AFTER EIGHT: Headlines on N Square's Impact in the Nuclear Field

Page 1



March 2023

2 Framework for Success



Managing Director

Erika Gregory

Editorial Director Jenny Johnston

Creative Director Myrna Newcomb

Operations Manager Lisa DeYoung

After Eight: Headlines on N Square’s Impact in the Nuclear Field © 2023 by N Square is licensed under Attribution-NonCommercialNoDerivatives 4.0

International. View a copy of this license here

the Collaborative
OUTCOMES 6 Growing a Network and Expanding Engagement 18 Building Capacity 22 An Innovation Ecosystem and the Power of
24 N Square Funders on the Value of
25 Foresight in Action: The IAEA Safeguards Symposium
Building Momentum for Change
N Square Funders on the Value of the Funder Collaborative
Horizon 2045
NETWORK IMPACT 28 Innovation in Action 36
BY DOING 46 Where We’ve Tripped Up (And What It Taught
50 What’s Next

A New Kind of Initiative

Eight years ago, five of the largest peace and security funders in the United States—the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Hewlett Foundation, Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Skoll Foundation, and Ploughshares Fund—launched an initiative with the intent to inspire new ways of working on nuclear challenges. That initiative was N Square.

Our funders recognized that while the community tackling nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament issues had achieved numerous successes over several decades, it was also small, siloed, and shrinking,1 even as threats posed by nuclear weapons continued to grow. Throughout the field, they saw immense dedication but also a notable lack of reliable, replicable processes to innovate, harness the power of networks, or disrupt the status quo. So, in an act of collective intention, they activated just such a strategy together.

Since that time, the world around us has changed in ways we could hardly have anticipated, making progress on some of our shared goals even more difficult and our capacity to solve problems creatively even more important. And yet N Square’s original mission, then and now, has held steady. That mission is to accelerate the achievement of internationally agreed goals for the reduction and ultimate elimination of nuclear weapons by attracting new human, technical, and financial resources; introducing innovation and design methods; creating collaborative environments and frameworks; and hosting an interdisciplinary, cross-sector network that works together to develop new concrete solutions to pressing problems.

N Square was originally conceived as a two-year pilot program. Eight years later, we are still creating new offerings, forming new partnerships, building and weaving our network, and observing the many ways in which individuals and organizations in the field are expressing new perspectives and practicing more collaborative methods. We’re still here, eight years in, because demand for and acknowledgment of the value of our programs is steadily increasing, because several of our founders have consistently reinvested in the experiment they themselves created, and because of compelling evidence of N Square’s impact both inside and outside the nuclear realm. We are seeing that mindsets and culture are shifting in this field, and that an inspired new generation of insightful, adaptive, cooperative leaders is ready—in fact, eager—to bring new models, new insights, and new energy to this issue space.

And yet … change is all around us. While dynamics in the field are demonstrably shifting, nuclear dangers are at a new zenith, making a world free from nuclear weapons seem perhaps as distant as it has ever been. Funding is constrained. We at N Square are not immune from all that; we feel it too. And so we have entered a period of active reflection about where we are, where we are going, and how we can best continue to serve our goal of helping the nuclear field become a place where the best, brightest, and most diverse professionals come to do their most creative work.

We have always made it a point to be transparent about our strategies, to model adaptiveness to change, and to learn out loud. This report is no different. Within it, we share data about N Square’s impact over the last eight years and how we are thinking about what we see as a crossroads. Later, we’ll share a follow-up to this report that reveals what we’ve decided to do next, how we’ve taken the input of our network and our funders into account, what we ourselves have observed and learned, and what we think the implications are for the field. We see exciting times ahead, even if they are not yet fully clear.

1. Sarah Bidgood, “Undergraduate Disarmament and Nonproliferation Education: Gaps, Opportunities, and New Approaches,” The Nonproliferation Review, Vol. 26, Issue 3–4, August 16, 2019: 329–340. Early iteration of the N Square logo, circa 2014


We have long used a simple framework, developed collaboratively with our founding funders and with guidance from Jewlya Lynn of PolicySolve, to organize N Square’s goals for impact.

The left side of the framework focuses on outcomes— that is, the specific and often measurable nearterm effects of our work in/on a particular target population. We have focused on three basic outcomes: (1) to create and sustain a network that engages nuclear professionals and experts in other disciplines and fields, (2) to build the capacity of individuals within the network to innovate and to collaborate (and ideally to do both together) by introducing them to new tools and approaches to problem-solving around nuclear challenges, and (3) to see (and encourage) a new ecosystem of support begin to rise up around this way of working. That support includes tools and technologies that foster collaboration and innovation as well as funders and organizations other than N Square taking on part of the work of championing the network and the innovations emerging from it.

The right side of the framework focuses on impact— that is, the longer-term and even systemic effects of the outcomes we just described. Establishing and assessing impact requires stepping back from the closer-in work of achieving outcomes to consider the broader effects that work might stimulate. From the outset, we have been focused on three interconnected areas of impact. First, we wanted to see innovations emerging from the network that reflect a new way of looking at and working on entrenched needs and problems in the field, and to see some of these innovations begin to achieve reach and scale. We also wanted to see these innovations—both projects coming out of the network and new shared processes for approaching problems and finding solutions— begin to have an impact on nuclear threat reduction and the field’s ability to achieve it. Third, we hoped that all of this work would add up to the field having reliable capacity to innovate, with nuclear professionals feeling more supported and encouraged to use collaborative methods and to prioritize cross-sector, transdisciplinary problem-solving.

Of course, not all N Square activities focus on just one outcome or impact area; most act on several or even all of them at once. Also, it’s important to be clear that N Square has never presumed that we had the expertise necessary to have a directly attributable impact on nuclear proliferation or disarmament challenges. Instead, we’ve taken a systems view: If we want different nuclear outcomes, we need to rewire the system that produces those outcomes, which, by extension, means rethinking how the nuclear field operates.

In this report, we share how we and others think we have delivered on these goals and how that learning will inform what we do next.


N Square Framework for Success


A Collaborative Network That: Engages and Maintains Engagement of:

• Innovators and influencers within technology and media fields

• Leaders and emerging leaders within the nuclear threat reduction field2

While Building the Capacity of Members to:

• Collaborate, prototype, iterate, and provide feedback

• Understand audiences, identify needs, and design solutions

With Support From:

• Existing nuclear threat organizations that take on implementation of key activities

• Existing and new funders that support the network and fund in ways that incentivize innovations emerging from the network

• Tools and technical assistance to facilitate members engaging with one another and in innovation

Leading to Innovations Emerging From the Network That:

• Directly respond to or create a “demand” from their target audience

• Include new tools, technologies, processes, and other ways of responding to the problem

• Begin to be scaled to expand their reach and impact

Leading to Impact on Nuclear Threat Reduction Through:

• Full implementation of tools, technologies, and ways of responding to the problem

• Adoption of new policies and practices

• Use of new framing

• Expanded or shifted public awareness

Leading to Significant Changes to the Nuclear Threat Reduction Field Including:

• Having a culture and clear incentives that encourage and actively support innovation

• Having leading organizations prioritize innovation and adapt their practices to be more innovative, collaborative, and engaged across sectors

• Having more ways for those outside the nuclear threat reduction field to engage in the work

• Having innovations emerging from the network adopted and scaled

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2. The nuclear threat reduction field here is defined as inclusive of all stakeholders involved in eliminating the threat from nuclear weapons, including foundations, national labs, NGOs and activist organizations, academics, government inclusive of intelligence services (national and state), international governance, and the private sector.


The specific and often measurable near-term effects of our work in/on the nuclear field



122 N Square Innovators Network fellows

337 Active members of the N Square Mighty Network

1,553 N Square newsletter subscribers

Individuals and organizations in the nuclear field tackle complex, dynamic problems on which no single actor can make progress alone. But at the time of N Square’s launch there was little to no focus on collaborative innovation, making it difficult for anyone to see their work as part of or connected to a larger, more diverse, and more powerful system of effort. We set out to counter this disconnection by fostering a larger sense of shared vision, community, and process—a new ecology of problem-solving—within the field.

An Emergent Strategy

2,089 Individuals in our database

Building a diverse, collaborative network of nuclear professionals and experts in other fields was not our first step, nor was it something we could do without first better understanding the culture, the structure, and the complexity of the issue space—the system—we aimed to influence. In our first two years we primarily acted as a re-grantor, making seed investments in innovative projects that other funders might have considered too speculative or “fringe.” Our role was to take risks that are sometimes difficult for established foundations to justify. Yet that work of re-granting ultimately proved unsatisfying; it felt that we were funding at the event level3 rather than in ways designed to shift systemic structures or mental models.

3. Kambiz E. Maani and Robert Y. Cavana, “Systems Methodology,” The Systems Thinker, 25 November 2017. The graphic at right was also adapted from this work.




This observation coincided with several other factors that shifted both staff and funders’ perception of N Square’s value to the field:

We published the Opportunity Guide and people put it to use. The Opportunity Guide was designed not for nuclear expert audiences but for innovators in other domains— data scientists, neuroscientists, game designers, educators, anthropologists, engineers, and others— who were largely unaware that their expertise could be invaluable in solving nuclear challenges. The guide broke the nuclear problem space into “verbs” that correspond to leading-edge work our target audiences were already doing to communicate, educate, innovate, negotiate, monitor, verify, detect, prevent, deter, disarm, and secure, providing natural points of connection.

To our surprise, not only did colleagues from other fields see themselves in our call to action but so did political scientists and nuclear engineers at Sandia National Laboratories in both Albuquerque and Livermore; ditto colleagues at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. What we all held in common, as it turned out, was a mission to develop a more diverse community of practice that would benefit from the knowledge transfer that happens at the intersections between differing disciplines and professional domains. Clearly, we all sought a new kind of network

We sponsored a live-streamed series on the Reinventors Network loosely based on the Opportunity Guide.

Co-hosted by futurist and former Wired Magazine editor Peter Leyden and N Square managing director Erika Gregory, the series aimed to illustrate how bringing people from many different disciplines together to lend their perspectives on innovative ideas around nuclear security could be a gamechanger in this space. The Reinvent Nuclear Security series comprised six topics:

• Engaging Millennials

• The (Nuclear) Future We Want

• Game-Changing Technologies

• An Alternative Future for the National Labs

• Recruiting Next-Gen Innovators

• Expanding the Role of “Outside” Organizations

Each episode featured examples of the very audiences we sought to attract, from innovators in sensor technologies and the “internet of things” to faith leaders, material scientists, entertainers, and world-renowned futurists. Their own networks joined our viewership, proving our hypothesis that if we could get better at framing nuclear issues in ways that speak to target audiences they would indeed be willing to step into this issue space


The Network Lifecycle

• Map the issue, stakeholders, existing connections

• Connect and engage stakeholders

• Nurture network stewards/leaders

• Define and create different entry points to the network, reflecting a range of interests

KnittheNetwork KnowtheNetwork

• Evaluate network effectiveness and impact

• If transforming: Refine/ redefine network value propositions

• If transitioning: Distribute reusable assets (including knowledge)

• Grow and diversify network participation

• Build enduring trust and connectivity

• Decentralize network functions

• Spread, deepen, diversify network strategies

• Begin to work together; pilot strategies

• If needed, establish shared structures and processes (e.g., norms of engagement)

• Develop systems for ongoing learning and adaptation

| MARCH 2023
T r ansf orm or T r a n s i t i on th e Network Grow the Nework Organize t he Ne t w o r k
Created by Monitor Institute by Deloitte

We prototyped a new sort of fellowship. In partnership with Creative Santa Fe, Nuclear Threat Initiative, Rhode Island School of Design, and PopTech, we hosted Disruptive Futures, a weeklong immersion into the past, present, and future of nuclear issues as viewed from Santa Fe, New Mexico. The group of 50 participants included career national and global security professionals; public intellectuals; personnel from both Sandia and Los Alamos National Laboratories; nuclear deterrence advocates; nuclear deterrence critics; financiers, artists, and media producers from multiple disciplines; and others. Over the course of five intense days, the group grappled with the paradoxes, dilemmas, and complexities inherent in the nuclear weapons enterprise, looking for opportunities to approach stuck challenges alongside colleagues embodying very different forms of knowledge and know-how.

