Empathy – a key element for systems change

Several weeks ago, I joined SiG@MaRS as a summer intern. It’s been an enthralling ride, being ingrained in a radical environment that serves as a catalyst for both whole systems change and monumental social innovation.

I recently had the opportunity to attend a workshop on Deepening Community for Collective Impact, presented by Paul Born– President of the Tamarack Institute and a senior Ashoka fellow.

At first, I wasn’t quite clear on how attempts at deepening community fit into the efficacious and potent world of systems change. It is abundantly clear that creating resilient, inclusive communities is a necessity in our global conversations…as fear is running rampart in our society, dictating our political and economic landscapes. However, I was still uncertain how these two topics fit together.

To me, community has a loose definition, that strikes a different image for everyone. Some define their community as a weekly hockey game with co-workers, while for others it is group of Ugandan farmers partnered together in microfinance loans, and some may derive their sense of community from gang associations. Paul does not believe that a common definition is effective for community, as the experience of engaging with communities is highly contextual, individualized and richly diverse. That said, there is a word that epitomizes any community…which is belonging.

“Community has the power to change everything. No amount of innovation, individual brilliance, or money can transform our broken society as effectively and sustainably as building community.”

– John Kania, Managing Director, FSG; founder of the Collective Impact Movement.

As the day progressed, we shared our stories and aspirations for what a strong community can be, and what it can bring. An appreciation was emerging as we were understanding the radical systematic shifts that could arise from not only creating, but deepening community.

community

Source: Pixabay

Creating community is about building inclusivity. It’s about hearing the voiceless, and ensuring that they are understood. The conversation can’t be monopolized by the strongest or most visible; everyone needs a chance to be heard. A community becomes truly resilient and innovative when it recognizes, understands and embraces the diversity and vulnerability of its population.

“The good we secure for ourselves is precarious and uncertain until it is secured for all of us and incorporated into our common life.”

– Jane Addams, Author; Nobel Peace Prize winner (1931)

Some may simplify deepening community to the golden rule of ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’. In grand discussions of systems change and policy innovations, some may believe deepening community doesn’t belong in the same dialogue. If such is the case, perhaps we need to recognize a key outcome of deepening community is empathy. Can’t empathy be thought of as the fuel for the zealous efforts that change makers relentlessly exert when cultivating substantial policy changes and massive cross sector partnerships? Empathy gives us that deep understanding of the world beyond our peripherals, and enables and motivates us to build something better, together.

“The role empathy plays in our lives has only grown more important. In fact, in this time of economic hardship, political instability, and rapid technological change, empathy is the one quality we most need if we’re going to survive and flourish in the twenty-first century.”

– Arianna Huffington, Co-founder, the Huffington Post

Of course, empathy is not new to the toolkit of social change. Radical, transformative social change calls for collaborative action – which inherently requires empathy. Empathy as a tool has its own restrictions; it should not be our moral guide, but rather used to guide us towards respect and understanding. It enables us to engage one another with multiple truths, and move through our biases to combat complex issues together.

ashokaThe importance of empathy has been identified long ago and cultivating it has been a major endeavour – lead by the likes of Roots of Empathy Founder, Mary Gordon, and Ashoka.

Empathy fostered through deepening community can lead us to that inflection point, where faceless statistics become our neighbours, community members…and ultimately the very people who motivate and inspire us. Empathy is a choice we make to extend ourselves, and to understand the world at large.

“We need the skill of applied empathy – the ability to understand what other people are feeling and to guide one’s actions in response – to succeed in teams, to solve problems to lead effectively, to drive change.”

– Ashoka

Learning to strengthen and create resilient communities is an integral part of our systems thinking discussion – especially with the prevalence of fear in our current world. Deepening communities enables us all to be advocates of change, and to understand our vulnerable populations. It shows us that we all have a role to play in community; sometimes as leaders, sometimes as followers, and always as someone who belongs.

Experiencing the shock of the possible in uncertain times…

SiG Note: This article is cross-posted from MaRS Discovery District, with permission from the authors. 

Indeed these are uncertain times that we live in… — Stephen Huddart

Speaking to an over-200-person audience at MaRS Discovery District on November 24, Stephen Huddart, President and CEO of the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation, challenged the growing contemporary narrative that our future is bleak and looming ahead with daunting uncertainty.

Screen Shot 2014-12-08 at 10.15.42 AM

Reminding us of a long history of Canadian precedents for testing systems-level innovation, and of the new big experiments underway today, Stephen invited us to experience the shock of the possible (a term coined by Eric Young).

It’s a shock catalyzed by the deepening of strategic philanthropy, as the philanthropic sector reorganizes itself to collaboratively address the complex issues of today with new and unusual partnerships.

In particular, foundations are becoming leading participants in systems change efforts, accessing new tools and—in support of their grantees—exploring cross-sector partnerships that scaffold up the possibility of new systems.

In his MaRS Global Leadership and Inspiring Action for Social Impact talk, Stephen exemplified the sector’s new direction with key initiatives from the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation and beyond, elucidating the radical shift in how we do good that is fostering new possible futures for Canada.

Philanthropy for Uncertain Times: Social Innovation and Systemic Change – MaRS Global Leadership from MaRS Discovery District on Vimeo.

New tools enabling systems change

A new series of mindsets and tools is reframing how foundations approach their entire cycle of work, from funding to programming to endowment management, facilitating an accelerating shift toward systems change aspirations.

Stephen referred to this collection of tools as the “Social Five.” These rapidly developing new tools are enhancing our capacity to nurture social change at scale and transform the systems that, if left alone, are otherwise on track to dramatically underperform for communities and Canada.

Screen Shot 2014-12-08 at 10.17.36 AMThe Social Five consist of:

While individually significant, the full potential of the Social Five lies in their integration as a web of interconnected action, cumulating in a vibrant ecosystem of mutually supportive markets that collectively enhance our capability to collaborate toward systems change.

