Cartoons for systemic change & recovery

2 min read

We normally change only if we have to. A popular idiom encapsulates this: “Necessity is the mother of invention”. If we don’t acutely perceive the need to change, we might just settle for the status quo, and forgo inventing anything.

Beyond necessity, one can ascertain more positively that creativity is the mother of innovation. This is true for everybody: businesses, government, individuals, academics, practitioners…. Cartoons, just like participatory games, citizen participation and placemaking techniques (among others) can all support systemic change. Humour and creativity can inspire steadfast efforts to recover from the global shock experienced by nearly everyone on our precious planet.

The EU-funded EIT Climate-KIC organised a virtual ‘cartoonathon’ at the beginning of May, hosting 150 digital participants connected to their network . EIT Climate-KIC is a Knowledge and Innovation Community initiated by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology. The initiative fosters urban experimentation, collaboration, civic engagement and innovative entrepreneurship across Europe, with test-beds and innovation hubs in several partnering cities.

The cartoonathon event allowed to explore and discuss avenues for transformation in the current recovery from the global pandemic. Professional cartoonists joined in to help synthesise the discussions creatively, which stimulated more discussions and reflections. These cartoons, among other methods, can support organisations and businesses in navigating change in the difficult period of recovery.

P BYRNES cartoonist cartoonathan EIT Climate KIC
Managing systemic transformation – thinking outside the box, or breaking down silos? Cartoon by Pat Byrnes for the EIT Climate-KIC cartoonathon.

The event generated input about three areas of transformation: (1) Complexity and Chaos, (2) Rapid Digitalisation and; (3) Innovation and Agility. Among other sub-topics, participants mentioned finance, prioritisation and resources as hurdles to achieving sustainable change. The following comments by participants will likely resonate with members of countless organisations in spatial planning and beyond…

“Competing priorities, quantity above quality, lack of acknowledgement of interrelated vulnerabilities”

“We are receiving money only for 1 single issue but one problem is actually 9 problems!”

“This captures the limited financial resources and capacity/shows how we have put all the other issues to one side but it all intersects! Extremely important, not only in Corona time”

About the event itself, a participant expressed:

“It’s a good format to get us thinking. 90 mins went by fast, and have left us with
food for thought.”

In sum, just as art and urban graffitti can stimulate discussion and participation about the need for systemic change in urban planning and environmental management, so could cartoons support similar endeavours.

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