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Microtainer: social innovation & lab links we’re following (May 2014)

C/O Clare Shields

C/O Clare Shields

This mini blog, or bloggette, is part of our ongoing effort to spread information that we think will be interesting, insightful and useful to lab practitioners and the lab-curious. Below is a collection of resources that crossed our desks over the month of May 2014. In no particular order:

1. A useful framework by Nesta on “Generating convincing evidence of impact.” No matter how intuitive and sensible your idea, or how well it has been received, at some point you will be asked for evidence that it actually makes a positive difference. Generating convincing evidence of your actual or potential impact will strengthen your case for potential investors, but deciding on an impact evaluation approach can be difficult and daunting — there is simply no ‘one size fits all’ approach. Nesta’s recently developed Standards of Evidence might be a helpful place to start.

2. Failure Report (or Lessons Learned report) by McGill University’s Sustainability Department. If there’s one thing McGill doesn’t do, it’s fail. McGill is consistently ranked one of the best universities in the world and “excellence” is an important part of the McGill identity. It is so easy to make the mental shift from “we value excellence” to “we value success” to “we frown on failure.” Equating excellence with perfection, however, discourages risk-taking and stifles innovation and learning.

3. Inspiring pleasure reading: Behavioural Design Lab put together this excellent design x public policy book list (added “Social Physics: How Good Ideas Spread – The Lessons from a New Science” to my wish list!).

4. The US Government Accountability Office evaluates the Lab at OPM (Office of Personnel Management) and provides recommendations. Also, interesting info about the financials of running the OPM lab.

5. Rethinked: Neat blog and year long experiment (rethinked*annex) for us to perform on ourselves. The annex aims to improve our own abilities in design thinking, integrative thinking and positive psychology (good book recommendations too).

6. The Systemic Design Symposium at Oslo School of Architecture and Design (Oct 15-17) will explore emerging contexts for systems perspectives in design. The symposium aims to strengthen the links between these two fields.

7. Mixing abstract philosophical thinking with business school teachings: WSJ article talks about how more and more schools are teaching students that there is more than one right answer. Operating in uncertainty is a reality and there is much to learn from the arts, reading fiction, and meditation.

8. Stanford study finds walking improves creativity. Stanford researchers found that walking boosts creative inspiration. They examined the creativity levels of people while they walked versus while they sat and determined that a person’s creative output increased by an average of 60% when walking. More grounds for the walking meeting!

9. Excellent article in the Financial Times – Big data: are we making a big mistake? Tim Harford explores the limits of big data in this engaging and interesting article: “Big data has arrived, but big insights have not. The challenge now is to solve new problems and gain new answers – without making the same old statistical mistakes on a grander scale than ever.” 

Labcraft! (Image C/O @hendrikjt)

10. Labcraft is a book — co-authored by many of the world’s leading labs — that dives into the latest thinking from their practice. Out in July!

11. Excellent blog post by Cognitive Edge’s Dave Snowden – 7 principles of intervening in complex systems distills Dave’s thinking into just that. Dave is also responsible for the useful Cynefin sense-making framework for operating in complexity (H/T Giulio Quaggiotto).

12. Labs for Systems Change Conference bits, tweet aggregators and feeds: Epilogger, Storify (also, this graphic harvest by livestream participant Scott MacAfee) and this Hackpad thread from the different discussions happening at various tables during the conference.

13. GovLab started an open global lab discussion around: “How Do We Together Become Smarter About How We Make Decisions and Solve Problems.”

14. Neat initiative in Boston: City Hall To Go. Featured in FastCoExist — “This Government On Wheels Brings City Services To The People” — City Hall To Go is a mobile office that travels around Boston, letting citizens interact with their government without having to trek to City Hall. For more Boston-based civic innovation, check out New Urban Mechanics, out of the Mayor of Boston’s office.

15. Great quick read: InWithForward blog post, “New Public Goods,” on reflections and questions following a lab gathering at Parsons New School two weeks ago. Sarah Schulman explores how her own practice relates to questions around “making ‘better’ cities, making ‘better’ public services, making more ‘creative’ public servants, reducing human suffering, and increasing human flourishing.”

16. Great capacity building opportunities for Torontonians via The Moment’s Innovation Academy. The Toronto-based innovation studio now offers trainings in Design Thinking (Fundamentals, Advanced, and Facilitation) and Innovation Culture.

What have we missed? What lab-related links have you been following this past month?

Reframing the Local Food Dilemma


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A Global Perspective

Getting a handle on complex issues – like food systems – sometimes means looking at the topic from a new perspective. For me, getting a new perspective meant getting out of Canada.

For a year, I lived and worked in northern Ghana, where I witnessed first hand the influence of ‘commodity dumping:’ when a country sells a commodity to a foreign market for much less than what it would sell within its domestic market. In many developing countries, this practice creates a toxic cycle of cheap food at the expense of local economic development.

C/O Adam Jones

C/O Adam Jones

Northern Ghana has enormous capacity to produce rice locally, and it is a staple part of the local diet, yet rice farmers can buy foreign rice cheaper than they can produce their own crop. That is because many foreign sources of rice  are highly subsidized and when that cheap rice is sold in Ghana, smallholder farmers can’t compete – undermining the possibility of a competitive and thriving local economy.