Buoyed by the success of Disruptive Futures, which earned N Square and our partners the 2017 Most Significant Futures Works Award from the Association of Professional Futurists, our team returned from Santa Fe ready to develop a full-fledged strategy for recruiting and maintaining an Innovators Network devoted to diversifying the field of actors working toward nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament goals. We now had evidence that a recurring fellowship program, with the diversity and energy of what we had just produced with our partners in Santa Fe, would be a key feeder program for such a network

We partnered with existing networks. Since we had determined to focus on network building, we made the strategic decision that rather than pursuing the costly, time-consuming process of recruiting individual members it would be faster and more effective to partner with existing networks full of the very people we aimed to attract: PopTech, TED, Singularity University, Games for Change, and Hollywood, Health & Society. The success of our network strategy traces back to these partnerships individually and collectively. We owe a debt of gratitude to the extraordinary and highly collaborative leaders of these partner organizations: Leetha Filderman, president of PopTech; Pat Mitchell and the staff of TED; Kate Folb, director of Hollywood, Health & Society; the staff of Singularity University; and Asi Burak and Susanna Pollock, former and current presidents of Games for Change, respectively.

The Innovators Network

We designed the N Square Innovators Network around the premise that nuclear weapons constitute the quintessential “wicked problem”—that is, a complex of different problem types, from disputes to puzzles to dilemmas, all of which require multidisciplinary approaches.

Since Horst Rittel and his colleagues at UC Berkeley first established wicked problem theory in 1972,4 practitioners have observed that novel solutions are more likely in environments that harness cognitive diversity, which we define as a combination of diverse heuristics (rules, tricks, and shortcuts, often unconscious, for problem-solving) and diverse mental models (ways we model the world around us to make sense of it). Because cognitive diversity reflects and is influenced by other forms of diversity— gender, culture, ethnicity, age, geography—we believed that we needed to cultivate heterogeneous professional networks to make progress on nuclear challenges. In her book Politics and the Bomb, Sara Kutchesfahani (until recently a member of the N Square team) makes similar observations about the historic role of diverse epistemic communities in the creation of nuclear nonproliferation agreements, noting that “epistemic communities [become] more active and institutionalized…during times of uncertainty.”5

In designing the Innovators Network, we drew on ENGAGE, a body of work developed for the Rockefeller Foundation by the Monitor Institute, widely considered to be a leader in the cultivation of social impact networks. The resulting model (see network lifecycle diagram) has informed the design and facilitation of the Innovators Network ever since.

Since its inception, the network has offered a new kind of “home” for nuclear professionals eager to partner with creatives, with experts from other fields, and with one another to gain practice in designing innovative solutions to pressing nuclear risk challenges. It also offers experts in other fields an onramp to involvement in the design of these solutions and the nuclear issue space more generally.

4. Horst W. J. Rittel and Melvin M. Webber, “Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning,” Policy Sciences, June 1973. 5. Sara Z. Kutchesfahani, Politics and the Bomb: The Role of Experts in the Creation of Cooperative Nuclear Non-proliferation Agreements (Routledge, 2013).

The Innovators Network fellows themselves are a vibrant cross-sector group of technologists, game designers, policy experts, diplomats, Hollywood filmmakers, and others tackling nuclear challenges together in new ways. To date, there have been six cohorts of Innovators Network fellows. Each cohort spends roughly nine months learning and practicing the methods of creative, collaborative design, ultimately producing an implementable set of projects that address real-world needs in the nuclear field. Most fellows actively engage as alumni once their fellowships are complete.

The Innovators Network is significantly more diverse professionally, ethnically, geographically, cognitively, and in terms of gender than any other similar initiative we are aware of in this space. While the majority come from the United States, nearly four dozen fellows hail from Great Britain, a dozen from other European countries, and a handful from Nigeria and Brazil. Others come from Mexico, Turkey, Cyprus, Cameroon, Australia, India, and Pakistan. While their projects vary widely, all innovation fellows learn and follow the same innovation process and the “innovation mindsets” that support it.

The Innovation Process

The innovation process begins with an imaginative leap—a novel set of associations—but is based on a reliable series of steps.


The Discover phase of the process invites participants to learn about the ways that similar challenges are solved, to get inspiration from inside and outside the field, and to practice a user-centered approach to solving problems of practice.


The Define phase of the process translates insights gathered from the discovery exercises to define, refine, and make meaning of the challenge. This section relies on intuitive, empathic principles and the collective genius of the group.


The Do phase of the process asks teams to “work in a different way” by brainstorming and prototyping solutions. Teams will create an expression of their best current thinking and test that out through user testing and other critical feedback.

Developed jointly by the N Square team and The Nucleus Group

10 AFTER EIGHT | MARCH 2023 2 1 3 6 5 4
“As someone working around the edges, I have found the network of N Square fellows working across a variety of security questions to be valuably integrated and open.”

Cohorts 1, 2, 3

Each of our first three cohorts of Innovators Network fellows organized themselves into smaller teams to address real-world nuclear challenges that would benefit from fresh thinking. Using the innovation process (see diagram) as their guide, each group developed a large set of promising ideas before converging on, then prototyping, specific solutions. While the focus has varied from team to team and cohort to cohort, new fellows have had the opportunity to learn from, integrate, or refine concepts generated by earlier cohorts.

Cohort 1 Themes

• Expanding: How might we engage new people, facilitate new partnerships, and enable the development, integration, and adoption of new ideas and approaches related to nuclear threat reduction?

• Reporting/Monitoring/Warning: How might we identify, track, and understand developments that pose a threat to humanity?

• Verification: How might we better articulate the problems and opportunities in the nuclear verification space so that people without expertise understand the issues and feel empowered to contribute?

• Visibility: How might we use cultural pressure and social influence to spark innovation and create policy changes that reduce or eliminate nuclear danger?

Cohort 2 Themes

• Learning & Human Factors: How do we connect educators and individuals interested in learning about nuclear threats to active experiences, simulations, and other unique resources related to the topic?

• Art, Science & Nuclear Threat: How might we foster the development of artistic work with lasting impact on this issue?

• Creating Personal Participation: How might we shift attitudes about weapons from being essential for safety to being detrimental to survival?

• Narrative Building, Sensemaking& Disinformation: How might we guard against susceptibility to various forms of disinformation and misleading narratives?

Cohort 3 Themes

• Connect the Dots: How might we create new platforms that educate and engage new audiences on the topic of our nuclear reality?

• Tell the Story: How might sharing nuclear stories through multiple lenses and mediums create new knowledge and understanding?

• Do Something About It: How might exploring new forms of action around nuclear and other intersectional issues unlock opportunities to bolster engagement?

Cohorts 4, 5, 6

By popular demand, Cohort 4 was composed almost entirely of leaders and staff members from nuclear field NGOs eager to improve the culture and structures of work, to value new and different types of professional and cultural competency, to practice excellent leadership, and to act as a more cooperative system. The Cohort 4 fellows worked in teams to create prototypes that addressed challenges internal to the nuclear field that they believed stood in the way of collaboration and innovation.

Cohort 5 was an “accelerator” program designed to further advance nearly a dozen of the most promising concepts to come out of the first four cohorts. With support from Carnegie Corporation of New York, N Square provided both financial and technical support for these fledgling Innovators Network projects.

The most recent cohort, Cohort 6, is considering nuclear weapons as an artifact of the Anthropocene, posing questions about how we will manage life on Earth 70 years in the future—and what the successful, lasting elimination of nuclear weapons would mean in a world in which we face other interconnected existential threats.

With each successive cohort of fellows, we are deliberately knitting a professional and social network that encourages participants to challenge conventional wisdom and to reach across the invisible but numerous boundaries that tend to divide them. We’ve watched as our members form deep, long-lasting relationships by working together on real-world challenges, drawing on proven design and innovation models to develop creative, fresh solutions.

“I’m proud [of what] N Square has done… in terms of creating a vibrant network that allows for information/idea transfer between creatives/scientists/futurists/ policy folks/etc.” FUNDER

The Innovators Network Over Time

This illustration shows the radiating connections between ideas coming out of each cohort, as well as the increasing size and scale of the network. The project ideas, which are described on page 11, opportunistically touch on each other, without strictly growing from or following one another, eventually coming together into a more coherent whole.

Read about the first three cohorts—the fellows’ experiences and their projects—in our publications on each cohort’s work.

2018 1 2018 1 2019 2
AFTER EIGHT | MARCH 2023 13 2020 3 2022 5 2023 6 2021 4
Graphic adapted from a design by Brian Payne for our Cohort 3 book Remote/Connected

86% Participating in the Innovators Network provided them with new and potentially valuable connections


Being a fellow added value to or would lead to a change in the way they do their work

The Network Beyond the Network

93% They expected to gain new insight into strategies for reducing nuclear threat

93% Being part of the Innovators Network would enable them to achieve more than they could achieve alone

79% They learned new skills or had been exposed to new topics as a result of participating in the Innovators Network

N Square’s Role in the Network

We’ve believed from the start that we could achieve greater outcomes and impact by increasing the numbers and broadening the types of people collaborating with nuclear experts, while also cultivating an esprit de corps among network members. While the Innovators Network sits at the center of N Square’s network strategy, our actual network has grown vastly larger, comprising funders, partner organizations, and a diverse range of professionals and organizations introduced to N Square through existing network members, through collaborative projects, through our own outreach, or through events, trainings, websites, and other touchpoints.

This “network of networks” features many nodes (and more than 2,000 people) that connect and reconnect around new challenges and opportunities, effectively acting as a new kind of dynamic ecosystem for collaboration and problem-solving. The configuration of the network is constantly changing, with some members moving into the center, some serving as nodes that draw multiple other nodes together, and others acting mostly from the periphery. A healthy network needs all these levels of engagement.

Catalyzing, sustaining, and growing a network is not a passive pursuit; it requires consistent care, feeding, and cultivation. N Square plays an active role in the network as convener, champion, matchmaker, and accelerator, steadily engaging in the work of connecting people, ideas, and resources and helping members find new pathways for advancing their work through collaboration and connection. Doing this well requires the whole N Square team to work with a network mindset. This means prioritizing “openness, transparency, relationship building, and distributed decision-making,” “operating with an awareness of the webs of relationships [we] are embedded in,” and “cultivating relationships to achieve the impact we care about.”6 Our core network-building activities include:

Weaving social ties.

N Square is one of the only organizations actively working to foster social relationships and a sense of esprit de corps in the nuclear field. Our innovation summits, brown bag lunches, project launch parties, and “nuclear mixers” have attracted robust crowds, with participants often drawn as much by the company as by the ideas being shared or discussed. These events have been attended not just by nuclear experts but by experts from a range of fields, creating opportunities for cross-issue conversation and shared learning.

Accessing new and diverse perspectives.

Over time, N Square’s network has grown not just larger but more diverse—and not by accident but by design. Notably, working with a network mindset has helped the N Square team identify a throughline of common purpose among seemingly unlikely individuals, organizations, and networks. For example, in 2021 N Square forged a partnership with the Black Speculative Arts Movement, a vibrant international community of afrofuturists, academics, and political activists who intersect with our interest in the future of global security and finding strategies

14 AFTER EIGHT | MARCH 2023 Fellows Survey:
“Bringing in new and often creative voices from different sectors: very refreshing and enlivening approach.”
“I applaud the collaborative nature of N Square amongst its staff, fellows, and between industry organizations.”
6. Description of “network mindset” and categorization of network-building activities comes from Diana Scearce, “Catalyzing Networks for Social Change: A Funder’s Guide,” Grantmakers for Effective Organizations and Monitor Institute, 2011.

