Remaking a Living: A shared journey of social innovation

This blog can only do so much to share the inspiring journey of the Remaking a Living Project. If you would like to learn more about their journey, process, and  recommendations, please visit the Remaking a Living website and the project blog. All images were provided by the Remaking a Living Project unless indicated otherwise.

Our world is filled with complexity that cannot be grasped merely by way of numbers or facts.

A prime example is the unemployment rate – a widely cited statistic that fails to tell the whole story of those who find themselves not currently working; it only counts those who have looked for work in the past four weeks.

So where do the rest get counted? Statistics Canada refers to people who want to be working but have given up, over the short term or the long term, as ‘discouraged workers’ and considers them outside the work force, rather than ‘unemployed.’ These are the people that the Remaking a Living project sought to understand. They wanted to hear from the people who aren’t in the news and don’t make it to, or find success at, the employment centre. Mostly, they wanted to know:

How can we best assist those who have been marginalized in the labour force, so they can participate in the economy on their own terms?
Natalie Napier hard at work. Image provided by the Remaking a Living project.

Natalie Napier hard at work during the summer.

The process began last summer in Peterborough, which often ranks as the municipality with the highest unemployment rate in Canada. Natalie Napier, from the Community Opportunity & Innovation Network (COIN), led a small team to explore this question with coaching from InWithForward (IWF), an organization that works all over the world to re-design social services from the perspective of the people who use them, and financial support from the Atkinson Foundation, United Way of Peterborough, and the Community Foundation of Greater Peterborough.

Last month, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Natalie Napier to chat about Remaking a Living:

KG: How did you become involved in this project and what were you doing at COIN prior to this?

NN: I have been at COIN for five years – it all started with an internship. These days my title is Lead Specialist in Innovation Projects. I was getting exposure to the innovation lab model, and I liked the idea of people from all parts of a system coming together to develop more holistic solutions, but in practice the innovation lab seemed to be geared to more privileged members of systems and the last thing I wanted was to carry out a project in which we learn about people experiencing a problem from other people.

KG: This kind of work is – for many- a completely new approach. What inspired the project?

NN: We were inspired by the Atkinson Foundation’s Decent Work Fund that asked, “What is decent work?”. COIN works with people who are marginalized from the workforce, sometimes people who have never had a job. I wanted to explore this question, but I didn’t want to get a grant and have none of the funding reach the very people I was hoping to help. Atkinson put us in touch with IWF.

KG: How did IWF become involved as a coach? I believe this is the first time they coached someone within an organization to conduct the work alone.

NN: The great thing about IWF is that they are always willing to think “How can this be done differently?”. COIN was excited about the potential, but as a small organization – even with our incredible partners – we were not in the position to hire IWF the usual way and they had other projects still in progress. Eventually we came to a solution: I would manage the project with a team and IWF would coach me, mostly remotely.

KG: I understand that Remaking a Living staged various interactions, which I was fascinated by. How did you come up with unique ways to approach people?

Watermelon Trading Post. Image provided by the Remaking a Living Project.

Watermelon Trading Post.

NN: IWF taught us to think of each interaction as a design brief. In one of the interactions, we wanted to get out of the city and talk to people who could tell us first hand about the experience of rural long term unemployment. A contact suggested a food cupboard based out of a church and the organizers of this food cupboard gave us some parametres, mostly to reduce any sense of stigma users might feel. We had to be inside the Church at the back of the room in which people wait to be able to access food and supplies; people had to choose to go out of their way to talk to us. Our goal was to stand out, to be family-friendly, to offer something of value, and to make people feel comfortable enough to tell us their stories.

Throughout the summer the project staged various interactions to explore this question, like a makeshift sneaker cleaning station outside a shelter to understand the impact of peer networks. Image  was provided by the Remaking a Living Project.

Another interaction was a makeshift sneaker cleaning station outside of a community dinner to understand the impact of peer networks.

The staff also mentioned that fresh fruit wasn’t usually available so when watermelons went on sale, we recognized them as the great big, juicy props they are and came up with the Watermelon Trading Post. A central value behind this project has been reciprocity, so we always had something to offer.

KG: How did you adapt to going from working inside an office to interacting with people all the time?

NN: For me, this project was about designing programs outside of boardrooms and I saw getting ‘out there’ as part of the process. IWF’s coaching had prepared me for it, and I am outgoing, but it wasn’t always easy. The people who we were trying to approach are often under-stimulated and isolated since they don’t have workplace interactions or spending money for activities. We found that as long as we struck the right note, and had something to offer (a laugh, watermelon etc), people were happy to chat.

KG: What were the obstacles you encountered?

