Innovating Inward

A new cohort of NSIN fellows is designing breakthrough solutions to several field-wide challenges

N Square / November 9, 2020

In September, a new cohort of fellows joined the N Square Innovators Network (NSIN). With 32 members, it’s one of the largest NSIN cohorts to date. The new fellows are a mix of current and emerging leaders in the fields of nuclear nonproliferation, security, disarmament, and/or arms control. They hail from several countries and represent more than a dozen organizations. Nineteen of the fellows are women, many of them spearheading efforts to elevate women’s voices in the field.

“It’s an incredible group of people,” says N Square DC Hub director Sara Kutchesfahani. “We are blown away by the enthusiasm they’re already showing for learning and working together.”

The N Square Innovators Network attracts nuclear professionals eager to partner with creatives—and with one another—to gain practice in designing innovative solutions to pressing nuclear risk reduction challenges. “The network is built on the idea that we can get big leaps in innovation when we engage people with diverse experiences and perspectives to work together on prototyping new approaches and solutions,” says Kutchesfahani. 

While prior NSIN cohorts have spearheaded a range of creative projects designed to advance the field’s mission—from forging new routes for engaging the public in nuclear issues, to leveraging emerging analytics to track threats to humanity, to creating pathways for connecting educators to nuclear experts and curricula—this new cohort has a slightly different brief. They’ll be advancing the field’s mission by turning their collective energy toward critical issues internal to the field. 

As N Square’s 2019 Greater Than research report revealed, basic challenges within the field are serving to inhibit its ability to innovate, collaborate, and attract and retain the best and brightest minds on the planet. The report surfaced the need and the opportunity to reimagine the nuclear risk reduction field in four key areas:

  • How might we redesign the culture and structures of work to enhance cooperation and improve outcomes, in the Covid-19 world and beyond?
  • How might the field begin to practice hiring and advancement with a DEI lens, valuing new and different types of professional and cultural competencies?
  • How might we ensure that the field has a shared definition of excellence in leadership and develops the best pathways for mentorship?
  • How might we build the field’s capacity to operate as a cooperative and collaborative system by creating (and training) cross-organization, cross-function teams that work together on projects?

Working virtually and in teams, the fellows are exploring strategies for driving change in these four areas, developing their best ideas into prototypes that can be operationalized. Each team has access to expert consultants in fields related to the four topics as well as a host of facilitators, designers, and creative professionals well-suited to realizing the teams’ ideas and goals. 

Two fellows from each team will then pilot their prototypes within their organizations in early 2021, sharing their preliminary findings with the rest of the community in March 2021 at the N Square Innovators Summit. These “anchor” organizations include Beyond the Bomb, the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control, Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR), Women’s Action for New Directions (WAND), the British American Security Information Council (BASIC), Women of Color Advancing Peace, Security & Conflict (WCAPS), and the New Models of Policy Change project at New America’s Political Reform program.

“Our fellows and others in this space have expressed an overwhelming desire to improve how the field operates, so we’re taking a little bit of time to look inward,” says Erika Gregory, N Square’s managing director. The hope is that tackling these issues head-on will help strengthen the field at its foundations, ultimately accelerating the ability to innovate, collaborate, and deliver on its most audacious goals. Says Gregory: “This cohort is our big bet that working together we can spark the kinds of change that nuclear professionals want and need in order to do their best work.”