“A colleague of mine suggested that it would be interesting to participate in this network, as a fun way to apply our design skills to a new area. Three years later, it’s one of the biggest projects I’m working on.”

“I am on a collaborative project with another N Square fellow at the moment and we connected because we were both N Square fellows. I’m not sure we would have taken the time to connect otherwise.”

“I felt like I didn’t quite fit in with the traditional nuclear community, which worried me when I was trying to find my footing. When a call for applications for the fellowship came around, I applied as I wanted to be a part of what seemed like a very supportive, creative, and open community.”

“I like loosely being part of the network. I enjoy going to events/meeting/spaces and seeing fellow innovators there and exchanging a few words. There’s a lot of power in feeling broadly connected to something.”

“Ambassador Bonnie Jenkins encouraged me to apply for the N Square fellowship. I … applied and got to know smart, innovative, talented people in the industry working to reduce nuclear dangers. N Square’s work to reduce global nuclear threats and its unique approach is exactly what we need to break the gridlocks and stasis in nuclear policy. I have immensely benefited, learned, and also unlearned lessons and approaches of analyzing nuclear policy and strategy.”


Innovation Mindsets


Innovation operates through rapid cycles of creating, testing, learning, refining, and restarting. These iterations progress our efforts toward a better solution to the challenge at hand. Iterations move us toward a solution, though not in a straight line.


The process of innovation involves periods of divergence when it is best to gather a lot of different inputs and explore different options, and periods of convergence when editing and curating those inputs is important. This rhythm of divergence and convergence is a feature of iterative cycles. As the process of progressive approximation gets close to a proposed solution, divergence becomes minimal and convergence predominates.


When working collaboratively, it is important to ensure that we are talking, thinking, and working at the same “altitudes.” At different points in the process we may need to consider the meta level—thinking about systemic issues at the 100,000-foot view; the macro level—thinking about sub-systems at the 10,000-foot view; or the micro level—on-theground details at the 1-foot view. In this project, meta may pertain to a worldview or the meaning of nuclear threat and trends in our national conversations; macro may pertain to the fields of nuclear materials or weapons in general; and micro to individual sites or the needs of specific groups and individuals in that space.

Progressive Approximation

Since the innovation process occurs in short sprints, it encourages experimental trials that may not always work out. Prototyping is a good way to work when we do not start with the answer in hand. Because the world is dynamic and needs change over time, we also acknowledge that we can never create a fixed, perfect solution. Overall the innovation process is one of progressive approximation—getting closer and closer to a great solution, in a spirit of continuous improvement and tinkering.

Embrace Failure— Fail Forward, Learn Fast

In this process, we aim to learn about the ways in which our developing ideas are not working, so that we can change course before too much time and other resources have been invested. Finding out what’s not working is necessary failure—without it we won’t learn what will work best. Learning from failure is immediately fed forward into the next iteration of the solution.


Our work will be done in a small team of diverse perspectives. Ideally, each team member holds a different role so your team is made up of diverse and complementary perspectives. This process benefits from everyone’s creativity, not just those who hold “design” positions. Everyone working on a team is familiar with the challenges facing us in nuclear threat reduction, and therefore we are all capable of thinking about causes and designing solutions.


Adapted from the work of Collective Invention (Arnold Wasserman, Fiona Hovenden, Erika Gregory)

for ridding ourselves of nuclear weapons. That partnership brought 25 new members into our network and those connections continue to flourish, with more collaborations coming.

Openly building and sharing knowledge. N Square has made a practice of creating opportunities for fellows and network members to learn from one another and to gain exposure to alternative frameworks for approaching and solving problems. Our growing list of trainings (discussed below in the capacity building section) are central to this effort. Through publications and events, we also work to “spread the word” about ideas, insights, and innovations that we believe the nuclear field and those beyond it should know about.

Survey Results: The Value of the Network

In November 2022, we surveyed a range of stakeholders who have engaged with N Square through the fellowship program and the larger network, Mighty Networks, trainings, technical support, mini-grants, and other ways. Forty-nine people participated, including a mix of senior-level through early-career professionals both within and outside the nuclear field. Some respondents have been heavily involved with N Square while others have touched N Square activities only lightly. In that survey, they identified the five network and fellowship strategies they perceive as being of highest value:

Creating infrastructure for widespread engagement.

Running an international network requires a robust online platform. In 2021 we moved to Mighty Networks, a tool that fosters peer-to-peer networking and enhances our ability to provide live programming and professional development opportunities. Mighty Networks allows us to track engagement in numerous ways and to streamline what we already do best, which is connecting people and creating a shared space for ideas to flourish, this time on a platform that allows us to scale. More than 300 people have joined our Mighty Network in the months since it launched, roughly 50 percent of them nuclear professionals.

Coordinating resources and action. Partners in the N Square funders collaborative have committed to provide financial support for some of the most promising concepts that come out of the Innovators Network. The Carnegie Corporation of New York, in particular, after having earmarked requests for proposals and welcomed pitches from N Square innovators, provided a tranche of funding to take a select docket of projects further. This led to the creation of an experimental program in which N Square offset accelerator grants with technical support from our team and from our partners at Altimeter Design. A dozen projects participated.

• N Square’s role as a connector, grounded in knowledge of what different partners are good at and interested in

• N Square’s credibility, and thus ability to advance thinking in specific places that otherwise wouldn’t consider new ideas, new approaches, and new partnerships

The people in the network (those in the field and those from outside)

• Participation in the fellowship, particularly due to the diversity of participants and the in-person events

• Bridging established experts with others, including those younger in the field and outside the field

“I think the most value is in the creativity; and while I know it can be challenging to encourage creativity in a space where people are resistant at times, I think that is where N Square brings the best value.”
“The diversity of the network brings fresh perspectives to a historically closed and opinionated field.”


200+ People have gone through N Square trainings

10+ N Square courses designed and delivered

A key part of N Square’s work to cultivate the field’s capacity to achieve effective outcomes has been connecting nuclear professionals with new tools, approaches, and partners for doing so. From our early days, we have designed and delivered courses7 that collectively create a new “lingua franca” for innovation in the field, giving nuclear professionals (including next-generation leaders) a shared set of methods and tools they would have been unlikely to encounter otherwise.

2 New courses created in 2022

Our first wave of courses, launched in 2017, introduced N Square Innovators Network fellows to a host of design-based practices to support creative problemsolving. Over the last several years, we have added other courses that, taken together, serve as the bedrock of the Innovation Fellowship program. This roster of skill-building courses included modules on:

Human-centered design and innovation methods: A survey of the methods at the core of N Square’s approach, from problem identification to audience segmentation, from rapid prototyping to effective critique process

7. N Square courses have been developed jointly with our partners and consultants at The Nucleus Group, Altimeter Design Group, TechChange, PolicySolve, Prospect Studio, Arizona State University’s Center for Science and the Imagination, and Hollywood, Health & Society.

“I think presenting nuclear experts with new tools for thinking about the way the field works and what its future might look like [is] invaluable. Absent such tools, pre-existing mental models stay stuck, even as the world around us changes. Capacity building work like this catalyzes creativity, and the nuclear world strongly benefits from such creativity.”

“I really, really appreciate the hundreds upon hundreds of hours that y’all have devoted to this process…. Lord knows, NGOs such as mine are in dire need of additional strategizing tools in our toolboxes.”

“I think anyone working in NGOs or on complex, large-scale issues (thinking of climate change, poverty, public health, etc.) would greatly benefit from [the wicked problems] training because it helps to put the problem you’re trying to solve in perspective and provides new ways of problem-solving/the tools to do so.”

Design research:

A module on qualitative research and fieldwork for the purposes of designing new programs, tools, and services that actually get adopted because they meet both tacit and explicit needs of their users

Persuading, engaging, and communicating: Created through a partnership with The Nucleus Group, a module on building new types of messages and reaching new audiences about nuclear threats

Exponential technologies: Offered in partnership with TechChange–The Institute for Technology and Social Change, courses introducing blockchain, quantum computing, and other emergent technologies for nuclear experts

New Courses

Meanwhile, within and outside the fellowship, demand for our courses has continued to grow, leading us to create additional modules to share with the field.

Wicked Problems

In September 2022, we piloted a new six-module learning experience on wicked problems designed to stimulate new kinds of problem-solving in

relation to nuclear challenges. Led by N Square managing director Erika Gregory, the course was created in direct response to requests from our growing network to focus on building the capacity of both existing and emerging leaders so that they are better equipped as a field to generate and act on powerful strategies that disrupt the status quo. The course helps participants understand the characteristics of wicked problems and techniques for working with them and then begin applying that learning to current, real-world work.

Systems Thinking

“I would recommend this course to all policy practitioners, regardless of policy specialisation, because I think that systems thinking is far too rare in policy even though it’s extremely applicable.”

Our new course on systems thinking for the nuclear weapons system, developed for N Square by Jewlya Lynn, focuses on three characteristics of systems: visible systems behaviors, hidden systems dynamics, and the interconnections between systems that are influenced by similar behaviors, myths, metaphors, mental models, and worldviews. The course gives participants familiarity and practice with three specific tools for systems thinking: systems mapping, storytelling, and the “futures mindset.” During the




Can take a long time to evaluate solutions

Solutions are not right/wrong, but better/worse

Wicked Problems



Has multiple causes & manifests at multiple scales

course, small groups surface nuclear weapons systems interventions that could accelerate nonproliferation/disarmament goals.

“I found the collaboration with systems thinkers and designers really valuable and have learned a lot of new methodological approaches through this interdisciplinary work.”

Strategic Foresight

Our module on strategic foresight has been informed by partnerships with the School of International Futures (SOIF), Arizona State University’s Center for Science and the Imagination, afrofuturist Lonny Avi Brooks, and several others. The course was piloted with several audiences. The feedback we received has informed a refinement of the course under the leadership of futurist Pupul Bisht (now N Square’s director of strategic foresight), whose work focuses on countering colonialist frames in futures work.

To date, roughly 50 participants have completed the new systems thinking and wicked problems courses. Ploughshares Fund, Global Zero, NTI, and numerous other organizations in the nuclear field had staff go through N Square’s systems thinking and strategic foresight course, signaling a desire to develop shared methods and language to support greater strategic coordination and collaboration.

Participants in the course learn methods for tracking and understanding the implications of economic, environmental, social, political, and technological change in relation to nuclear challenges, then crafting future scenarios that allow the community to “rehearse” strategic options ahead of time.

“Training for strategic foresight and systems thinking—without these, we are just going round in circles within a rationality and resulting policy logic that are (I would argue, by design) quite literally closed systems that allow no ‘rational’ exit.”

By demand, we will offer a systems map course that centers the Horizon 2045 nuclear system map* as a tool for field building, engaging new audiences, and cutting across ideological divisions. Using the same techniques that led to the creation of the Horizon 2045 nuclear systems map (now being

are never completely solved
Every solution ramifies throughout the system Every wicked problem is connected to others Straddle organizational & disciplinary boundaries Multiple stakeholders with conflicting agendas
problem is unique
is no clear problem definition
“Wicked Problems–Transition Design Seminar 2023,” Carnegie Mellon University.

translated into interactive form), this module will help leaders, changemakers, and funders gain a “topview” of the system in which they operate so they can reduce redundancy, identify levers for change, and coordinate efforts and investments.

* For more on Horizon 2045 and the systems map, see page 44

Why Is N Square Training Having an Effect?

“I’m using this content in real time at my day job. It’s very impactful.”

“Nuclear policy and advocacy fields are brittle (and the latter also rigid—a bad combination). So there really is very little capacity right now, suggesting capacity building is very important!”

It is intentionally designed

Our team has a depth of experience building and facilitating collaborative training courses.

It addresses an absence

There is a lack of training of this nature in the field (and training designed to give people outside the field an entry point).

It embraces collective learning

Many of our trainings are “cohort courses,” with participants working alongside others to learn and apply new skills to boost individual and collective impact.

