Annie Maxwell gives the 2016 Josh Rosenthal Fund Lecture, talks about the role of creativity in solving global problems. September, 2016.
>> Good afternoon everybody and welcome. I'm Susan Collins, the Joan and Sanford Weill Dean here at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. And it's really a pleasure to welcome you to our very first Policy Talks at the Ford School for the academic year of 2016/17. Before we begin I'd like to thank Martha Darling and Gil Omenn who will be joining us for the lecture. Their generous support has been very helpful to us and so we're thankful for that. I'm particularly pleased to be welcoming a [inaudible] back home, Annie Maxwell who I'll introduce in a moment will be our speaker. And we're just delighted to have you back with us. So first though I'd like to say some words about the Josh Rosenthal Education Fund which has really been a tremendous resource to the Ford School for a number of years. Today's policy talks lecture is named for Joshua Rosenthal. Josh was a graduate of the University of Michigan who spent his senior year at the Ford School before going on to earn a Master's degree in public policy from Princeton. Josh was also truly passionate about world affairs. He worked in the field of international finance and he died in the attacks on September 11, 2001, 15 years ago and it still feels so recent I think, so there to many of us. Josh's mother Marilyn Rosenthal was a long time Michigan faculty member and she wanted to honor her son and his optimism about the world. So she and a number of others established the Josh Rosenthal Education Fund which enables the Ford School to encourage new and deeper understandings of important international issues. Josh's aunt, Harriet Berg [assumed spelling] is here in the audience today with a number of her guests. Thank you so much for joining us, we're really pleased to see you.
[ Audience Applause ]
And I understand that one of Josh's cousins will be watching us from Maryland while we're delighted to have you join us virtually as well. And we really are very grateful for the ongoing support from the Rosenthal family and friends. And now I have the great pleasure of introducing today's speaker who I know that Marilyn Rosenthal would really have been pleased to welcome to the Ford School. Annie is the President of Skoll Global Threats Fund and as many here will know it is a philanthropic organization that seeks to address the impact of some of the world's biggest problems including climate change, water insecurity, pandemics, nuclear proliferation and regional conflict. And it not only identifies some of the many complex causes but also manages collective responses. For the public policy community Annie is really a shining example of the work that can be accomplished with a public policy degree. While she was an MPP student at the Ford School and I might add captain of the University's division one volleyball team, Annie launched her NTO career through an internship with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. And throughout her really outstanding career Annie has maintained a steadfast commitment to our community. She served as chair and vice-chair of the Ford School's Alumni Board. And in 2010 she returned to campus and joined Martha Darling and Regent Kathy White to share her experiences as a White House fellow. Annie's service was in the office of Vice President Joe Biden. That background really has positioned her well for her leadership of Skoll Global Threats fund. And today she becomes the very first Ford School alum to deliver our annual Josh Rosenthal lecture. Following her remarks Annie will take questions from the audience beginning at around 4:40 p.m. our staff will start gathering collection question cards. You should have received a card and you can certainly get more as staff are wandering through the aisles. Ford School Professor Paula Lance, together with two Ford School students, Keith Masu [assumed spelling], Sue Anne Darr [assumed spelling] and Kenny Fennel [assumed spelling] will help to actually pose the questions to Annie during that time period and will facilitate the question and answer session. For those who are watching online please send us your questions via Twitter and use the hashtag policy talks. And now please join me in welcoming Annie Maxwell to the University of Michigan and the Ford School. We're delighted to have you here.
[ Audience Applause ]
>> Thank you for the kind introduction Dean Collins. I'm honored to be here today to present this lecture in memory of Josh Rosenthal and share his family's commitment to deepening our understanding of international affairs. It takes incredible strength to start a dialogue in a time of pain but the fact that the Rosenthal's responded to violence is such a way says incredible things about their family. And I'm proud to be part of that legacy in some way. It's also a pleasure to be back here at the Ford School. I grew up in California but my family is from Michigan and my aunt and uncle are actually here today in the audience. And I'm actually not [inaudible] introduction a fifth generation University of Michigan grad. And my dad in his retirement is doing genealogy work and has gone through all the photos and so, if you don't mind my dad's at home watching. Here are photos of five generations of our family including all the way back to 1890 and [inaudible]. I actually could have put my grandma in this photo as well but my grandpa was in the band so that kind of won out in this one. So speaking of family I hope you won't mind if I start with just a short story. A few Christmases ago my parents gave me this big kind of awkwardly wrapped present. And I look over at my dad and he's giggling. And I adore my father. He's wonderful. But he is not a giggler. He was in the world of academia. He was a Dean. And so I got a little bit nervous at how this was going. So I timidly opened this up and I figured out very quickly why I should be nervous. My parents had saved notes I had written as a child and had framed them really I think, I don't know, to put me in my place or something. And there's one of these notes that I would like to share. I wrote this when I was eight years old to my neighbor who are actually still friends. And it goes like this, Dear Andrea, I am so bored as usual. Find the patterns and fill in the blanks. And then for those of you who can't see I gave eight number patterns. And the real kicker here is I said, send this back and I will correct it. So if that gives you any sense of how obnoxious I was as a child and how my brain works, you'd be correct. I'm a left brain person. So I mention this story because the irony is not lost on me that I would be giving a talk about creativity and imagination. I worked at the UN. I've worked in the federal government. And these are not exactly bastions of creativity. But nonetheless I am here today to talk about why I think a creative mind in this ever complex and dangerous world is exactly what we need. And I'm not alone in this thinking and nor am I the first actually. Following the 911 terrorist attacks there was a commission that was set up to kind of, to establish and look at U.S. preparedness and response to the incident. And in 2004 the commission released this lengthy report that some of you may remember. But there were two lines I really think summarized all of it. The most important failure was one of imagination. We do not believe leaders understood the gravity of the threat. Today I'd like to talk about imagination as a role in tackling wicked problems. And I'd like to talk about this both in terms of how we frame the problems and how we consider solutions as well as the importance of diversity in that process. So I run an organization called the Skoll Global Threats Fund. We were started in 2008 by Jeff Skoll who's the first president of Ebay. And we focus on global threats or things that can have the potential to kill large numbers of people or cause significant economic or social dislocation throughout the world. By definition these threats are all systemic, issues of systemic