Global Service Jam

48 hours to change the world


At first it’s just an idea. Shared with a small community and opened to the internet it starts making its way up to a global impact. Once again it’s an outstanding example for the power of collaboration and how close the world moves together with people all over the globe just sharing an internet connection and a common vision.

This is even more than just one of those pure digital get-togethers. Global Service Jam is based on the idea of high participation, where real people meet in person - as you may know it from unconferences. These are events that are fully built on self organisation and people’s motivation instead of extensive slide shuffling and painful passive attention. The underlying concept of open space technology sets the rules: you will only find those people at an unconference who want to be there. There’s no hierarchy — everyone is involved, open for different opinions and meets the others at the same level. Topics are driven by people’s passion — the attendees build their own conference that fits their needs best.

Running as a “Jam” this event is pretty intense, involving everyone actively to contribute, to challenge and to build. There’s a whole weekend from Friday evening when getting together and socializing up to Sunday evening when uploading new prototypes and services that have the potential to change the world (days may differ due to your local definition of a weekend, e.g. in Egypt this means Wednesday to Friday)

While being coordinated from out of one single headquarter the Global Service Jam takes place all over the world in local communities including all time zones from far east to far west. A total of more than 100 cities are part of the offline events that bring together individuals in person to interact while all prototypes, challenges and results are available online.

In 2014 it’s taking place for the fourth time now. Headquarters moved from initially Germany to India last year reflecting the global perspective. On March 7-9 (depending on your time zone and location this may differ - however it’s always the weekend) Jam sites in dozens of countries come together to build innovative services. Grab a copy of “This is service design thinking” to discover the basic concepts and get an outstanding introduction and impression on how to best design and develop state-of-the-art customer focussed services.

We interviewed the founders of the Global Service Jam — Markus and Adam — right after the second event in 2012. Enjoy the fascination and insight of bringing up something new that reached out around the world within just a year:

It’s less than 18 months since the first Global Service Jam in March 2011, and the event which was initially conceived for a handful of sites and a few dozen people has attained truly global proportions. Global Service Jam 2012 saw volunteers in 85 cities worldwide jamming for 48 hours to develop more than 300 service prototypes around the theme “Hidden Treasures”. For the first time, jams in India, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Iran bridged the geographical gap between east Asia and Europe — and stretched the entire event over 4 days as other “weekends” joined the mix.

Parallel to the Jams themselves, the Jam community has been working hard to create a library of resources and experience for this innovation format. One pressing development has been the adoption of a smoother, simpler platform — supported by OSBF — making it easier for Jammers to share and upload their project results. Tools and reflections are shared virtually at an organiser’s Basecamp, and three face-to-face reflection events or “JamJams” have taken place, with Hosts and Jammers from as far afield as Mexico, India, China and Australia coming together in Europe to “jam the Jam”. The most recent, at the start of June, took place in FabLab Nuernberg, Coworking Nuernberg, and to some extent in the streets of the Noris. Eleven new Jammer tools or initiatives were developed, and are now being prepared for publication.

The exchange of ideas and experiences through these various channels has lead to a growing pool of best practices, many of which are applicable to other rapid innovation processes. For example — although every local Jam is different (sometimes wildly so), there is a general consensus that forming teams around ideas generated in a mass ideation session is more productive than creating a balanced or random team, and letting them grope for a common project idea. It has also become clear that giving the development process a certain level of structure to balancing the Jam’s fundamental freedom is useful. For example some Jams suggest and even teach various methods through the weekend (ethnography, service blueprint, business model canvas etc) or have the teams pitch ideas in compulsory “Dragons’ Den” feedback rounds at critical points during the weekend. This balance of structure and freedom offered by some local Hosts and Mentors distinguishes the Jam from other “hot cooker” events like Hack-a-thons, which tend to be quite unstructured for much of their duration.

Although the fidelity and robustness of the prototypes has increased at every Jam, the Jam is still mostly not oriented towards project output. “It’s a Jam”, says co-initiator Adam Lawrence. “A musician does not go to a jam session to record an album — that’s what a studio is for. He jams to challenge himself, learn new techniques, find new collaborators. If a few grooves from the jam session end up on a recording, that is a bonus — but the intangible outputs are more important. The Global Service Jam is the same. Some Jam projects have gone on to become real, but it is more common for techniques to be adopted, or for new cooperations and even companies to form.”

Nevertheless, another potentially valuable role for the Jam outputs is starting to emerge. “Many hacker events are tech-fests”, points out co-initiator Markus Hormess. “They are great projects, but they are not always very meaningful in direction. We are left with the question ‘why?’. The Jams can answer that — they are very strong on the ‘why?’ question. We can imagine the projects generated in Jams being passed on to hacker events, and then perhaps start-up weekends. That would be a great path to explore”.

The Jam format is already finding wider acceptance, with the team behind the Global Service Jam and Global Sustainability Jam recently being invited by the government of Australia to cooperate in running a GovJam, a pilot event which saw satellite Jams in Europe, Iran and Australia cooperating with a mothership in Canberra to Jam around the challenges facing the public sector. “A Global GovJam may not be far away (*)” says Lawrence.


(*) “In fact, after this interview took place, the Global GovJam was indeed launched by the same team who ran Global Service Jam. In June 2013, GovJams took place in dozens of countries, linking citizens and innovation experts to government workers, ministers and even one Prime Minister’s office”.

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