It is intradisciplinary

Our courses encourage and enable collaboration across organizations, disciplines, and fields.

It is responsive

Feedback is built into the training, helping us hone and shape existing offerings and design new ones in ways that are tailored to changes in the field and to the needs of nuclear professionals.

Survey Results: The Value of Capacity Building

Respondents to our November 2022 survey perceived the following aspects of N Square’s capacity building efforts as high value:

• N Square’s skill at identifying what the field can benefit from and when, and then offering it (e.g., the shift to include futures thinking)

The quality of the content provided

• The opportunity to collaborate with systems thinkers, designers, and futurists (not just learn from, but do work with)

• The ways in which capacity building helps to unstick mental models the field currently holds, catalyze creativity, and respond to how the world is changing around us

• The value of systems thinking to start conversations, change perspectives, address the complexity of the problem, and move beyond immediate tactical challenges



Critical to the success and scaling of the N Square network—and in building and scaling impact beyond the field—has been our ongoing investment in an expanding set of partners from other fields who have now deeply committed to working on nuclear threats, including:

• The USC Annenberg School’s Hollywood, Health & Society Program (entertainment and media)

• PopTech (technology and popular culture) The Nucleus Group (framing and messaging)

• Rhode Island School of Design (design and problem-solving)

• ART NOT WAR (mobilizing new publics)

• Games for Change (virtual reality and video games)

• The School of International Futures (futures)

• Arizona State University’s Center for Science and the Imagination (futures)

• Altimeter Design Group


N Square introduced Games for Change to nuclear innovators at Princeton, leading to the creation of the virtual reality experience On the Morning You Wake.

Each of these partner organizations began as an N Square grantee or contractor but now collaborates directly with prominent organizations in the nuclear field. Some are on retainer or under contract with nuclear organizations while others have raised funding to pursue new projects on their own. Examples of these nontraditional peer-to-peer collaborations on key nuclear challenges:

RISD professor Tom Weis has formed an external design firm, Altimeter, to handle the demand he has received since joining our community. His clientele has grown to include nuclear NGOs and think tanks, government agencies, the UN, and the US Navy Seals, among others. The methods he practices and the services he provides have impacted clients’ cultures as well as their publicfacing strategies. Of particular note is Altimeter’s collaboration with Sandia National Labs on a series of strategic foresight initiatives called Strategic

Implications of Future Trends (SIFT)

The Hollywood, Health & Society Program is working with NTI, N Square, and Ploughshares, offering storytelling workshops for nuclear professionals while educating and incentivizing screenwriters to develop more accurate and compelling stories about nuclear issues.

PopTech is collaborating with NTI and scholars at Duke and Northwestern to explore the nexus between cognitive science, behavioral economics, and risk.

The Nucleus Group is offering workshops in messaging and “polarity management,” an approach to addressing dilemmas, paradoxes, and opposing ideologies.

N Square invested in and cultivated a relationship with Games for Change, introducing them to nuclear innovators at Princeton, leading to the creation of the virtual reality experience On the Morning You Wake.

N Square has, to date, not had capacity to track secondary or tertiary benefits of our investment in these organizations. But we believe that strengthening ties between these partners and building a culture of shared learning continues to accrue to the benefit of all. N Square plays a unique role as convener and facilitator of the learning between and among these diverse contributors and their new colleagues in the nuclear arena.

Engaging N Square as a Partner

N Square is not just an orchestrator and connector but an actor within the network as well. We have acted as consultant and/or service provider to colleagues at Global Zero, the IAEA, Safecast, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Institute of Nuclear Materials Management, the National Nuclear Security Administration, and Sandia National Laboratories. In these engagements the


N Square team has designed and facilitated workshops on innovation, scenario planning, and human-centered design and consulted on the development of new programming, organizational redesign, and strategic planning.

Examples of other N Square partnerships:

• As a direct result of its collaboration with N Square over the last few years, the IAEA Safeguards Division has obtained agreement from leadership and member states to engage external partners who will help to accelerate innovation in both tools and methods that advance the IAEA mission. A case in point: For the first time ever, the 2022 Safeguards Symposium centered on future scenarios, developed in partnership with N Square and, with our support, the School of International Futures (SOIF). These scenarios surfaced drivers of technological, social, and political change that will shape the strategic landscape around international nonproliferation, verification, and monitoring efforts.

• Organizations are seeking expert help from N Square and from our frequent partner, PolicySolve founder Jewlya Lynn, on matters related to organizational redesign, systems change, field building, and collective impact.

• We have partnered with the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), the world’s oldest independent think tank on international defense in security, to introduce strategic foresight to members of the Project on Nuclear Issues (PONI).

• The IAEA, Sandia National Labs, and the Institute for Nuclear Materials Management have all commissioned N Square and our partners to develop interactive workshops on safeguards, trust building, and foresight.

• N Square, NTI, and RISD’s Center for Complexity are the core collaborators at the heart of Horizon 2045, a new initiative that uses systems thinking, strategic foresight, and deep research and experimentation to accelerate systems change and bring about a full nuclear weapons prohibition by 2045. (See page 44 for more about Horizon 2045.)

• The School of International Futures (SOIF) and N Square will soon announce a formal partnership in the international nuclear challenges arena. The combined capacity, expertise, and networks of our two groups dramatically increases our ability to provide strategic foresight services and training to the nuclear community.

Tina Cordova, cofounder of the Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium, was featured in the video series #stopinvestingindestruction, a campaign developed by Daron Murphy of ART NOT WAR in collaboration with Outrider and accelerated by N Square (see page 33).

Foresight in Action: The IAEA Safeguards Symposium

In early 2022, our colleagues at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reached out to N Square to design a futures engagement for their 2022 Symposium on International Safeguards: Reflecting on the Past and Anticipating the Future. The IAEA is integral to nuclear safety and security, charged with carrying out programs to maximize the contribution of nuclear technology to society while verifying its peaceful use through safeguards, as stipulated in the Treaty on the NonProliferation of Nuclear Weapons.

The request from the symposium organizing team was to lead a scenario effort focused on the IAEA operating environment in the year 2057 (their 100th anniversary) with a group of stakeholders from the international safeguards community. Every four years the Safeguards Symposium serves as an important milestone where nuclear experts and stakeholders from around the world gather to discuss the current state of safeguards. For this reason, it was important that this work pushed the community to explore the impacts and implications of key drivers and trends not just of today, but 30 years into the future. Given N Square’s focus on foresight and design we were perfectly positioned to support this work.

We brought in our core foresight partner, the School of International Futures (SOIF), to lead the multistakeholder scenarios effort; we also brought in long-time design partners at Altimeter Design Group for the immersive design elements. Recruiting and managing crosssector partners to advance work in the nuclear field is what we do best at N Square and this collaboration was no different.

The “Beyond Human” card from the Drivers 2057 deck. Designed by Altimeter, the deck is an invaluable tool for exploring the key contextual forces that are shaping the future operating environment for international safeguards in the run-up to the year 2057. The deck invites users to generate mini-scenarios to surface assumptions, identify opportunities, and expose blindspots. Using the deck, the safeguards community can rehearse different versions of the future and design more adaptive strategies for dealing with the rapidly changing context in which it operates.

In the months leading up to the symposium, our team of collaborators convened 35 participants from 17 organizations, comprising nuclear experts, scientists, researchers, and next-generation foresight practitioners from around the world. We led the group in a horizon scanning effort looking for relevant signals of change across sectors, then the process of identifying drivers and trends that could impact the world of 2057, and finally the creation of creative scenario narratives designed to push the thinking of the safeguards community. This work culminated in a takeaway set of “driver cards” specific to safeguards, the construction of three experiential “futures rooms,” and presentations

about the work and process from the main stage each day at the symposium.

In a final plenary live poll, roughly 80 percent of symposium participants said that they find foresight work valuable and feel that more is needed. Indeed, the outputs of this particular work are already informing various efforts and being carried forward by others in the safeguards community. We are grateful to the IAEA Safeguards Symposium organizing team for inviting N Square to support a project that helps embed futures thinking tools, methods, and approaches in the everyday work streams of nuclear professionals.

Summarized from a longer post by Morgan Matthews, N Square’s deputy director, about this collaboration.


The longer-term and even systemic effects of network outcomes

Clockwise from top left: “Getting Bombed” comedian Chris Reinacher with guest Jim Walsh; graphic from Radioactive Roadtrippin’ video; Amnesia Atómica in Times Square; installation from the experiential futures room “Greenolution” at the IAEA’s 2022 Safeguards Symposium.



The general public remains relatively uninformed about nuclear weapons and the threat of nuclear war. What if educators had easy access to engaging, compelling materials on these issues? And what if nuclear experts took the lead in creating them, effectively forming a community of experts committed to sharing their knowledge with the world? NRiched is an online marketplace platform that brings active and experiential learning resources into in-person and virtual classrooms. The platform facilitates connections between students, educators, and experts working in the field of peace and security, enabling teachers and professors to invite experts into the classroom, connect students with mentors, and help experts recruit the next generation.

NRiched was a Cohort 2 project and is now in the beta stage of development. The team continues to recruit more experts to serve as mentors

Fellowship Projects

During their fellowship, nuclear professionals partner with creatives, with experts from other fields, and with one another to design innovative solutions to pressing nuclear risk reduction challenges. After learning and practicing the methods of collaborative design, each cohort (working in small teams) prototypes novel solutions to real-world nuclear challenges. The first three cohorts alone developed nearly two-dozen viable prototypes, several of which have been implemented or are still in development.

Examples of fellowship projects that launched in the real world:


Datayo is a new kind of open source insights platform to identify, track, understand, and prevent security breaches that pose a threat to humanity. The goal is to increase security for everyone—not just those countries that build and maintain nuclear weapons or that are wealthy enough for advanced intelligence systems—by enabling us to discover important nuclear truths for ourselves through open source data gathering and analysis. The collaborative data platform busts up the silos that keep people from connecting seemingly disparate pieces of data and empowers civil society to make novel contributions to global security.

After seed investments of $50,000 from the Skoll Foundation and Carnegie Corporation of New York, One Earth Future Foundation provided a $100,000 match to launch Datayo, now a project of the Vienna-based Open Nuclear Network.

Amnesia Atómica

Amnesia Atómica—an art installation featuring a 30-foot-tall inflatable sculpture in the shape of a mushroom cloud created by artist Pedro Reyes— opened in Mexico City in 2020 to commemorate the landmark Treaty of Tlatelolco, revitalize the once vibrant anti-nuclear community, and put pressure on political leaders, policymakers, and global citizens by informing them of the consequences of inaction. Born from a partnership forged between The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’s Rachel Bronson and international arts curator Pedro Alonzo during their fellowship, the project shows the promise of the expert community and artists working together to raise awareness of nuclear issues for global publics.

In May 2022, Reyes’s sculpture stood for a week in Times Square as part of the exposition Amnesia Atómica NYC in parallel with Reyes’s ZERO NUKES installations at the Frieze New York international arts festival, described by ArtNet as the beginning of a global campaign for nuclear disarmament. In collaboration with the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), Amnesia Atómica is beginning its world tour with installations in Stockholm, Oslo, Santa Fe, and Singapore.

Getting Bombed

A team of Cohort 1 fellows developed the concept for a YouTube series in which nuclear experts share fascinating stories of our nuclear past, present, and feasible future, all while getting increasingly inebriated. With Hollywood, Health & Society director Kate Folb as producer in collaboration with 44 Blue Productions, “Getting Bombed” premiered in 2020 and was hosted by comedian Chris Reinacher.


The four episodes of the show (see the trailer here) featured Laicie Heeley, Paul Carroll, Jim Walsh, and Yasmeen Silva

Getting Bombed episodes were viewed nearly 40,000 times on YouTube and the show was re-released as a podcast, available on all major streaming platforms.

