Orla De Diez

Strategic designer, educator and public policy practitioner focused on system-wide learning and innovation for transforming energy, tourism and violent extremism 

I think of people as assorted collections of Lego-like bricks of talent, skill and experience, and of cities and economies as colossal buckets of Legos—of which infinite combinations can be snapped together to solve problems. To the extent that we share a core set of tools and methods, we can communicate more fluidly with one another, across sectors, industries and world views, and become better Lego players in teams that emerge and dissolve in response to changing needs and shifting goals. Effective decision-making depends on how often ideas flow from person to person and how they snap together, ultimately by way of how we gesture, talk and listen. This is the focus of my teaching and research.

In the early stages of the smart energy movement, with Spanish Ministry of Industry and European Regional Development Fund support, I developed a scaffold for siloed stakeholders to tackle whole urban energy systems in a fraction of the time it would usually take for their ideas and tacit knowledge to flow into complex, citizen-centred concepts and kickstart the transition away from fossil energy. And in Madrid’s sparsely populated Sierra Norte, I customised learning for partnerships and regional networks of rural tourism providers to shift from low trust and disengaged to competitive orchestration of seamless niche traveller experiences (commissioned by the Regional Government of Madrid).

As Research Associate at TIDES University Institute in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, I explore and design for the behaviours and social interactions, physical and virtual, that encourage the flow of relevant ideas into the making of prosperous ‘ecologically safe and socially just’ tourism systems.

Through reflective practice with systemic design, my masters students at Jaume I University in Castellón learn to reveal and address the larger system of violent extremism from the viewpoint of people at risk of involvement (in a wide range of settings), and become more keenly aware of how their behaviour affects group creativity and complex problem-solving.

Previous experience includes crafting and leading projects at the Club of Madrid. I worked with more than 18 current and former heads of state and government to support processes ranging from women’s political inclusion, constitution-building, political and electoral reform to participatory security sector policy making in East and West Africa and the Andean region. We pioneered experiential learning for crisis and post-crisis leadership—grassroots through highest executive office. To this end, for example, following the historic 2005 election of Evo Morales, we orchestrated peer learning between government, opposition and civil society leaders of South Africa, Mozambique, Spain and Bolivia (bitterly divided across racial, ethnic, social and territorial fault lines). Past research includes acclaimed simulation-based exploration with polarised stakeholders into the potential strengths and pitfalls of re-writing the Bolivian constitution. We drew on the South African experience to design the experiment commissioned by the Bolivian National Congress.

I cut my teeth in the world of complex, unscripted, interdependent work with Médecins Sans Frontières in the early 1990s, and served in different roles, including Head of Mission, in Zimbabwe, Bolivia, Croatia, Kenya and Somalia.

I’m a Dubliner living in Frankfurt, and hold a Master’s in Public Policy and Management from the Catholic University of Bolivia (Harvard Institute for International Development) and a Licenciatura in History and Geography with an American Anthropology specialty from the Complutense University of Madrid.

There are 40 women in the Horn of Africa, who today are developing their “place at the peace tables”. Orla’s qualities and work ethic underpinned that success.

Carlos Westendorp, Club of Madrid Secretary General and former Spanish Foreign Affairs Minister

Bolivian Vice-President Alvaro García Linera, Bolivian President Evo Morales, Ebrahim Ismail Ebrahim (one of Nelson Mandela’s fellow prisoners on Robben Island), Orla de Díez (Club de Madrid), Roelf Meyer (South African former National Party chief negotiator to end apartheid and co-architect of South Africa’s constitution-making process), former President Joaquim Chissano (second president of independent Mozambique) and Bolivian Vice-Minister of Decentralisation, Fabian Yaksic in La Paz, Bolivia, March 2006 (left)

Former Spanish Prime Minister Felipe González and President-elect Evo Morales in La Paz, January 2006 (top right)

Former Latvian Prime Minister Valdis Birkhavs with G40 Leaders on the eve of high-level dialogue with Ugandan MPs on recovery and development for Northern Uganda, in Kampala, November 2009 (lower right)