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Bridget Gildea

Bridget is an Intellectual Forum Visiting Scholar.

Bridget Gildea is a consultant working at the nexus between applied learning, technology, behavioural insights (BI) and public policy, including building innovation in government programmes, applying behavioural science approaches to learning and skills and knowledge acquisition, thinking about the future of work and social justice, and creating international higher education collaborations and partnerships.

She is the Founder of the Curiosity Incubator | Accelerator for Good, which launched at the Intellectual Forum, and takes the entrepreneurial incubation and acceleration methodology and applies it to problems in the public good sphere.

She also leads the Applied Learning portfolio for the Institute of Innovation and Public Purpose at UCL, headed by Professors Mariana Mazzucato, Rainer Kattel and David Eaves, and has a portfolio as a freelance Consultant for Public Good, working on the application of behavioural science in the For Good universe.

Recent projects included working with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine on its policy work, the European Climate Foundation on applying behavioural science to its climate initiatives, and with Cambridge, designing projects e.g. on data orchestration models in cities’ response to Covid-19 to help better support their most vulnerable citizens.

Previously as the Director of Programme Development at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, she founded policy executive education programmes, including the world’s first applied learning programme teaching behavioural insights in public policy. She also created partnerships with the MacArthur Foundation, for a programme on BI and corruption control in Nigeria; with the Robert Bosch Stiftung in Berlin for a programme at Harvard for Members of the Bundestag, and a 5-year partnership with the National School of Government in Brazil.

Before this, she had several roles and careers including at the BBC, the British Film Commission, and the Foreign & Commonwealth Office US Network.

What are you working on now?

Having launched the Curiosity Incubator (video below) at the IF, I’m now thinking about what the Accelerator for Good aspect of the programme should be. The Curiosity Incubator had an amazing first year, far outdoing our goals, and attracting really fantastic, curious, diverse participants from all over the world, including from the WHO, Open Society Foundation, US Department of Energy, UN, NHS, Ofgem (UK energy regulator), Eden Project, and many others – and has launched its first bona fide social purpose enterprise in sustainability, together with the help and advice of colleagues at the Cambridge Institute of Sustainability Leadership.

Now it’s time to think about how to take our ‘Learn Globally, Act Locally’ approach farther out into the world, and further into our local behavioural environments and contexts. Professor Jaideep Prabhu, whose scholarship includes Jugaad Innovation and How Should a Government Be, is a core part of the Curiosity Incubator programme, and his thinking has challenged me and the Curiosity Collective of participants to be more adaptable, global, and ambitious in finding out what works to solve our most pressing problems - so watch this space.

How has your career to date led to this?

I love questions like this, especially in the context of women in leadership, because it gives me the opportunity to say: kind of exactly the opposite way than what a lot of received wisdom in think pieces on LinkedIn and in the Harvard Business Review say it should! I think it’s really important to know that it can happen in these more unconventional or even ostensibly haphazard ways, especially for women at the beginning of building their careers as there’s so much restrictive and reductive advice around which is in my experience both really difficult and quite boring to try to follow. 

The short answer is I went from film and TV production into a film quango with transatlantic/internationalist focus, and from there I went to the States and led a higher education policy portfolio for the FCO US Network, and from there was asked to join Harvard Kennedy School of Government to create learning programmes for public policy practitioners from my perspective as a practitioner myself. At HKS, I learned an entirely new field of behavioural science, as well as the forefront of academic and practitioner thinking about digital transformation, innovation in Government, and applied learning curriculum creation – all of which I do now. 

What one thing would you most want someone to learn from what you’ve done or are doing now?

Appropriately for someone who thinks a lot about learning, the core important element I’d like more people to think about is the importance of prioritising self-directed, ongoing and solutions-oriented learning as we look to the future. It’s clear that, as we move forwards, the future of work is going to be deeply connected to our continuous ability to learn and gain new skills in an increasingly flexible way at a quicker pace.

Additionally, I think some key elements of social justice, and work to create a more equitable society, is very much linked to upskilling, reskilling, and learning for us all. How we approach this from a policy and programmatic perspective really matters. Often programmes are created (whether policy or educational) without working extensively with the users and learners of those programmes themselves to design the most effective pedagogy and content for them.

So I think our ability to learn about and pay attention to how different people learn is going to be critical in the next few years on a societal level. This is one of the reasons why I’m particularly interested in user-focused design (and practitioner-focused applied learning) flowing out of a behavioural science framework for creating learning programmes, for their potential to be a multiplier to effect change as well as help people learn important stuff.

What do you think of Jesus College and the Intellectual Forum?

The IF is unique in the Cambridge universe, both for its approach to multidisciplinary thinking and its roster of fascinating events across many different topics and disciplines. It has been great to experience, and to get to know colleagues at Jesus and all over the world – the strength in the diversity and breadth of experience was fundamental to creating new initiatives like the Curiosity Incubator as well as really fun to find out what each of us has in common and the value we can contribute to each other’s work, as well as to the life of the College.

You can meet the rest of the Intellectual Forum team or contact us via email.