NN: This was an incredible learning experience, but when you are processing so much yourself, it can be hard to share it with others. I found it really challenging to describe this project and its potential outcome to our funders. We also had to adapt IWF’s process to our non-profit: for example, our board wondered whether our adventures into people’s homes would be covered under our insurance and health and safety policy.

The finished web product of the Remaking a Living project, with their prototyped solutions.

The finished website of the Remaking a Living project, with their proposed solutions.

KG: What lesson did you take away from this process?

NN: I took two lessons away from this process. The first is the incredible challenge of communicating the value of this work with any degree of complexity to anyone, including and especially to those within my own organization. This was one reason the website was so important to me. We worked really hard not just to explain, but to show what our work was about. I had many important conversations in which I wasn’t able to get the point across; words utterly failed me.

Anyone working in the social sector knows this work is challenging; we all get frustrated with the results of our work and admit that we need new approaches, but we all still have an investment in some of the status quo. When someone comes along and transmits a message about a different way of doing things, we can surprise ourselves by getting our backs up. I learned that I needed to connect emotionally, not just intellectually. I needed to invite more people on the journey with me, rather than just focusing on finding the right words.

The second lesson I learned was that organizational learning and change takes time. IWF is designed to move at the speed of light: to analyze and reinvent. It was exciting and invigorating to work with an organization that has that kind of energy. My organization, while small and relatively agile, is designed to provide the stability of inclusive, flexible programming to people who are marginalized. Those are two very different machines. I wanted to import some of that IWF magic to my own organization, but I met resistance. At the time, it felt like a brick wall that I could not get through, but I can see now that I was just pushing too hard. Opportunities to incorporate aspects of IWF’s Grounded Change approach seem to abound now.

We don’t recognize patience as a virtue in innovation nearly enough.

KG: Would you say there is an interest in trying new things within Peterborough’s philanthropic landscape?

Last November our Executive Director spoke at the Philanthropy Forum in Peterborough about Social Innovation - the appetite is there.

Last November, SiG ED, Tim Draimin, spoke at the Philanthropy Forum in Peterborough about social innovation – the appetite is there. Photo provided by the Community Foundation of Greater Peterborough.

NN: The very fact that all these partners within Peterborough’s social and philanthropic landscape funded our project, and that so many local organizations allowed us to come into their spaces, is evidence that there is an appetite for new things. There are several really great grassroots projects and programs cropping up in Peterborough. Smaller organizations are often able to innovate with a nimbleness and boldness that larger institutions lack until there is more evidence available.

 KG: Do you think you’ll try this approach again?

NN: While the Remaking a Living Project has not found traction with its proposed solution ideas, it is still early. There is a lot of interest in exploring different issues using a similar process. I am currently crafting another project with this approach, including all the lessons learned from our first go – particularly the need to incorporate partners into the process.

I can’t imagine that anything I do in the future won’t owe something to IWF’s work. I am an evangelist. I think everybody deserves to be a force in the definition of ‘problems’ and creation of solutions that are about their lives. I don’t think there are many situations in which we should work any other way. I can’t go back.

Debriefers

IWF suggested that the project assemble a team of people who would be sympathetic to the project, but not afraid to ask tough questions and make us see things from different angles. They assembled the debriefers from different sectors who would look at what they were doing, asked questions, offer practical advice, and barrier-bust.

 

Mexico’s CatapultaFest Mixes Heady Innovation-Culture Cocktail

SiG Note: This article was originally published on July 9, 2015 on Social Innovation Exchange (SIX): Read. It has been cross-posted with permission from SIX. 

“I found my tribe!”

That’s how Pamela Alexander described her experience last year at Catapulta Festival 2014. She was invited as a media observer and soaked up her first exposure to social innovation, social purpose business and impact investing. This led her to re-examine her career. She ended up quitting her Mexico City media job and worked to align her values with her vocation. She began by moving to Tijuana, a depressed northern Mexican city, and starting a sustainable food-based initiative to help Mexican deportees from the USA build sustainable livelihoods.

FullSizeRender (8)I attended Catapulta 2015 as a board member and representative of SIX, which had been invited as part of Catapulta’s goal of being a local social innovation movement-builder connecting into global networks.

As co-founder Mark Beam described the Festival at its opening, “Catapulta’s goal is to be a platform to cultivate, inspire, and integrate social innovation with community.” Harry Halloran, founder of Catapulta funding partner Halloran Philanthropies, told me that Catapulta is different from other social entrepreneurship and social innovation events, like Skoll World Forum and SOCAP, by being embedded with community.

Although Catapulta had several international participants (from as far away as Uganda — for example, Sanga Moses shared the remarkable story of Eco-Fuel Africa), welcome impressions were gender balance (noticeable in a male-dominated culture) and the number of Oaxacans present, especially young people, students and individuals from projects like Sikanda’s community work with Pepenadores (waste pickers).