risk, right. So an action in one part of the world or system can cause really an ability to threaten the whole. The focus on four in particular, climate change, water insecurity, nuclear proliferation and pandemics but you could add many others, cybersecurity, regional conflict. And while we frame our work in terms of threats to the globe you could also think of them in terms of their characteristics as a wicked problem. Now the phrase wicked problem is something that many here at the Ford School actually may already be familiar with. It first came from a paper written in 1973 by Horst Rittel and Melvin Webber called Dilemmas In a General Theory of Planning. Not necessarily a New York Times best seller but a highly influential paper. And in that paper they outlined this idea of wicked problems. Now I put up here kind of the ten characteristics but you'll start to see a theme. Wicked problems can't be solved only improved. And even that's extremely hard. Impossible to measure, open to interpretation, temporary, etc. Wicked problems don't have answers just options that are better or worse. So who would want to tackle wicked problems? You know, in this world where we want to cure things, end things, solve them, mission accomplished. No one really actually wants to say I made something a little bit better or dare I say not quite as bad. But the use of issues of our times, global threats, wicked problems or as Sir James Martin would say, 21st century problems. They are all the same thing, they're the problems of our time. So where does imagination come into play with wicked problems? I want to start not with the solution side which is important, I think there's a lot of energy around innovation. But I want to start with the problem side because how you frame a problem is going to determine your solution set. So if you're not creative on the front end you'll by definition limit yourself on the back end. And to start with I'd like to talk about climate change. It is the classic example of a wicked problem. So climate change is often framed as an economic problem. How do we get our fossil fuels or an environmental problem, looking at CO2? But really this is a problem that we need to look at both as an economic problem, an environmental problem and social problem. We really need to take a systems lens view of this issue. Because if we fail to look at the complete picture we'll also fail to look at the complete range of impacts. This includes both direct impacts like sea level rise and indirect impacts like forced migration. And if we fail to look at the complete picture we will, of the problem we'll fail to look at the complete set of solutions. Very simply we'll fail to imagine the world where extreme impacts are realized. But as a 911 report reminds us imagination is a key component when preparing for an uncertain future. And using imagination to kind of conceptualize and plan for the future is not new, actually folks in the military realm and the business realm have been doing this for a long time through both scenario planning and war gaming. This is a way actually to use imagination in a structured way which may seem a bit odd but I want you carry that with you, imagination in a structured way. And this is a way that we can start to think about the future. So in 2015 the Skoll Global Threats Fund contributed to a report with a UK foreign commonwealth office called the Climate Change, A Risk Assessment. And in particular we looked at the systemic risk portion of that. And to develop that we looked at the best practices from security analysis to understand the global risks of climate change. And in particular we supported two rounds of a security game and [inaudible] planning exercise back in early spring 2015. And through several, so basically what you do is you take a bunch of experts, you put them in a room. We're talking about former generals, diplomats, climate scientists and we'd ask them to look at the world through various decades and corresponding degrees in temperature change. And to play that out. I mean, it's, for anyone who's ever played the game Risk, I mean you literally have like a board game in front and but underlying all this unlike the game of Risk are climate models about actually what type of temperatures [inaudible]. So it's based in data. This is the structure part of it. But then we do ask people to use their imagination and use gaming to think through what the future looks like. The experts around the table found that high degrees of climate change would pose enormous risks to national, international security. Extreme water stress and competition for productive land could give rise to conflicts. Some regions may become uninhabitable triggering migration on a historically unprecedented scale. Many states could fail or even collapse. And ones that we previously thought were stable and developed. The expansion of ungoverned territories would give in turn increase the risk of terrorism. And simply put the international system would be strained and in some cases fail. So we were initially a little bit surprised by the outcome of the game. And we knew it was going to be bad but we took a big step back and started asking ourselves, you know, have we structured the game poorly? Where our climate models wrong? You know, like what, like someone turned the dial wrong on this. However months later these scenarios hit much closer to home and unfortunately required less, much less imagination to seem plausible. And instead of several decades into the future we are seeing these events unfold far sooner than envisioned. As we all know in the summer and fall of 2015 Europe saw a huge wave of migration. And this photo is from Budapest train station. Folks may remember there was a two day strike that kept people camped out. And finally when they did open the doors to the train it was just, it was pure chaos. This photo here was from Reuters. But there's an AP photo that particularly hit me hard. This photo is actually of a Czech police officer, write, taking a pen and writing numbers on the refugees. This is before they took those refugees, put them on a train, told them they were going to safety in a neighboring country and instead sent them to a camp. [Inaudible] a pass in World War II were hard to miss. The Czechs quickly apologized but the image was set. While these are not climate refugees academics, journalists, politicians, have increasingly drawn attention to the world that long term drought has played in Syria and the refugee crisis there. A report titled The Arab Spring and Climate change published by our grantee at the Center for Climate Security helped bring attention to the connections recognizing that climate change is one element in a complex set of variables at play. However one that can act as a stressor or threat multiplier. And the similarities of the games do not end there. In the game we saw a rate of, a rise in xenophobia and nationalism. And now looking what's happened in the UK with Brexit, it's a sharp reminder of just how fragile and truly delicate this world is that we live in. So imagination on the problem side can be a bit depressing I will admit. But I think it's an important part of the process because unless we think of a world of not only rising sea level but also mass migration, shifting economies and what that does to our current governance structures, we'll come out with a solution that only addresses a fraction of the problem. Okay, moving on to the more optimistic side of things. I'd like to talk about creativity on the solutions side. And specifically I'd like to, this may not seem optimistic, but I'd like to talk about pandemic because I actually feel that we have an opportunity with some creativity and innovation in both technology and in policy that we could eliminate the treat of pandemics in our lifetime. All pandemics begin as an outbreak, an outbreak somewhere in the world that expands to an epidemic and then to a pandemic. And if you can detect and contain an outbreak early enough you can prevent it from this global spread. The challenge today is that many of these outbreaks