On seeking, sharing and systems change

If there’s one sentiment I have expressed a number of times over the past 2 weeks, it is gratitude. SiG and our partners have been metaphorically swimming in inspiring stories told by Canadian indigenous leaders and stories told of social lab interventions that are positively transforming lives in different parts of the world, while building relationships with a host of change-makers that are in equal measure genius and humble. The only hard thing about all this goodness is choosing where to begin to make sense of all of the learning, translate the stories of successful change-making to a Canadian context, and offer some resources to adapt the best pieces of  work.

Thanks to the kickoff event of Social Innovation Canada 2014 featuring Dana Shen, Director of Family by Family from South Australia, I feel confident in offering a place to start. SiG has taken a look at Family by Family before — as early as 2011 — courtesy of the co-designer of the model, Sarah Schulman of InWithForward. Hearing about it again from Dana meant a deeper dive into the model and hearing about its impact and adaptation over time.

Here is a quick summary of what Family by Family does (I’ll leave it to Dana herself to explain it in full on video):

In 2010, The Australia Centre for Social Innovation (TACSI) asked the South Australian government what they wanted to focus on in terms of better social service outcomes. The government asked for an intervention to bring down the high numbers of children in the formal protection system. TACSI, working with Sarah Schulman and Chris Vanstone, developed a peer-to-peer solution that looks astonishingly simple on the surface: families who have come through tough times mentor families experiencing tough times. Or in the words of Family by Family, sharing families mentor seeking families.

Watch Dana explain how getting to this solution was a learning experience in collaboration between unusual partners, in trust-building and in adaptation:

Family by Family: Australian social innovation in action – MaRS Global Leadership from MaRS Discovery District on Vimeo.

Following this MaRS Global Leadership presentation, Dana joined SiG and 160+ participants at SIX Vancouver, May 27-29, where we were privileged to hear an opening discussion between Dr. Frances Westley and Tyze Founder, Vickie Cammack. The conversation focused on the effects of culture on our spirits, our organizations and our society. In many ways I feel the key to Family by Family’s success was in taking the time to understand the culture it was entering – that of families experiencing difficult times and why change was so difficult to achieve.

The result of TACSI engaging with community in the design and prototyping of Family by Family was an equally deep impact on the so-called experts charged with delivering the program. Dana spoke to the benefits of Family by Family for the culture inside the public sector in South Australia, those delivering the program at Family by Family and the broader TACSI design team. So profound has been the impact, that TACSI and the government are looking for ways to scale the model.

During Frances and Vickie’s discussion, the conversation turned to a desire to understand resilience and vulnerability more deeply. Being open to exploring our own vulnerability also opens up opportunities to see and understand others. As Frances reflected, if you can’t touch the vulnerability in yourself, you can’t touch it in others either. And the result is that our fear of the “other” increases. We don’t have to look far to see fear guiding many interactions across cultures in the world.

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Photo Credit: Komal Minhas for KoMedia

Following the discussion, Dana reflected on our shared journey — on the fact that we are all in this world together; that we all want similar things. As Allyson Hewitt said at the end of Dana’s MaRS presentation, we are always sharing and seeking change. And it’s not a one-way street.

The Family by Family program has seen sharing families — those willing to volunteer time to support those experiencing tough times — become seeking families themselves. These times of vulnerability are to be expected and need not be permanent. As a community acting together and understanding each other more deeply, we can become more resilient. Vickie Cammack may refer to this as a recognition of our interdependence. The Family by Family model is supporting a strengthening in community resilience. As seeking families achieve their goals, they increase their ability to share their experience and learning with others. At scale, the impact is a sea-change — this increased resilience enables the flow of resources, both personal and community, towards systemic change. We all seek support and understanding at different times in our lives. Being awake to this is not to be stuck, but to be open to others. In a second post about Social Innovation Canada 2014, I will explore what it means to know our own fears and desires better, as well as those of others with whom we experience conflict, thanks to the wonderful contribution of David Diamond at SIX Vancouver. The ability to understand others through understanding ourselves is the result of a deepening empathy. SiG is so pleased to be co-presenting a conversation with Bill Drayton, Founder of Ashoka, on June 19th at MaRS. Bill has turned his extensive experience towards supporting and promoting entrepreneurs fostering empathy in our world. You can see details on that event here.

Co-production: A powerful approach for public service designers

There are many entry points for co-production: well-being and happiness indexes, asset-based community development, opportunities for impact investing and social impact bonds, the transition town movement, innovations in elder care, collaborative consumption and the list goes on. Co-production is an approach so well suited to creating positive social change that once it is learned you start seeing potential for it everywhere.

