PART OF WHOLE: Bio-inspiration for designing hypothesis

Written by Azza Rajhi, Head of Experimentation

7 décembre 2020


When I discovered the website and its slogan "it's time to ask nature", which calls for the urgency to listen to and reconnect with Nature as a source of knowledge and intelligence, an idea came to my mind: I have always considered human beings as species that act on the world by constantly interrogating its transformative capacity with the resources and means it possesses and masters. I have forgotten that this human being, myself, the one who claims to be able to find solutions to this world, am a part of this world and that I am an integral part of the ecosystem-Nature: "all living things depend on resources and ecosystem services made available through interconnected webs of relationships that compose the living system that is Earth itself. ». This implies a change in posture and positioning. In fact, it would imply turning to Nature for help, but not by merely exploiting natural resources in an almost parasitic way but to humbly ask natural ecosystems and beings to provide us with solutions which far from being 'primitive' can enable us to solve many puzzles we are facing as a species.

To define Design, Herbert A. Simon says that "Everyone designs who devises courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones" so how might we build biomimetic solutions to design challenges to improve some aspects of our lives? And how do biomimetics allow us to go beyond artificial human phenomena and explore an even wider field of nature?

Finding inspiration in nature is not a new idea. The practice has been common throughout the history of mankind. Getting inspiration from nature to design and imagine products has always been a concern for humans. The dream of flying and discovering the sky is proof of this. Take also the example of artificial intelligence, one of the most sophisticated concepts humans have created which is based on a series of hypotheses about how the human mind works.  But imitating nature to innovate in a sustainable way is an idea that makes sense. Biomimicry has this ambition.

In the scientific, technical and industrial fields, the field of applications for biomimicry is vast and varied: from agriculture to industry and architecture, the prospects for innovation, economic activity and job creation look promising.

The Accelerator Lab, through its pragmatic approach based on evidence and tests, is trying to design a learning protocol. Experimentation always starts with a hypothesis, one which is nurtured by exploratory work and collective creativity or built from a structured intuition. What if our learning cycle begins with a naïve hypothesis, whose aim is to explore rather than to verify? In order to dig in this direction, we have tried to build hypothesis inspired by the 'biomimicry' approach in order to propose possible courses of action concerning municipal information.

This idea is inspired by a book entitled “Inspirations [S], The Sustainable Development Goals Explained Through Nature”, which revisits the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals from the perspective of bio-mimicry in order to put an end to poverty, improve the living conditions of a large part of the world's population while preserving the environment.

Biomimicry: drawing inspiration from nature to design testable hypotheses

Far from claiming to actuate biomimicry in an integrated way, it is rather a question of applying bio-inspiration to generate hypothesis proposals. If the Accelerator Lab usually draws its inspiration and feeds from social innovations and grassroots solutions, this time the lab believes that we have so much to learn from living things and nature because animals and plants practice sustainable development and innovation on a daily basis. It is therefore possible for us to develop hypotheses in order to reinvent our learning cycle and to have other sources of inspiration.

The lab was able to identify a learning process, the inventory of municipal information as practiced by the municipality, which, as put in evidence, lacks citizen ownership and struggles to bring together the actors of the territory and create a desire for participation in local life.

The diagnosis, explained on our previous blog,  shows that it only serves to report news or to invite the population to events. Creating desire, carrying out collective projects, co-writing the territory, putting citizens in contact and enlightening them are major challenges for the creation of territorial resilience and creating a climate of trust conducive to the creation of a new sense of belonging. Municipal information plays an important role in this sense and must be thought of as a public service to be designed, and as a system to be reinvented.

Theme 1

The coral reef is natural bio-constructed formation hosting corals which develop in a precarious and nutrient-poor environment. In order to survive, corals have developed an advantageous and beneficial relationship with algae. How do they do this? Almost all the products of the photosynthesis of algae are passed on to the coral. In return, the coral reef produces proteins and carbohydrates that are used by all other organisms.

What can we learn from this relationship? In a resource-poor environment, collaboration and exchange could provide answers and even make the situation more advantageous. In our case, municipalities and their administrations struggle to find financial and human resources to implement local public policies and city projects addressed to the whole community. What if the municipality created an ecosystem of advantageous collaboration with unusual partners and actors? How could competences outside the municipality be federated to pool collaborative projects from which all stakeholders would benefit? Who would be interested in this collaboration?

