The Innovation Cell within the United Nations Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs (DPPA) met with the creative firm Altimeter Group in 2021. At the time, we were still living through an intense phase of the COVID-19 pandemic and our discussions evolved around the transition that would occur when people began to return to the office following a year of remote work. Our initial interest in designing a set of “dialogue tools” to ease the transition from on-screen to in-person gatherings eventually developed into in-depth questions about the potential for objects to translate meaning and facilitate crucial conversations.

What is the Shape of Innovation? is a facilitated group activity that pairs uniquely designed objects with language commonly encountered at the United Nations and asks participants to consider complex concepts - like diplomacy, trust, and security - from a fresh perspective. As we continue to learn from each workshop session, we build a repeatable exercise that elicits new ideas and insights each time it is run.

To establish a foundation for the workshop, we invited artists and designers to work across various media and create one-of-a-kind objects inspired by word pairings - qualitative attributes paired with the vernacular of the United Nations. What is the texture of resilience, the weight of dialogue, or the movement of diplomacy?