Radioactive Roadtrippin’

Innovation fellow Natasha Bajema—an expert in nuclear nonproliferation, cooperative threat reduction, and weapons of mass destruction who has worked at the US Department of Defense, the National Nuclear Security Administration, and several think tanks and NGOs—used the fellowship to develop the concept for Radioactive Roadtrippin,’ a travelogue show produced for YouTube. In the show, Natasha travels across the United States in a truck camper with her two dogs, visiting more than 65 historical and current sites of the US nuclear weapons complex, chatting with locals and experts about the risk of nuclear war, and documenting her own life-changing journey.

The pilot episode of Radioactive Roadtrippin’ was featured at the Rockport Film Fest in November 2022.

Fellows Putting What They’ve Learned to Work

While it is exciting to see some of the prototypes developed during the fellowship program launch, the success of these initial group fellowship projects is not the primary goal. Rather, the goal is to give nuclear professionals practice in working collaboratively with one another and with experts from outside their field to design solutions to real-world challenges. Our hope is that they will then take the frameworks, approaches, and tools for collaboration they practiced back to their organizations and begin applying them in their work. Happily, we have also seen fellows launch entirely new projects and collaborations that were partly inspired by their fellowship experience. For example:

PATH Collective

Launched by four N Square Innovators Network fellows from different cohorts, PATH Collective has now raised sufficient funding (from N Square and Ploughshares Fund) to build prototypes of novel solutions using Web3 technologies— including development of a fail-safe decentralized autonomous organization with PathFinder Media,8 development of a nuclear weapons-free zone in

the metaverse now being prototyped on the Nowhere platform, and due diligence on novel crypto fundraising strategies for civil society actors engaged in nonproliferation and disarmament activities (massive aggregation of small dollar donations as well as more significant investment) and the potential for global mesh network of disarmament verification mechanisms (including societal verification, not just state-sponsored mechanisms) supported by blockchain.

Fellow Ariel Conn organized and built, a site that aims to provide a single location on the internet where people can learn about the threat of nuclear weapons, the organizations acting to address this threat, and how individuals can take meaningful action to help rid the world of these weapons.

Nuclear Content Library

Jim Walsh from the MIT Security Studies Program created a Nuclear Content Library featuring more than 200 pieces of unbranded nuclear video and still-graphic content intended for use on digital platforms such as websites, Facebook, TikTok, and YouTube—and he is making it freely available to the arms control and disarmament community. Jim was an N Square Fellow in Cohort 2; his project was informed by his collaboration with fellow cohort members. N Square edited and designed his content guide and hosted the library’s virtual launch party.

“Preventing Nuclear Catastrophe”

Soon after completing his N Square Innovators Network fellowship, veteran Wall Street research analyst David Epstein published a 74-page report, “Preventing Nuclear Catastrophe,” designed to jumpstart engagement by the sustainable investment community in nuclear issues. Epstein’s fellowship experience helped inspire and further his core research; the report was funded in part by N Square. As David explains: “There are people who know more about nukes and there are people who know more about sustainable investing. But there’s almost nobody focused on combining these two issues in a comprehensive way.”

8. PathFinder Media is the holding company media executive Mark Wheeler set up to manage rights to the book and screenplay for “Fail Safe,” now in development with Participant Media.

The Network Effect in Action

A perpetual challenge for us over the years has been finding the right media through which to communicate the many types and layers of innovation and impact that N Square has created or encouraged. How do we explain the dynamic we’re seeing, where individuals in the network are using, spreading, and embedding a network mindset in their work? How do we show that introducing certain individuals to one another or to an idea that’s new to them often sets off a positive chain reaction? The network effect (and therefore N Square’s impact) is not a linear process nor pegged to one point in time. Many of our network members operate almost like bouncing balls through the network, making different connections, touching different nodes, bringing different people and ideas together to form something new—a project, a partnership, a program, or simply a supportive and fruitful connection. Below is an illustration of this dynamic shared through a few examples.

Cindy Vestergaard

After collaborating with the Stimson Center’s Brian Finlay and Cindy Vestergaard, we sponsored their participation (along with several other innovation fellows) at the 2017 PopTech conference. While there, Cindy met with PopTech board member and N Square partner Nick Martin of TechChange and learned for the first time about the promise of blockchain. Because of N Square’s partnership with TechChange, Cindy and five other Stimson Center colleagues became certified through their online Blockchain for International Development course.

With further support from the Stanley Foundation, the NNSA, and CCNY, Cindy and her team collaborated with the Pacific Northwest National

Laboratory (PNNL) to understand challenges and opportunities for IAEA member state acceptability and nuclear safeguards.

Until her recent departure for the private sector, Cindy ran Stimson Center’s Blockchain in Practice program, which is focused on harnessing the potential of distributed ledger technology to increase transparency and streamline/secure information sharing for nuclear material accounting. She was part of the team that created SLAFKA, the world’s first distributed ledger technology prototype for tracking nuclear material at the national level and managing nuclear safeguards information.


Deborah Rosenblum

Deb, then executive vice president of NTI, was a fellow in our first N Square Innovators Network cohort. She participated on the “verification team,” which comprised both nuclear experts and industrial designers and explored the question: How might we better articulate the problems and opportunities in the nuclear verification space so that people without expertise understand the issues and feel empowered to contribute? The team believed that “newcomers” to complex nuclear challenges like verification are more likely to form effective partnerships with experts if we can present the issues using language that facilitates transdisciplinary collaboration.

Deb brought in her colleague Corey Hinderstein to work on that team.

Corey connected the team’s work to the 2018 IAEA Innovative Safeguards Symposium in Vienna. At the symposium, N Square’s Morgan Matthews presented the team’s thinking about the relationship between verification challenges, language, and innovation. The audience’s overall response was positive and encouraging, reflecting a high degree of openness to new ways of thinking—and talking— about the issues. This helped N Square lay plans to further our collaboration with international agencies, national labs, and others.

Our relationship and engagement with Deb was key in creating a deeper partnership with the Nuclear Threat Initiative and ultimately led to the creation of Horizon 2045.

Deb now serves in the Department of Defense as assistant secretary of defense for nuclear, chemical, and biological defense programs (ASD(NCB)). Corey is now the Department of Energy’s deputy administrator for NNSA’s Office of Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation.

Lesley Blume

In Fall 2020, N Square’s Sara Kutchesfahani read the book Fallout and reached out to author Lesley M.M. Blume, who also writes for The New York Times and National Geographic. Sara interviewed Lesley for her December 2020 Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists column, where Lesley spoke about the nuclear community being in a storytelling crisis

N Square staff acted as a sounding board for Lesley as she looked for angles and new articles to pitch on the dangers of nuclear weapons. Lesley also began attending N Square Innovators Network events as a participant and as a panelist.

Lesley wanted to write a piece about the US government’s impending deadline for amending the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) to include those exposed during the 1945 Trinity Test, focusing on the experiences of frontline communities. N Square introduced her to Tina Cordova, who was (and is) leading the charge for the expansion of the RECA. Tina became a lead source for the story.

National Geographic published the story in September 2021 and it got picked up by NPR and other media outlets. The article also circulated in Congress; every member of the House Judiciary Committee was given the article to read. Later, Lesley was told that her article proved influential. The article was entered into the Congressional record, and RECA legislation passed through committee on a bipartisan vote.

In May 2022, Lesley participated in an N Square Innovators Network event alongside Tina Cordova and network member Daron Murphy on “Storytelling for Change: How Stories Shape the Way We Think About the World.” (In June 2022, President Biden signed the RECA Extension Act into law.)


Sheree Renee Thomas

We met Sheree Renee Thomas, an accomplished sci-fi author and afrofuturist, through our connections with Lonny J. Avi Brooks and Reynaldo Anderson of the Black Speculative Arts Movement (BSAM).

Sheree participated in a course led by N Square for the BSAM community on “Afrofuturism 2.0 and Global Security.”

We then invited Sheree to be a key participant in the Horizon 2045 Iconoclast Summit and featured some of her work in the “Festival of Ideas” shared with participants in advance.

We have since invited Sheree to write a story for Horizon 2045’s Far Futures Lab. Her story will be part of a collection of stories exploring visions of what the world might be like 50 years after we’ve achieved a nuclear weapons prohibition.

In researching her story, Sheree traveled to White Sands, New Mexico, where she grew up. While there, she interviewed Tina Cordova about the experiences and legacy of Trinity Test downwinders.

Daron Murphy

N Square met Daron and Laura Dawn Murphy, his partner at creative agency and social impact firm ART NOT WAR, at an event about storytelling for peace hosted by Partners Global and the Skoll Foundation in Los Angeles.

Daron joined the second cohort of N Square fellows. During the fellowship, he worked on a team with Lindsey Harper of Georgia WAND. They came up with the idea of doing a digital campaign to raise awareness around the harm nuclear weapons are causing for real people in America titled “From the Bomb to Burke County.”

N Square accelerated this project in Cohort 5 and it became part of #stopinvestingindestruction, a larger campaign, developed in collaboration with Outrider, to frame nuclear weapons as a social justice issue.

#stopinvestingindestruction, a series of eight short videos, garnered over 2 million views and was favorably received by bipartisan audiences.

Elizabeth Talerman and The Nucleus Group

N Square met Elizabeth Talerman and her partner Gena Cuba of Nucleus through our partnership with PopTech when Elizabeth and other branding and communications experts became interested in partnering on nuclear challenges.

Nucleus partnered with N Square on new messaging research that, with support from the MacArthur Foundation, yielded, a messaging toolkit focused on reaching new, intersectional audiences.

Nucleus collaborated with N Square to design and deliver the first two cohorts of the innovation fellowship.

Nucleus principal Shaz Bhola went on to publish in the European Leadership Network forum about “Changing the Nuclear Narrative.”

Elizabeth, Gena, and Shaz collaborated with innovation fellow David Epstein on a toolkit for engaging the finance community in the mission to reduce nuclear dangers.

Laicie Heeley

Early innovation fellow Laicie Heeley approached N Square with the concept for what ultimately became the successful podcast “Things That Go Boom.” N Square provided financial support for the first season, but perhaps more importantly brokered a relationship with N Square partner Public Radio International (now PRX).

PRX provided Laicie, then a podcast neophyte, an expert production team and connected her to Marco Werman at the PRX flagship program “The World.”

Laicie went on to found Inkstick Media and has become a regular commentator on foreign affairs on “The World” and other public radio programs.


Epistemic Community

Not surprisingly, many N Square network members have changed jobs and moved into new positions since completing their fellowship. When they make these switches, they take the knowledge and frameworks they learned, the network mindset they’ve adopted, and the network itself with them.

As Peter Haas observed in his seminal paper “Epistemic Communities and International Policy Coordination,” “Without the help of experts, [governments] risk making choices that not only ignore the interlinkages with other issues but also highly discount the uncertain future.”9 While we don’t claim that the N Square network yet has mechanisms to influence policy innovation, diffusion, selection, or persistence (characteristics of a successful epistemic community, per Haas), we have observed the endurance of ties forged through

shared work on real-world challenges, particularly in context of the innovation fellowship.

Moreover, it is our hunch that as people move into positions of greater authority and decisionmaking they are (or will be) calling on the network from their new posts. This creates an opportunity for us to act more purposefully on cultivating relationships and knowledge transfer between diverse network members with shared political goals in and outside government.


• Deborah Rosenblum was an early innovation fellow who went on to work closely with numerous members of the fellowship program and larger network while at the Nuclear Threat Initiative. She is now the US’s assistant secretary of defense for nuclear, chemical, and biological defense programs (ASD(NCB)).

• Corey Hinderstein was also one of our first fellows, which led her to bring N Square into work with the INMM, Sandia National Labs, and the IAEA. She is now the Department of Energy deputy administrator for NNSA’s Office of Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation.

