The Art of Disruption | A Reflection

SiG Note: This article was originally published on the Tamarack website.  It has been cross-posted with permission from the author. 
Last month, Tamarack’s Liz Weaver and Paul Born hosted a webinar on Community Change: The Art of Disruption as part of a Community Change Webinar Series. In this conversation Liz and Paul discussed some emerging ideas and strategies that are disrupting how some communities today are responding to the complex issues that they face. There were quite a few ideas that emerged from this conversation, but three in particular stood out to me:

The Power of Connection

Liz began the conversation with the acknowledgment that in today’s society people seem to be so connected, yet so disconnected at the same time. We see this in everyday life – we are constantly connected and dialed in to one another’s lives via Text, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and the list goes on and on. But at times it feels that despite this constant online connection, many people are experiencing less and less real-life, meaningful face-to-face interaction.

There is great social innovations that have made connection their mission. Roots of Empathy’s mission is to build caring, peaceful, and civil societies through the development of empathy in children and adults. Read our profile here: http://www.sigeneration.ca/home/resources/roots-of-empathy/

There are great social innovations that have made connection their mission. Roots of Empathy’s mission is to build caring, peaceful, and civil societies through the development of empathy in children and adults. Read our profile here.

The same could be said of the many organizations that are working tirelessly to create real, meaningful change in our communities and across the globe. Thanks to technology we see change-makers across the globe praising one another’s work, sharing their successes and supporting one another – we also see the criticism, the analysis of each other’s failures and at times, outright competition. Within the realm of community change, individuals and organizations alike are so much more aware of what other organizations are doing and what is happening in other communities, but we are not as involved or connected as we could be. Change-makers are often so disconnected in their work and when they do connect it is often very surface-level.

During the webinar, Liz reminded us that there are so many wonderful organizations doing incredible work but many are not achieving the big-scale change that they so desire. When you look at groups that are creating real traction in their communities you notice that there is something different going on and I think the answer circles back to this idea of connection.

To create real change, both in our individual lives and within our communities we need to connect – real-life, meaningful face-to-face interaction. We need to completely disrupt the ways that we have existed and worked within the realm of community change thus far and do something different.

The Power of the People

A second aha moment that came from this recent webinar was in regards to the power of the people. As Paul explored ideas of community change and disruption he was simply overflowing with the possibilities of people. Paul reflected on the ways in which Canadian citizens have completely stepped up when it comes to positive community change, citing the example of many Canadian citizens’ support of Syrian refugees. He also mentioned incredible examples of leadership happening in the realm of poverty reduction in cities like Toronto and Edmonton. We are beginning to see a huge shift in social responsibility – where people and their cities are no longer waiting for big governments to step in and take action, but rather the people and the cities themselves are becoming the leaders in large-scale social change.

The Government of Canada nearly tripled the number of spaces for privately sponsored refugees to 17,800 in 2016, compared to 6,300 spaces allocated in the previous year. Photo by Mark Blinch /Reuters

The Government of Canada nearly tripled the number of spaces for privately sponsored refugees to 17,800 in 2016, compared to 6,300 spaces allocated in the previous year. Photo by Mark Blinch /Reuters

We are in a wonderful time where it seems people are no longer waiting on the world to change – they are creating that change. They have decided to throw out the rule book and write their own. This is disruption at it’s finest.

Citizens want to be involved, so let’s involve them. Citizens want to be engaged, so let’s engage them. Paul reminds us that within the realm of community change it is our responsibility and our privilege to truly and deeply engage the people within our communities who are outside our organizations. There is definitely something to be said about the power of the people and their ability to disrupt and impact real change.

 The Power of the BIG 5

During the webinar, Liz and Paul also touch on Tamarack’s five BIG ideas for making significant change:

  1. Collective Impact
  2. Community Engagement
  3. Collaborative Leadership
  4. Community Development and Innovation
  5. Evaluating Community Impact

Our Idea Areas are key principles and techniques that help community leaders to realize the change they want to see. It doesn’t matter what issue you are facing – whether you are tackling poverty reduction, dealing with food access issues, wanting to improve health or trying to deepen the sense of community in your city – the thinking around these five areas and the application of the guiding techniques will help you to achieve impact. The question we must ask ourselves is this: How do we use these five BIG ideas to create positive disruption within the realm of community change? And what does the future of these five key idea areas look like?

