an area of concern we might not have considered and we begin to pitch that “around town” to see if there is any interest. We develop the basic materials to explain what could be done, or why we think there’s a need and start to meet and talk to people about the overall concept. Because we don’t really know any precise details at this point. We’re likely just dealing with a huge overarching issue like, fish populations are in serious decline, and we have to get to grips fast with what design can do for this issue. It takes a lot of meetings, many interviews. Lot’s of research and we slowly get a good idea of what kind of story we can tell about the value of running a large-scale design project might be for the huge-critical-thorny-seemingly-intractable problem we’re interested in. Typically by now our development team comprises of actual experts in the space. Whether they’re scientists, researchers or practitioners. And we start to write our version of a script. Which is our project proposal.
A few years back it seemed that philanthropy was the best funding partner to have in situations like these. And back then it was. But today the opportunities seem to be different and the mix of funding partners is much more varied. Which is good in some regards. We now can have partners who are seriously invested in the outcomes and in the performance of our process. Or in areas where philanthropy can work is when the outcome of a particular phase of work could be shared with the entire community. The foundation then would be able to market the work throughout their relevant program areas. So the mix of funding is important. It can help to accelerate a phase of work, as well as create the perfect conditions for another phase. And when a project is in development, you’re trying to figure out where the best source of funding and partnering is for the right parts. Because not all funding is equal, and if you have the chance to get an incredible partnership, that’s the goal to go for.
Once the proposal is written, it really does live much like a Hollywood script. It gets rewritten again and again. It gets notes from different people its shopped around to. It gets tailored to the audience we’re seeking. And along the way we end up creating a kind of brand for this project, an ideal scenario for what we want to achieve which now exists within this new community and our studios. So we act as producers. Shaping the story we’re telling and engaging a community in the vision of it. Finally, when the right funding mix is achieved, we then do the dealmaking to get a full green light to proceed. Contracts signed, kick-off, well kicked off.
Like the film development process, we can easily stage our version of development. And it helps to manage multiple development projects and deal-flow. Yes, we typically do development for free. Having managed ourselves on prior projects to have the freedom to spend a serious amount of time in development on the projects we most want to do. It seems like the development cycle lasts between three and nine months, depending on the sheer audacity of the goal. The smaller the scope, often the simpler the process. But I wouldn’t say there’s not often an exception to that rule.
So we have two major projects in development right now. One year long engagement, and the other is a Future of… project which would be three or more years. This is a fun part of the process. Driven mostly by passion and the belief that these projects are truly worth doing because of the communities and the amount of the environment they’d impact positively. As much as I enjoy the development process, I also can’t wait till they begin.
I think if Nike came to us and asked us to work on supply-chain solutions to alleviate labour-rights issues and said they’d happily pay us to do so, I’d still have a hard time probably understanding that and suggest we spend six months looking for someone else to pay for it. We work best being extremely creative around large complex problems, so finding a sustainable resource for funding these projects is part of that challenge for us, which we very much enjoy. Sometimes the money is to last beyond the project is over, for the ideas that have been implemented and need to run for some time.
But what really topped the week off was an incredible gift from the guys over at Tinkering Monkey. Completely unexpected. If you’ve not visited their site- do so, and feat your eyes on some delicious woodmaking skills and products. And then buy something. Like I just did. Thank you both – Mike and Paula (and congratulations on the engagement!).
I’m out for the next week to ponder my age and make plans for becoming XL. Until then I have a XXXIX year ahead of me.