The Ghanaian rice dilemma is labelled a food dumping issue. In Canada, the same issue has largely been framed as a local food issue. If we set the obvious differences of extreme poverty aside (which I do not want to under-represent), there are common themes between the equity of food production in Ghana and in Canada. Namely, our farmers are also subjected to a toxic cycle of cheap food at the expense of local economic development.

Back to Canada

Let me tell a story that exemplifies this. When I returned home to Canada from Ghana, I went into a community grocery store in Edmonton and did what I had always done before living abroad: I grabbed a hand basket and started to hunt for the first item on my list.  Suddenly, I stopped and looked around – the grocery store had enough food variety to satisfy almost any whim I had.

Grocery stores have 60-100 thousand individual products with different tastes, prices, brands, coupons, sales, and marketing. Who makes all that food? Which companies craft those recipes and brand stories? Standing in the grocery store, there is no way of knowing the answers or understanding that part of our food system.

Yet the majority of food in grocery stores comes from fewer than a hundred companies. There is an illusion of abundant choice, but when we track our purchases back to who we are giving our money to, that choice diminishes.

In this way, we are very like the Ghanaian rice farmer who buys foreign rice because that rice is, temporarily, the best option at hand.

We lack the information, and thus the impetus, to invest in our own communities through our purchases. We are habituated to not knowing, and not looking to know, who makes our food, how it was made, where it was made, and who we are giving our money to. This situation is called ‘information asymmetry:’ the disparity between what consumers know about the lifecycle of their food products and the information there is to know.

What about the power of information and informed choice?

Can’t we develop a way for consumers to have access to the full context of their food?

The answer is that we can.

In a world where we are constantly connected to the internet of everything via new technologies, we, as consumers, can expect to see the barriers of information fall away, giving us the power to choose and purchase based on our own values. And as the information asymmetry diminishes, the power to build a more resilient food system emerges.

Localize-Badge_The-Story-of-Your-Food_185x185 (1)Localize Your Food

The public discourse on food issues has been growing for years, but, according to people who apply for food stamps in texas an opportunity has been missed by not including grocers in the dialogue or the exploration of solutions that could be mobilized within the retail grocery world.

Systemically, grocery stores have enormous power to effect change in how we eat and from whom we buy our food. As I have built Localize for the last two and a half years, one of the most gratifying and hopeful signs of change has been the willingness of grocers to be part of a solution. They are increasingly becoming the power brokers between consumers and food producers, creating opportunities for both of these players to align with a common vision. They are searching for the same solutions as their customers: economically viable ways to respond to and resolve issues that consumers care about.

At Localize, our major success has been aligning the values of grocers, consumers, and food businesses. Consumers want informed choice and transparency; producers need to be able to compete fairly and gain access to retail space; and grocers need to be able to market and communicate innovative approaches in a way that serves their brand and their operating budgets.

How have we done this? We work to create systems that enable the rapid flow of information between and to all of these stakeholders. Our concept isn’t all that complicated: We aggregate information about food – who produced it, where, the narrative behind where and how they sourced ingredients – and then connect with grocers to make that information available along with the price of a product: aka the point of sale.

0031-Localize_high-resA simple concept, but the power and impact of information is enormous: consumers are empowered to make informed decisions at the point of sale on how to align their dollars with their values and grocers are empowered to engage directly in the issues that their customers care about – a major step towards fairer food.

Future Fair Food

Fair food is about destroying the barriers to making decisions in alignment with our own values, by building systems to facilitate informed choice. Local producers and processors have enormous power to build transparency into their brands from the ground up and, someday, the largest food businesses might follow suit, providing high-quality information to consumers about how they have sourced and produced their food.

Localize’s audacious goal is to be at the forefront of designing and building a system that supports a world where consumers have access to the full story of their food. Building systems that sustain themselves and make sense to everyone is the engine of our growth. Most importantly, we envision a day in the not-so-distant future where we scoff at the idea that food could ever lack this basic information; where we ‘take for granted’ the opportunity to engage in choice via a symmetrical relationship of information between producer and consumer.

Microtainer: social innovation & lab links we’re following (March 2014)


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C/O VBG

C/O VBG

This mini blog, or bloggette, is part of our ongoing effort to spread information that we think will be interesting, insightful and useful to lab practitioners and the lab-curious. Below is a collection of resources that crossed our desks over the month of March 2014. In no particular order:

1. Booklet by Innovation Unit, “10 Ideas for 21 Century Healthcare,” describes an exciting possible future where services are delivered in radically different (empowering!) ways. The booklet provides compelling examples from around the world of how the ideas are being brought to life and explores some of the vital principles underpinning 21st century healthcare.

2. Great simple ideas for bringing more wellbeing and happiness into our everyday lives: 100 days of happy, a pledge to acknowledge and share one thing per day that makes us happy, and 24 hours of happy, a seemingly never-ending dance video of people dancing in the streets, in buildings, in gardens, with friends, to an addictively upbeat tune.

