The beginning

How do we start working outside of bubbles?

The idea of The Unusual Suspects Festival came to life when the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation brought together SIX and Collaborate. The two organisations were both exploring collaborative approaches to tackling complex social challenges, but weren’t really talking to each other and seemed to work in two different worlds.

SIX and Collaborate talked about what they can do together to support people and organisations to have purposeful conversation to start working outside of their bubbles and in a more collaborative way. How could we bring closer the people who are working in social innovation on the front line with people who are working to innovate public services? How do we enable dialogue and collaboration for social change? How do we open up spaces for new conversations and actors to emerge?

'Humans are more cooperative than other species because we are capable of more fine-grained forms of cooperation: we are prepared to cooperate with strangers, over large distances and times, overcoming obstacles
of language and culture. This deeply wired capacity for cooperation will be more important than ever to enable us to create shared solutions to complex challenges, from global financial regulation to ageing and climate change.'

Charles Leadbeater, It’s cooperation, stupid


Innovation between actors and across sectors

Collaborating is key to finding new or better solutions to some of the world’s toughest social problems. We want more people to do more things together, because we think that a conversation with someone with a different perspective helps us to imagine new possibilities and develop different outcomes. In addition, the problems that require social innovation are complex – they often don’t fit neatly into one sector or thematic area – innovation is required between actors and across sectors.

Tim Draimin (Board member of SIX, Executive Director of the Social Innovation Generation (SiG) and SIX Global Council member) wrote a blog post on this subject in June 2013, where he quotes an observation from evaluation expert Michael Quinn Patton, which provides some context to why we are hosting this festival in London. He observed that collaboration is like teenage sex:

  • Everyone is talking about it,
  • Everyone thinks everybody is doing it, and
  • In reality, nobody is doing it very well.

Everyone is talking about collaboration but it’s not always easy. Although intermediary platforms make connecting easier, working with other people is inherently hard, and working with people from different sectors, beliefs, cultures, and values is even harder – it requires trust. It sometimes requires someone to identify unifying strands between organisations that may think they have little in common.

This is what we’ve attempted through the Unusual Suspects Festival 2014 by mixing people and organisations that might not usually work together to run sessions and collaborate with each other to engage with participants from across the world in meaningful conversations about how we can better innovate across our differences to solve some of society’s biggest challenges.

Festival highlights

Key Learnings

Power and dynamics

Power and dynamics

When working with diverse people and perspectives, we must understand and adapt to different dynamics and levels of power. To effectively collaborate, we must trust each other and begin to relinquish our own power.


It's a skill, not a hobby

As sectors, organisations and individuals, we need to acknowledge that there are specific skill sets and competencies that are needed to effectively collaborate. We must invest time and resources to building collaboration readiness.


Mobilising hidden collaborators

If we want to catalyse inclusive approaches to complex problems, we need to ensure voices that matter are heard. We must find, empower, and mobilise the unusual suspects.


Creating accessible platforms

Platforms enable and invite co-production and reduce dependency. We need to actively curate more platforms for action and act as facilitators rather than directors — it is then that new models and innovations can launch.

Leadership and resilience

Leadership and resilience

Collaboration requires a more distributed and less hierarchical form of leadership. We must reconfigure who and what a leader should be, and support individuals as a community of collaborators.

Scaling great collaboration

Scaling great collaboration

Good collaboration should be scalable and sustainable. We need to rethink impact in terms of success of our collaborations and not just our organisations.

See the full list of sessions and activities.

Download programme

Who are the unusual suspects?

Festival highlight

Original suspects