Making Systems & Portfolios Physical with UNDP Innovation

Together with UNDP Innovation we explored how to make complex ideas, systems and portfolios, tangible.

Making Systems & Portfolios Physical with UNDP Innovation

Last year, I had the pleasure of speaking with the UNDP Innovation team and their learning network about some of the work we've been exploring at Monash University to help make complex ideas, systems and portfolios, tangible.

I loved hearing from Kristin Alford (Uni of South Australia & MOD) about all of the amazing work she's doing at MOD as well. You can see our talks and back and forth below (big thanks to UNDP Innovation for making this publicly available).


There were some common themes in our work and in the discussion, which included:

  • Shifting power relations in a group
  • Building trust & connection
  • Exploring story & narrative to complement visual approaches
  • Shifting methods & materials changes our langauge. Changing our language shifts what's possible.
  • Surfacing experience through different methods, and embodied learning.
  • Fostering interdisciplinarity / cross cultural work. Breaking down siloes.
  • Familiarity and discomfort. Methods where no one can be an expert.

Simone Uriartt and the team at UNDP also kindly provided these reflections and takeaways from the session:

  1. Creating more relational forms of engagement to tackle complex challenges enhances collaboration between people with different expertise and lived experiences. For instance, organizing an event where people talk and exchange opinions and personal experiences more organically and where the role of experts is to prompt some questions and bring different viewpoints that enhance the conversations.
  2. Simple everyday relatable things like coffee grounds, plant-based milk or natural elements like moss and a leaf can be the starting point of deeper conversations. For instance, plant-based milk triggers a discussion about the impact of the production of almonds, marketing, policy regulations and consumers' perception and behaviour towards milk. This helps people to make sense of the complexity of today's world and understand why their decisions matter but are complicated to make sense of.
  3. A possible way to engage people in conversations around complex and ethical issues is to embrace playfulness— setting aside the burden of seriousness. For instance, providing natural artefacts or activities that could be seen as "silly" (plant-based milk tasting or building a terrarium) enables people to express themselves more creatively and discuss the much-needed social and economic issues surrounding them.

Find out more about UNDP Innovation here.

Find out more about MOD here.

Find out more about the Monash University Net Zero Precincts project I mentioned here.