FullSizeRender (3)Oaxaca is a spectacular venue for social innovators. With a population of 500,000, the city has a rich indigenous culture and history coupled with a dramatic colonial setting. Some of the most exciting social innovations shared were the ones that drew from the local indigenous culture.

An inspiring example is Xaquixe Glass Innovation Studio that intuitively blends technological, business, environmental, cultural and social innovation.

A social purpose business, Xaquixe is tackling numerous issues simultaneously:

  1. The closure in the last decade of 75% of Mexico’s artisanal glassworks, undermined by the escalating cost of energy (LP gas has gone up 300% in 5 years);
  2. The fact that less than 10% of waste glass is recycled;
  3. Protection of threatened indigenous cultural traditions;
  4. Diverting used cooking oil (now discarded often in environmentally damaging ways) into energy applications; and,
  5. The gap in sustainable livelihoods for a rapidly growing and young population.

FullSizeRender (7)Tackling the cost of energy, Xaquixe has innovated the recycling of used cooking oil as a substitute energy source, building a network of Oaxacan restaurants as suppliers. The oil is supplemented with solar, using parabolic mirrors (a natural for a glassmaker). Xaquixe’s design and research lead Salvador Pulido Arroyo says they hope to be entirely self-sufficient in energy in three years.

Xaquixe has created an allied nonprofit that will be providing technical training to local glassmaker artisans in how to self-reliantly adopt cooking oil energy technology and also adopt design adaptations to improve the efficiency of their ovens. Originally Xaquixe set up shop in Oaxaca because the local mescal liquor industry had no locally-sourced glass bottle fabrication.

Another start-up social innovation in Oaxaca is working with artisanal producers to build their own brands, allowing them to retain a much greater share of the final retail price of their products.

The physical setting of Catapulta alternated between the San Pablo Cultural Centre, a magnificently rehabilitated colonial building operated by a foundation and La Calera, a reclaimed and re-purposed brick factory that is now a “centre for social innovation, culture and art.”

La Calera creates an intersection for felicitous new discoveries. One example is the experience of a hip-hop artist, who described to me how he came to La Calera to teach hip-hop, discovered social innovation and turned his talents to creating a very successful arts program working with both at-risk youth and incarcerated youth at the local prison. He is now confronting the challenge of scaling his proven program to other prisons across Mexico.

One of the most avant garde initiatives presented at Catapulta was FactoryX, an incubator seeking to reinvent how business operates to ensure it is aligned with society’s best interests:

“FactoryX is a radical new experiment that aims to change the way organizations relate to society. By launching companies in a completely new way, we (a group of experienced entrepreneurs and builders) seek to solve systemic problems in the ecosystem via direct experimentation, learning, and sharing.”

The genius behind it is a social entrepreneur who is a successful alumnus of Yahoo and Google, Tom Chi.

FullSizeRender (1)

CatapultaFest connects and supports the growing local ecosystem of social innovators, like those involved with Oaxaca’s Impact Hub and SVX Mexico. It sees itself connecting the local with the global in ways that accelerate social innovation and embed the movement within the needs and cultural aspirations of Mexico.

Scheduling Change

SiG Note: This blog post is written by former SiGster Satsuko, who is now a business ethnographer at social enterprise InWithForward. The post showcases a tangible example of how ethnography is used by labs to uncover opportunity areas in order to build system tipping solutions, like Kudoz. The post has been re-posted from InWithForward with permission from the author.

8:12am     Ashley: Ok, I just got a text that Kelly is sick.

Don: What time does she start?

Ashley: 10:30.

Don stares at his computer screen, toggling between tabs on the google spreadsheet.

Don: Has Saul worked with Randy?

Ashley: I think Clay has.

Don: Clay? Before we do that, let’s call Saul.

Ashley: We’ve pulled almost all the *casuals, oh Mick is extra today.

Don: Melody has worked with Randy.

Ashley: Ya, we can do that.

Don: Ok, I’ll change it in the schedule if you call.

Ashley [starts dialing]: Right!

Don: Better put it on the chat before Francine steals her.

8:15am      Ashley: Yup.

This was exactly the kind of conversation I was hoping to catch. From 7:50am to 10am, perched on a chair beside Don, I scribbled in my notepad as quickly as I legibly could. I was attempting to capture Don’s moves on a pretty micro level: his mouse clicks, the number of times he toggled between web browser tabs, text messages sent and received, facial expressions (concentration face, calm, joking around, adrenalin), timings, interruptions, conversations between colleagues. We’re trying to learn everything we can about staff scheduling at our Burnaby project partner agencies, because the success of Kudoz depends on it.