3. Excellent report, “Systemic Innovation” by The Social Innovation Europe Initiative (SIE), explains what systemic innovation is, explores strategies for transforming systems, highlights European examples of initiatives driving towards systems change, and makes recommendations on how to support systemic social innovation.

4. Blog post with a rich collection of resources, “45 Design Thinking Resources for Educators,” that are useful to anyone wanting to understand more about the design thinking movement and how strategic design may be relevant and helpful in your own setting (education-related or not).

5. Interesting read, “Systems, Messes and Interactive Planning” essay by Russell Ackoff, about the System around us, how we got into some of the mega messes (a.k.a. wicked problems), and why they are so tough to navigate and address (h/t John Maeda).

6. Huffington Post article, “What does public innovation mean?,” answers this question by pointing out that public innovation isn’t necessarily about something shiny, new or complex, but it is about something that works better, leads to better results, and creates a better pathway forward.

7. For the last half of March, three members of InWithForward were in Toronto, ON to work with St. Christopher House. The team were there to capture stories and start to re-imagine, with Drop-in Centre members and staff, what could be different for the Meeting Place and other Toronto Drop-in Centres at a system-level, service-level, neighbourhood-level, and relationship-level. The team is now onto their next Canadian starter project in Burnaby, BC. Make sure to check out InWithForward’s business model and hunches, which offer a super interesting and innovative approach to running a lab.

8. Pretty neat! “Design Action Research With Government” is a guide (with examples) for designing and implementing civic innovations with Government.

9. Super interesting blog post, “Social Sciences in Action,” by Jakob Christiansen of MindLab, where he shares the exploration, debate and “a-has!” from a meeting between social scientists Sarah Schulman (InWithForward), Anna Lochard (La 27e Region) and Jakob. Take a peek into their minds as they dive into questions like: How do we put social sciences into action and not just design thinking? What is the role of everyday people in our work? How do we spread and scale processes, not just products? “Of course, what we came up with was not definitive or polished. But it did open up some new arguments and ways of conceptualizing issues we each face in our day-to-day practice.”

10. Blog post, “How Social Innovation Labs Design and Scale Impact” by the Rockefeller Foundation, about the social innovation labs they support (including MaRS Solutions Lab!) and their thinking around the global labs movement.

11. We are always on the look-out for social innovation resources in French and we came across a bunch this month. We learned about the following french terms for “wicked problems:” problèmes complexes, problèmes irréductibles, problèmes indécidables, problèmes malins, problèmes épineux, and problèmes vicieux (h/t to Stéphane Vial and François Gougeon). Also, the National Collaboration Centre for Healthy Public Policy and the Quebec Government published this excellent french information page on wicked problems, “Les problèmes vicieux et les politiques publiques,” which explains and describes what wicked problems are and applies the concept to the realm of public health. There is also a new social innovation blog, “CRÉATIVITÉ 33” by Andre Fortin (formerly with  l’Institut du Nouveau Monde LABIS), with tools and advice for innovating. And finally, here is a round-up of what French Lab La 27e Région has in store for 2014 (they have English resources too – check them out, they are excellent communicators!).

12. Excellent report, “Innovation in 360 Degrees: Promoting Social Innovation in South Australia,” from Geoff Mulgan’s term as Adelaide’s Thinker In Residence. The report is from 2008, but there are tons of great insights for government innovators and systempreneurs. Geoff highlights key elements of public sector innovation, examples from around the world, South Australia’s biggest challenge areas (that are not dissimilar to Canada’s), and recommendations for becoming future-ready.

13. Provocative read: Guardian article challenges us to rethink the idea of the state as a catalyst for big bold ideas. Author Mariana Mazzucato argues that a program of forward-thinking public spending is crucial for a creative, prosperous society and that we must stop seeing the state as a malign influence or a waste of taxpayers’ money: “…the point of public policy is to make big things happen that would not have happened anyway. To do this, big budgets are not enough: big thinking and big brains are key.”

14. The Young Foundation announced that they’ve added top innovators to the team to spearhead its mission to disrupt inequality. You will gasp “wow” when you see the list, which includes Indy Johar (check out the SiG webinar with Indy, “From One to Many: Building Movements For Change,” from a couple months ago to get a taste of his thinking).

15. Great book lists this month: A team of editors at The Die Line, a platform and blog for package design, curated a selection of their favourite design strategy books (h/t Alexander Dirksen). The Guardian, with help from readers, came up with a list of the best books on policy leadership and innovation. And for a sure-fire way to get lost down the rabbit hole, Designers & Books is a website where 50 famous designers share the books — 678 in total — that inspire them (h/t John Pavlus via Andrea Hamilton).

16. Blog post from the Stanford Social Innovation Review, “The Ugly Truth About Scale,” offers three tips to those in the social sector tackling complex challenges: 1. Stop trying to feel so good; 2. Push to use technology much more strategically; and 3. Philanthropy must take risks (h/t Cameron Norman).

17. Blog post, “The Network Navigator,” explores how the power of a networked world is shifting the emphasis of work from expertise to navigation; includes the 8 skills of a Network Navigator, which are pretty interesting.