MaRS was celebrated in Stephen’s talk as a strong institutional example of seeding and nourishing the integration of these tools to enhance the capacity of others. Starting with MaRS’ and Social Innovation Generation’s 2010 collaboration on the Canadian Task Force on Social Finance, which advanced the field of social finance in Canada, MaRS has become a hub of convergent social innovation, with the MaRS Centre for Impact Investing fostering the social finance and B Corp markets in Canada; SiG@MaRS nurturing social entrepreneurship in Ontario and beyond; and the MaRS Solutions Lab leading the uptake of social lab processes by a broad range of cross-sectoral stakeholders in Canada.

In other words, MaRS works to support the integration of the Social Five—including social technologies, pathways to scale and, broadly, social innovation—into a thriving ecosystem of breakthrough opportunities for systems change.

Philanthropy’s big experiments to solve complex problems

15698113727_a24108f35b_z‘An ecosystem of breakthrough opportunities for systems change’ broadly describes one approach influencing the philanthropic sector’s reorganization.

The theory of change is that collaboration is critical to solving our most entrenched social challenges and fostering new systems (via key platforms such as collective impact, shared outcomes or shared value).

In this spirit, the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation’s initiatives depend on and involve hundreds of partners working together to enhance the resilience of communities and our national capacity for social innovation. For example:

  1. In partnership with over 150 organizations, Innoweave delivers webinars, workshops and mentorship around the Social Five to hundreds of participants, with the goal of enhancing the social sector’s capacity to innovate and scale social impact.
  2. Cities for People is a “collaborative experiment of urban leaders and thoughtful citizens innovating to raise expectations about how cities could be.”
  3. RECODE is a network of hubs within Canada’s higher education institutions designed to inspire, incubate and support students in creating social enterprises and becoming social entrepreneurs.

Broadly, each initiative highlights a radical shift in philanthropic programming—where the critical focus is collaboratively seeding and nourishing the Canada we envision into a real possibility.

Possible Canadas

Screen Shot 2014-12-08 at 12.39.00 PM

Quote by Khalil Z. Shariff, CEO, Aga Khan Foundation Canada

As foundations take new directions in their philanthropic work, multiple possible Canadas are unfolding and defying the dark stories of an uncertain, fearful future.

But for Stephen, the brightest and most significant possible Canada is one where all of our collaborative energy and new tools are focused on reconciliation between First Nations, Métis, Inuit and non-Aboriginal Canadians.

We are living in an age of reconciliation in this country, and it represents an opportunity that, if taken, can change the course of our history for the better. But, if not, can lead to the perpetuation of terrible circumstances  — Stephen Huddart

Recently, several transformative initiatives launched and are starting to both immediately enhance community well-being and work at a generational scale toward reconciliation. These initiatives include:

To continue on a path of new partnerships, healing and systems change, Stephen emphasized that the first step is empathy. Empathy for each other. Empathy for communities unlike our own. Empathy as a pathway to both speak out and listen to new voices.

When you introduce new energy into systems, the elements reorganize at a higher level of sophistication. A remarkable analogy for what we’re doing here. And I would say that if there is another word that would describe that, it’s not social innovation, or any of the tools, it’s empathy. Empathy is really a seven-letter word for love. That is what is powering the future that we want to build together — Stephen Huddart

More from the presentation:


Philanthropy for Uncertain Times – MaRS Global Leadership from MaRS Discovery District

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

C/O QuillAndArrowPress

C/O QuillAndArrowPress

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 October 2014. Enjoy!

LATEST IN LAB THINKING + DOING

1. Video of Christian Bason’s talk (formerly head of MindLab, now leading the Danish Design Center) from a Parsons DESIS Lab event – ‘(New) Public Goods: Labs, Practices, and Publics’ – in NYC, May 2014. The event brought together lab practitioners from around the world (many on route to the Global Lab Gathering in Toronto), designers, social scientists, researchers, and public servants to explore in-depth how lab approaches play out in reality, critically reflect on practice, and discuss next steps. Christian talks about some of MindLab’s projects and about what is at the ‘edge of thinking’ for this emerging field. Also see this post by Sarah Schulman about her reflections from the event.

2. Blog post overview of a 3-day innovation jam workshop in Jakarta that spawned 9 new innovation lab projects focused on areas of women’s empowerment. The workshop was led by Aditya Dev Sood and used a compressed version of the Bihar Innovation Lab model. Each of the nine pre-selected groups (out of 81 applicants) were also awarded grants and teamed up with a design student. The post is an inspiring account of the specifics of running innovation workshops that empower and enable non-specialists to create and innovate. The result of this workshop was the start of a lab network in Indonesia!

3. Blog post of an interview with MindLab’s Kit Lykketoft while she was in Montenegro to give the keynote address at SHIFT| UNDP Week on Innovation Action. Questions explored included:

  • How would you describe what it is you and your team do?
  • We always hear about user-led innovation and design thinking. What does that actually mean, and how does it – or can it – impact our lives as we live them?
  • Why do you think that governments should adopt the innovation agenda?
  • Can you tell us a bit more about what collaborative policy-making is?
  • Do you have any reflections on what you’ve seen here so far, or perhaps more broadly in your work in Europe and Central Asia?

4. Blog post – “How Social Innovation Labs Contribute to Transformative Change” – is part of a blog series on the Rockefeller Foundation’s innovation labs program. This post reflects on a gathering in September with 20 leading lab practitioners from around the world (including Toronto’s own Joeri van den Steenhoven of the MaRS Solutions Lab). While the group was diverse, three themes emerged as being common lab features, which are described further in the post:

(1) Drawing on diverse perspectives from across and within the system
(2) An innovation mindset of learning fast, trial and error, and co-creating solutions
(3) Unique process, approach, and tools for problem solving

5. Two slide decks: (1) Andrea Siodmok of UK’s Policy Lab shares an introduction to their lab and (2) Philip Colligan of Nesta’s Innovation Lab shares his presentation from the “Social iCon” global lab gathering that took place in October in Singapore.