Learning about scheduling at one of our partner agencies

Learning about scheduling at one of our partner agencies

I was hanging out with Don because he is responsible for managing the schedule of two disability day programs, comprised of about 35 staff. He is part of a 4 person scheduling team. If any of his 4 colleagues receives a sick call, even if the shifts in Don’s programs are balanced and none of his staff cancel shifts, he may need to move around his staff to figure out a new configuration. There are tons of variables and rigid union regulations that schedulers juggle in their head.

 A simpler staff switch may take a couple minutes to sort out. A tougher one can take a couple hours and up to 9 shift swaps, not to mention the accompanying calls to each of the staff and families affected (this was the case with a sick call two days earlier, Don told me, where he couldn’t find anyone to cover the shift and ended up going on the floor himself). I recorded tons of clicking between google docs, one-handed text messages sent, scrunchy foreheads, jokes between the team, and greetings to individuals. By 9:35am, I already had 9 pages of notes.

The typical chain of events when Don receives a sick call

The typical chain of events when Don receives a sick call

We were observing Don with a very specific aim: to spot opportunity areas, which are often disguised as bottlenecks and barriers. Specifically, we are seeking to understand: what is the most annoying, time-consuming or anxiety-producing part of the scheduling process, what are the most rewarding moments that make it worthwhile, what is considered a good scheduling outcome, what skills help you excel at this type of work, what motivates schedulers and how do incentive structures support that? Don used the above diagram to talk me through his answers.

Scheduling? So what?

I joined InWithForward about a month ago, bringing a business lens to the team. My main focus has been on the business model for Kudoz. And related to that, how this new service will fit into the existing organizational structure and systems of our three partner agencies and the developmental disabilities sector as a whole. Staff scheduling quickly rose to the top as a potential barrier for Kudoz. That’s because Kudoz uses paid staff time in 1-3 hour increments during regular program hours.

Kudoz

Kudoz is a catalogue of taster experiences for people with a learning disability. Essentially, Kudoz matches people — disability agency staff, small business owners, or community members — who have a passion to share with individuals-served who are bored and curious to try something new.

For frontline worker Frank, it means having people join him for a drumming circle and getting better at teaching about soundscapes. For community member Andrea, it means having a friend to go for a walk in the forest and that nudge to get back into photography. For person-served David, it means discovering he is pretty good at making his own video clips, having more things to talk about with friends and family, having more positive self-talk, and growing his curiosity. Kudoz aims to enable individuals-served like David to flourish and lead a meaningful life.

For Don, this means that if any of his staff become a Kudoz host, the schedules he manages would be affected. In order for Kudoz to take hold and spread, we are working hard to figure out how to integrate Kudoz into existing structures and to make it easier and more convenient than the existing system. Because Kudoz will be squashed if it creates extra work or a headache for schedulers like Don.

Some early thoughts on different ways Don’s staff could work around the schedule in order to become a Kudoz host

Some early thoughts on different ways Don’s staff could work around the schedule in order to become a Kudoz host

(Early) insights & hunches

Based on our ethnographic observations thus far, we have a couple hunches.

One hunch is that Kudoz will be able to collect, accumulate, and leverage idle work hours in order to enable staff to share their passion with persons-served, all during work time.

For salaried staff with flexible hours, this hunch means using slower office times during the day, week, month, or year towards hosting Kudoz experiences (we are currently testing this).

For hourly support staff with defined shifts, this hunch means shaving off and banking idle work hours from a shift, in order for the hours to be re-purposed towards hosting a one-on-one experience to share their passion with an individual-served.

For example, some possible idle time that disability day program staff could potentially bank include:

  • (±40 minutes) when program staff are on the clock at the agency, but their person-served hasn’t arrived yet for their day program;
  • (±20 minutes) allotted to program staff for writing and reading log notes; casuals usually aren’t required to do so;
  • (3-4 hours) when casual staff are on shift, but an individual-served ends up not coming in; due to union regulations, the shift cannot be cancelled;
  • (1-2 hours) when a casual staff is called to cover a 2-hour staff meeting, but a casual cannot be booked for a shift that is less than 3-4 hours (minimum shift hours are different per agency).

These examples alone free up 6-7 hours for meaningful experiences that equate to individuals-served learning and growing their sense of self. And, staff get to share their personal passions on work time, leading to higher productivity and morale and lower absenteeism/presenteeism.

Another hunch is that much of the scheduling process could be automated to create efficiency gains and eliminate many of schedulers’ pain points.

One of the partner agencies has recently switched over to a bespoke software program for scheduling, that has been rolled out over the last year. Another agency uses google docs. Another uses paper. No matter the system, there are tons of variables that schedulers hold in their head. Some of this information is written somewhere, often the result of a scheduler going on a holiday and needing to share the info with their colleagues. But most of the tacit knowledge is not. And most of it is not reflected in the software they use. We think it could be!