• Michelle Dover was a member of the N Square funders collaborative on behalf of Ploughshares

“The impact of their work on current leadership at extremely high levels, in addition to the inroads with so many emerging leaders, is significant—and if nurtured will have many more returns to come.”
9. Peter M. Haas, “Introduction: Epistemic Communities and International Policy Coordination,” International Organization 46, no.1 (Winter 1992): 1-35. Deborah Rosenblum US Department of Defense Michelle Dover US Department of State Corey Hinderstein US Department of Energy Allison Puccioni UN’s Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Kate Hewitt US Department of Defense Megan Garcia US House of Representatives

Fund and became an innovation fellow in Cohort 2. She is now executive director of the International Security Advisory Board at the US Department of State.

• Megan Garcia was one of the original architects of N Square as the nuclear program officer for the Hewlett Foundation. She is now chief of staff for US Representative Becca Balint of Vermont.

Maxwell Downman was a nuclear policy analyst at BASIC when he went through the N Square fellowship. He is now a Parliament researcher in the service of the House of Lords (the second chamber of UK Parliament).

• Kate Hewitt was a research assistant at The Brookings Institution and is now serving in the US Department of Defense as a multilateral arms control and nonproliferation advisor, Office of Secretary of Defense for Policy—Nuclear and Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction.

• Melissa Hanham Ullom was a senior research associate at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies and is now a senior advisor in the US Department of State.

• Vincent Ialenti was a MacArthur Nuclear Waste Solutions Fellow at George Washington University and is now a social scientist with the US Department of Energy.

• Marion Messmer was co-director of BASIC and is now senior research fellow for the International Security Programme at Chatham House.

• Allison Puccioni, an early innovation fellow, is now at the UN’s Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs.

• Danielle McLaughlin was a corporate attorney, author, and political commentator when she became an N Square fellow. The fellowship changed the course of her career. She is now co-founder of PATH Collective, a program lead for the Horizon 2045 project, and is working with the Vatican and different agencies in the UN to develop ideas that emerged from Cohort 3 and to connect nuclear issues with sustainable development goals.

• Tom Weis, professor at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) and founder of Altimeter Design, has been teaching courses on culture, design, and global security at RISD, introducing graduate design students to nuclear challenges. He has also worked closely with N Square on design and development of our network and fellowship program. This has led the US State Department to engage designers to work on verification challenges, West Point to collaborate with RISD on an exchange program of sorts for West Point cadets and RISD design students, and Altimeter to work with the United Nations, the NNSA, and the Navy Seals (among numerous others).

• Heather Hurlburt, innovation fellow and N Square partner at New America, is now chief of staff at the Office of the United States Trade Representative.

Marion Messmer International Security Programme at Chatham House Vincent Ialenti US Department of Energy Melissa Hanham Ullom US Department of State Tom Weiss Altimeter Design Danielle McLaughlin PATH Collective Maxwell Downman House of Lords Heather Hurlburt Office of the United States Trade Representative


Over the last eight years N Square’s vision for the nuclear field has held steady. We continue to envision a field in which nuclear professionals at every career stage engage in collaboration and innovation and in which leading organizations in the field prioritize, incentivize, and leverage that engagement while also welcoming and valuing the participation of nonnuclear experts in core work. Our North Star has always been the idea that the nuclear field could become a best-in-class example of creative problemsolving and innovation applied to wicked problems.

But even as we made progress toward this vision, it became clear that there were structural and cultural impediments that needed to be called out if it could ever be realized. Like any field, the nuclear field has issues, many of which had never been discussed or addressed head-on at the field level. An atmosphere of mistrust, scarcity, competition, and even open hostility made bright spots of progress difficult to see or to trust as more than short-lived. Critically, these issues were impeding the field’s progress—and its ability to infuse innovation and collaboration into its core identity.



The Greater Than Report

In June 2019 N Square embarked on a “listening tour” to better understand the conditions that enable—or get in the way of—collaboration and innovation in the DC-based nuclear arena. We conducted lengthy interviews with more than 70 nuclear professionals at all career levels. These individuals were extraordinarily candid about their challenges, dissatisfaction, hopes, and desires; their observations were honest, compelling, and sometimes very emotional. We then studied the 270 pages of data these interviews generated, looking for patterns. Ultimately we identified four core dynamics that were clearly impeding the field.10

1. Stasis and Risk Aversion

Many professionals in the field, particularly those in the early stages or middle of their career, see the field as static and averse to adapting and evolving to keep pace with a changing world. And yet they also see danger in speaking up and


challenging norms. Stasis and fear of taking risks feed off one another, helping maintain a loop where nothing can change because the call for change cannot be voiced. This dynamic keeps the field suspended in a “steady state” rather than open to exploring new ways of working—and it has an outsized impact on early-career professionals and their prospects for staying in the field.

The Inverse of This Dynamic: Reinvention and Reinvigoration

Structures and fields that regularly renew and refresh themselves are far more sustainable than those that do not—and yet this field has not yet found a way to reshape itself to meet a changing landscape of external threats and internal needs. How might this field renew itself, or even open itself to perpetual renewal? What might it look like if the field made a commitment to sustainability rather than stasis? What if individuals felt supported and heard when they voiced ideas about how the field might evolve and work better?

10. Text condensed from the “Dissatisfaction with the Current State” section of N Square’s 2019 report Greater Than: Nuclear Threat Professionals Reimagine Their Field. The Greater Than report would not have been possible without the deep contributions of Dr. Sara Kutchesfahani, who led most of the 72 interviews on which the report is based, and Dr. Fiona Hovenden, the senior research consultant who designed the interview protocol and synthesized the initial data to identify key themes.

2. Fragmentation and Competition

Interviewees described a field marked by fragmentation and lack of cooperation, with organizations largely operating as silos. Organizations often feel the need to guard their work, a dynamic linked to competition for resources and the currency afforded by the publication of ideas. Interviewees also showed concern that the field seems calibrated to reward personal gain over collective impact. One critical factor feeding this fragmentation and competition is a notable lack of shared goals/metrics at the field level; there is both an absence of and a hunger for long-term, strategic alignment and no shared understanding of what system we are all part of or how we should operate together within it

The Inverse of This Dynamic: Coordination and Collaboration

The field lacks the mechanisms, capacity, and competencies to coordinate efforts effectively, and incentives and rewards—often established by funders—can be at cross-purposes with the goal of greater cohesion. How might everyone in the field gain a clear understanding of what everyone else is doing? How might mapping the field and seeing it as a system rather than a collection of parts change how everyone works—and how progress gets measured? What kinds of supports might be needed to make cross-organizational collaboration not just possible but foundational to the field?

3. Exclusivity and Toxicity

The third theme relates to the field’s culture—both who gets to be in the field and how people are treated once they enter it. Many interviewees stated a desire for more inclusivity in the field across multiple dimensions and a wish for a more diverse funding base. While nuclear threats are global and indiscriminate, only a privileged few have the economic, political, and social resources to engage in the professional community designed to eliminate

“The Greater Than report rocked a lot of boats and it woke a lot of people up to problems that they may not have even recognized were as acute as they were. And that led to initiatives that have helped to address some of these problems. I’m glad we funded the Greater Than report and I’m glad that we gave it attention and listened. It was influential within many of our organizations in highlighting the problem and giving us the bandwidth to try to address it.” FUNDER

them, and few are comfortable with this selectivity. The interviews were also full of commentary— largely from early- to mid-career professionals— about what they saw as the field’s “toxic” culture where many are made to feel “less than,” to the point of driving good people out of the field.

The Inverse of This Dynamic: Inclusiveness and Respect

The valuing of certain voices and kinds of expertise over others, and the exclusion of diverse perspectives and backgrounds from the field, limits the kinds of technical ideas and policy solutions that will emerge. What might happen if the field came to see diversity of thought and composition as a critical core strength? How might actively inviting new perspectives into the field change or reframe our understanding of nuclear threats and how best to combat them? What if the field was defined not just by expertise but by curiosity and compassion?

4. Career Uncertainty and Lack of Structural Support

Interviewees almost universally described a field where well-defined advancement pathways don’t exist and career progressions are marked by haphazard hops from one organization to the next. Many noted a lack of clarity about how to rise up within an organization or within the field as a whole. They also described a field that lacks many of the career supports that other professions take for granted, including strong managerial and leadership training, career mentorship, and HR departments. Of paramount importance to early- to mid-career professionals was compensation—not just sufficient base pay but benefits packages (e.g., parental leave, 401(k) plans, healthcare coverage) that would enable them to imagine staying in the field.

The Inverse of This Dynamic: Clear Career Pathways and Intentional Redesign

The nuclear threat field sprang up organically, without the benefit of intentional design. This has

led to a situation where the field does not take care of its own—and many question whether having a “job” or “career” in nuclear threat reduction is even a sustainable paradigm. What if the field entered a period of intentional redesign? In that effort, how might we prioritize and show value for the well-being of our colleagues? What might career advancement look like in a field where career pathways are clear and professional support is universal?

Across the field, the response to N Square’s listening tour and our report, Greater Than: Nuclear Threat Professionals Reimagine Their Field, has been overwhelmingly positive. More importantly, the report has sparked significant conversation about the field’s dynamics as well as efforts by several organizations to improve its culture and effectiveness.

• The boards and/or executive staff of Carnegie Corporation of New York, the MacArthur Foundation, the Peace and Security Funders Group, Ploughshares Fund, Gender Champions, Physicians for Social Responsibility, the Arms Control Association, New America, Nuclear Threat Initiative, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and the Federation of American Scientists all requested and received briefings about our findings. Many have suggested that their own strategies will be informed by these findings.

• Fourteen leaders of organizations in the DC community enthusiastically agreed to form a task force to identify priorities from the report.

• The Peace and Security Funders Group is using the Greater Than report to identify and mitigate potential risks to funders in the Nuclear Funders Working Group.

• A growing number of organizations have begun to address fragmentation and lack of coordination in the field. Ploughshares Fund, Global Zero, Beyond the Bomb, Union of Concerned Scientists,

“The Greater Than report was a really important data point for us to refer to when we were trying to persuade our board to invest in strengthening the field. The report was super important for us to be able to demonstrate the need for the field to grow and adapt.” FUNDER

Physicians for Social Responsibility, and others are exploring a theme from the Greater Than report: the need to think systematically about the field’s desired outcomes and to reduce dissonance, duplication of effort, and competition—ideally through consolidation and focused cooperation.

Three years in, the Greater Than report continues to resonate and remain relevant. The report has provided an enduring common reference point to name and deal with toxic behaviors that had previously been hidden or ignored. N Square has received requests to extend our research to include nuclear professionals outside the DC policy arena, funders, and international colleagues. While the listening tour was initially conceived as a one-time, short-term project, we have watched this response closely to determine the extent to which the listening tour might become a platform for ongoing network cultivation, professional development, and field-building.

The Report’s Influence on N Square Strategy

Even before the release of Greater Than, N Square was working to “flip” the concerning core dynamics identified in the report. Our efforts to attract new human, technical, and financial resources, introduce innovation and design methods, create collaborative environments and frameworks, and host an interdisciplinary, cross-sector network that innovates together were all in some way addressing the key challenges called out in the report. And yet the report also gave us clues about new threads to pull and other pathways toward change that we were well-positioned to test and explore.

Here are a few examples of the ways that we have leaned into these insights and sought to address them:

“Wish for a more diverse funding base”

Through a combination of our own primary research and work done by N Square Innovators Network fellows, we have learned a great deal about creative ways to engage influencers who bring various forms of capital to the nuclear field—human, intellectual, social, cultural and, critically, financial capital. Much of that work is captured in this primer about alternative ways to finance change, developed in collaboration with innovation fellow David Epstein and our colleagues at The Nucleus Group, but is also informed by research we commissioned on intersectional messaging points (building on Nucleus’s excellent work on this topic).