that previously made themselves contained to geography, they happened in a village somewhere far off that we just actually could never even think of touching, is now just a plane ride away. And nowhere was this more clear than in 2014 with the Ebola outbreak. Ebola's not a new disease. We first saw it in the '70s in Sudan and Zaire and we've seen about ten outbreaks since. But we've never actually seen more than a couple hundred infected. So what happened? In 2014 as outbreak emerged in West Africa that ultimately infected over 28,000 people, 28,000 people from a disease that we've previously only seen a couple hundred. And it killed 11,000. And for many of us this is wakeup call. Diseases that we previously thought were contained to some corner of the world are not. They are, as I said, a plane flight away. Now the good news is is the faster we can detect and constantly contain an outbreak, the smaller that it is. And at the Skoll Global Threats find we believe as you can detect and verify and report an outbreak fast enough you can contain it and stop pandemics. And there are reasons for us to be optimistic. And this is where I get to one of our favorite slides at the Skoll Global Threats Fund. So I realized actually when I was, when I put this together earlier that I didn't label my axis and I thought I might get in trouble here at the Ford School. But on Y axis is number of days to detect, the X is years. I hope that won't affect me later. But this looks at basically what we've seen globally in terms of number it takes to detect a disease. Back in 1996 you'll see it was 167 days, now that's down to 23 days. You can imagine if you can actually contain a disease that quickly what that means. And I think though to really understand this you kind of have to understand how disease surveillance works. And so if you'll allow me to channel the brilliant Dr. Ken Warner from whom I took public health policy here, here's a very brief public health tutorial. So for a disease to be reported someone needs to get sick, right, I'll start with the basics. And that's patient zero here. And they then go to a doctor. Well you can immediately see how this starts to breakdown because not everyone who's sick goes to the doctor. But let's just continue on with this. So if someone goes to the doctor, the doctor diagnoses them and then they start to report this up to local officials and field epidemiologists. And you'll see they'll note we might have a potential outbreak here. This is then verified in a lab. It rolls up to the ministry of health and then the ministry of health if we start to see something that looks unusual will report this to the WHO. We could understand both how there's delays within this process. But also what that means. You're basically giving a disease a head start. And that lag time can have enormous consequences. And that's what we saw with Ebola. So that outbreak began in December 2013 in Guinea but was able to spread due to, it was a region that had delays in reporting both at a country level and within WHO. And WHO didn't even become aware of the outbreak. So it started in December until March. And they didn't actually declare an official emergency until August. So you could imagine what it means when you give a head start to a disease like Ebola. And you can understand that fast and reliable reporting linked to a credible response is critical for an outbreak. And this is where the role of imagination and innovation comes in. Because of advances in technology and online reporting we're now able to learn of outbreaks outside of this kind of traditional reporting system. In the last 20 years this has been phenomenally exciting. This is where you started to see this drop. Because you start to have tools online that start to look for reports within the news, scraping websites, blogs, twitter and starting to understand systems like BioCaster, GPHIN, MedAssist, and Google flu trends. They're filling the gap where formal based, case based and facility reporting have fallen short. And these systems really came into their own in 2003 with SARS. Because many may not realize but the first public description of the SARS outbreak, the very first public description didn't actually come from the government. It came from ProMed an online source. And the fact that it was an informal online reporting system, not the traditional systems was historic. And this innovation and creativity on the technology side is most important because of the pressure it's put on the policy world. Example of SARS and ProMed actually showed WHO that they might need to be listening. So, in 2005 WHO made revisions to the international health regulations and transformed global surveillance with, in many ways including explicitly allowing the use of informal reporting systems for outbreak detection reporting. This may seem small and bureaucratic, right, it's a small change in the international health regulations. And when I actually told one of my work colleagues that I was talk about the IHR in a talk on creativity [inaudible] he started laughing at me. He was like IHR is not creative. But what that change in regulation did is it took these things that were on the side that were innovations and were interesting and took them from being niche to relevant in reporting to governments. So where are we today now that, in this new world of IHR? What's the latest on the front? Well it's exciting and to demonstrate this I'd like to tell a story of how we're building on what was considered digital disease detection, all this online scraping and looking at news sources to what we call participatory surveillance. And the idea participatory surveillance is pretty simple. It's the idea, it's like this is what we're worried about, this big lag time from zero to the ministry of the health knowing about them. You know, could we increase that if we actually just, I don't know, asked someone if they were sick? Or if you consider that the majority of things that we're worried about are zoonotic in nature, right. They're jumping from animals to human. Why do we ask people if their animals are sick? Well this is exactly the challenge that our colleagues in Thailand have been wrestling with for the past few years. As many of may know in 2004 Thailand and Viet Nam were hit hard by an avian flu outbreak. And that killed more than 50 people, sickened hundreds more and resulted in $1.7 billion in loss. I think it's important to realize that it, you know, we often look at just the death toll but it killed 50 people. But $1.7 billion in loss for countries like Thailand and Viet Nam is huge. And a research team at Chiang Mai University started looking into this outbreak in understanding how could we prevent this again? You know, they realize that we need to be able detect an outbreak early and we need to be able to respond. And it turns out Thailand doesn't have the capabilities to do either of those things. And they're not alone. So and the task of this was really daunting particular on the animal health side. Almost half of Thai residents, almost half of Thai residents rely on backyard animal production for their livelihood and then many millions of animals living outside the formal agriculture system. So you think about where you get your meat here today in the U.S., right. So it tends to be from big, people sometimes call it factory farming or industrial or kind of large complexes. And so if there's an outbreak within those it's pretty easy actually to shut it down. And you see this actually when we have, we have small outbreaks of things, right, that can quickly control the supply chain. We have millions of animals, millions of animals outside of the agricultural system. It's very difficult. And the researchers found that very few of these farmers had knowledge of avian flu or other zoonotic diseases, so diseases again that jump from animals to humans. And despite the recent pandemics many were still consuming or selling chickens, cows or other animals that had died of unknown causes. And those who buried carcasses had no idea actually how to do proper burial and take, you know, the