We are making a list of specs that a Kudoz enabled scheduling system would need to include and we are learning more everyday. Some of these specs include:

  • automated text/call/email notifications of shifts when there are changes, based on the staff member’s preferred method of communication, how soon the shift is, etc.;
  • the option of a daily automated text to families of persons-served that let’s them know who will be working with their son/daughter that day, based on the family’s communication preferences;
  • drop down menu per specific shift, with all the staff that are trained and available to work on a given shift (even if they are scheduled for another shift), and the number of swaps that would be required if that staff was chosen;
  • recommendations of the most desirable swap, based on relationships between staff and the individual-served, an individual’s preferences (would like a different staff every three days), past interactions with family, etc. — all of which would be inputed by schedulers;
  • include “long shot” swap options; ie. staff who are likely unable to cover a shift (based on the availability they provided), but might be able to.

These specifications aim to minimize/eliminate the need for staff to negotiate swapping staff across programs (one of the major pain points identified by schedulers) and lessen the burden of communicating changes (calling people, waiting to hear back and adjusting the various systems to reflect changes is often the most time consuming part of shifting the schedule).

For now, we are pulling inspiration from restaurant scheduling apps and flight comparison aggregators sites to think creatively about what is possible. Any suggestions of ideas are super welcome ~ please include them in the comments section!

We’re left wondering…

There are many things to test and work through over the next 5 months. Some of the questions we’re trying to figure out and are working through at the moment include:

  • How do we get parents on board with Kudoz? How do we help parents see Kudoz as an opportunity for growth for their children?
  • How do we work with managers whose staff are signing up to be Kudoz hosts?
  • What is the economic activity surrounding an individual-served? Can we put a dollar amount on this? How can we bring out the stories behind the numbers, ie. What is the cost to quality of life and the ability to flourish? What are the positive deviant stories of individuals-served?

There is nothing like a deadline to keep one moving and motivated.

– Satsuko

Jargon alert!

Some of the sector specific language used in this post:

 *Casuals: a type of Support Worker that is on-call and employed when and if needed for disability day programs and for group homes (where 3-4 people with learning disabilities may live).

*Support Staff/Workers: assist adults with a learning disability on a day-to-day basis, either one-on-one or as part of a small group (usually no more than 4).

*Disability day program: a place where adults with learning disabilities go during the day. Day programs are staffed by support workers that help individuals work towards their personal development plans.

Social Prosperity Wood Buffalo – Seeding a Social Innovation Ecosystem

Can a cross-sector partnership, that bridges the gaps between corporate, academic, public and social profit entities — with their different cultures, values and perspectives — foster a lasting ecosystem of social innovation in a region known internationally for its reliance on oil extraction?

This was an unusual partnership in an unsuspected place.  Starting in 2009-2010, the Suncor Energy Foundation (SEF), the University of Waterloo (UW), the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo (RMWB) and the United Way of Fort McMurray came together to build the capacity of the not-for-profit sector (renamed the social profit sector) in the Wood Buffalo region and create the preconditions for a culture of social innovation that would long outlast the project itself.

11UW001_ProjectID_tagThis partnership is the Social Prosperity Wood Buffalo (SPWB) project, which has sought to take advantage of the complimentary strengths of reflection and action to build an ecosystem for social innovation in Wood Buffalo, within the social profit sector. Five years on, the project is winding down and taking stock of how much a lasting ecosystem for social innovation has developed.

SPWB began in part with the ideas presented in Getting to Maybe (2006), which guided much of the project’s work with the community.  Some of the most powerful ideas that practitioners in Wood Buffalo have embraced include:

  • the importance of grasping the whole system;
  • the value of developmental evaluation to inform decision-making and ongoing work, and;
  • the importance of social entrepreneurship, linking ideas to power and windows of opportunity.

Through workshops, learning events, resources and reports, SPWB gave its social profit partners the opportunity – sometimes even described as ‘permission’ by participants – to look above their foxholes, to pause, to take stock, to talk, to reconsider, and to celebrate.  This space was also a place for participants to explore the murky adjacent possible and create new partnerships and programs to serve the community.

While SPWB looked to Getting to Maybe, as well as the growing academic analysis and next practice of social innovation coming out of the University of Waterloo, Social Innovation Generation, Tamarack, Innoweave and other groups, this project has always been at its core community driven.  Surveys and brainstorming conversations allowed community partners to identify their priorities, while on-going questionnaires and reports allowed these partners to hold the SPWB team accountable over time.

It took a long time – several years in some cases – for SPWB to earn the trust of its social profit partners, highlighting the importance of long time commitments for projects that seek to support social innovation.  This time invested was not time wasted however, as it made the hard conversations about wicked problems possible.