6. Co-working-like space: “Innovation Lab” for City of Philadelphia city employees. The “lab”— which used to be two meeting rooms—features an open floor plan, five mounted screens, whiteboards, and wifi (the city wired the entire 16th floor of the Municipal Services Building). The initiative is part of the city’s overall innovation plan, which also includes sending its employees to “Innovation Academy” and a $100,000 fund to back public-private projects.

7. Blog post by Christian Bason –  “Less analysis, more design” – discusses how we have become obsessed with analysing situations when we really need to start doing/designing – moving from research to practice.

8. Guide book on creating an innovation unit in government, created by the IBM Center for the Business of Government, based on research about “the recent trend toward the creation of innovation offices across the nation at all levels of government.”

9. Reflection blog – “Towards Co-Producing Public Innovation in Chile” – by Christian Bason following his visit to Chile, on the back of an announcement by President Bachelet of a new innovation lab to help drive more and better innovation in the country.

“I believe a co-production approach could be what is needed for the multitude of actors around the public innovation agenda in Chile to enable them to collaborate effectively for a common purpose” – Christian offers three ways to do this: First, rethink the challenge. Second, invest in capabilities. Third, act as a platform (the post is also translated into Spanish and the website is awesome overall…worth a look!).

10.  Profile of Civic Systems Lab on the Nesta site: “Civic Systems Lab is a laboratory that designs and tests methods, strategies and systems to grow the civic economy at regional, city and local levels.”

11.  Also on the Nesta site, the announcement of a new Lab – the Innovative Growth Lab (IGL) – aimed at improving understanding of what works when it comes to innovation and growth policy. The purpose of the IGL is to run and support randomised controlled trials (RCT) of policies intended to promote innovation and economic growth through grants. The first grants look at interventions including business incubators, entrepreneurial mentoring and university tech transfer.

12. And, one more Nesta-related shout out, an article in Social Scape Magazine – “Are we really making a difference? Lessons from Nesta’s Innovation Lab” – by Philip Colligan, an Executive Director of Nesta’s Innovation Lab. The article explores activities of the Innovation Lab, offers Nesta’s framework for understanding impact, and questions whether labs are indeed making a difference to societies.

13. Blog post about a brilliant idea for a climate change mitigation lab – “The Case For The Gigatonne Lab” – by Zaid Hassan and Jeff Stottlemyer. To avoid dangerous climate change, global emissions need to peak between 2015-2020. A realistic risk management perspective suggests that a net reduction of approximately 44-34 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide (or equivalent amounts of greenhouse gases, as measured by radiative forcing effects) must be removed from the atmosphere as quickly as practicable.

The Gigatonne Lab is a possible strategy for helping achieve such a goal. This programme will set a target of achieving a one gigatonne reduction of CO2 within 2 years from the beginning of operations. The aim of the lab would be to engender momentum by demonstrating that it is possible to achieve a significant and measurable reduction of emissions within a time-frame commensurate with the urgency of the decarbonization challenge. Pretty awesome. Read more about the idea here.

 OF INTEREST TO THE PRACTICE

14. Report from the SIX Vancouver Summer School (part of the SIX Summer School Annual Conference Series). The event was hosted in partnership with Social Innovation Exchange (SIX), Social Innovation Generation (SiG) and BC Partners for Social Impact (#BCPSI), representing the global, Canadian, and British Columbian social innovation communities respectively. The report is an overview of the new ideas, critical insights, practical solutions, common experiences and stories that were shared at the three-day event.

15. Good article from Harvard Business Review – “Create a Strategy That Anticipates and Learns” – on utilising big data to develop strategy and adapt it on an ongoing basis (H/T The Moment).

16.  Interesting article arguing against empathy, instead of for it. That’s right, this is a critique of empathy, describing how empathy can create biases and blind spots and advocating for us to check our biases about empathy. Definitely worth a read!

17. EssayBeyond Policy,” by Mathew Taylor, is about a movement or theory that argues for a departure from traditional ways of creating social change and making policy that remain “rooted in assumptions necessary half a century ago.”

Beyond Policy has three strands: One strand focuses on the problem traditional policy and decision-making has with the complexity and pace of change in the modern world. A second strand – most often applied to public service reform – argues that the relational nature of services means that change cannot be done to people, but must be continually negotiated with them, leaving as much room as possible for local discretion at the interface between public commissioner/provider and citizen/service user. A final strand is where “beyonders” (those part of the Beyond Policy movement) pursue a model of change in which the public has the right and the responsibility to be the subject, not the object.

18. Excellent think piece – “Service Design Principles For Working With The Public Sector” – by Design Managers Australia & Snook (Scotland). The piece is based on practical experience building design capability within the public sector (from the inside as public servants and from the outside as consultants) and highlights challenges, opportunities and barriers faced when embedding service design practice in the public sector.

Speaking of service design, the “service design toolkit” offers an introductory step-by-step plan and do-it-yourself guide for those wanting to give service design a go. And, if you’re in Toronto this Thursday (Nov 13), IxDA Toronto and Service Design Toronto will co-host a panel discussion on the value of service design, from both a client and practitioner perspective.

19. Great article in the Washington Post – “Teacher spends two days as a student and is shocked by what she learns” – describing the power of ethnography via a teacher’s experience and reflections. The teacher shadows a 10th grader for one day and a 12th grader for another day, doing all the things students are expected to do: take notes and listen to lectures, do tests, do chemistry lab experiments, etc. “It was so eye-opening that I wish I could go back to every class of students I ever had right now and change a minimum of ten things – the layout, the lesson plan, the checks for understanding. Most of it!”

20. Fun blog post and useful metaphor: “5 Prototyping lessons from a BMX backflip” uses a BMX backflip to talk through the different stages and important lessons for prototyping. These key lessons are:

1. Deconstruct the challenge
2. Minimize risk
3. Use ignored resources
4. Remove as much as possible
5. Maximize cycles of learning
(BONUS!) And when you are done, take the learning forward, not the thing…

21. Booklist from Brain Pickings: Reading lots of different things helps us see new and unusual connections. Here is some inspiration for choosing your next book, across art, science, psychology and more.