necessary precautions. In the rare event that a farmer reported an illness, government didn't respond. So no incentive to do so. Basically this is a community on the front lines of a potential pandemic. The lead researcher, Dr. Lert Luck [assumed spelling] former dean of Chiang Mai University's veterinary medicine program, he beloved that Thailand needed a new type of disease surveillance network, one that made spotting and reporting of animals easy to do and routine and that encouraged and empowered local citizens to do it. So Global Threats partnered with Chiang Mai University, see if there's a way to creatively tackle this problem. This, so what happened is we actually launched what we call an epihack. And if you don't know what that is that's okay because we made it up. This is the idea of an epidemiology hackathon. This is why we shortened it to epihack. It's too hard to say. And what we did is we put a whole bunch of the smartest people in the room from this community, right. So this is programmers, veterinarians, doctors, anthropologists, the big thing was having local engineers and coders actually who could work on this. And we gave them the task. And after a couple days they came forward with a few prototypes and in July of 2014 we created an operationalized one of those systems now dubbed participatory one health disease detection, the acronym being PODD. But the Thai called it Paw DD which is Thai for look closely and you will see. I think it's a much more poetic version of the New Yorkers if you see something say something. The reporting system itself was actually designed to be simple and intuitive. That was a huge part of this. Volunteers would report potential animal disease or environment hazards through a photo. So they have this phone, we actually had to give phones to many of them and train them. And they basically, I chose the least offensive photo I could find. This is dead duck. So they take a photo and then or if they can't take it for some reason they can select from a gallery and runs them through a series of question. What do you see? How, descriptors of that. Also GPS location of where this is happening. And it was really important that this was simple. And the fact that actually 89% of the volunteers could use this agilely after one training, 89% which is incredible when you think that 50% of them had never had a mobile phone before. I apologize to my parents at home but I don't know if they're that good at using their iPhone actually. So Paw DD launched in 2015 and initially trained 300 local volunteers. And that's now grown in less than 2 years to 4,600. Within the first few months volunteers were reporting more animal disease cases in Chiang Mai than Thailand had done for the entire year. That was, that actually included 36 incidents of dangerous zoonotic disease. So these things that we're worried about. They found 36 of them in the first, in less than 2 years. And one community member actually reported foot and mouth disease. So he had a cow he knew was sick. And previously probably wouldn't have reported this, right. No one's going to come. Took a photo, sent it in, they came, they figured out it as a community what to do with this, corralled the cattle and were able to kind of manage the spread of this disease. So the economic department actually at Chiang Mai University then did a study on this. And this is I think also where kind of having an academic partner is important. This one small community estimated it saved 4 million dollars because of the fact that they could still actually export their milk and other dairy products. The incredible story of Paw DD and the community of Chiang Mai for me has three very big lessons on this front. First is the role of technology very obviously can and enable creative thinking. And you'll notice that this talk is actually about imagination and creativity and not about innovation which is odd because I come from a place obsessed with innovation. Silicon Valley and philanthropy, you can't get out of a single cocktail without someone throwing that around. And innovation is an important part but is, and I looked this up in the dictionary, it's the act or process of introducing new ideas, devices or methods. It's the act or process of introducing them. And creativity and imagination is the act or process of thinking of these new ideas. Put more simply, innovation is about implementation and creativity is the frontend of that process. And what technology does I think is it shortens the time from dreaming something up and being able to make it happen. And then once you're able to make it happen what that does in terms is it opens up and expands the realm of possibility of what you can do. One of the big unlocks of this wasn't an app. I mean let's be honest. And app is actually not that interesting. Being able to take a photo and fill out some questions, I'm sure there's some 16 year olds who could do that during the time of this lecture, right. It's not that interesting. The innovation here and what technology allowed was it allowed for community members to start reporting. That is not something that anyone believed in. The idea that a farmer out in his, in the hills with his sick cow could now be part of this formal reporting system was truly incredible. And that only could happen because we had technology to play that out and for it to become believable. That actually allowed people to reimagine what this system could look like. Second is the important role of policy. Without responsiveness and openness on the policy front, as I mentioned before, these innovations would really just be a sideshow. The government would have had very little incentive to listen to them. But what WHO did with the international health regulations is made these relevant and encouraged people to start thinking of doing new things in their community. This is particularly true, we did a series of interviews as part of kind of the evaluation of this. And there was one volunteer in this remote mountain village when asked about kind of how this is relevant to life. All he said was and I love this, well I can just take a photo and get a rapid response. Like this is the dumbest thing in the world that we would ask this. Of course this makes sense to him. And this wasn't complex, it wasn't difficult for him to engage, he's like yeah, I take a photo and people come. That I think is incredibly important. And that only happens if you have the government engagement on this. So the technology is important but it's only relevant if it's linked to this credible response. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has been spending some time out in California and during one of her tours of the valley she picked up this phrase and I steal it here. These days people are talking to their governments using 21st century technology while governments listen on 20th century technology and respond with 19th century policies. I would make one tweak to this. I don't think this is a problem just of government. I think this is a problem of all of our institutions. And we have real opportunity to be creative how technology allows people to engage with institutions for sure. But just as important for how institutions then listen, how they then act and how they fundamentally govern. The third part of this that I actually really take away from Paw DD is what it teaches us through the process of an epihack. This kind of crazy room that you walked into for three days that went all night. If anyone's ever been to like a hackathon it was like that but in Thai with this crazy group of like passionate veterinarians. And in the room we had veterinarians, physicians, environmental health specialists, technologists, economists, anthropologists, engineers, local government a few foundation folks as well. And this group working together on a specific task intensely for a few days brought a whole wealth of creativity that only could allow if you had these people in the same room and built that level of trust. And that leads me to the final piece of my talk. And that's the role of diversity in the creative