At least that was my reaction. I first learned about co-production during a work term at MindLab in 2011. As a research analyst for the Danish cross-ministry innovation lab, I scoured the web and devoured any reports, articles, blog posts and news stories I could find on the topic. Lucie Stephens, the head of co-production at the United Kingdom–based new economics foundation (nef) had written many of these pieces. For the past 10 years, Lucie and her nef colleagues have been thinking, writing about and doing co-production. We were delighted to have Lucie join SiG’s Inspiring Action for Social Impact Series (in partnership with the MaRS Global Leadership series) to share her latest thoughts on co-production via a public talk at MaRS last week.

 

What’s the big fuss? Co-production is a different approach to public service delivery

In a nutshell, co-production is about designing and delivering services in a true partnership with both citizens and professionals. That’s right, citizens are expected to take responsibility, alongside professionals, for helping themselves and one another. The secret sauce of co-production is that it values professional training and lived experience equally. By blending top-down and bottom-up expertise during the design and ongoing delivery of services, the approach creates better outcomes for citizens and is more cost effective for governments.

“Co-production is a relationship where professionals and citizens share power to plan and deliver support together, recognizing that both partners have vital contributions to make in order to improve quality of life for people and communities.” —Co-production Critical Friends Group, 2012

Co-design is obvious, but co-delivery is not… yet

The strategic design (and design-thinking) community has long embraced both human-centred approaches that prioritize the needs of the end user above all and participatory approaches that involve end users throughout the design process. However, it is still less common for designers to incorporate end users as part of the ongoing delivery of the service—that is, for the end users to be co-deliverers alongside the professionals.

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c/o The Challenge of Co-Production

Furthermore, designers who are incorporating co-delivery seem to be doing so almost by accident, without realizing all of the positive benefits of this approach. A designer may choose to incorporate co-delivery because he or she recognizes that doing so makes the service more responsive to the realities on the ground, as well as cheaper to operate than what is currently in place. However, he or she may not realize the added sociological benefits. For example, contributing is an essential daily ingredient for well-being. Enabling someone to give back to society also yields other positive benefits, like a strengthened social fabric, which in turn leads to greater feelings of safety, trust, inclusion and quality of life for those who are part of that community.

While it is important to note that co-production is not the answer for all services, there is an enormous opportunity to incorporate a co-production approach in many of our public services. Public services that traditionally have long-term relationships with citizens, such as caregiving, healthcare, justice and education, make particularly good candidates for re-designs that consider co-production. Despite its incredible potential, co-production remains largely under-used, as many designers are not aware of its full range of capabilities.

The Family by Family program illustrates the power of co-production

Designed by the team behind In With For at the The Australian Centre for Social Innovation, Family by Family is a mentoring program where a network of families helps other families to grow and change together. The In With For team aimed to address the problem that an increasing number of children were being taken out of their families and thrust into foster care while social services did not have the resources to keep up with the growing demand.

The In With For team spoke with and involved end users (the families) throughout the design process. What surfaced was that struggling families would benefit immensely from support and mentorship from other families who had been through similar rough times, who were now doing better and who could share their lived experiences. Family by Family matches whole families with whole families, shifts the roles of professionals from experts to coaches, increases resources as the program succeeds (and as there are more families to help other families) and focuses on thriving rather than simply surviving.

What I find particularly exciting about this example is that it enables families to become self-reliant and empowered by their services, not at the mercy of them. Plus, it takes an asset-based approach (abundance thinking) that values and celebrates the skills, innate gifts and lived experiences that already exist within the members of the families. Through this example, service designers can see how progressing past co-design to include co-delivery can significantly accelerate the positive impact of a service solution.

Co-production is not a new approach; it is the way we did things before there were public services. Using co-production intentionally as an approach to designing public services has the power to help us transition to a world where communities spearhead the changes that are most relevant to their needs, with the support of government policy.

Are you wondering if your service involves co-production? Check it against nef’s list of six co-production principles.

  1. An asset-based approach: Does your service acknowledge and celebrate the assets within the community?
  2. Working on capabilities: Does your service build the skills of those involved?
  3. Developing mutuality: Does your service broker a true partnership between professional and user?
  4. Growing networks: Does your service support, share and stretch, connecting with those other than the usual suspects?
  5. Blurring roles: Some people are paid, others are not, but all are important.
  6. Acting as catalysts: Does your service provide a new role for professionals—from experts to coaches to facilitators?

Further co-production resources

Inspiring Co-Production Examples (mentioned in Lucie’s talk)

Editor’s note: this blog originally appeared in the MaRS Blog on July 29, 2013. It has been cross-posted with permission.