18. Last, but certainly not least, very exciting news from Alberta: the Government of Alberta announced the launch of a 1 billion dollar Social Innovation Endowment Fund – the first Canadian province to do so. The fund will support innovation via three streams, one of which is prototyping tools and methods, i.e. Labs. Here is the news release and the speech from the throne.

What have we missed? What lab-related links have you been following this past month?

Sustainability-driven Collaboration, Part II: Value Creation and Vision as a Driving Force


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In the first post of this three-part series, Sustainability-driven Collaboration, I discussed the imperative for profound systems change to address sustainability challenges, which provoked the question: how we can provide a platform for sustainability-driven collaboration in which participants are able to embrace complexity and reframe ‘wicked problems’ as ‘wicked opportunities’?

TNSblog3At the level of individual organizations, there is a long history of studying the distinction between efforts leading to incremental change versus transformational change, in particular sustainability-driven change. Research and experience in this area have led to methodologies like the Framework for Strategic Sustainable Development, by which organizations can credibly aim for sustainability-driven transformational change.

Although multi-stakeholder collaboration differs from such methodologies in many ways and presents a host of unique challenges, it seems likely that at least some lessons from sustainability-driven organization-level change can apply, or be adapted to apply to the context of multi-stakeholder collaborative change efforts. Approaches that have been successful at the organization level may similarly improve the capacity of collaborative efforts to achieve transformational systems change towards sustainability.

1. Focus on value creation – For organization-level change initiatives to achieve transformational results, it is crucial that sustainability be seen as a driver of business value as opposed to a cost centre. Nowhere is the case for sustainability as a driver of business value better made than in the work of Bob Willard, whose “Seven Business Case Benefits of a Triple Bottom Line” continue to be used to build boardroom buy-in on sustainability initiatives around the world. At an organizational level, the seven benefits are as follows: Easier hiring of top talent, higher retention of top talent, higher productivity from employees, reduced expenses in manufacturing, reduced expenses at commercial sites, increased revenue, and reduced risk and easier financing.

While a focus on value creation is no less important in a collaborative context, the added complexity that stems from the need to align the various interests and value-drivers of diverse stakeholders can make finding mutual benefit a much more complicated task than at the organization level. A multi-stakeholder collaborative effort must be capable of achieving compelling value creation at both the collective and organization/individual levels. This is the key insight and opportunity in Michael Porter and Mark Kramer’s popular Shared Value concept. Collective value acts as a centripetal force, lending cohesion to collaborative efforts, while value to the organization/individual dictates whether each party is willing to stay involved in a messy process with the sort of “emergent outcomes” typical of collaborative efforts.

Change Lab and Transformative Scenario Planning pioneer Adam Kahane, speaking at the 2013 Accelerate: Collaborating for Sustainability conference, summed up the importance of value creation, saying that: “The key to people choosing to stay at the table is understanding that they cannot get where they want to go otherwise.”

2. Use vision as the driving force – In order to move beyond incremental changes that still feel like costs to the kinds of breakthroughs where real value lies, organizations must be clear about what sustainability requires and therefore get ambitious about goal-setting. If one thing has been learned through work at the organization level, it is that vision-driven change efforts consistently lead to more profoundly transformational results, which tend to accrue the most value.

MIT Sloan Management Review

MIT Sloan Management Review

Peter Senge uses the metaphor of an elastic band being stretched between two hands – one representing current reality and the other representing the desired future. This metaphor describes the innovation and motivation that can be generated through creative tension. This tension is most powerful and most useful to drive innovation and change when:

a)     The vision remains ambitious;
b)     The accounting of current reality is rigorous and honest; and
c)     The gap between the two can be clearly and simply expressed as key transitions (i.e. we need to move from a system with X characteristics to a system with Y characteristics).

The power of vision as a driver of change in organizations seeking breakthrough outcomes has been demonstrated again and again by businesses such as Interface, Nike, and The Co-operators.

The need for a shared sense of success will be no less important for participants engaged in collaborative efforts. That said, it may not be advisable to rush towards a detailed shared vision in a multi-stakeholder context. In collaborations involving diverse stakeholder groups with widely different interests, the pressure to get agreement on a unifying vision risks generating something very high-level and abstract.  As the director of the Sustainable Food Lab, Hal Hamilton, said at a Breakthrough Capitalism event in Toronto in November 2013: “We don’t believe in a common vision. Oxfam and Walmart will never share the same vision.” Getting to a shared vision that is detailed enough to actually provide direction risks consuming a great deal of precious time and threatens participation levels, particularly among groups where there is a strong orientation to immediate action.

Although a single, detailed vision may not be possible or helpful when dealing with systems as complex as those targeted by collaborative systems change initiatives, it is difficult to be strategic in the determination of key priorities, or to maintain energy and momentum, without the tension provided by some shared understanding of success. However, success need not only be defined as a vision statement; it can also be articulated using principles.