1. Collective Impact

Liz talks about the future of Collective Impact – Collective Impact 3.0 if you will – and the emphasis on evolving from a shared-agenda, to a community-wide agenda. In order to create real, disruptive change the goals of a Collective Impact initiative must be owned by the entire community, not just the folks doing the ground work. *Liz and Mark Cabaj will be hosting a webinar on Collective Impact 3.0 - Register now! They will also be writing a paper on Collective Impact 3.0 so keep your eyes open for this!

2. Community Engagement

In our cities and communities, a new generation of community engagement is emerging. People want to be engaged in decisions, they want to work together and they want better outcomes for themselves and their neighbours. Paul talks about how he used to look at community engagement in three stages: inform, consult, and involve. But over the years has discovered that we can no longer separate these three pieces, we must inform, consult and involve in one stride. Engaging citizens in every stage is a critical component of any work that will impact community in any way.

3. Collaborative Leadership

In the conversation about Collaborative Leadership a listener asked the following question “How can we better engage business in Collective Impact initiatives?” To which Liz responded that there are business leaders “with heart.” The more important question, Liz suggests, is how do we engage those business leaders who have heart and how do we connect them with community change? Liz suggests that the best tactic to address this issue is to:

  1. Do your homework
  2. Find the right fit and engage in real conversations (remember that thing I said about connection? It works – we promise;))
  3. Don’t stress about the “no” – focus on the positive outcomes

The future of collaborative leadership is a future with positive, cross-sectoral relationships that disrupt the current boundaries set in place.

4. Community Innovation

In their conversation, Liz and Paul stress that positive disruption can come at a systems level but also at the level of community programming. Often times innovation is happening right on the ground, centred within a community. This is the type of innovation that is key to real community change and this is the type of innovation that should be shared. This is the kind of work that we want to highlight at Tamarack – both at the Community Change Institute this fall but also in our everyday work.

5. Evaluation

Liz says “evaluation is key but what can we do about learning and sense-making amidst evaluation?” – It’s time to take evaluation to the next level. We need to begin to think about what we can truly learn from the evaluation process and results and really make sense of what is discovered. … For me, the Art of Disruption is about engaged people and organizations rising up, breaking through boundaries and working together in new ways. The Art of Disruption requires flexibility and encourages the evolution and adaptation of perspective and practice. I recently attended a one-day event with Paul Born in London, Ontario and at one point he jokingly began to sing a song that I feel sums up the Art of Disruption beautifully…

“The more we get together, together, together – the more we get together the happier we will be!”

 Continue Learning: listen to the full webinar in the Tamarack Resource Library

Custom design your own unique learning experience at this year’s Community Change Institute – do you know someone you think might be interested? Share this flyer with them or post it online!

Happy Learning!

As part of the Community Change Webinar Series later this month, on August 25th, Tamarack’s Liz Weaver speaks with  Carolyn Curtis, CEO and Ingrid Burkett, Associate Director of The Australian Centre for Social Innovation (TACSI). Register to receive the recording of their webinar, Innovation starts with People. This webinar is in anticipation for Carolyn Curtis and Ingrid Burkett’s #IASI16 Tour. There will be events hosted in Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto. For details and to stay up to date with our work sign up for our newsletter - SiGnals

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 (Sept 2014)

C/O Ashley Goldberg

C/O Ashley Goldberg

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 September 2014. In no particular order:

1. Innovation in aged care and wellbeing: “Circle,” created by Participle, is an innovative membership-based service open to anyone over the age of 50 that supports individuals and communities to lead the lives they want to lead. Members are supported across four areas of their lives: social activity, life’s practical tasks, tailored learning, and appropriate health and wellbeing services. At the heart of Circle is a fundamental belief that everyone has the right to a flourishing, independent later life.

2. Blog post: “Crickets Going Quiet: Questions of Evolution and Scale” by Giulio Quaggiotto (UN Global Pulse Lab) & Milica Begovic Radojevic (UNDP Europe & Central Asia). The post explores the insights and thinking that emerged from a gathering in NYC with a diverse array of development professionals (ecologists, psychologists, cognitive scientists…) and prompted Giulio and Milica to ask the very tough question: How do we create the space for constant adaptation in bureaucracies that are predicated upon predictability, risk aversion, and stability?