process. You know if I'd been asked to give this speech a few years ago it would have been similar, I probably would have focused mostly on the technology side. I'm a big believer in what's happening in technology. And what big data, mobile technology, machine learning, artificial intelligence, I mean these are game changers in terms of the tools that have on hands addressed these challenges. And I'm still a big believer in that. Technology allows us to iterate solutions at a speed unheard of before and speed is really important when you're actually trying to iterate and get to a great solution. And it allows to scale at a fraction of the cost. But at the end of the day information technology just, this is, it's a product or it's a platform. And it, those things are agnostic to the process. If you have a narrow definition of the problem and a narrow view of the users you'll get just that. You will get a narrow product. The process I believe is critical to make sure that we are engaging our collective imagination, creativity and ultimately intelligence. The end product will only be as good as those engaged in the process. Peter Thiel who's a cofounder and former CEO of PayPal also known now for taking down Gawker, the moment when he says dwindling innovation in Silicon Valley famously said we wanted flying cars and instead we got 140 characters, taking a stab at Twitter. Well forget flying cars, I want clean energy at scale. I want the ability to actually be able to detect disease and respond to it in the far corners of the world. And I want a way to manage and plan around risk in our ever changing climate. And I want it not just for the wealthiest but for the worlds most vulnerable as well. And that's not going to happen unless we have people in the room who can know and speak to these issues. I'm blessed to have gone to an elite institution like the University of Michigan. And since then I have been privilege to be part of this country's elite. I believe that's given me a unique perspective on our world's problems. I've had the chance to speak to the foremost experts on these issues, climate scientists, epidemiologists. I met with companies that are developing this world changing technology. I've worked at the highest level of government. And the seeds of this privilege were planted generations ago. I started with a photo of my family because I think it's important to recognize this privilege and what it's afforded me. But it's this exact privilege that also limits me. I'm very proud of the fact that I was an undergrad at Michigan in the late '90s during the affirmative action cases. Feelings about affirmative action aside the work done by Patricia Gurin and those and her colleagues to provide statistical evidence on the benefits of diversity were groundbreaking for our court case. I've carried that with me throughout my career. When we talk about wicked problems, when we talk about the issues of our day and need to expand our idea of the possible, this will require diverse perspectives at the table. This privilege, this privilege comes with a responsibility and a responsibility that those voices are at the table. This year I gave birth to a little girl. And it's caused me to think a lot about the world my daughter will grow up in which can be a very dangerous thing when you work in place called Global Threats. And while I deeply worry that she'll feel the impacts of climate change and about infectious disease, I worry just as much that she will be protected from the harshest impacts of these threats while many others will not. I worry that this little girl will grow up in wild garden. The fact that she's American, comes from five generations of college graduates, is white, was raised in a neighborhood where she'll likely get a good education and go to the doctor when she was sick. That all these things mean that she'll be okay. And the vast majority of the world merely by chance where they're born will not. We're dangerously close to that existence. If we don't meaningful engage a wide range of thinkers to help navigate these wicked problems, to define the problem and dream of possible solutions. And that's why it's a privilege to be here today at the University of Michigan as this is both the training ground for some many who are going to tackle these wicked problems and where much of the fundamental research and teachings on these issues will come from. My hope is that my talk today will help expand how we teach, think, talk and engage on these wicked problems. And most importantly who we invite to the table to frame and address these problems. Thank you and Go Blue.
[ Audience Applause ]
>> Hi Annie, thank you for that wonderful speech. I found it inspiring and I'm sure everyone in the audience did as well. My name's Kenny Fennel, I'm a second year master of public policy student here at the Ford School. And my interest is actually how to leverage community and technical expertise to improve development outcomes. And so I especially appreciated the talk. And I'm joined here by a fellow BA student.
>> Hi, I equally enjoy your talk and there were a lot of provocative and thoughtful things that you mentioned. My name is Qu Thinawe [assumed spelling] and I'm a BA student here at the Ford School with interests in regional conflict and economic development and how technology can help within that, within how nations are building these days.
>> So the first question we have comes from the audience. And it's what global threat do you perceive to be the most wicked? Thank you. So the first question is what global threat do you perceive to be the most wicked?
>> Well, most wicked. I can tell you what I'm most scared of and actually they might be the same thing. I think the most imminent threat for us right now is pandemics. It's a, I'm looking at my colleague in health policy. It is the ticking time bomb. But I think the thing that is probably the most wicked is climate change. The number of kind of indoor dependencies within the issue is huge. And one of the things with actually a wicked problem, right, is that as soon as you intervene you have therefore affected the problem. You are part of the experiment of the issue. And climate change is difficult in that ways as we've seen what happened with biofuels, right, people thought this was the big answer. And then shockingly we saw a huge spike in food prices which then caused another set of issues. So for me climate change is the one that I'm most nervous about as a wicked problem because of its complexity and it really touches every single part of society. And we don't really understand what's going to be happening within kind of cascading events.
>> Thank you for that response. The second question is how does Skoll define success when it comes to [inaudible] a global threat? And we know that this is a very complex thing to talk about.
>> Yeah, I think that's it's one of the more difficult things. As I mentioned everyone really actually wants to say mission accomplished. I think that's actually a human endeavor. And for us it's not just about how we measure success but where do we think our most important invention can be? So there's a lot of work that we do to kind of both landscaped the area of actors and who's doing the work. We want to be complimentary in what we do. And understanding where is there a specific leverage point where we could have an impact? And we measure success not on ending climate change. I don't that's actually even possible that climate will change. But thinking about how can we turn the tide? We talk about, it's like the atomic bolt in the scientist, you know, if there is a clock like how close are we to midnight and can we pull things back a little bit? And I think there are incremental ways for us to be able to measure success. But it is ultimately unsatisfying in that way. It is not work that you go into if you would like to be able to tie a bow on top of things at the end of the day.
>> Thank you. The next question is wicked problems seem to frequently evoke fear and pessimism when we begin initiating with one.
>> I think I can't hear you quite.