The Game Has Changed: The Empathy Keystone

For the past six weeks, our team and our SIX Summer School Vancouver 2014 partners – Social Innovation Exchange and BC Partners for Social Impact – have been sifting through, sorting and curating the wealth of content captured during the summit. The breadth and richness of the knowledge exchange at SIX is undoubtedly enough to write a book on the State of Social Innovation in 2014. Amidst this richness, however, is exquisite simplicity; for a field dedicated to working in complexity, two ‘simple’ (even primordial) practices surfaced again and again as essential for leveraging that complexity: collaboration and empathy.

Of course, engaging in collaboration or practicing empathy is neither simple nor easy; they have been the purview of faith and philosophical teachings for 1,000s of years and the centrepiece of kindergarten teachings, workshops, trainings, retreats, literature, and research in the past century. Moreover, they are interlinked actions: collaboration is a process enabled by empathy. Given this precondition of empathy for collaboration, the collective wisdom of the SIX Summer School pointed to empathy as a keystone of social innovation.

As this became increasingly clear in curating the learnings from SIX, further connections began to unfold, linking these emergent insights from an international network of social innovators more broadly to the global community of social change practice. Close on the heels of SIX, the SiG June IASI event — in partnership with Ashoka Canada and MaRS Discovery District — was In Conversation with Bill Drayton, the founder and CEO of Ashoka; the dialogue was moderated by MaRS CEO Ilse Treurnicht. A champion and pioneer of social entrepreneurship, Drayton’s current message and mission is that the movement of the 21st century must be to nurture, teach and train empathy — especially in children.

Between the SIX Summer School, In Conversation with Bill Drayton, the ongoing work of both the SIX and Ashoka networks, and many more initiatives, it is clear that a mix of cross-pollination, simultaneous discovery, and knowledge exchange is nourishing a common valuation of empathy as the bedrock of the 21st century. A powerful mindset shift is underway.

In Conversation with Bill Drayton

For Drayton, the shift will be towards empathy-based ethics, replacing the current ethics ‘rulebook’ with a constellation of principles rooted in empathy (such as compassion, hospitality, initiative, intuition, contribution, and empowerment). Why? Because the rigidity of our current rulebook — and the rules themselves — apply less and less in an exponentially changing world. We are dragging the values, mindsets, and legal/financial structures of a Fordist, pre-digital, pre-networked system into the global, interconnected, interdependent and omnidirectional relationships of the present. The game has changed. Empathy is essential to understanding this new world and our humanity in it.

“Every child must master empathy-based ethics because the rules are changing; the less they apply the less learning them has positive impact” — Bill Drayton 

Arguably, empathy and collaboration have always mattered to the integrity of a society, but the argument now is that empathy is the essential skill to thrive socially, ecologically and economically in the present day. In a world defined by exponential rates of change across all systems, Drayton’s position is that everyone can and must be a changemaker, because change is the new game; it is not a question of whether we should nurture an ‘everyone is a changemaker world,’ it is imperative that we do so. Enabling and empowering this new norm of empathic agency is what Drayton calls a ‘teams of teams’ model; a model of collaborative co-leadership by and within teams.

A teams of teams model was similarly championed at the SIX Summer School as participants discussed the power and possibility of Public and Social Innovation Labs (PSI Labs), community-led development, co-production, co-working spaces, nested innovation hubs, cross-sector networks, and ecosystem building. The common call is that the operational norms of our relationships — working, personal, institutional, civic, and community — are shifting, and must shift, toward the principles of collaboration; a practical and mindset shift that is not only an essential driver of positive systems change, but is a form of transformative systems change itself.

“If everyone is a changemaker, there’s no way a problem can outrun a solution” — Bill Drayton

There is a convergence happening as both social entrepreneurs — which Drayton describes as entrepreneurs with big pattern-change ideas for the good of all — and communities establish a new precedent: the wellbeing of all supports the sustainable wealth of all. At the same time, system pressures are driving commerce, institutions and innovation in the same direction.  “All the evidence shows companies committed to values internally, do better financially,” says Drayton. An ethical and ecological imperative for empathy is now also an economic imperative.

“This is the most thrilling moment in human history, we are leaving an unequal, unfair world” — Bill Drayton
Practicing Empathy: Active Listening Exercise

This simple sounding exercise can be deeply challenging.  It takes one step:

(1) When listening to another person, turn off your inner monologue; silence the inner voice in your head that is reflecting, judging, observing, cataloguing, analyzing and preparing what to say next. Quiet that voice. Listen completely to the other person.

Try this with one person. Then another. Then another. Do you recall his or her name? Are you hearing more, and remembering more, about what that person is saying? Feeling?

          

In conversation with Bill Drayton from Social Innovation Generation on Vimeo

Further Resources:

Start empathy

Ashoka

Bill Drayton sees a world where ‘everyone is a changemaker’ — Christian Science Monitor

Leading With Authenticity — 2014 Skoll World Forum

Where the Magic Happens: Highlights from SIX

Key learnings from places of vulnerability, emergence & gratitude
C/O Komal Minhas for KoMedia

C/O Komal Minhas for KoMedia

During the close of the seventh annual SIX Summer School, 150 bright-eyed participants chatted excitedly in a room overlooking Vancouver’s False Creek, a scenic inlet separating downtown Vancouver from the shores of Vanier Park and Fairview. The organizers shared their final words. Six ambassadors — participants chosen to witness key themes — offered concluding insights on empathy, empowerment, courage, beauty, power and love, and generations. The room’s energy was almost palpable. Things were coming to a close.

As the coordinator of the Summer School and Social Innovation Week Vancouver, I had the opportunity to offer my own final words. The thoughts I shared were those of boundless gratitude. I admitted that the largest event I could recall organizing was my twenty-fourth birthday party. The jump from local social planner to lead coordinator of an international conference was not part of the career plan. And yet the faith my supervisors placed in me opened up the opportunity for me to dive into something completely unknown. As I stood overlooking the crowd, knowing that my team had co-piloted this event to success, I felt deeply humbled.

