Lessons From Being At the Cutting Edge – TACSI

Next week, The Australian Centre for Social Innovation (TACSI) is Toronto-bound for Social Innovation Canada 2014 (#socinncan) – an event series that is bringing together leading social innovators, social entrepreneurs, and social financiers to exchange learnings and continue to foster a global culture of social innovation.

TACSI will be bringing unique stories and questions to the table. With a co-design approach that is transforming family-services, a knack for unusual partnerships, and first-hand experience of the risks and hurdles in solution seeking, TACSI will share their lens on social innovation in action during #socinncan (on May 22nd at MaRS) — a process that is always learning in action.

C/O TACSI: Our Co-Design Process

C/O TACSI: Our Co-Design Process

Unusual Partners

What does it look like to bring government, designers, service-providers, and families into the same design process? TACSI calls it Radical Redesign: “…an approach that operates bottom-up and top-down in, with and for communities to generate, test, and improve ideas at an interaction and system level” (Radical Redesign/ Family by Family Report, 2011).

Seeing a big gap between government approaches to social problem solving (top-down), community approaches (bottom-up), and “solutions'” end-users, TACSI brings together a range of unusual partners to foster positive social impacts, with the end goal of closing that gap and affecting systems change.

Social impact work is the only work we do at TACSI. Since 2010 we’ve been developing a methodology for building solutions that create change, are financially sustainable and are grounded in what the community wants and needs. We call it co-design, we use it every day and we’ve used it to create award-winning and money saving solutions like Family by Family — TACSI, Innovation Support (Our Offers)

What does successful social innovation look like? TACSI’s flagship solution, Family by Family, is a celebrated program that “was co-designed with families and is delivered by families” with unprecedented results:

After One Year: 90% of the families in the program achieved their goals.

After Three Years: Cost benefit analysis showed “that the program saves $7 for every $1 invested by keeping kids out of state care.”

But measurable (quantitative) results rarely tell the whole story or reflect the ongoing shifts and transformations within communities. TACSI’s own reflection on success focuses on people’s view of a good life:

We don’t think success should be measured in terms of services or systems, but in terms of more people living the lives they want – Radical Redesign/ Family by Family Report, 2011 

This form of measurement— a lot messier to ‘measure’ and to understand — demands a constant process of learning, listening, and making connections to what is ‘good.’ 

TACSI: The Seven Questions
Screen Shot 2014-05-12 at 1.28.37 PM

C/O TACSI Radical Redesign/ Family by Family Report

1 GET READY
What team fits the problem?
2 LOOK & LISTEN
What are good outcomes?

3 CREATE
What ideas could improve outcomes?
4 PROTOTYPE INTERACTIONS
What interactions shift outcomes?
5 PROTOTYPE SYSTEMS
What supports new interactions?
6 VALUE
What value does the solution create?
7 GROW
How can we spread the solution?

Are we doing good?

Being at the cutting edge, being innovative, having impact, and ‘doing good’ are not necessarily, or inherently, synonymous. How do we keep track of what is good (and for whom) during solution-design, when other metrics and terms (impact/change/transformation/efficiency/systems) often end up dominating our discourse?

Last summer, sociologist Sarah Schulman (In With Forward) reflected on the social solutions she helped develop with TACSI in 2011-2012, during a webinar for our Inspiring Action for Social Impact series.

Sarah Schulman asks, Are we doing good? from Social Innovation Generation on Vimeo.
 

Risks, Failures, Hurdles

Social innovators can’t wear rose coloured glasses if they are committed to rosy results for their clients and end-users. 

As a sociologist myself, the question “Are we doing good?” invokes an ethic that process and results cannot be evaluated in isolation — the means need to be as just as the ends. Putting results in context — both quantitative and qualitative results — demands digging into the risks, recognizing and analyzing hurdles, and identifying and learning from failure quickly. It’s an emergent and imperfect process that requires facing and preparing for fallibility head on, without the glamorization of ‘good intentions.’

As one TACSI/Family by Family team member put it:

There is nowhere to hide in the social innovation world. You have to stand behind your ideas, be prepared for them to sometimes fail and be able to admit that they did. You have to be brave enough to do things differently, often with no previous framework to work from.”

Mobilizing Experiences, Learning in Action

May 22nd TACSI will be diving deep into their approach, lessons, stories, and success as part of our Inspiring Action for Social Impact series, MaRS Global Leadership, and Social Innovation Canada.

Register here to learn more, join the conversation, and gain key insights from Australian Social Innovation In Action!
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Kelsey Spitz About Kelsey Spitz

Kelsey is the Senior Associate at SiG National.

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