Unseal: Creating the Conditions for Cross-Sector Collaboration, by Julia Lindpaintner


Unseal, designed by Julia Lindpaintner, is a speculative organization committed to creating environments and experiences that facilitate open communication and cross-sector collaboration. The idea for this organization was borne of a desire to foster transparency in and between sectors, industries, and communities. Based on personal experience, Julia felt strongly that openness about personal and professional struggles results in a stronger sense of connection, understanding, and trust, all of which are fundamental to successful collaboration. The project also responds to a growing demand for transparency from organizations and an increased focus on corporate social responsibility.

 

“I think this approach is scalable and could be used address any number of issues, whether combating income inequality, destigmatizing mental illness, or responding to the growing elderly population.”

 

This line of thought grew out of the first assignment: redesign the next thing you throw away. In Julia’s case, the discarded object was a freshness seal peeled off a yogurt container. During early ideation, she became intrigued by the message that these seals convey.

Ostensibly, freshness seals signal food preservation and safety (or at least a lack of tampering), and yet as Julia considered where they are encountered, she uncovered a contradicting interpretation. “You don’t find freshness seals on homemade jam you buy at the farmer’s market. They are usually found on products that have traveled a long way and have passed through many hands to get to you. So actually, when you could read a freshness seal as a symbol of distance and an unknown journey,” argues Julia. Using the seal as a metaphor, she began to think about the way that silo mentality and lack of transparency actually make environments less safe and productive.

Julia explored this theme by considering one of the United States’ least transparent systems: the criminal justice system. The United States has the largest prison population in the world, and has a much higher incarceration rate than other Western countries. The criminal justice system—from law enforcement to courts to corrections—is fraught with problems, such as systemic racism, disproportionate sentencing, and failure to rehabilitate inmates. These problems are exacerbated by lack of resources and counterproductive incentive structures, resulting in incoherent and inequitable carriage of justice and our current state of mass incarceration.

What began as an attempt to increase accountability by creating more transparency within the system soon became a week-by-week exploration of some of the most troubling and contentious issues in criminal justice reform. Learning about the many areas of dysfunction in the system, Julia began to envision interventions on many fronts.

As part of the class, Julia imagined strategic partnerships between criminal justice reform groups and companies such as Six Flags or Oculus. This exercise revealed the possibilities that emerge when you create unconventional partnerships. Given that criminal justice reform has bi-partisan support and is one of President Obama’s top priorities, Julia saw an opportunity to tap into the resources and expertise of other sectors and industries to address the issues and implement solutions more quickly. Julia envisioned a conference called Cross Cut, a summit that would bring together representatives of all sorts—corporations, academic institutions, non-profit organizations, advocacy groups, and experts—to open dialogue and come up with new ways to address criminal justice reform.

The brochure for the event begins to build out the vision: what organizations would take part, how they might be grouped, and therefore, what kind of solutions they could come up with. “For example,” Julia suggests, “if the Harvard Negotiation Project, Corrections Officers USA, and Seekers Unlimited (an Edu-LARPing company) united, perhaps they could create an immersive training program for corrections officers to teach the conflict de-escalation and resolution skills that are currently lacking.”

Ultimately, Julia was most excited about creating this pathway toward productive cross-sector collaboration. In envisioning this conference, she conceived of Unseal, the overarching organization that would champion this effort. Based on the TED model, Unseal would pursue its mission by facilitating this kind of experience, among others. Unseal calls upon all industries to come together to share expertise in service of solutions, not only for criminal justice reform, but across many verticals. “I think this approach is scalable and could be used address any number of issues, whether combating income inequality, destigmatizing mental illness, or responding to the growing elderly population,” Julia says. She is continuing to develop her understanding of transparency and interdisciplinary collaboration, and hopes that Unseal may spur ideas about new ways to collaborate for the common good.

 

Unseal Mission
Unseal is an organization committed to creating environments and experiences that facilitate open communication and cross-sector collaboration. We believe these are the necessary conditions for designing effective, sustainable solutions to our most pressing social, economic, and environmental problems.
 
Unseal fulfills its mission through a number of initiatives, partnerships, and programs. We hold monthly Cross Cut conferences, which bring together corporations, non-profits, government agencies, academic institutions, interest groups, and experts to generate proposals to address a given issue. We pair the participants in unconventional ways to elicit surprising solutions. At least one solution from each conference is selected for development and implementation.