A month following, my sentiment of thankfulness is the same. In this post, I offer four of my personal highlights from the global conference and the week’s flurry of concurrent social innovation events.

Creating the Conditions for Social Innovation
C/O Komal Minhas for KoMedia

C/O Komal Minhas for KoMedia

Our visionary maestro, Al Etmanski, guided the SIX organizing team on a journey to “get social innovation into Canada’s water supply.” Al, along with Tim Draimin and Cheryl Rose, perceived the global SIX Summer School as a unique opportunity for Canada – our nation’s time had come.

The SIX Summer School created the conditions for an international group of radical doers and thinkers to convene with local and regional changemakers. From government and activist organizations through to businesses and foundations, Canadians of all stripes participated in SIX, gaining new connections and insights. It was through intentionally linking local Canadians with global practitioners that some of the greatest value of SIX and Social Innovation Week was realized.

Vulnerability is the secret sauce

In the early days of developing the conference program, the Canadian team was bent on creating something different. Our team had the privilege of attending numerous conferences and we knew we didn’t want to simply create a container for the same conversations. We wanted to shake things up! We wanted people to feel a little uncomfortable. That is where the magic happens…

Where the magic happensAlthough the conference program had three themes – society, sector and self – “the self was our secret sauce,” as BCPSI partner Ken Gauthier identified.

During the first full day of SIX, participants were welcomed with the local traditions of the Musqueam People, involving a purifying cedar brushing ceremony and evocative song and dance. The opening plenary was a deep exploration into vulnerability, led by two of Canada’s leading social innovation thinkers, Frances Westley and Vickie Cammack. The visceral cultural experience and thought-provoking morning dialogue were designed to open participants’ hearts and minds to vulnerability. Empathy, humility, and honesty with oneself lay the groundwork for understanding how to make change.

“If we are afraid of our desert places then we become more afraid of the vulnerability outside ourselves — of the other” – Frances Westley 

Putting Faith in Emergence

In order to execute on Al’s grand vision for SIX Summer School Vancouver and Social Innovation Week Vancouver, I had to put great faith in my team, our 22 partner organizations, my own abilities, and the elusive magic that is emergence. I believe emergence is about letting go of control and expectations and allowing ideas and actions to happen organically. When you make room for people to animate a space, you empower them to create something awesome – truly awe-inspiring. It was our team’s responsibility to highlight the opportunities of SIX for innovative organizations, embrace ambiguity, and allow the cultural norms of our partners to inform the week’s direction.

Boundless Gratitude

Most importantly, what stays with me is the gratefulness I feel for working with so many incredible people. Our partner organizations could not have been more creative, thoughtful, positive and driven to make Social Innovation Week the success that it was.

C/O Komal Minhas for KoMedia

C/O Komal Minhas for KoMedia

As I move on from my role, I will reflect fondly on the time when hundreds of Canadian and international leaders came together to celebrate social change. Now, more than ever, I believe that we can learn more together by learning from one another. Together we can start to understand where to leap next.

Who organizes SIX Summer Schools?

Since 2007, each Summer School has been co-organized by the global partner, Social Innovation Exchange, and a local in-country partner. This year, there were two local partners – BC Partners for Social Impact (#BCPSI) and Social Innovation Generation (SiG), representing British Columbia and Canada respectively.

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

C/O Matt W Moore

C/O Matt W Moore

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 the desks of Hyun-Duck Chung (MaRS Solutions Lab) and Satsuko VanAntwerp (SiG) over the month of April 2014.

We are trying something new this month by organizing by theme area. Enjoy!

Behavioural Change/Economics

1. EAST: Four simple ways to apply behavioural insights is a simple framework from the Behavioural Insights Team in UK that evolved as a more accessible model from the MINDSPACE model.

Gist: Behavioural change nudges need to be Easy, Attractive, Social, and Timely.

2. Cass Sunstein — co-author of New York Times Bestseller, “Nudge: Improving Decisions on Health, Wealth, and Happiness,” Harvard law professor, and former Obama administration official — has a new book and new insights: “Why Nudge? The politics of libertarian paternalism.” The book explores how we can responsibly approach guiding people toward more beneficial choices and how the effects of those healthy choices spread through the community.

Scaling

3. Increasing the scale and adoption of population health interventions: experiences and perspectives of policy makers, practitioners, and researchers — an academic paper in Health Research Policy and Systems — talks about some of the barriers to scaling public health interventions: e.g. lack of information on the cost of operating at scale and lack of evidence on how effective local interventions have been in the past. They recommend the co-production of research among policy makers, practitioners, and communities to gather relevant evidence and data for scaling, shifting research energies beyond just the requirements for academic publication.

4. UNDP Eurasia Team’s Milica Begovic Radojevic and Giulio Quaggiotto published their second blog post on their reflections (and the challenges!) of scaling up in international development work. This second post, “The evolving finch fund: Two early insights on scaling and lots of work ahead,” explores their thinking, following a meeting of diverse experts in different areas of scaling, systems, and complexity that took place in NYC a couple weeks ago. “We have to acknowledge that there is still a major language barrier between the various disciplines and that translating multi-disciplinary insights into tangible criteria applicable to the “finch fund” will require a significant amount of honing…”

5. Leading global lab practitioners Jesper Christiensen (MindLab, Denmark), Anna Lochard (La 27e Region, France), and Sarah Schulman (InWithForward, Netherlands) share their latest thinking about their practice in the blog post, “Spread and Scale: What and How.” This time, they used the prompt, “There’s a lot of talk about spread and scale. We think it’s about spreading processes, not scaling products. So what does that mean?” to launch this installation of their debate writing on Sociology & Scale.

6. Stanford Social Innovation Review article, “Transformative Scale: The Future of Growing What Works,” discusses nine strategies to deliver impact at scale. Top tips in the article include: taking an ecosystem approach [2. Recruit (and train) others to deliver the solution; 5. Don’t just build organizations and programs, strengthen a field], addressing the elephant in the room -> innovating the governance structure of public institutions [6. Change public systems; 7. Embrace the need for policy change], and catalyzing culture shift [9. Alter people’s attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors]. The article also offers practical advice on “the how” of implementing these tips.