>> I'm sorry. So wicked problems seem to constantly evoke fear when we engage with them. Can you please comment how creativity and hope can keep our responses balanced and hopeful?
>> Well and fear's actually a really interesting one because we know through a lot of neuroscience actually when people are fearful it does shut down their own creativity. And you see this a lot happening in society right. As people are fearful they'll look at the world in a more narrow way. And so it is difficult to engage people in a way that tries to engage imagination about really the full range while also being hopeful. For me and I was, had the benefit of being at a lunch earlier with a bunch of students. And so when asked this about how do you work on issues like this that aren't exactly the most helpful? But I think the other issue is, the other option is you don't work on them, right. Like they're not, these are not going away. If I decide to just go home and, you know, hug my daughter close which I try to do every night, it's not like climate change or the threat of pandemics is going to go away. And so I think that's actually, that is just part of the work. And getting people to understand that engaging on these issues is actually a creative way and hopeful way to be involved than I think that's the way to maintain that optimism. But I don't think, it's not easy.
>> Thank you. This next question is what are some ways you think we can formalize imagination and creativity as an integral process of how departments and institutions function especially in legacy government and international organizations?
>> Would you like me to reform the UN and government right now? It's just, I'm looking at John Chamberlin, hoping that wasn't his question. When the cards got over to you I got nervous. I think this is actually one of the bigger challenges right. And we struggled with this ourselves with organization. How much is the world about verticals? And how much of it is about the horizontals? And you see this actually in disease right? It's like we're going to go after TB, we're going to go after HIV. And this can actually be pretty effective in terms of going after those issues. We're able to, we're on the verge of eradicating polio because of a focus effort. And so I do think some of the specialization is important otherwise you could just completely, you know, spend your time actually going nowhere on this. So there is this balance. I don't want to actually say that I'm totally about an interdisciplinary environment. But I do think it is about introducing it too. I think about my Ford School education and the fact that I did take classes within health policy. That I did take a class in the business school that we all kind of like sat on the opposite sides of the room. But I think that's an important part. I think sometimes it's actually no that complicated. It's about creating the flora for this to happen whether it is kind of classrooms or people being able to talk to each other. But if you go into something like the federal government you have as much a difference in terms of physical geography, right, agencies in different places. It is cultural. When I worked at the White House I did a lot of interagency work through the recovery act. And I could literally get something from an agency without actually, you could, you know, block out all the words. I could tell you probably what agency it was from without actually reading the words just by how it was written, just by kind of the language that they used. I mean, you walk into USDA and it is very different from walking into HUD. And so so much of this for me actually is about cultural competency as it is about institutional structures because I don't think there's a right, one single right way to do it. And I also think that as soon as you get it right the world's going to change. That's the problem. So how do you create the flexibility in thinking? How do you create the flexibility in kind of planning for that interaction to be able to happen I think is the important part? I don't think that you're going to get, I'm a believer in institutions. I think they're an important part. But I think there has to have that flexibility to them.
>> Thank you. This leads nicely into our next question actually which is how do we effectively encourage and reward creative thinking in universities and workplaces that you just described?
>> Yeah, I mean one of the things that was also kind of happened at lunch and I understand why this has happened with folks who've kind of come up through undergrad and graduate. But there has been, there's been some movement that everyone needs to actually start an NGO, go visit a foreign country, play in the band and like you name it. Like there's this checklist. And that's what you have to do to be able to then get into college and then get into grad school. I mean, it's kind of, it's crazy and I see a lot of these resumes. And I think this in part because this is what the system has rewarded. But that actually in many ways, even though it's expanded I think in individuals experience on paper really does limit creativity. So how do we actually in universities reward people who've made creative choices. Because if you haven't made creative choices you're not actually going to be engaged in creative thinking. And I'm worried that this kind of, the rewarding of a certain set of kind of experiences means that you're no longer actually going to have people who think creatively. I mentioned this earlier when I look at resumes. I actually start to look for people who have gaps. And like did you take care of your father for a year? Did you have a baby when you were young and that may have impacted your kind of career trajectory? You know, have you done anything that's interesting? I'm sorry. I mean, I seriously ask that because I think sometimes people are discouraged from doing anything. So how are you expected to be a creative thinker once you come into college and into grad school? And I think that's also an issue in terms of diversity of who then comes out of undergrad and grad school. So I think it starts very early in terms of what do universities incentify in terms of who they bring in? I think it's going to directly reflect what you then see in the classroom. So for me it starts in the very beginning in terms of admissions.
>> Thank you. This leads into the next question which is what do you think are the biggest obstacles to creative thinking and imagination with regards to wicked problems? And why do you think creative thinking isn't the norm today?
>> I think a lot actually this has to do with life experience. So this is a big reason I talked about the diversity aspect of this, right. So I can push my, I mean, I'm again a left brain thinker. But I can definitely be given an exercise, go into a room, how do you, this is classic one right. Give your belt, how many things can you do with a belt, right? Some people will like come up with three and they're like headband, you can wear it as a belt or you can, you know, use it as a jump rope. And other people will come with like 50, right. So there's, people who are just naturally kind of imaginative in their own way. The problem is the person who thinks of 50 also needs to talk to the person who has three. And there's also, and the reason that some person thinks of 50 is because they've maybe actually been in place of how to use a belt for different things. And so how do we actually then encourage those types of conversations is something that I think is really lacking. It's not just about and this is I think something that often gets mixed. It's not just about having diversity, right, like that's again I think not, that's a very simplistic way to look at it. But it's actually how do you have a meaningful engagement around that? How do you give an opportunity for people to authentically show up in the workplace? For them to authentically show up in the class and be able to talk about their experience and their perspective that may be outside of the norm? It gets very uncomfortable for people particularly if you happen to have the viewpoint that is outside of the norm. It's the exact viewpoint that needs to be heard. And so I think a lot of this is actually about how do you structure those conversations and allow for different voices to come. And this can also be that introversion extraversion, right. How do you make sure that you have, and it can be about gender. How do you make sure that these different voices are heard? And I think it takes a real skill and I don't know if we've actually been able to nail that down at the university level, at a corporate level. And I actually believe whoever gets that right on a corporate level is probably going to be winning hugely when they think about different markets. So how we structure those conversations and how we engage it I think is going to be a big part of kind of this next generation.