The Natural Step

The Natural Step

Fortunately, scientists and thought leaders have done some helpful heavy lifting for us in this regard. Natural and social science can tell us the system conditions for sustainability, beyond which ecological systems will be eroded and social well-being will deteriorate below minimum levels, leading to divisiveness, instability, or breakdown. These system conditions address the root causes of our unsustainable path and use them to describe a principle-based articulation of a future sustainable state.

With reference to the elastic band metaphor, these science-based system conditions can serve as tacks on either end of the band, helping maintain the creative tension. They help ensure that the visions we create remain descriptive of a sustainable future state; in our analysis of the current system, they help us make sure we are rigorous so we don’t “lie to ourselves” about the current situation.

While they do not describe a specific sustainable future, the system conditions provide the boundary conditions within which society and systems can operate indefinitely and within which any sustainable future must exist. As such, system conditions serve as design constraints and can act as a compass for ongoing, adaptive change efforts. This is an approach referred to by The Natural Step as backcasting from principles.  It has been used by hundreds of leading organizations in the sustainable business and sustainable community fields.

In the context of multi-stakeholder collaborations, backcasting from system conditions for sustainability can help address the dilemma presented by the need for compelling, ambitious goals versus the difficulty of developing meaningful shared visions amongst diverse stakeholders. For example, we can collectively agree that we need to design a transportation system that doesn’t contribute to climate change and then each actor at the table can find ways to describe their organization’s role within that broader context – the organization’s vision will be specific, while success for the broader collaborative effort will be expressed on a principle level, but with no less ambition.

In the third and final entry of this three-part series, I will discuss three more lessons learned from organization-level change efforts that can be adapted for multi-stakeholder collaboration: simplicity without reduction, authentic leadership, and the importance of process design.

Want to engage further in the conversation about sustainability-driven collaboration? The Natural Step Canada is excited to host the 2nd annual Accelerate: Collaborating for Sustainability Conference on June 5-6, 2014, in Toronto. Join us to deepen learning about collaboration from experts and practitioners, experience collaboration by creating connections with other change agents, and seed new collaborative initiatives. As an Endorsing Partner of Accelerate, members and friends of the SiG community are encouraged to use the Exclusive Partner Discount Code SIG10 to automatically save 10% when registering. Learn more and register today!

 

Microtainer: social innovation & lab links we’re following (Dec 2013 & Jan 2014)


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This mini blog, or bloggette, is part of our ongoing effort to spread information that we think will be interesting, insightful and useful to lab practitioners and the lab-curious. Below is a collection of resources that crossed our desks over the months of December 2013 and January 2014. In no particular order:

  1. Article by Zaid Hassan exploring “what are social laboratories?” — Zaid explains that social labs are social, experimental and systemic. For a quick glance, check out Zaid’s webinar and slides via the ALIA Institute. For a deeper dive, check out his website and newly launched (this past monday!) book: the social lab revolution.

  1. Article about the UK Government’s design lab pilot: a Policy Lab to apply design principles to policy-making and public service.  Additional links in the article about the benefits of applying design in policy making.

  1. Awesome map of the global government lab landscape and website acting as a hub of information on the public innovation spaces — prepared by Daniela Selloni (Polimi DESIS Lab) and Eduardo Staszowski (Parsons DESIS Lab), Christian Bason (MindLab) and Andrea Schneider (Public By Design).

  1. Operating much like a think tank within the Singapore Government, the Centre for Strategic Futures acts on what will be the important challenges of the tomorrow — aiming to create an agile public sector in Singapore.

  1. Nesta’s Geoff Mulgan writes an excellent paper about design in government and social innovation and blog post with smart suggestions for making the case for social innovation to elected officials.

  1. Media update and project summary about the European Design Innovation Platform (EDIP) – a project to increase the use of design for innovation and growth across Europe, financed by the European Commission and in collaboration with Design Council, MindLab and others.

  1. Online mentoring and training program about Gov 3.0 offered by The Governance Lab (GovLab) out of NYU. The website also provides thinking and exploration into the notion of Gov3.0 (different from gov 2.0).

  1. Report “Restarting Britain 2” by Design Council explores the impact of design on public, private and design sectors and shows that the best of design thinking can help to make (public) services more relevant to current needs and reduce cost.

  1. Paper “The Journey to the Interface: how public sector design can connect user to reform” by UK-based think tank Demos explores public service design and it’s relationship with citizen engagement and co-production.

  1. Upcoming book (September 2014 release) “Design for Policy” by MindLab’s Christian Bason provides a detailed analysis of design as a tool for addressing public problems and capturing opportunities for achieving better and more efficient societal outcomes for citizens and governments (ie. co-design, co-creation, co-production). Also see Christian’s latest blog post: 2014 will be the year of Experimentation talking about the shifting narrative in the public sector around learning from failure (and along the experimentation vein, don’t miss the upcoming Fail Forward Festival coming to Toronto in July).

  1. Great blog and master’s program on service innovation and design offered by the Laurea University of Applied Sciences in Espoo, Finland. Also, there is a PhD in design for public services out of the AHO university in Oslo, Norway.