Blending Perspectives

7. Maturation of Discourse around Social Entrepreneurship and Wicked Problems: a blog article from Austin Centre for Design (AC4D) emphasizing the weight of consequence and accountability for those taking on wicked problems. Their site also offers a great Design Library that includes guides on ethnography, facilitation, ideation, synthesis, and worksheets.

8. Video4Change Impact Research — a blog post by OpenDocLab Fellow Andrew Lowenthal — provides a nice overview of how video and documentary media have been used in advocacy work, before YouTube and mobile video. He discusses the origins of EngageMedia, the video4change network, and his current work at the Lab that will lead to a toolkit for measuring and communicating the impact of video use by changemakers.

Public Sector Innovation

9. Finalists announced for Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Mayors Challenge: The Mayors Challenge is a competition to inspire cities to generate innovative ideas that solve major challenges, improve city life, and ultimately can spread to other cities. One grand prize winner will receive €5 million for the most creative and transferable idea; four additional cities will be awarded €1 million.  All will be announced in the fall. The finalists’ proposed solutions address some of Europe’s most critical issue areas: youth unemployment, aging populations, civic engagement, economic development, environment and energy concerns, public health and safety, and government efficiency.

10. UK’s Policy Lab announced it will be headed by Andrea Siodmok, formerly an advisor to the Technology Strategy Board at Cornwall Council and the Chief Design Officer at Design Council. Created to bring ‘design thinking’ into government and to create policy with users in mind, the lab presents local governments with a unique opportunity. More information about the announcement via the Design Council blog.

11. Finance Minister Simon Hamilton MLA announced a new Northern Ireland Public Innovation Labdescribed as a new Innovation Laboratory to modernise and reform public sector services.

12. New Book, Well-Being and Beyond: Broadening the Public and Policy Discourse,” aims to broaden the public and policy discourse on the importance of well-being by examining psychological, social, environmental, economic, organizational, institutional, and political determinants of individual well-being. Chapters are written by international thought-leaders, including one by Geoff Mulgan (Nesta). In his chapter, Geoff examines: 1. How governments can influence well-being; and 2. How capitalism influences well-being. He argues that in both cases the aggregate picture tells us less than we might hope; however, the more detailed picture of public programmes and the influences of different aspects of capitalism can be very instructive. The implication is that we need to choose our levels of granularity with care.

13. Book, In The Persistence of Innovation in Government,” by Sanford Borins, maps the changing landscape of American public sector innovation in the twenty-first century, largely addressing three key questions: 1. Who innovates? 2. When, why, and how do they do it? and 3. What are the persistent obstacles and the proven methods for overcoming them? Probing both the process and the content of innovation in the public sector, Borins identifies major shifts and important continuities and offers a thematic survey of the field’s burgeoning literature, with a particular focus on international comparisons (h/t Giulio Quaggiotto).

14. ITU’s Innovation in the Public Sector page is a jam-packed list of resources for the government innovator. The curated list includes key reports, case studies, books, global indices, articles, and news items written by international social innovation thought-leaders.

Inside Public & Social Innovation Labs

15. Reflections by Lauren Tan from her time at DesignGov: 1. There are different engagement models for design with an organisation; 2. Design thinking is easy to understand, but harder to do; 3. Designers can invent an infinite number of tools and these tools are bespoke; 4. The ambition for design must be carefully executed; 5. I think we achieved what we set out to accomplish (Note: Lauren is also a co-author on the very cool book Design Transitions, which you can order here).

16. Blog post by UK-based social innovation lab FutureGov shares “5 Local Government Lessons Learned,” a reflection piece after a year of working on a lab for the local government of Lewes and Eastborne Borough Council. The Lab served as an innovative space to work with Council and other service providers to develop and test new ideas for improving financial resilience in the area. Top five lessons are: 1. Making time to work collaboratively is really valuable; 2. Combining new perspectives with local knowledge is essential; 3. Target your energy; 4. Create space for ideas; and 5. Don’t underestimate the power of delivery.

17. Must read: InWithForward shares their 21 hunches for 2014 on how to prompt change. The hunches are tagged under the themes: methodology, business model, measurement, and team. Also written by the InWithForward team, this blog post, “Belonging vs. Change,” talks about their recent work with St. Christopher House’s daytime drop-in centre, The Meeting Place. The team spent time with 16 of the 200+ members and uncovered some fascinating insights and deeper questions: Is too much community – too much belonging – a barrier to change?

18. Zaid Hassan was recently in Toronto and continues on his global book tour (is he coming to your town?). Matt Fitzgerald blogged about his takeaways from the training he attended in San Francisco, “A Social Labs Revolution in the Making.” Developmental Evaluation guru Mark Cabaj shared his reflection of Zaid’s book in this article and Toronto’s own Cameron Norman blogged his book reflections here.

19. Christian Bason of MindLab recently gave a talk — “Redesiging Governance: in search of the next public business model” — as part of GovLab’s Ideas Lunch series. The video of the talk is viewable here. Christian also recently wrote an interesting blog post, “Finding the Balance,” about “soft” public sector reform — that is, the bottom up tools such as involvement, support, and facilitation — and the delicate balancing of bottom up (soft) and top down (hard, e.g. regulation, inspection) reform.

Co-Production

20. Excellent 3 minute animation by SPICE explaining the concept and thinking behind co-production. The video makes a strong case for why coproduction is such a powerful approach to delivering better public service outcomes for citizens (particularly the first minute and a half is great!). And, for a local co-production example, make sure to track CAMH’s project, “Service Collaborative Communities” (and follow project coordinator Josina Vink for project updates and general awesomeness).

Tools, Methods, Guides

21. Unicef guide, “Do-It-Yourself Innovation Labs,” is an excellent one-stop-shop platform overflowing with resources for running a lab. The guide includes theoretical definitions and practical how-tos (h/t Lisa Joy Trick and her Graduate Diploma in Social Innovation team).