>> Great, thank you. So what has your work at school implied about how to create more diverse conversations?
>> I think that we're bad at it. I mean, like I think we're bad at it. I mean, that has been, so I, this is my first role as president, right. And it's really easy I think to be able to say and I'm saying it here today, right, that we need to more meaningful engaged. But it's hard. And I think it starts with actually being able to say it out loud. We try to do it in our grant making. Like I actually think it's easier. So I think on the pandemic side we work definitely with local ownership, the Chiang Mai grant started with having people in the room who are going to be owning this. It's local programmers. We're not bring people out from Silicon Valley to actually code this up, right. So there is that local ownership and that's a critical part, part of our work. But I think on the talent pipeline also within the foundation. So who do we have under our own roof? I think we're okay at it. And I'm really conscious of this and that's what makes me nervous actually which is why this is kind of my hobby horse these days. Because I feel like if we're okay with it and I'm not exactly like news flash, your normal looking foundation head, right. I'm a little bit younger and a little bit female for the role. You know, if I feel that way and I've grown up in a different generation, I can't imagine how other institutions. So I think first it's about talking about it and holding ourselves accountable and saying to ourselves how are we doing on this? So the grant making side I think we're doing okay. We're doing well I think in pandemics and we're doing okay on climate. I think climate struggles to actually engage [inaudible] in the U.S. on the issue. And we could do better at that. And then in our own hiring I think we try and I think we could do better. And I would give ourselves a B minus on it. And I think actually that's the first step is like can you give yourself a grade on this? Do you talk about it as an organization? Do you think about it as an organization? And so I'll start with our grade and try to get better.
>> Awesome, thank you. I'm sure many students here appreciate the speak on diversity especially with the Ford School's DEI plans. So the next question is is Skoll doing any work on the Zika virus? And what do you think needs to be done immediately?
>> First, congress needs to get its act together. It's probably wouldn't be the only question I'd give that answer to. Well first let me talk about what Global Threats is doing. So we really focus on how you can detect and verify and report a disease quickly. And so we're working both with the Brazilian government during the Olympics. And there's a lot of attention paid to whether or not the Olympics should happen? Is this actually going to export the disease? A lot of the epidemiologic models said no, it's wintertime, the risk is very low and the game went on. But one of the things we did was help develop a tool with Brazilian developers and with the ministry of health in Brazil called Guardians of Health that allowed everyone who came to the games to be able to report. So every day, you know, you get the opportunity to say how are you feeling? Do you have a fever or rash, you know, the various different symptoms. And that's a tool that I think was important for us not for the Brazilians just to be able to use during the games or the World Cup and the Olympics. But this is a tool that they now have for them to carry forward for kind of every day reporting for their populous. We're also actually working with the CDC on a tool for, on the U.S., Mexico border on reporting on mosquitos. So similarly as you saw in Paw DD where people are looking at livestock, this is looking at where you're seeing the vector. So where there are mosquitos and a way to kind of track that. But unfortunately we're actually at the place where we know Zika's happening. We know it's spreading. And yet this is why I say you need to detect, verify and report and link to credible response. And the U.S. is not responding. And congress has had this on their plate to be able to actually allocate funding towards it. And, and they are behaving like congress. And I think it's incredibly, incredibly dangerous. For folks who, I mean, have been following Zika, this is a disease that not only can be transmitted through a mosquito but they now believe that this can be sexually transmitted. So people have used this to actually say this is HIV with wings. I mean, it's very, very scary. And the fact actually what they're seeing and they don't know as much as they would like to know in terms of the causes of microcephaly. So these are babies born with these small heads. But what they do know is really incredibly scary in terms of how this impacts a child. And the disease more or less feeds off the brain of this child when it's in utero and then when it's born. So you see these children who can't actually respond to the comfort of their parents. And they're just in constant pain and crying. As a new mom, I mean, it's unfathomable that you would be able to comfort your child and to know they're in such pain. So this is real, real disease that's incredibly scary and has impacted Puerto Rico tremendously. I mean the infection rate in Puerto Rico is pretty scary. And so and congress is just not acting. I, you know, people wanted to shut down the games in Brazil. I'm waiting for this to make it to Orlando when they have to shut down Disney World and I want to see what happens then.
>> Great, thank you. Do you see any differences in male/hierarchical ways of working and addressing problems versus more collaborative approaches? And do you have.
>> Can you say that again, sorry, I just didn't, sorry.
>> Do you see any, do you see differences in hierarchical ways of working and addressing problems versus more collaborative approaches? And do you have any takeaways to share from your volleyball team experience?
>> I met with my coach this morning so I've got to be careful. She knows that I'm giving this talk. Yeah, I think there's a time and a place for everything, right. So I don't want to give the impression that like I'm the speaker from California and I think we should all hold hands and be collaborative. Like I don't actually think that's the answer in a lot of ways. I used to work in emergency response and God bless hierarchy during those times. I mean, in the Haiti earthquake that happened it was a complete disaster until the U.S. military came in. The most hierarchical organization that you can imagine because they opened up the airport in like a day. They were landing more planes at that airport after the earthquake than they were before the earthquake because the U.S. military had come in, right. So there's a time and a place I think for hierarchical structure that makes a lot of sense in terms of command and control. So I don't, I'm not part of some like anarchist movement. That said I think that there's also even within the most hierarchical structure you can have collaborative thinking. And so I don't necessarily think of those as an opposition. I think you can have an hierarchical system and you can have a flat structure. And I think collaboration can happen within both of those. And I think it should. I think that there actually needs to be some creative thinking in some of our most hierarchical structures and I think that's okay. So I would, I'd push back a little bit that those are actually opposites of each other.
>> The next question for you who has thought creatively and effectively about the peace process? Is there anybody that comes to mind?
>> About the peace process?