  1. Excellent articulation of empathy — this video by RSA Shorts to the soothing voice of Brene Brown (of the Tedtalk on vulnerability) and this book “Realizing Empathy” by Slim (thanks to Andrea Hamilton for letting me know about this great talk at Rotman as part of Rotman’s ongoing speaker series… last night was David Kelley of IDEO and coming up is Geoff Mulgan).

  1. Explanation of a powerful convening technique called “Peer Input Process” via the Tamarack Institute. Peer Input Process is a technique was designed to assist people obtain input from peers in a relatively quick and structured way.

  1. Blog post about embracing difference and how cultivating our ability to collaborate among diverse stakeholders will allow us to create truly transformative change. Written by the wonderfully articulate art of hosting steward Tuesday Ryan-Hart.

  1. Blog post on the Good website “From Pools to School Lunches: Why public interest design is changing the way we do things” overflowing with exciting projects at the intersect of design x public (and societal) good.

  1. Blog post by Amanda Mundy of The Moment about the journey and lessons learned from designing and setting up their innovation studio.

  1. The audio from a Metro Morning (radio) interview with John Brodhead exploring the future of public transportation and engaging in cross-sector collaborations. In this article, John also talks about his upcoming initiative “100 in 1 Day” where 100 urban ‘interventions’ will spring up across to Toronto in June (inspired by Montreal, Copenhagen and Bagota).

  2. The book “Happy City: Transforming our lives through urban design” by Charles Montgomery from the Museum of Vancouver (and MOV’s CityLab) gets rave reviews in the New York Times (glad I got this book for my BFF’s birthday!).

  3. Great concept: Pop Up Parks! The idea was part of Design Council’s Knee High Design Challenge (more info about the challenge and the other awesome projects ideas here). Also interesting on the topic of parks is Nesta paper “Rethinking Parks”, which highlights the need for new business models to run parks, given cuts in government funding, and discusses 20 international examples of how parks innovators are doing just that. (check out the Nesta’s Rethinking Parks contest to submit your ideas)

– Satsuko

Sustainability-driven Collaboration: A platform for turning wicked problems into wicked opportunities


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This series of posts, entitled Sustainability-driven Collaboration builds on lessons learned over years of sustainability-driven transformational change efforts at the organization level and explores the value they can bring to multi-stakeholder collaboration.

STL Circle1In their March 2013 post to the Harvard Business Review Blog, Paul Ellingstad and Charmian Love pointedly asked the question, Is Collaboration the new Greenwashing? This attention-grabbing title resonates strongly because of the ubiquitous use of the term collaboration in the past few years, particularly with the rise of concepts such as “Shared Value” in the business community and “Collective Impact” in the not-for-profit world. Those of us who have worked in the sustainability and social change space for some time are well aware of how easily means can be confused for ends, how often talk has been confused for action, and the difficulty of achieving transformational rather than incremental improvements.

But as Ellingstad and Love’s article points out, “to solve the big challenges in the world today we need to aim for nothing less than breakthrough levels of innovation.” At Brainstorm Green 2013, Nike’s Hanna Jones echoed this sentiment in an oft-retweeted statement: “If we don’t achieve system change, we might as well go home.” It is clear that none of us alone, working isolated in our own organizations on our own problems, can affect this change.

The need for collaboration to enable systems change is so evident and compelling that collaboration itself has become a buzzword and risks being confused for an end unto itself. How do we avoid this?

This is the real question, which Ellingstad and Love began to address in their article. How can collaboration not be the new greenwashing? How can collaborative efforts achieve breakthrough results?

Systems Change & Collaboration

The answer requires us to understand how complex systems work and how they change. Here we turn to Donella Meadows’ classic article Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System and her book Thinking in Systems, which describe 12 leverage points as the most effective places to intervene in systems. Volans’ Breakthrough Business Leaders, Market Revolutions Report, released in March 2013, takes the original list of twelve and groups them into six, but generally follows Meadows’ model.

The list of system leverage points, or places to intervene in a system are as follows, in order of ascending influence:

  1. Changing the numbers: subsidies, taxes and standards
  2. Changing buffers, stocks, flows, delays and feedback loops
  3. Changing information flows
  4. Changing the rules
  5. Changing the system’s genetic code (or changing the purpose/goal of the system)
  6. Changing paradigms

Changes to higher order items on the list – rules that govern a system, the purpose that drives the system, and the paradigms making up its foundation – offer the most far-reaching and fundamental transformational change. Still, the most common methods of attempting to influence complex systems – changing numbers via subsidies, taxes and standards – while noble pursuits, unfortunately target the least effective points of leverage to affect change.

This isn’t surprising. How does one organization change the rules of a system or the system’s goals? Imagine, for example, trying to shift the rules of the transportation system of a large metropolitan area. It’s simply not something within reach of a single organization. Getting at such higher yield leverage points requires collaboration among organizations.

In their book The Necessary Revolution: How Organizations are Collaborating to Change the World, authors Peter Senge, Bryan Smith, Nina Kruschwitz, Joe Laur, and Sara Schley recount a number of examples of successful collaboration resulting in real change. One of the most powerful examples is the story of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification system, where a collaborative effort among a range of stakeholders resulted in a de facto industry standard that has managed to influence building construction by causing change to the rules of that system.