A constant focus on trust building and community voice also built a sense of community ownership around the outcomes related to SPWB interventions – whatever SPWB did, it did walking alongside community partners.  SPWB acted as an incubator and backbone — convening meetings, acting as note taker and reporting back, doing research and communicating results — which allowed its partners to explore new partnerships, test out new initiatives, and take risks.  Some of the successful risks included the creation of shared space for social profits; a new arts council; a new, amalgamated capacity building organization called, FuseSocial (from Capacity Wood Buffalo, Leadership Wood Buffalo and SectorLink); and the annual Heart of Wood Buffalo Leadership Awards.

FuseSocial Wood Buffalo Strategy Roadmap

FuseSocial Wood Buffalo Strategy Roadmap

As this phase of the SPWB project ends, is the interest in social innovation it has supported in Wood Buffalo sustainable? Has it created that rich ecosystem for social innovation that will last for generations?  There is definitely increased awareness and knowledge of social innovation and complexity, and an increased use of developmental evaluation, and the social profit sector is more valued by the public and private sectors, as well as more confident in themselves.

This success has conversely translated into a concern, however, among SPWB’s social profit partners about what will happen when their champion of process passes the torch to the community.  Will the sector still have the depth of research? Will there still be safe spaces, where competition for resources and clients is left at the door?  Is the embrace of social innovation thinking deep enough that it is the new norm?

These questions are yet unanswered.  Although some will be addressed as the project members define the tangible elements of SPWB’s immediate legacy (who takes over what, where do resources go), with others, only time will tell. One challenge will be the ongoing clash between standing still (making ‘reflective practice a centrepiece of action,’[1]) and the inherent action-oriented focus of the social profit sector in Wood Buffalo.  While many organizations, at several scales, embraced the value of grounding themselves in evidence and asking probing questions, very few of SPWB’s community partners wanted to pause.  Learning and reflection were valued as long as they were paired with moving the conversation forward or could be tied to organizational goals.  Thinking always had to be paired with action.

Rather than resolve this dilemma, perhaps there is a space to manage or embrace what seems like an insurmountable tension between action and thinking.  Future projects could embrace the fierce interest in doing, while still maintaining the value associated with standing still.  New approaches such as social innovation change labs have certainly embraced research to drive meaningful, deep exploration and possible action – what possibilities lie in these emergent processes?



[1] Frances Westley, Brenda Zimmerman and Michael Quinn Patton, Getting to Maybe (2006) p. 89

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

C/O Louise Boye

C/O Louise Boye

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 August 2014. In no particular order:

1. The final essay of a three part series on the future of independent work: “Fringe Benefits” by Bryan Boyer. In this third installment, Bryan discusses what independent workers have expressed as core needs (effort, flexibility, responsibility, pay, and security), as well as needs that are ripe for innovation (identity, community, professional development, and scaling ones own efforts), trade-offs that independent workers juggle, and questions that he is left pondering. Also see essay one, two, and zero (the prequel), the series is an interesting read for entrepreneurs, freelancers, contractors, consultants… that is, what Bryan terms: independents.

2. Another one related to Bryan: Blog post, “Bryan Boyer: Stories from 5 years at Helsinki Design Lab,” summarizes a GovLab Ideas Lunch session by Bryan, about his work at Sitra and the notion of “dark matter.” (for more on the vocab of strategic design, check out this book by Dan Hill)

3. Streamed half hour conversation with Bruce Katz (author of The Metropolitan Revolution) and Geoff Mulgan (Nesta) and moderated by Alexandra Jones (Centre for Cities), on “How to encourage innovation in city economies.” The trio explore the shifting innovation landscape: revaluing needs and assets; technology fusing with other clusters like education/health etc; countries leading the innovation charge; the role of creativity, etc.

4. Blog post: “We Need New Civic Institutions To Confront The Challenges Of The 21st Century,” by Thomas Neumark, explores the debate around whether to renew declining institutions or to create whole new institutions (as the title suggests, Thomas argues for the latter).

5. Blog post: “Why social entrepreneurship has become a distraction: it is mainstream capitalism that needs to change,” by the very wise Pamela Hartigan, Director of the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship at Oxford Said Business School. Some great lines include, “The key to sustainable capitalism is reasonable profits as opposed to maximizing profits…Fortunately, there are a growing number of people, particularly among the young, who embrace the notion of ‘entrepreneurship for society,’ rather than commercial or social entrepreneurship.  They are not waiting until they are 50 years old when they have ‘made their money’ and can ‘give back’.”

6. There is still a strong buzz about the book “Labcraft.” Here is a blog post about the making of the book on La 27e Région’s blog (en français) and Kennisland’s blog (in English). The book can be purchased from the Labcraft website (take a sneak peak of the book here).

