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By David Bloomgarden

MIF in a Sandpit

Oct 4, 2016

Photo by David Bates

When you’re working in a “Sandpit” at the MIF, you won’t find a sandbox meant for kids. Instead, when we refer to a  Sandpit, we are talking about an intensive, interactive and interdisciplinary workshop designed to generate radically innovative solutions to specific challenges.

Originally designed in the United Kingdom to facilitate processes of scientific innovation, the MIF used the Sandpit format to engage innovators with different profiles to develop a set of proposals aimed at the question, “how to transform poor neighborhoods into smart neighborhoods” in order to develop solutions that are unique and unexpected and not likely to be achieved through the normal MIF project identification channels.  By combining different professional disciplines - software programmers, community organizers, lawyers, engineers and city and state officials to name a few, the Sandpit forces its participants to ask questions that in another context would not be raised, and to form partnerships between actors with very different disciplines and professions, which are rarely happens in professional routines outside the Sandpit.  

As guests of the state of Jalisco and the City of Zapopan, the MIF held a five-day Sandpit workshop from October 18 to 23 for 25 participants plus two members of the community representing the neighborhood of Paraisos del Colli. The objective was to come up with innovative ideas for the challenge of converting poor neighborhoods to smart neighborhoods. 

Photo by David Bates

After breaking down into components the problem and the challenges to be faced, the participants formed competing teams to generate viable ideas to address these challenges. The workshop was run by expert facilitators, KnowInnovation Inc., while mentors from the MIF, the Jalisco state government, and an outside technology expert provided advice on content to the participants.  What is amazing in the group dynamics of a Sandpit is that it combines both collaboration and competition; what our facilitators labeled “collaboratition”.  Out of this mix, the teams collaborated and shared ideas as well as competed for the opportunity for funding from the MIF and other sponsors. 

On the last day of the event, the solutions were presented by the teams to a selection panel of judges consisting of Brigit Helms, General Manager of the MIF, Jaime Reyes Robles, Secretary of Innovation, Science and Technology of Jalisco, and the Vice President of Cisco Systems de Mexico that decides on the eligibility of funding from the selection panel  based on their level of innovation, scale, sustainability,  development impact  and the potential to be tested within 6 months after completion of the Sandpit. 

Althought the judges only selected two projects that will have the opportunity to enter the MIF pipeline of project, each of the projects presented were innovative, with each of the corresponding teams committed to further explore opportunities either with the State of Jalisco, the Cisco Innovation Center, or the MIF. One project uses affordable rainwater storage and a technology and financing package that results in water, energy and financial savings for cities and households to address the stress on water supply in Mexico.  The other selected addressed the information asymmetries faced by internal migrants into informal urban settlements.  This project developed a unique business model and interactive platform to provide migrants with information on services, jobs and housing both where they are and where they are heading.  

Photo by David Bates

The Sandpit gave the MIF the opportunity to meet new partners and develop new and innovative projects concepts.  It also brought people together around a common challenge who may not have had the opportunity to collaborate before. Moreover, as informal settlements grow and along with the growth of cities in Latin America and the Caribbean, the Sandpit generated new ideas that we may not have considered before to answer the question of how to convert poor neighborhoods into smart neighborhoods.  We often think of innovation as what you do but innovation is as much how you do things and the process as what you do.  In this case, the Sandpit methodology resulted in new and innovative project ideas on “what to do”. 

Learn more information on the winner's projects:

Ruta SOS 

Ruta SOS helps migrants to seek and identify job opportunities by region, to generate practical, simple, digestible and useful information to improve decision-making for those in search of new challenges. This is done through a web platform that combines the reach of geographic information systems with opportunities for education, housing, employment / income and health are offering at present and thus make a good link between the demand and offer.


Decentralia proposes a technological leap in designing a decentralized system scale generation and consumption of basic services, allowing for better management of scarce resources. This system would accelerate coverage of high-quality basic services at a lower cost for municipalities and utilities, while in harmony with the environment, through an intelligent use of technology and information systems.

Categories: Blogs, Inclusive Cities

David Bloomgarden

David Bloomgarden

David Bloomgarden is the Chief of the Inclusive Cities Unit at the Multilateral Investment Fund (MIF). Before joining the MIF, David was Deputy Director of the Office of Multilateral Development Banks in the U.S. Treasury Department’s International Office.

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