”Averse to adapting and evolving to keep pace with a changing world”

While we were already introducing tools and frameworks to the field designed to bring new forms of thinking and problem-solving, that work accelerated with the arrival of COVID-19. The pandemic introduced a period of ongoing disruption in a field that was simultaneously facing the loss of its largest philanthropic funder. This created both urgency and opportunity for N Square to help nuclear threat professionals develop and hone critical skills for managing uncertainty and building momentum, rather than losing it, through rough periods of change. From the earliest days of the pandemic, we were determined to lead by example by adapting quickly to the altered realities of work—and to help others in the field adapt quickly alongside us. To that end, we launched an “Adapting to Disruption” series that had several parts:

1. Remote collaboration.

Because N Square’s work depends on collaboration and convenings, we used the pandemic to establish leadership in distance collaboration and innovation processes; we believed that fully remote collaboration would keep our extended community of fellows and partners connected and productive during whatever lay ahead and ensure that our projects moved forward with full momentum. We analyzed new leading-edge platforms that use augmented reality and/or advanced interactivity to enable collaboration from a distance, trained our team to play both public-facing facilitation and behindthe-scenes support roles on these platforms, and then shared our learning with the field (through brown bags, workshops, virtual mixers, and more) in service of fostering more flexibility and a new capacity to collaborate remotely.

As a result, we saw numerous organizations experiment with the tools we were piloting. Most notably, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s biannual Nukefest and Women of Color Advancing Peace, Security, and Conflict Transformation (WCAPS) events happened on the Hopin platform partially as a result of N Square’s identification of Hopin as one of the best we’d found for interaction and collaboration.

2. Foresight.

Most of N Square’s staff have a background in futures work, and bringing long-term thinking to this issue space is something we’ve been doing since our early years—for example, by commissioning futurist Jamais Cascio to produce Crossroads: Five Scenarios for the End of Nuclear Weapons. Yet both the Greater Than report (and its insights on stasis in particular) and the pandemic underscored the need to more widely introduce the field to tools for thinking about the ways in which social, technological,


environmental, economic, and political forces might combine to change the context in which this field does its work over the coming years. How will our challenges change—and how will we adapt—if bio-threats like the pandemic combine with natural and climate-related disasters like wildfires and earthquakes? How might the politics of nuclear threat reduction shift? In what ways must we be better prepared? What are we not thinking about today that will affect our capacity to respond effectively tomorrow? In collaboration with colleagues from the professional futures and design worlds, we created our strategic foresight and wicked problems trainings to bring futures thinking to the field.

3. Horizon 2045.

With the arrival of a global pandemic, we saw an opportunity to connect nuclear weapons both to an increasingly complex threat landscape and to our aspirations for global well-being. By exploring intersections between nuclear weapons and other global phenomena—health and climate insecurity, the rise of artificial intelligence, racism and poverty, advancements in brain science—we saw the possibility to reframe nuclear threat reduction in terms of greater human and global security. That insight became foundational to the work we began to do as part of Horizon 2045. We strongly believe that the greatest return on philanthropic investment will come when the tools, frameworks, and programs we have developed at N Square are applied to multiple, interconnected problem spaces. There is nothing issue-dependent about our work; our methods are universally generative and valuable largely because they support and benefit from transdisciplinary collaboration.

A key insight of the Greater Than report was both the fragmentation plaguing the nuclear field and how aware, and frustrated, the professionals we interviewed were about that fragmentation. At N Square, we saw this issue not just as a logistical/ cultural problem (significant in and of itself) but also as a systems problem. Given the limits on sharing and collaboration, and the often narrow focus of various organizations on a particular problem set within the issue space, there were few opportunities for nuclear professionals to see the whole rather than the parts—meaning both the whole of the field and the whole of the larger nuclear system of which the field was a smaller part. Our systems thinking course, launched in 2022, was in part designed to give the field the tools to think and see in systems and thus to see their own systems in ways they maybe haven’t before. Meanwhile, given the heavy US-focus of our network, we also supported BASIC’s development of a “network map” of UK nuclear

“no shared understanding of what system we are all part of or how we should operate together within it”
Crossroads: Five Scenarios for the End of Nuclear Weapons

Network Map of UK Nuclear Actors

actors so that we could begin to expand our sense, and perhaps the field’s sense, of the organizations and individuals working to end nuclear threat in the United Kingdom. BASIC is now expanding that work to the rest of Europe with the goal to eventually create a global map. With such a map in hand, the field will, in some respects, be able to fully see itself for the first time.

The H2045 systems map (see page 45) is also helping the field see itself as part of an even larger system. Moreover, the map is proving a unique tool for engaging governments, policymakers, NGOs, and other key audiences. Over the last year we have tested the systems map with numerous target segments and have been asked by the United Nations Institute for Training and Research to use the map to train future general assembly delegates in issues relating to nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation. We expect to lead more of these sessions not only for UN audiences but for other international policymakers as part of a strategy to introduce systems thinking and strategic foresight to those communities. Much of this work is being done in collaboration with NTI through its various international networks.

Our switch to the Mighty Networks digital platform as a tool for members of our network to more easily connect with one another and stay connected to N Square was also motivated in part by the very strong feedback we heard during the listening tour about the field’s often troubling culture. We saw the need for a community forum that could stand as a counterexample to the toxic online forums that dominate the field. Unlike most listservs in the field, N Square’s Mighty Network is curated, facilitated, and runs on stated principles that include courtesy and non-anonymity. We have also started a “network weaver in residence” program, where we invite a nuclear professional and network member to help foster community and connection through Mighty Networks for a six-month period. Our first network weaver, Lyndon Burford, has introduced a book discussion and hosted several online conversations and events; a new network weaver will take over that work, bringing their unique talents and interests to the role, in the latter part of 2023.

“the field’s ‘toxic’ culture where many are made to feel ‘less than’”
Legend Campaign NGO Governmental Network Trust Scholar Funder Consultancy Academic Consultant N Square supported the development of a “network map” of UK nuclear actors, created by BASIC.

N Square Funders on the Value of the Funder Collaborative

A funder collaborative is not in itself an innovation; lots of funder collaboratives exist for numerous different purposes. What’s unusual about this collaborative is the degree to which we have tried to break down the perceived barriers between funders and other actors in the nuclear system so we could tap into funders’ unique perspectives and expertise while managing the common wisdom that funders’ presence in a room limits people’s ability to be honest and forthcoming. Our belief is that we benefit from having the “whole system” in the room together, including those whose contributions are partially financial, because along with their dollars they contribute types of knowledge that would otherwise go missing.

the funders were making a bet that by innovating their own practice they would be better positioned to identify and support other forms of innovation in the field.

“It unlocked for me personally and within our organization some new approaches to grantmaking and some new ideas that we’ve built upon. Part of that started even before there was an N Square, in that process of getting together with other funders and just acknowledging that something here is missing, that there are ways in which we support innovation successfully and effectively but there are things that we could do much better, that we can learn from

“Part of N Square’s power is that it isn’t just an NGO running some experiments. It is an NGO running some experiments that funders are watching in order to shape their decision-making and their thinking as well.”

This enabled our funders to ask and wrestle with questions from a new vantage point. How does innovation fit into this space? What does it mean to change how the network of actors in the space function, not just who’s in this field, but who’s outside the field who can become a resource, a partner, and a champion for the field? What are some of the ways in which they, as funders, can support innovation and networks in this ecosystem? In starting N Square,

other fields and open the aperture a little bit and recognize we don’t have the answers. That was a very generative moment for me as a grantmaker.”

N Square was that we started by acknowledging that we weren’t all that good at innovation in this sphere. We all agreed that one of the things we would do, even if it was uncomfortable, was not develop really specific metrics or targets or objectives, because we knew enough to know that we didn’t know what innovation in this sphere might look like. That, at least to me, was part of the value.”

“The value add for me personally was getting to know other program officers. That is how you break down silos. We came to understand one another’s organizations in a way that was much more hard hitting and real than reading about it on paper, because we were trying to figure out where we could co-fund things.”

“Funders ... historically squeeze out risk. We take a long time to identify a small set of grantees that are really good in their spaces. What was interesting and novel about

“At the onset of N Square, there was an acknowledgment among the funders that … we needed to innovate and bring in energy and enthusiasm and modes of thinking and learning from different disciplines. That awareness was nothing new. But the explicit public acknowledgment of that by the funders and an effort to be deliberate about drawing on other disciplines and other thinking was significant. And that led to new investment in work with organizations that we wouldn’t have otherwise funded.”



In 2019, N Square, in partnership with the Nuclear Threat Initiative and Rhode Island School of Design’s Center for Complexity, launched Horizon 2045, a long-term project to redefine global security and bring an end to the nuclear weapons century. N Square’s commitment to Horizon 2045 stems from an increasing desire to put the insights we’ve gained over the last eight years into practice at an audacious scale—including and especially our foundational belief that achieving a full and durable nuclear weapons prohibition hinges on our ability and commitment to reframe nuclear weapons within a broader context.

Horizon 2045 is doing this by:

Leading an effort to reimagine “global security.”

Overcoming our perilous present will require a more expansive definition of global security and a new system for achieving and maintaining it. We seek to redefine security as a bigger system in which humanity, our planet, and future generations can flourish free from the risk of existential threats.

Connecting nuclear weapons to other existential threats. Nuclear weapons are part of an intertwined set of threats facing humanity, and these threats exacerbate and complicate one another. By exploring intersections between nuclear weapons and other existential threats like climate change and biological pathogens, we can draw new resources, incent innovation, increase the surface area for collaboration and shared learning, and lay the groundwork for a much larger-scale effort.

Taking a systems approach.

Like all wicked problems, the nuclear problem is a systems problem—that is, a complex, multifactorial problem driven by an interplay between policies and procedures, human actions and decisions, infrastructure, incentives, and beliefs and assumptions. Studying the deeply interdependent factors driving a system and holding it in place also reveals potential areas for leverage.

Advancing long-term thinking. Horizon 2045 aims for deep and durable long-term disruption. We are using the tools of strategic foresight to articulate a more compelling, ambitious, and optimistic future beyond nuclear weapons while specifying the types of innovation and engagement it will require— with all of that work driven by intelligent interpretation of both qualitative and quantitative data.

Building a wider community of practice. There are complementary, likeminded efforts underway in other threat spaces, most of them operating independently. We are building a hub for these efforts,

drawing people, ideas, and networks together into a diverse multi-threat community of practice focused on shared learning and collaboration.

After a soft launch in 2021, Horizon 2045 is now in its public launch phase, with many promising projects already up and running. But getting such an ambitious initiative off the ground would not have been possible without the early support and engagement of N Square’s extended network. Network members from the Center for Humane Technology, the Vatican, the United Nations, and the Black Speculative Arts Movement, academic institutions like Arizona State University and Temple University, as well as futurists, science fiction writers, scientists, and leaders in philanthropy are among those who have shown an eagerness to collaborate with Horizon 2045 and with others who are thinking broadly about existential risk.

We are eager as well. Horizon 2045 expands our ability to collaborate with others and is helping us to disentangle ourselves from narratives that exceptionalize nuclear weapons. We can see ways to bring new value to our partners. We can see ways to expand our network, but also give our network more ways to have concrete impact. We see Horizon 2045—and this broader conception of existential risk over the next 20 years—as a pathway for accelerating our longstanding mission to create the conditions for innovation and collaboration in the field, extending our impact beyond the boundaries of what we could do as N Square alone, and finding and seizing opportunities to create lasting systems change.

Read the Horizon 2045 Framework for Change Learn more about the Horizon 2045 Systems Map Visit the Horizon 2045 website

The Horizon 2045 Systems Map


External Dynamics

Nuclear Weapons System Dynamics

“This is a completely new way of conceiving the nuclear threat. Trying to understand a system at the meta level and what’s driving actors in the system is totally new.”

The nuclear weapon system is sprawling and secretive, maintaining itself and resisting change through a complex set of dynamics. We’ve used causal loop diagramming—a mapping tool that helps visualize complex systems and how different variables within these systems interrelate—to create a representation of the present system. We understand the Horizon 2045 systems map11 to be the first and only map of the behaviors and mental models that underpin the nuclear weapons system. As one nuclear expert put it: “This is a completely new way of conceiving the nuclear threat.