22. Community-centered design agency Context Partners has published some of their facilitation and convening methods as: the “Experimentation Starter Kit.” This Starter Kit outlines steps you can take to identify and vet new ideas and share experiences and lessons learned.

23. Empathy Map downloadable template (worksheet), from digital engagement firm Tadpull, provides a nice introduction to generating user-centered ideas.

24. Great blog post by Studio [Y] fellow Jamie Arron, with ‘open space’ and ‘unconference’ resources for hosting meaningful conversations.

25. NESTA Guide, “Good Incubation,” charts the rise of social venture incubation with a focus on what can be learned by this burgeoning sector from programmes around the world.

26. Quiz by Nesta, “Innovation Population,” uses a selection of questions from their research on innovation and offers a detailed analysis of segment definitions in their Innovation Population report.

Is innovation a vital part of our economic future? Or is it just meaningless jargon? The British public falls into five broad categories in their attitudes towards innovation – take our quiz and find out which one you are.”

Launch Pad

27. BC’s social innovation (online) platform: Hubcap. Hubcap is BC’s online social innovation community — a place to share information and make connections with innovators, entrepreneurs, educators, funders, and public policy makers. It is an initiative of BC Partners for Social Impact, a multi-sector partnership of individuals and organizations that is working to build BC’s capacity for social innovation, social finance, and social enterprise.

28. Launch of Cities for People, a lab-like experimental initiative for more resilient, livable cities. The initiative leverages innovation networks across Canada and the US. “Like any ecosystem, a city’s strength and resilience depends on its ability to nurture the full diversity of its inhabitants and give them what they need not just to survive, but thrive.”

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

– Hyun-Duck & Satsuko

 

Wicked Problems & Empathy (Part I)

“And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others…” – Marianne Williamson

The ‘mechanics’ of social innovation are difficult enough: achieving durable, transformative impact at scale to fundamentally disrupt the very system that created a wicked problem in the first place.

As a sociologist and cultural theorist, I can’t help but complicate things further by focusing on the social in social innovation – the cultural conditions and the very fabric of human relationships at play when we think about systems or breakthrough social change. By looking through a social lens, we dive even deeper into the complexity inherent in wicked problems.

A call for empathy

Two weeks ago, graduate students at the Munk School of Global Affairs decided to take this dive into the social, kicking-off the 8th Annual Munk Graduate Student Conference with a keynote address by Seán Coughlan, Chief Executive of Social Entrepreneurs Ireland (SEI), on subject of: Wicked Problems, Effective Solutions and the Role of Innovation and Empathy.

Roots of Empathy c/o Naming and Treating

Roots of Empathy c/o Naming and Treating

Seán Coughlan opened his address with a tip of the hat to Roots of Empathy, a Canadian social enterprise with a mission “to build caring, peaceful, and civil societies through the development of empathy in children and adults” that has successfully scaled out of Canada to the US, UK, Europe, and New Zealand.

The impetus for Roots of Empathy is similar to that behind a broader call to nurture empathy in society: there is a critical need to build understanding, break cycles of violence, and shift systems by opening our eyes to see, sense, and care for the networks of individuals around us.

Why are there cycles of violence or wicked problems in the first place?

Seán Coughlan shared his belief that human nature is basically good – generally, people are good. But “if a majority of people are good, why don’t we have a greater impact?”

The first answer: an absence or lack of empathy, emphasizing the critical importance of cultivating empathy among children – the driving force and goal of Roots of Empathy.

The second answer (potentially an even more broadly entrenched barrier): a fear of empathy – a fear of really walking a mile in someone else’s shoes.

Seán explained that this fear of empathy grows from a fear of helplessness. Empathy is ‘to understand and share the feelings of another’ – but what if we feel for someone, but feel powerless to help them? If we can’t see a solution, we are afraid to feel for the person facing the problem. Or as Seán put it, it may seem “better to be blind than feel helpless about the situation.”

It is hard to hear that articulated (or read it written) without immediately stopping to consider: “Have I done that?” Sitting in the front row of the lecture hall, I followed Seán’s train of thought one station further: our fear of empathy is likely also rooted in a fear of guilt or culpability.

What if we do understand what someone else is experiencing, what if we feel for them, but do not try to help? Or worse, what if we do understand, feel for the person, know what to do…and still do nothing?

In a way, we face these questions and their consequences every day, several times a day, beyond our own relationships or communities. Globalized communications, transportation, and information networks mean an entirely new scale of access to stories of suffering.

In sociology, there is a great deal of focus on the power of images and stories to shape our cultures and socialize our actions. The explosive and calculated use of deeply evocative images of suffering by cause-related campaigns and media (in the public, private, and social sectors) often overwhelms our compassion, while the language of globalization – and global power flows – implicates not only our role in these problems, but often (rightly or wrongly) our capacity to simply do something about it.

This can lead to pushback: ‘I can hardly handle empathizing with all the suffering in the world; I can’t be responsible for it all.’ The combination of helplessness, guilt, and responsibilization becomes an enormous deterrent to empathy, deepening our fear of opening up to empathy.

Fostering conditions for empathy

During his address, Seán Coughlan offered a way to counter this fear of helplessness: new, powerful solutions to complex problems that help us tackle these challenges and tie us to the calling of empathy to grow the solution. With this in mind, Social Enterprise Ireland focuses on the systems-changing potential of social entrepreneurs who “have the most potential to have an impact.”

Charismatic leaders and role models in and of themselves, these social entrepreneurs dare to prototype solutions to wicked problems, thereby empowering us as a society to re-engage fearlessly in empathy. Our fear can dissipate when the possibility of helplessness is erased. All the power is stripped from our fear- and guilt – by the power of the solution.

Empathy becomes an inherent cascading effect of impactful social solutions.

I like to think of it as ‘solutions-oriented empathy training’. By supporting innovative social entrepreneurs to scale their impact and reach more people, Social Entrepreneurs Ireland implicitly fosters the conditions for empathy – scaling the solutions that might just empower us to empathize with others through the possibility of positive action. 