>> Yeah. I forgot to answer the volleyball. I'll come back to that. I have nothing about volleyball for the peace process unfortunately. On the peace process side I think it's tough. I mean I have a ton of admiration for Martin Indyk who's actually this U.S. Australian diplomat in the U.S. He works at Brookings now. But I think it's as much about patience and about willingness to listen within a peace process as it is about creativity. I mean, I think creativity is part of that but I think you have to actually have the patience to be able to be at the table for as long as you want. I mean, I mention Martin Indyk because he once said that if you work in the Middle East long enough it'll break your heart several times. And I think it's true. And I think that it actually, that you have to be someone who has the patience to have your heart broken and still be willing to come to the table and to think creatively with people about how to move forward. So that and maybe that's patience is part of the collaborative process that I should also add into there.
>> And if you'd like to follow up with the volleyball question.
>> Oh yeah, I can't think of anything right now. I'll come back to it.
>> Okay, so how do your exercises in developing imagination concerning wicked problems take in account normative dimensions of a problem that are intentioned with one another?
>> Okay, you'll have to repeat that again slowly for me.
>> Oh, so basically how do your exercise in developing imagination with regards to wicked problems take into account various dimensions of a problem that are intentioned with one another?
>> Got it, yeah, yes. Now I feel like I'm defending my dissertation. I'm sorry. You know, I don't actually, I don't know if I have an answer to that. I wish, I mean, I wish that I did. I think it's one of the big challenges, right. I think if this were easy, right, if it was just about blending a bunch of people who were different into a room together and let them think long and creatively enough and we'd have answers to these things. I think it's a really important part of the process for the reasons that I mentioned today. But I don't think it's actually, I don't think it's the only one. The one thing I will mention, it doesn't quite get to this but that I think is about the creative process that I think it's important to bring up. Is that people process in different ways. And so the idea that you could have people all around and like we're all going to brainstorm and put things on a board is going to work really well for some people. And it's going to work really terrible for others. Not everything has to be a group process, right. Some people need to go and sit in the corner and think for a long time. And I think how do we also allow for that. And that I think is particular relevant for a university setting, a corporate setting, government, all of that. And so that diversity is also a process is something that I think is really important because I often think when you talk actually about hierarchy or you talk about kind of the norms within different cultures there is a huge bias towards speaking first and speaking loudly. And that works for a certain percentage of the population. But that's actually not the majority of the population. So that didn't answer your question. I'm sorry for whoever asked that normative problems.
>> Thank you. The next question it says there's a movement to make universities more productive by measuring outcomes, outcomes such as graduation rates, post college employment, student loan repayment, etc. Does this improve universities or will it hurt them and more generally does this outcome based evaluation hinder creativity or does it help it?
>> I think it depends on why you're going to college. So a lot of people go to college to get a job. So the idea that you would measure, you know, people's employment afterwards is I think okay. I think the that challenge is are we redefining actually what a university needs, right. Is this about you being a productive member of society? Is this about you contributing to the biggest issues of the day? What is the promise that we're making to students and then are we measuring against that promise? And that for me has been the biggest disconnect. Maybe not at a university like Michigan but you've seen a rise of academic institutions which is actually where a lot of Americans go. It's not to a state based college, it may be to a private university, maybe an online university. And for me I think it's really important that do we line up what we're promising with an education with what we measure? Because that ultimately, and if people come to a university to get a job I think it's okay to measure on a job. But I think that people actually make come for very different reasons. But that for me is about what is that social contract that we have with university students these days.
>> Okay, thank you. So this leads into how did the Ford School or the University of Michigan experience prepare you for the real world especially a real world filled with threats?
>> Well it wasn't a very threat filled place here at the Ford School which is a good thing. I joke, I mean I wrote I don't how many, are there any Ford School students actually in the audience? Yeah, like how many memos do you think you've written at the Ford School, like hundreds? Yeah, I mean, that was I think it seems like a small thing. But the ability to actually take an issue, critically think about it, take it apart and then be able to write about it is something that is just, I use every single day, every single day in the work world. And the one thing I like to joke is that, you know, you often get these assignments like write a memo to the president, write a memo to the so and so. So when I worked in the White House, the first time someone said write a memo to the president. I was so excited. It's like oh my gosh, the president might actually read this. Not that, you know, John Chamberlin is not a good, you know, proxy for the president. But that was actually, I mean, I think that critical thinking, learning actually how to think definitely comes into play daily but definitely did when I worked at the White House.
>> All right, thank you. This has been an excellent conversation but this is actually the last question. And it's how can healthcare providers and other nontraditional organizations in the developed world help solve wicked problems?
>> Yeah, I think much of it is including people in the dialogue about how to solve these. So again to kind of go back to this Chiang Mai example. It was about having the veterinarians, the doctors and the community members in the room. You know, we've seen this kind of big push to have community health workers a lot in [inaudible] Africa but also exist within Southeast Asia. And a lot of the dialogue I think in the past has been, you know, do we pay people or not? Which I think is a really good conversation to have and I think most, mostly resolve these days that we should pay people for the jobs that they're doing. I don't think that that's controversial. But I don't know how much we actually engage community health workers in the conversation about what's happening in their communities. And I think NGOs actually foreign NGOs and aid has not done a great job at this in the past. The big push has been how do we get people on the front line but now that people are on the front line what does that actually mean and where is that feedback loop? It's probably not true just in other countries. But I think that's particularly true when we're dealing with some really challenging issues on the ground when it's health and development all wrapped up. So how do we start to, we've had this massive mobilization and how do we then incorporate that feedback loop into things?
>> Excellent, thank you very much.
>> Thank you.
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>> So a great thank you to Annie for such thoughtful remarks. I'd also like to thank our audience for joining us and for such a wide range of questions. I hope you'll stay and continue the conversation. There's a reception just outside those double doors in our great hall. And so I hope that you'll stay and continue. There's so many topics here that are on the table and this has been very thought provoking for many of us. So please join me in a final round of thanks to Annie Maxwell.
[ Audience Applause ]