3. New online quarterly magazine launched by Nesta, “the Long and Short“, with stories being published over month-long ‘seasons’ rather than all at once. The aim is to offer a journalistic and storytelling approach to innovation to audiences that, while interested in new ideas and the way the world is changing, don’t typically identify with Nesta or the innovation community in general — while also providing entertaining, interesting stories for people that do.

4. Excellent practical guide written for local authorities (in the UK): “Commissioning for outcomes and co-production” written by nef’s Julia Slay and Joe Penny. The guide provides a framework, a set of principles, and practical guidance to re-assess how services are currently procured and provided.  It can help to re-focus services on the outcomes that really matter to those who are intended to benefit from them. The practical guide sets out the core ideas and how to put them into practice. This rigorously researched and tested guide is the result of eight years of collaboration between nef and local authorities (wow!).

5. We are talking a lot about social innovation ecosystems lately (stay tuned for a new two-pager by SiG on the topic to be launched soon). This Q&A style article, “What Are the Components of the Canadian Innovation Ecosystem and How Well Is It Performing?” by David Watter in the TIM review, is timely and useful in thinking about innovation ecosystems in Canada. The article explores and lays out the components for effective innovation ecosystems — that is, the supports and the collaborations that underpin a thriving innovation pipeline and activities.

6. Mindmup: Stoked about this great (and free!) mind mapping and systems mapping online software — we used this for a SiG strategy session! (hat tip: Kelsey Spitz)

7. GC Design, sponsored by the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat (TBS), is Canada’s newest government innovation unit. The studio is taking on four assignments to work with a policy/project team and departmental representatives on an internal red tape reduction initiative, as announced in the Clerk of the Privy Council’s Destination 2020 report. Be sure to follow @GovCanDesign and GC Design’s first two employees: Blaise Hébert and Sage Cram. (also, while you’re at it, you’ll want to follow #StudioY fellow Meghan Hellstern for insider #GCDesign scoop!)

8. Great video of a talk by Noah Raford from back in 2009, “Explaining The Cycle of Adaptive Change,” where he compares forest cycles (a biological system) and the US car industry (a social system) using the adaptive cycle (a Frances Westley favourite!). The video is super helpful in wrapping one’s head around systems change!

9. In June, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) unveiled a new portal for innovation in the public sector: the Observatory of Public Sector Innovation. The portal aims to collect, share and analyse examples of public sector innovation and to provide practical advice to countries on how to make innovations work. The portal will be demonstrated at the OECD Conference on Innovating the Public Sector: From Ideas to Impact, which takes place in Paris, France, on Nov 12-13 2014.

10. An interview with Parsons DESIS Lab’s Eduardo Staszowski and Lara Penin, by Creative States. Check it out for Eduardo and Lara’s answers to questions:

  • In your view, how has the field of design evolved over the last 10 years?
  • How is DESIS Lab preparing the design field for these emerging trends?
  • Would you say your work shifted from documentation to application?
  • What sorts of research questions do you explore in “Public and Collaborative”?
  • How does “Public and Collaborative” work?
  • What types of projects are you working on now?
  • What are the benefits and challenges of working as a ‘lab’ within a university setting?
  • How would you define success with “Public and Collaborative”?
  • Where do you hope to see “Public and Collaborative” ten years from now?

11. Blog post by Nesta’s Stian Westlake, where he offers “Eight options for a Radical Innovation Policy.” These include:

  1. Go large // Innovation policy as usual, but much more. For example, increase the science budget, the TSB budget and R&D tax credits.
  2. Go downstream // A massive reorientation of public resources from research to development.
  3. Get in on the upside // Make sure government gets a share in successful innovations that it funds. Use this to invest more in innovation.
  4. The Teutonic pivot // Reform Anglo-Saxon capitalism to make it more long-termist.
  5. The Austrian pivot // Conclude that the 17-year alliance with industrial policy was a mistake and scrap everything that doesn’t correct simple market failures in as straightforward a way as possible.
  6. Citizen innovation // End technocratic innovation policy and empower ordinary people to both innovate and decide the direction of innovation funding.
  7. Get creative // Innovation is nothing without creativity – and it’s often cheaper to fund than science. Back creatives to make innovation flourish.
  8. Go green // Focus innovation policy on one mission – decarbonizing the economy and mitigating the effects of climate change.