Trying to understand a system at the meta level and what’s driving actors in the system is totally new.”

The Horizon 2045 systems map (shown without its full detail above) creates a “topview” of the current state, depicting the dynamics, mental models, and behaviors that are driving the status quo. It also reveals the system’s frailties and leverage points. The map provides various ways to enter into and think about the system depending on interest and orientation. For instance, a scholar of political power dynamics might be drawn to enter the map

Beliefs About Nuclear Weapons

through one node while nuclear deterrence advocates might enter through another, but each would quickly find their way to other countervailing dynamics and interests. Funders might use the map to identify areas of underinvestment, while innovators could use it to pinpoint opportunities to drive novel forms of impact. In this way, the map has wide application but also draws various users into shared conversation about the system and its dynamics.

The map itself is a work in progress. The Horizon 2045 team continues to rigorously test the map with diverse audiences, using feedback and insight from those sessions to refine and improve both the configuration of the map and the stories and strategies that we see emerging from it.

11. N Square’s approach to systems thinking was shaped in great part by PolicySolve’s Jewlya Lynn, who also facilitated the development of the systems map with the Horizon 2045 team.


Members of the N Square team come from different professional backgrounds but share experience in and a cultural affinity for creative process. In the worlds we come from—emergent strategy, futurism, sustainable management, scenario planning, industrial design, process design, graphic design— the idea of “failing forward” is practically gospel.

We don’t set out to get things right immediately. Rather, we set out to be usefully wrong, ferreting out problems and solving them quickly as we iterate our way toward better solutions. This is a process that our friend and mentor Arnold Wasserman, the illustrious industrial designer and jury vice chair of the INDEX Award, describes as “progressive approximation.” In that spirit, we offer reflections on where we have fallen short of expectations (others’ and our own) and what we have learned as a result.


Communication and Dissemination

“I would like to see more analysis of what has made an impact and why, and what didn’t. The idea of fostering creative networks is truly important. But we need to do that armed with knowledge.”


“Sometimes it feels like participating in N Square is a one-way street. I’ve been contacted … to provide expertise to people working on nuclear issues that aren’t in the field. I’m happy to do it, but rarely do I hear anything back about impact of the project/successes, etc.”


For some time our team has been painfully aware that we have insufficient communication capacity. That has resulted in our overfreighting staff members in regard to public-facing communication while underinvesting in other areas. As the comments above indicate, there are two dimensions in which we know we need to do a better job: closing communication loops so all members of our community are appropriately recognized for their contributions, and analyzing the effects of our interventions so others can benefit from what we have learned.

An example of closing communication loops: Cohort 4 of the innovation fellowship provided specific feedback about where they would have liked more support after the end of the program. While we were able to provide some of what was requested, and did our best to communicate about that, some members of the cohort were left feeling that their needs had not been met. We should have more quickly attended to ongoing needs and/or concerns and will be better prepared to do so next time.

An example of analyzing our work and disseminating findings: After funding a third-party developmental evaluation process several years ago, the staff and funder collaborative decided to discontinue that investment. As a result, we have collected less data than we would otherwise have done, leaving us to rely on anecdotal evidence and survey responses about the impact our network is having in the nuclear community. While this report is one way of communicating impact, going into the next phase of work we will consider other mechanisms for gathering evidence and disseminating findings.

Sustaining Connections and Cooperation

“N Square created an environment to innovate … but the support (infrastructure, attention) seemed to disappear at the end. Rather than leaving the project’s future trajectory and success up to the fellows, it might be useful to consider short-term ‘bridging’ activities that take place the year following one’s N Square experience.”


“I think it’s a bit difficult to sustain the connections we built during the associated programming/fellowships. While the current [Mighty Networks] platform is nice, I don’t think it’s as good as regularly hosting in-person events.”


These comments highlight a misstep in project planning: While we do a good job of protecting time to design, iterate, and deliver programs, all too often we underestimate the time required to follow up on them. We move from one thing to the next too quickly, sometimes missing opportunities to advance opportunities for continued cooperation or to support the efficacy of our network. In the future we will ensure that all programs are managed to protect time and resources for the “bridging activities” mentioned above.

We, too, miss hosting in-person workshops or “design charrettes.” A staple of our approach, these highly interactive sessions allow us to bring a fuller suite of tools and techniques to creative work—including “learning journeys,” which often produce meaningful insights about how other people, organizations, and fields work with challenges analogous to those facing the nuclear field. Design charrettes also establish and cement interpersonal bonds, leading to enduring personal and professional relationships. On the other hand, we know that the time commitment involved with such place-based convenings poses difficulties for colleagues who are needed at home at the beginning and end of each day, and that the costs of international travel and accommodations are such that small convenings are sometimes insufficiently diverse because it would be so costly to design them otherwise.


And, of course, COVID persists. In light of those factors, we have decided to invest our limited resources in optimization of Mighty Networks, in our view the best available web platform for network management. Nevertheless, we are aware that we have yet to strike the ideal balance between distance collaboration and in-person work, and will make this a priority going forward.

Outsourcing of Fellowship Design and Facilitation

“A number of us in the mid-early career space talked about how therapeutic the cohort meetings were but that we’ve tried unsuccessfully or been unable to see how to use the tools produced to address the toxic challenges identified. And it doesn’t feel like there has been any followup.”

Given that N Square was originally conceived as a pilot program, several years ago the N Square staff and funder collaborative decided to explore the possibility of spinning off more mature offerings, locating them inside partner organizations in or outside the field. Our first experiment was with the fellowship, on the assumption that other colleagues with design, facilitation, and organizational development expertise would be well positioned to assume the role that N Square usually played in the fellowship. What we have learned:

N Square has established a unique combination of subject matter knowledge and process expertise that cannot easily be transferred

While we do not consider ourselves domain experts in nuclear challenges we do have an understanding of key dynamics in the nuclear system (and the nuclear field) that has taken years to develop. Conversely, while many of our nuclear colleagues have built significant capacity to practice techniques from humanentered design, systems thinking, foresight, and other domains, there is not yet a single organization with sufficient process design or facilitation expertise to run an innovation fellowship.

As we have gotten to know the field, we have gotten to know many of you

Shared history, mutual trust, and a track record of cooperation mean that the N Square team is pretty well equipped to evaluate the relative weight, relevance, or promise of ideas that surface over the course of the fellowship. This allows us both to

On N Square’s Mighty Network, nuclear professionals and others share ideas, point out opportunities to one another, and create community.


see what fellows mean in ways that might be hard for others to see and to offer direction that they will find valuable.

These observations, combined with the earlier note about ensuring that we include sufficient follow-up in our project designs, have led us to decide that we will work with partners in new ways to deliver the fellowship program but will no longer plan to outsource its design or facilitation. We are aware that there may be lingering desire for follow-up from Cohort 4 in particular, and will factor that into our planning.

Structural Barriers to Innovation

N Square is, by design, not a standalone 501(c)3 organization or foundation. Instead we determined early on to remain a fiscally sponsored project, originally housed at Ploughshares Fund and now at New Venture Fund. This strategy means that we have not had to invest in back-office functions (HR, grants management, legal, IRS compliance, etc.) and has allowed us to be quite lean, adaptive, and (positively, we hope) disruptive.

On the other hand, having a professional fiscal sponsor with thousands of projects under management means that we are bound by technical and bureaucratic constraints we are continually learning about. Maybe that is a reflection of the fact that we have long pushed the boundaries of what can be done with charitable dollars in service of novel solutions. As a result, we have accumulated valuable knowledge about the legal and tax constraints involved with charitable use doctrine and how to work creatively within those boundaries— knowledge that we can, should, and will soon make accessible to the community. In other words, it is incumbent upon us to demonstrate how we have taken these structural barriers and turned them into opportunities to solve problems in new ways—that is, to take a bit of our own medicine and share what happens.

We agree with the sentiment, if not the ultimatum, implicit in this comment. If our strategy were only to build the individual capacities of promising nextgeneration leaders, we might favor more traditional “training” programs that aim to teach new skills without trying to ensure they are put into practice. But that is not our strategy, and the very real financial and other constraints in this field make that seem like a somewhat wasteful approach. A systemic, long-term commitment to innovation and change requires buy-in and alignment across all functions, from funding to leadership to professional development and strategic planning. In the absence of such alignment, it is difficult to believe that participants in our programs will be able to surmount the structural impediments to putting their learning into practice.

Yet we observe—and the survey responses we received as input to this report bear this out—that change is indeed happening in this field. People are finding ways to apply competencies acquired through the fellowship and skill-building courses. Key organizations are evolving:

• To acknowledge that success on nuclear goals is to a great extent influenced by contextual factors (society, politics in other issue spaces, economics, the environment, technology)

• To acquire better insight into those drivers of change in order to formulate more effective strategies

• To embrace innovation culture

• To adopt shared tools and language for systems thinking and problem-solving

These organizations may well be in the minority at the moment, but they are a signal that some funders, some leaders, and some planners are indeed creating space to approach policy-relevant work in new ways. While we have fallen somewhat short on our ability to influence the structural change required for this field to create a fully developed innovation system, we do think it is within reach.

“Some of the futures and systems thinking I’ve engaged in has been interesting, but it’s challenging, if not impossible, to introduce in this funding environment and given the structures of some of the organizations. It feels detached from the current reality in the policy community so it’s hard to argue that this work should live on unless it’s embraced more by funders/leadership.”


We are profoundly proud of the work that we have done over the last eight years. We have accomplished far more than our small team ever expected. But we are also pragmatic. We are at a decidedly different moment, in the world and in the field, than any of us would have hoped for. Our commitment to adaptation and flexibility, to continually looking for our best opportunities to deliver value to the field, now compels us to ask hard questions about how to move into the future, including what aspects of current work to keep, what to spin off to others, what to sunset, and even what new work we might take on that we have not done before.

Here are some of the things we have illuminated about our approach but are now reevaluating:

Our framework for success: Is it time to refine this based on current needs and dynamics in the field?

Our strategies for achieving the goals in that framework: Is it time to expand or narrow our programming? To rethink how we use our resources to achieve our goals?

Our structure: Might N Square accelerate success by merging with others or spinning off some of our programs and rethinking how we operate as a sponsored project versus a standalone 501(c)3?

We asked for your feedback and heard from over 50 individuals, including long-time nuclear professionals, network members from other fields, funders, and grantees. We will take all that you told us into account as we make these decisions. Then, in a short follow-up to this report, we will share what we have decided to do next and how your feedback influenced our plans.

We feel honored to do this work, helping to bring innovation and change to a field and a community whose success is vital to all of our futures.



We’d like to thank the many people who have contributed ideas, energy, and support to N Square’s work, including our grantees, members of the N Square Forum, and N Square Innovators Network fellows

Reynaldo Anderson, Black Speculative Arts Movement (BSAM)

Emma Belcher, Ploughshares Fund

Pupul Bisht, N Square

Lonny Avi Brooks, Black Speculative Arts Movement (BSAM)

Donna Broughan, N Square

Lyndon Burford, N Square

Paul Carroll, Ploughshares Fund and N Square

Cristopher Cruz, N Square

Michelle Dover, Ploughshares Fund

Megan Garcia, Hewlett Foundation

Alexa Gregory, N Square

Bukola Jejeloye, Skoll Foundation

Theo Kalionzes, MacArthur Foundation

Karim Kamel, Carnegie Corporation of New York

Sara Kutchesfahani, N Square and Ploughshares Fund

Jewlya Lynn, PolicySolve

Bruce Lowry, Skoll Foundation

Morgan Matthews, N Square

Danielle McLaughlin, N Square

Karl Mill, Mill Law Center

Brian G. Payne,

Carl Robichaud, Carnegie Corporation of New York

Joan Rohlfing, Nuclear Threat Initiative

Angela Schlater, MacArthur Foundation

Tom Weis, Altimeter Design Group

Peter Waring, N Square

Philip Yun, Ploughshares Fund

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