The Necessary Revolution describes organizations that were able to find common ground, putting the issue in the centre of their efforts, and creating real and lasting change in a wide range of ways. However, as Senge and his co-authors point out, “successful collaboration is easier to espouse than achieve, and many of these efforts have struggled to realize their founders’ goals.” As anyone who has been involved in such a venture knows, collaboration is often unsuccessful, and won’t necessarily lead to systems change. Some of the most common obstacles to effective collaboration involve challenges related to trust, competing interests, power dynamics, ego, time, resources, leadership and collaborative capacity.

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In recent years we’ve witnessed the rise of numerous approaches to multi-stakeholder collaboration, including some that target these key obstacles directly. Social innovation labs, including Change Labs, Design Labs, Solutions Labs and other such processes, are an important example. How can more collaborative initiatives be designed to change systems in profound, “breakthrough” ways that alter the paradigms, goals, and rules in a system and that endure over time, instead of just becoming new venues for incrementalism or distractions from deep innovation? How do we provide a platform for sustainability-driven collaboration in which participants are able to embrace complexity, and reframe ‘wicked problems’ as ‘wicked opportunities’?

In the second entry of this three-part series I will explore how lessons learned (by The Natural Step and others) from sustainability-driven change at the level of organizations may apply to the context of multi-stakeholder collaborative efforts. These lessons have underpinned the development of The Natural Step’s Sustainability Transition Lab approach.

Want to engage further in the conversation about sustainability-driven collaboration? The Natural Step Canada is excited to host the 2nd annual Accelerate: Collaborating for Sustainability Conference on June 5-6, 2014, in Toronto. Join us to deepen learning about collaboration from experts and practitioners, experience collaboration by creating connections with other change agents, and seed new collaborative initiatives. As an Endorsing Partner of Accelerate, members and friends of the SiG community are encouraged to use the Exclusive Partner Discount Code SIG10 to automatically save 10% when registering. Learn more and register today!

 

Partnerships for Impact


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As the world grows increasingly globalized, we should challenge the current assumptions and orthodoxies that bind us to the status quo and look for innovative approaches. Business as usual, or incremental solutions, will rarely solve massive challenges like the evolution of education and literacy that we are currently moving through. As an example, one in four adults globally lack the basic literacy skills that have become necessary to successfully operate in today’s world and many children lack access to an education that will prepare them for life in the 21st century. Trying to address these challenges with a single sector or organization approach is unlikely to make the sort of a lasting and sustainable impact we want.

While collaboration has occurred for thousands, if not millions of years, the study of effective complex partnerships is relatively recent. Out of this work, and deeper understanding of how complex partnerships work, the new role of partnership and innovation brokering has emerged. Collaborative Impact was established to provide support, increasing effectiveness, and impact of large-scale multi-stakeholder partnerships that address complex challenges.

 

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Collaborative Impact is a social enterprise partnership that develops and manages highly effective cross-sector and multi-stakeholder partnerships with organizations from all sectors such as the Global Partnership for Education, European SchoolNet and UNESCO to collectively address major social and developmental challenges. They do this by supporting global leaders and change makers in partnership brokering, intermediation, measurement, and implementation of cross-sector partnerships.

CAAAn example of Collaborative Impact’s work is in improving measurement and assessment of complex skills in schools, which can help to address the 75 million youth who are unemployed worldwide. Currently there is an unparalleled gap between knowledge and skills acquired in school vs. knowledge and skills required to be successful in the workplace and community. The significant need to embed these skills in teaching and measurement culminated in the formation of the Collaborative Assessment Alliance (CAA). Through Collaborative Impact’s facilitation, Intel, Microsoft, Promethean and ETS partnered to establish CAA. CAA has the goal to improve the measurement of education systems to guide the teaching and learning of Deep Learning skills. The alliance offers a technical support team, portal and monthly web conferences to support the partner’s implementation of collaborative assessment tasks.

For many organizations the concept of partnering is often compelling. However the partnership approach comes with overheads that may not be evident in single organizational approaches. This means it may be best to consider a partnership approach as a last resort if the challenge or problem cannot be solved in any other way. It is in these situations that the added complexity and challenges are worth the effort to deliver new and innovative solutions that would not have otherwise been possible.

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Effective partnerships can be challenging to design, develop and manage, however research findings from the Partnership Brokers Association show that outcomes of cross-sector partnering are improved when one or more people take a brokering or intermediation role. To this effect, Collaborative Impact provides the resources and skills to take on the role, as well as promote the values and practices that accompany partnership brokering. This can lead to more effective, sustainable, and scalable results that can have a dramatic impact on a wide variety of challenges.

Social Enterprise Spotlight: Building Capacity for Partnerships


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Ros Tennyson has been in the business of partnerships for over 20 years. In her role as the Development Director of the Partnership Brokers Association, Ros delivers a comprehensive range of training courses designed to build the skills, confidence and competencies necessary to broker partnerships effectively. We’re excited that Ros will be moderating at the Social Enterprise World Forum in the breakout session, “Culture Shock: Engaging Others in Your Success.” Just in time for the forum’s launch next week, SiG had the opportunity to speak with Ros about developing partnership competencies for social change.