Chicken-and-egg

The cultivation of empathy is also a fundamental step to further fostering the conditions for broader social innovation (as SiG Communications Manager Geraldine Cahill explores). Empathy is an important element of systems thinking; understanding and caring for others enables us to appreciate multiple perspectives and better understand the networks of relationships in a system. At the end of the day, social innovation and empathy are mutually constitutive.

C/O B Hartford J Strong

C/O B Hartford J Strong

Systems-change will never be the work of one person; but one person, or a small group of people, can be essential to tipping the scales on emotional norms, inspiring us to embrace, not fear, empathy. Art, literature, and films abound with the stories of these inspirational figures: they share their hope, challenge our helplessness, and invite us to welcome, care for, and share in the experiences of each other.

But not all stories get to be heard. As we begin to conquer our fear of empathy, and resolve the absence of empathy, through powerful social solutions and innovations, the next challenge will be to listen for the voices of those whose stories and experiences we don’t even know exist.

Social Enterprise Spotlight: Seeding the Roots of Empathy

Over the course of the last 12 months I have read a plethora of articles and blog posts on the importance of empathy and the urgent need to nurture it. From Arianna Huffington’s words at the 2012 Skoll World Forum to Ashoka’s Start Empathy Project, from Bill Drayton’s article in Forbes to Paul Bloom’s more challenging piece in The New Yorker. Why the growing call?

We are moving in this world at a heightened pace, images fly at us from multiple media platforms. Tragedies from mass murder, to the drumbeats of war, to teen suicides rise in number and our hearts and minds struggle to makes sense of it all. The absence of empathy underlies the creation of these conditions; without empathy there is insufficient traction for conflict resolution. This is the problem Mary Gordon has been trying to solve since 1996 when she started Roots of Empathy.

Exported ROE

Mary will share her thoughts on empathy’s surprising power at the 2013 Social Enterprise World Forum in Calgary next month. I spoke to Mary to get her thoughts on how we can foster this most beneficial and necessary trait in our communities.

With a growing chorus of people calling for the development of empathy, do you believe it is well understood?

Mary Gordon: I believe the value placed on empathy varies from country to country. For example, there are big differences between Canada and the United States. In the U.S., empathy is regarded as a soft, female trait, and is often confused with sympathy. In Canada, it is considered a desirable, non-gendered trait. So you have to begin work in a country knowing how empathy is perceived.

We know that empathy is developed by the attachment relationship between a primary parent and child. Exposing children to the experience of empathy gives them the capacity to build good relationships – it helps them learn and develop skills sets for entering adult life. Good relationships help in every aspect of life. You cannot be in a meaningful relationship with anyone unless you’re able to feel with them. In understanding this, you then realize that fostering empathy is not just the responsibility of the family, but of everyone. For example, in order to break out of the cycle of poverty we need to ensure that impoverished individuals experience empathy. That means those with power to inform policies must also operate with empathy.

What are some of the best ways we can develop empathy in ourselves and others?

Mary Gordon: One of the dreadful things I encountered overseas, was the lack of support for the bonding between child and parent. Many parents know they will lose their job if they stay home with their newborn. They are forced to give their baby to multiple people to take care of and the crucial serve-and-return exchange is undermined. One example of an empathetic Canadian policy is the extension of maternity leave to one full year. In doing that, policy makers supported a healthy attachment relationship between a baby and parent. What we haven’t done is extend it to people who don’t have benefits, which is also necessary.

If society wants to do something at a general level, they need to look at policy decisions that allow parents to spend time with their children and meet their needs. When families are well supported, there are better attachment relationships, and aggressive behavior like bullying is reduced. Empathy is about fairness. Citizens that have empathy make life fair.

Is empathy simply the ability to take the perspective of others?

Mary Gordon: Empathy is not cold cognition. It is the combination of emotional connection, understanding and care. You can be a true sociopath with the ability to take the perspective of the victim without the ability to care for what they’re feeling. For me, it’s very much a combination of the two. A little child’s brain, empathy and cognition are tightly aligned.

Sara Konrath wrote on The Empathy Paradox at the University of Michigan, after finding that there has been a dramatic decline in perspective taking and empathic concern in college students since the 1970s. She didn’t mean to have an impact but people went nuts over it. It’s a sign of the times, not just an American situation.

So we must ask: what is the difference in the landscape for children growing up? What are the policies? What are the points of connection and contagion for good or for bad?

I think you can have an impact if all of those that are trained to work with others – in corporate life, education or government – are aware of the needs of those that are learning or working with them. To be aware of an individual’s needs is to understand that at the very basic level, people desire a feeling of belonging. How do people feel like they belong? When they feel understood. It’s all about empathy.

This is a conversation about humanity.

Exported ROE2

You have been working on Roots of Empathy since 1996, and even longer on understanding how empathy can be fostered. What gives you energy to maintain your focus in this work?

Mary Gordon: I’m not a Pollyanna in terms of optimism, but I do believe in the power of humanity to create an empathic space in which we all can live. I believe we have that capacity. I don’t think we’ll see it delivered in my lifetime and I don’t think it’s up to me. I don’t feel the weight of this on my shoulders, as long as people like you want to talk to me. And as long as people want to train for Seeds of Empathy or Roots of Empathy, they want to understand, to learn, to make things better. I feel very encouraged. I see acts of courage and hear about them every day. And I pass the stories on because they encourage people.

Someone once said to me, “It’s a curse being an innovator.” I don’t agree at all. I am very encouraged by the world I see. For every horror story I hear, I hear a positive story.

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?

SEWF

Mary Gordon: I think there is a particular surge of energy having so many people together that care about innovation. The fact that many in the audience may not have necessarily thought of empathy as a lever for change. That they’re already cued into social change and that it might help some of their initiatives to put on a lens of empathy. That by talking to all of them, it will open me up to having new relationships. I’ll get a lot of learning after the fact. It’s an electrifying group. I love talking to people that are switched on. I think that’s going to be great fun.