12. InWithForward share the next iteration of their discussion paper, “Grounded Change,” and explore three different critiques they received (including a name change to the document).  For a deeper dive into the Grounded Change model, don’t miss InWithForward’s new online seminar series: “How do we get to change?” – where the team will share (and invite you to debate and critique!) their approach of starting from the ground-up to develop impactful new programs and policies. Session dates:

  • Oct 24, 12pm-1pm ET (free) — Making Solutions for Impact (Taster & Info Session). What kinds of solutions prompt change for people most on the margins? An intro to ‘Grounded Change’ and a preview of the next seminar: Making Solutions for Impact.
  • Oct 31 & Nov 14, 12pm-1.30pm ET ($149) — Making Solutions for Impact (Two-part Seminar). What are the missing mechanisms between policy, services, and outcomes (that aren’t in your theory of change)? Explore how these 7+ mechanisms can apply to your programs and policies.
  • Nov 7, 12pm-1.30pm ET ($29) — Collaboration for whom? Collaboration is one of the change processes of choice among social service and policy makers. But…does collaboration actually change outcomes for people?
  • Nov 21, 12pm-1.30pm ET ($29) — Building capacity to innovate in services & systems. How do we get out of the trap of meetings, workshops, and planning sessions? And actually think and do differently? What does it take to organize work from the bottom-up, rather than the top-down?

13. I was fortunate to be invited to participate in this year’s Albright Challenge, hosted by MIT Collaborative Initiatives and facilitated by Marco Steinburg and Justin W. Cook (formerly of Helsinki Design Lab). The Challenge uses the HDL inStudio model (a major influence for my interest in labs) and aims to “stimulate inventive, collaborative solutions to today’s major societal issues […] and to reinforce the critical need for and value of prevention in all areas of societal concern.” My group of 9 worked to redesign Education and Learning systems to enable 21 Century US citizens to thrive. I was delighted by the focus on wellbeing — the literature on ‘5 ways to wellbeing‘ came in handy!

14. The Tamarack Institute put out a Call for Abstracts (deadline Nov 10, 2014) for papers on the topic of “Using Collective Impact on Community Development Issues,”. The chosen papers will be published in a special issue of Community Development in late 2015. The intent of this issue is to provide a collection of high quality articles on various aspects of using the Collective Impact approach. The idea is that, given that Collective Impact is still in its developmental phases, both scholars and practitioners can make significant contributions to the literature by sharing research and practices from organization, conceptual, and implementation phases. Agreed!

 15. Launched: The Global Innovation Fund. £30,000 to £10 million in project grants to invest in thoughtful social innovations initiatives that aim to improve the lives and opportunities of millions of people in the developing world.

16. As of November 1, Christian Bason (head of MindLab) will become the new CEO of the Danish Design Center. Kit Lykketoft (currently Mindlab’s deputy director) will step into the leadership role at MindLab. In other staff news, the executive summary of Jesper Christiansen’s PhD thesis, “The Irrealities of Public Innovation,” is available for our reading pleasure.

17. Article by InWithForward’s Janey Roh and Sabrina Dominguez explores and explains the prototyping process, using their insights and lessons learned from their Burnaby Project.

18. Blog post by Tessy Britton, “Citizens who have changed big systems – by building new examples.” Tessy shares insights from her work at the Civic Systems Lab (and beyond) around what needs to happen to make possible the type of experimentation and scaling required to tip systems. Theses insights are:

  1. The models you develop have to be open
  2. The models have to be flexible and adaptable – while remaining effective
  3. People need a learning mindset
  4. It’s more practical than political
  5. The economics have to work well
  6. Government needs to share the risk taking with citizens

19. Must read article: “Time to go beyond the climate change and social innovation debate,” co-authored by dynamic duo Indy Johar and Filippo Addarii, is a rallying call to “reinvent and transition a generation of institutions,” rather than continuing to patch externalities and symptoms of our complex social and environmental challenges. You may feel the urge to throw your fist up in the air and exclaim “YES!” after reading it 🙂

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