7. Book: “Public Innovation through Collaboration and Design,” by Christopher Ansell and Jacob Torfing, with a chapter written by Christian Bason of Mindlab on “design attitude.” The book brings together empirical studies drawn from Europe, the USA and the antipodes to show how collaboration, creative problem-solving and design are important features of public sector innovation in many Western democracies with different conditions and traditions.

8. Article: “Finding a radical solution to a common challenge” explores the merits and potential of the Radical Efficiency model by describing the development of Family Voices — a project that emerged from work done by the Innovation Unit and the Children’s Centres in the Whiston Area of Knowsley (UK). Family Voices enables the Children’s Centres’ staff to achieve their universal mission, tailor delivery to local needs and reach more families, all while creating a measurably better service at a reduced cost. That is a win-win-win-win-win!

9. The DIY (Development Impact & You) Toolkit’s YouTube channel has a collection of thirty social innovation tools in the form of video tutorials. The DIY Toolkit has been specifically designed to arm people working in development with the tools to invent, adopt or adapt ideas that can deliver better development results and outcomes.

10. Nesta released a guide on 18 everyday social innovations – big ideas with positive socio-cultural impacts in the UK & beyond. They are:

  • Kindergarten
  • Cooperatives
  • First Aid
  • Girlguiding
  • Meals On Wheels
  • The National Childbirth Trust
  • Fair Trade
  • The Hospice Movement
  • The Open University
  • The World Wide Web
  • The Big Issue
  • Police Support Volunteers
  • Shared Lives Plus
  • Patients Like Me
  • Avaaz
  • BeatBullying
  • The Pennies Foundation
  • Code Club

11.  A great list (with hyperlinks) of the social innovation labs around the world, as part of next week’s Social iCon conference taking place in Singapore via the Lien School of Social Entrepreneurship. The list covers labs from Afghanistan (UNICEF Afghanistan Innovation Lab) to Zimbabwe (CCore Zimbabwe Lab),  and 40+ social innovation labs across Asia.

12. Great post: “6 Ways To Make Your Work More Effective, From Entrepreneurs Who Want To Change The World” on FastCoExist, by Finance Innovation Lab’s Rachel Sinha and The Point People’s Ella Saltmarshe. The six strategies highlighted are:

  1. Understand the system you are trying to change. But not too much.
  2. Experiment, prototype, test, and be prepared to be wrong. Dive in and act. Experiment. Learn. But don’t do it alone.
  3. Stop and learn. Reflection is essential to systems change.
  4. Don’t go it alone. Get smart about collaboration. If you want to create impact, you will have to collaborate. Full stop.
  5. Create liminal spaces that allow you to move in and out of the system you are trying to change. It can be hard to create radical change from within the status quo and it can be hard to influence a system from outside of it.
  6. Get humble. Become comfortable leading from behind. Don’t make yourself too central to the result. It’s often when you get out the way that the magic happens.

13.  Article: “Hacking democracy – nine interesting GovHack projects“ talks about GovHack – one of Australia’s largest hackathons — where teams of programmers and designers compete to come up with novel ways to use government data over the course of a weekend.

14.  Along a similar vein, UK’s FutureGov held a “Design Meets Social Care” Design Camp, which brought together the FutureGov team and 20 up-and-coming young designers for an intensive day of thinking big about the future of adult social care. The blog post contains images, tweets, and some of the provocations (“How would Zappos deliver social care?”) from the event.

15.  Blog post: “Reflections from Accelerate 2014: What does it take to collaborate?” by Saralyn Hodgkin of The Natural Step Canada’s Sustainability Transition Lab, emphasizes the need to collaborate across boundaries as the key to getting things done. Saralyn shares how she will pull this thinking into her work at the Lab; for example, “ask different types of questions, see their efforts within a system, and effectively shift systems to build a thriving society.”

16. Workshop: “Tapping the Power of Networks: Strategies for Innovation and Renewal,” with complexity inspired facilitator-coach-animator Liz Rykert, co-led by network weaving guru June Holley (a huge influence for SiG’s field building two-pager). The workshop introduced the network approach, an approach where everyone is potentially a leader. “Connections and relationships are key to unleashing innovation and amplifying your work to reach more people, more deeply.”

17. Article: “New Community Planning Method Evolves and Deepens Community Engagement” explores a week-long design charrette to build community engagement and consensus for an Official Community Plan in Tumbler Ridge, British Columbia. The process was led by Urban Systems, an progressive engineering firm with a sister social enterprise Urban Matters that is worth checking out.

18. Great (and humble) blog post: “Burnaby Summer Update,” by InWithForward, talks about which of their initial assumptions they got wrong and how they’re re-calibrating their prototypes based on what they learned. This post is helpful in getting a sense of why prototyping is hard and what it requires.