From this reflection, several pathways seem relevant to explore:

-          Explore and identify the ecosystem of stakeholders-collaborators with a project-oriented approach to collaboration; the municipality could begin this mapping work by reconnecting with partners from the past, identifying actors from local civil society, forging links with the networks of creative people and volunteers in its territory and calling on local initiative bearers.

-          Design strategies and protocols for collaboration where everyone wins. In order to build a healthy and long-lasting collaboration, it is important to set up an ethical and motivating framework for partners: communication and visibility, honorary titles, exchanges of services, etc.

-          The municipality needs to also self-assess its own capacities and resources in order to understand what it can offer to this network of stakeholders and where its place is within the ecosystem.


in a context of lack of resources, if the municipality manages to create win-win collaborations, then it will be able to better disseminate its services.

Theme 2

According to Wikipedia, a virus is an infectious agent requiring a host, often a cell, whose metabolism and constituents it uses to replicate itself. In other words, in order to spread and multiply, the virus needs a carrier agent.

By analogy, in order for it to spread and become more present in a given territory, municipal information needs an intermediate carrier. It has difficulty seducing a public in search of attractive aesthetics and meaning. Due to a lack of creativity and resources, the communication materials and supports utilized are weak. On the other hand, it is necessary to express oneself and communicate in Arabic and/or French with a sustained language as you are obligated to do so by law. But beyond form and rhetoric, territorial communication is perceived as cold, arrogant and very distant by the population. If there are restrictions and limitations in the public sector, then we must turn to other systems that are more fluid, free and agile. It is therefore a question of giving voice to other people who will carry municipal information and who have the freedom to bypass the codes of public affairs. How? We propose these avenues:

-          Identify hosts who carry information: give a voice to artists, bloggers, influencers, local grocers, small businesses so that they can spread the message and become municipal ambassadors.

-          Identify hosts who carry the message: change the traditional channels of distribution by favoring local media, fanzines, posters.

-          Identifying 'support' hosts: integrating the culture of the immediate and the ephemeral: Instagram stories, Facebook stories

-          Identify transforming hosts: thwart the graphic codes of communication media by making creative graphic DIY tools available (open-source, collages, template pages).


If municipal information is disseminated by transmitters from outside the municipality, then it will be closer to the citizens and will be transferred in an organic and independent way without being restricted to the limits of the municipality's communication mechanisms.

Theme 3: What if territorial information were to take the form of experiential pedagogical content?

Cheetahs learn hunting techniques from their mothers. This learning process lasts about two years and is based on observation and play. From the age of 6 months, the little cheetahs "learn by doing" in the field. From this process we learn two things: 1) learning is done from an early age and 2) the transfer of skills is done through observation (setting an example) and practice (being in the field). If we want to project this model on the theme of municipal information, whose role is essentially pedagogical, we will then dare to imagine the ambition to learn the paradigms of municipalism and citizen participation from the youngest age of citizens; by drawing inspiration from amateur practices such as do-it-yourself, popular education, and by building on emerging trends such as school at any age, Moocs…etc. We will be able to establish a continuous learning of citizenship and territorial issues such as sustainable development, democracy, education and inclusion. Citizens would be in continuous training to acquire, through practice, new experiences.

This could be a matter of testing lifelong learning/training/schools, and without having fixed ideas about the content, in order to train through practice. One could also consider exporting the paradigms of citizen participation or democracy, concepts that are difficult to be appropriated by citizens, and introducing them in schools, kindergartens or children would vote, participate in class councils, propose innovative solutions for their schools and thus participate in building a participatory ecosystem from an early age.


If municipal communication played its pedagogical role in deconstructing the municipality through training at all ages, then there would be citizens with civic skills that they would implement in their daily lives.  

The Accelerator Lab is used to building hypotheses from understanding the contexts of organic community innovations by implementing sense-making and exploration protocols. With this post, we wanted to propose hypotheses inspired by the instinctive intelligences found in Nature and carried out by its agents. So, thank you Mother Nature!