Why are partnerships helpful to creating social change?

Ros: If partnerships weren’t needed, they wouldn’t be necessary. In other words, if society worked the way we’d like it to work, we wouldn’t have any need for cross-sector collaboration. If each sector – government, business, civil society and international agencies – were able to function at their optimum capacity, then things would be fine. We would have a complex coherent world interrelated with each other in appropriate ways. The reality is that no one sector really functions particularly well. Most sectors are finding they are failing to deliver on their own goals and wider societal goals. So suddenly, the whole idea of working together to collaborate to make change seems extremely attractive.

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How can we as individuals and organizations develop a more collaborative culture, particularly across sectors and continents, to address the systemic intractable issues of our society?

Ros: I think human nature is quite complex and there is a tendency to think that collaboration is just business as usual, straightforward. The tendency is to think:

Of course we’re all human beings, we get on with each other, we know how to make good relationships, therefore it shouldn’t be any kind of major problem to learn how to collaborate.

I believe the reality is quite different. The ability to break boundaries – to be boundary spanners requires quite a radical challenge to one’s assumptions and mindsets. One has to really question how one thinks about other sectors and countries in order to operate differently. I think certainly in the west, we’ve grown up with a certain culture of possessiveness, of thinking we have to know best, thinking we’re right. And actually we don’t necessarily know best and we’re not necessarily right. Actually a much more open and honest way to proceed is to see things as a dialogue, where everyone is discovering and learning how to do things, rather than some people thinking they have the answers and trying to coerce others into accepting their own point of view. It’s sounds like a complex answer but I think collaboration is not business as usual. It takes reframed skills and it takes the kind of people who are willing to adapt and move outside their own comfort zone perhaps, for the benefit of a bigger purpose. And actually when the chips are down – however liberal or liberated we think we are – we are all fond of our comfort zones. In fact, the challenge to change towards a genuinely more collaborative model is quite a big one.

Are there ways to prepare or hone the ability to be out of one’s comfort zone, as well as encourage other people to take that leap?

Ros: I’d describe it as both an art and a science. The art element is being able to envision something different, to know what you’re aspiring towards and therefore making the right journey to get to that goal. The goal has to be forward looking, future-looking. It has to be based on attentiveness, listening, intuition, on understanding what is needed now, on making the most of what you have, instead of some preconceived idea that you are trying to impose. That’s the art of it. But to do this well, art and intuition are not enough. You also have to be rigorous, technical, scientific, meticulous, business-like, astute, and persistent. These are very different kinds of attributes. So the ideal practitioner in this space, as a partnership broker or intermediary, will be able to see which of those things (art or science) they do naturally and work quite hard to develop the other side of themselves so they can do both.

The Social Enterprise World Forum is a gathering of 1,200 social impact champions from various sectors and associations around the world. What excites you about attending the event?

SEWFRos: I’ve been working partnership brokering for the last 20 years and only when I was invited by Social Innovation Generation to speak at a MaRS conference two years ago did I find myself in a room full of social innovators. As I started to hear people speak, I suddenly realized that I was amongst my peers. What I registered is that although my work is in the realm of partnership brokering, as an individual I’m basically a social innovator, so I feel very naturally drawn towards that world. I’m extremely excited to hear how much that world has developed in Canada, as social innovators seem very central in Canada. It does feel like a privilege to be in a room full of social innovators because I think the world really needs it. Of course, the big question for me is what is the interface between social innovation and partnership brokering and partnership development? Since the two worlds have similar qualities and are useful to one another, they seem to support, inform and reinforce each other.

 

 

Social Innovator Wisdom: Partnering To Tip Systems


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When developing solutions for complex systemic issues, social innovators know it is futile to operate in silos.

“We act like systems in creating large-scale problems but we act like individuals in trying to solve them” – Eric Trist, Social Scientist and Co-Founder of the Tavistock Institute

In a recent talk, Dan Hill of Helsinki Design Lab explains that ‘wicked’ or complex problems are unclear and interdependent, with no client to take responsibility “except the entire human race”. We are very much all in this together, so what better way to take a whole-system approach and pull in wisdom from different perspectives/stakeholders than via partnerships.

(image via Western Washington University)

[Read more…]

Social Innovation Musings


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My first three weeks at SiG have flown by. As the newest member of SiG National’s team, I’ve had to hit the ground sprinting. I joined the SiG team to help accelerate our work in supporting the growth of Canada’s ecosystem for enabling social innovation, with a particular focus on sharing the valuable contribution Labs can make. You may be asking: what exactly is a Lab? There are a lot of definitions floating around. In the social innovation space, a Lab is a powerful tool used to develop holistic solutions to complex social problems (particularly those problems that have become resistant to traditional solutions). To help make all of this more clear, we are constantly updating and developing new resources viewable on the SiG website.

(image via pinterest)

As a quick peak inside my brain, here are a couple of current musings around Labs and social innovation that have piqued my interest.
[Read more…]


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