19. Also by InWithForward, an absolute must-read-immediately-if-not-sooner discussion paper, “Grounded Change,” about the next iteration of their approach. This approach dives deep into what the team has found to be the 7 missing links between Social Policy, Social Services, and Outcomes that keep coming up across the many projects they have led and been involved in. The team is also soliciting feedback on the paper, so please do read and respond with your (constructive) critique!

19. Blog post: “Minding the gap: Georgia takes a page from UK’s innovation guidebook” by the Public Service Development Agency of the Ministry of Justice of Georgia (PSDA), talks about their social innovation learning tour to the UK. The tour covered a wide range of organizations from different fields and foci, including government innovation labs, think tanks, and social enterprises. A nice way to take a virtual vacation!

20. From the i-teams blog: MindLab’s Christian Bason writes “Ask citizens and bring order to the chaos of society,”. In this post, Christian describes the value of i-teams (or innovation teams) within government. “…you might consider i-teams as organizations that help to create meaning in chaos by inviting, involving and engaging citizens, policy makers and other stakeholders to find new and more powerful solutions for society. You could say that they institutionalize innovation processes.”. Helpful in finding ways to articulate the value that labs offer~ thanks CB!

21. Adore this project: “The Community Lover’s Guide to the Universe” is a growing collection of stories about amazing people and their innovative projects — people who are actively and creatively nurturing community together and transforming where they live. The website is a wider collection of blog posts and reflective essays on this emergent new community culture. The aim of the Community Lover’s Guide is to surface and share this new community practice widely. How great is that! And, I heard that Zahra Ebrahim of archiTEXT is involved (why am I not surprised?).

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

A Bold Goal for Children in the North End of Winnipeg

Do an Internet search of the ‘North End of Winnipeg’ and you will see ‘poverty’ and ‘violence’ come up the quickest and the most often.

North End To someone who is not familiar with the North End, or doesn’t frequent this community, it can mistakenly come across as a hotbed of crime and broken families – a place you either avoid altogether or drive through to get elsewhere, with your windows up and your car doors locked.

Those of us who live and work here, however, know it as a community unlike any other – full of culture, spirit, and generosity. That’s why we’re here and that’s why we love this community.

The North End portrayed in the media is merely an illusion, one that has been created through the glamourization of negative events.

DL-022In actuality, it is a neighbourhood where you can walk down the street during the daytime and be greeted by a “hello!” from passersby. You’ll inevitably run into someone you know who’s a friend of your friend from that thing you were at that one time. When you frequent a restaurant or a shop in the North End, the owner will remember your name and if you wander into a resource centre, you’ll often be greeted with a warm cup of coffee.

This is not to say that the North End is without flaws — like any other neighbourhood, it has its challenges. A look at the statistics around the North End — also known as Point Douglas — will tell you that this neighbourhood is among the most impoverished in Canada. You’ll also see that 40% of kids who are born in Point Douglas are not academically or socially school-ready by the age of 5.

What you won’t see emphasized, however, is that along with the 40% of kids that are not school-ready, there is another 60% who are school-ready and are going on to achieve success in school and throughout their lives. 

The Winnipeg Boldness Project

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This is where The Winnipeg Boldness Project will focus: not only on the challenges facing the North End, but on the ongoing successes. What are the things already happening in the neighbourhood that are creating the conditions for some kids to succeed and how can we replicate them in a large way?

Through a one-year Boldness ‘Collaboratory’ process, the project intends to pinpoint just that.

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The Winnipeg Boldness Project is embarking upon a research process that will mobilize the community narratives and knowledge base that already exist within this unique neighbourhood. We are certain that a community-based solution to the challenges around Early Childhood Development (ECD) can be uncovered.

The Winnipeg Boldness Project is taking the time to live the questions and truly understand what the answers are in a deep and meaningful way.

What’s crystal clear to us is that this is a community that has been consulted to the extreme and that much of the information and knowledge we’re looking for has already been collected. Our job now is fourfold:

  1. Take that raw data and distill it into key ideas that we believe should be at the core of this powerful paradigm.
  2. Create a strength-based narrative that properly conveys a message of the community, for the community.
  3. Explore these ideas to develop several theories around change and then rapidly test (prototype) these theories to determine their validity and efficacy.
  4. Develop and implement an intervention strategy, based on the findings, to ultimately achieve our Bold Goal: to dramatically transform the well-being of young children in Point Douglas.

When I use the word transformation, let me be perfectly clear that this is not meant to imply that the North End in any way needs to be “fixed.” This neighbourhood is loved in a strong and unwavering way and certainly does not need to adjust to the system, but rather the system needs to adapt to it and support its residents.

DL-093With this mindset, we anticipate the rate of school-ready kids at the age of five in Point Douglas will jump from 60% to 80% by the year 2020. Some might say this is a lofty goal that’s near impossible. We say that with the right amount of boldness anything is possible and we know that the North End has the knowledge and the heart to drive this change.