How can we make it easier to discover Social R&D?

We are already a month into 2017, Canada’s 150th birthday year. How exciting! This year, we are committed to building on the momentum to help strengthen the legitimacy, community, capital and capabilities of R&D in Canada’s social impact sector.

Introducing the Social R&D Digest*

*We welcome ideas on a more catchy name!

The Digest is an easy way to discover and promote experiments, insights and practitioners. Sent to your email inbox every two months, the Digest is a curated collection of crowdsourced Social R&D stories along three streams:

1 – experiments & pivots
2 – methods & practices
3 – structures & business models

We believe that by highlighting what works, insights, and pivots by people pursuing R&D in social mission organizations across Canada – that the social impact sector will work even better, and make bolder leaps and advancements to enhancing lives.

The inaugural edition will be sent out February 28th.

That brings me to… call for stories!

What experiments are you working on? What new practices have you implemented? What methods have you discovered? What business models are you trying out? What key lessons have you learned?

Let’s feature them as part of the inaugural Digest.

Send a 75-100 word story, with a photo and any web links to vinod@sigeneration.ca by 5pm Eastern February 15, 2017.

Sign up here to receive the inaugural Digest.

Inclusive innovation policy struggles to connect the dots

By Karen Gomez

Note: This article was originally published on the Re$earch Money on January 18, 2017.  It has been cross-posted with permission. 

Over the past 20 years, the Canadian public’s understanding of a successful innovation ecosystem has evolved enormously to include social, technology, science, engineering, mathematics, arts and business innovation. From peacekeeping and palliative care to lacrosse and basketball, settler and Indigenous Canadians innovate from our unique cultures and contexts to solve problems or seize opportunities across sectors. We need look no further than the Governor General’s Innovation Awards to see the changing mindset about what constitutes innovation. As His Excellency told the Globe and Mail (June 9, 2015), besides technology innovation and business innovation, we need social innovation.

Read the summary report here.

Yet the 2016 public policy consultations on Canada’s Innovation Agenda struggled to make the vital connection between our unique innovation strengths, the urgent complexity of contemporary challenges facing Canadians, and the opportunity to define innovation as the integration of STEM, business, arts and social innovation.

In the ISED (Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada) summary report, Innovation for a Better Canada: What You Told Us, there is a terse and high-level evaluation of the innovation ecosystem. It hews to the old mindset, with the important exception of making a strong link between innovation and a greener economy.

Citing a competitive global race for tech and digital growth, the report signalled a doubling down on the mindset of trickle-down economics. From Thomas Piketty to Anthony Atkinson to Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett to Robert J. Gordon, we are hearing that this laissez-faire approach to innovation economics and social well-being is failing us.

Innovating innovation

We need to innovate our understanding of innovation. The report fails to recognize that Canadians are transforming the innovation economy into a collaborative culture of cross-sector innovation oriented towards durable solutions to complex challenges and new triple-bottom line market opportunities; where economic value is created from the pursuit of social and environmental value. With this mindset, Canadians are expanding the innovation marketplace and aligning innovation to solve social and environmental challenges.

To read about the incredible work of JumpMath see the case study prepared by Queen’s University and the Trico Charitable Foundation.

Take JUMP Math. “Junior Undiscovered Math Prodigies” is an evidence-based numeracy program that challenges both teaching and societal norms by overcoming the assumption that there are natural hierarchies of ability. In 2011, a randomized controlled study led by SickKids Hospital determined that the math knowledge of students taught using JUMP Math grew at twice the rate of students using the incumbent mathematics program. Incorporated as a charity in Canada, in 2015 JUMP Math used multiple revenue streams totalling $4.8 million to cover its $3.99 million in expenses, with most revenue coming from royalty advances and teaching tool sales.

In other words, a charity is leveraging diverse revenue streams to advance a transformational education innovation with a social return on investment (SROI) of $16 for every $1 spent and dramatically improving a cornerstone skillset for innovation and life.

JUMP Math shows how a combination of mindset shift, business model innovation, education innovation, and government cost saving can foster a generation with greater capacity to thrive in daily life and as innovators. JUMP is an example of a social innovation — a durable, scalable and impactful innovation that solves the root cause of a complex social and environmental problem and, in turn, produces economic value. It is also an example of successful entrepreneurship leading to global scale, with program expansion into the US and Europe.

All sectors innovate

Similar social innovations are prolific across Canada, coming from charities, non-profits, businesses and government. In particular, the social sector is leveraging new processes, tools and technologies to develop impact-focused and evidence-based innovations, such as the Insite Safe Injection Site in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside or Housing First in Medicine Hat, AB.

Even North America’s largest urban innovation hub, the MaRS Discovery District, runs as a social enterprise with an integrated social innovation stream. As MaRS CEO Ilse Treurnicht noted in a recent speech at University of Toronto: “In reality, innovation is too often narrowcast. It is not about shiny gadgets and cool self-driving cars, it touches every aspect of our lives and every person in our society. We are all innovators. It is also, humanity’s toolbox — humanity’s only toolbox — for tackling wicked challenges.”

With the OECD reporting that Canada’s social spend exceeded $300 billion in 2015, there is a direct economic case for social innovations that tackle root causes of social problems and hit on economic savings aligned to social or environmental well-being or redirect capital flows to create much higher SROI.

Social innovation is a Canadian strength

Read the Economist Intelligence Report on Social Innovation.

The Economist Intelligence Unit identified Canada in 2016 as the third best country in the world for social innovation. The temptation may be to interpret this ranking as evidence that all is well and stay the course. But in fact, it is intentional cross-sector partnership, community innovation and signalling from the public sector that fuelled this success — and will be critical to scaling it.

While we may be third in the world overall, the world itself is in the early adopter phase of systemically integrating social innovation as a powerful innovation pathway for dealing with the complexity of 21st Century challenges and needs. Canada’s unique opportunity and competitive advantage is to take up the mantle of leadership and advance our social innovation strengths as a cornerstone of Canada’s Innovation Agenda.

Embed social impact in innovation policy

Many of the ingredients to winning the innovation race are in our own homegrown appreciation that innovation is driven by, and can directly lead, to greater social inclusion. Yet we are looking to other jurisdictions as bad role models.

The Munk School has a great newsletter on Innovation Policy in Ontario, register here. Image from the University of Toronto

As Munk Centre for Global Affairs professors Daniel Breznitz and Amos Zehavi note, successful innovation policy in Israel led the country to leap from one of the lowest levels of R&D intensity among developed countries in 1970s to a world leader in R&D intensity. Yet, “in parallel to this success, Israel changed from being the second-most-egalitarian Western society to the second most unequal.” In response, Breznitz and Zehavi call for innovation policies to intentionally address social impact as well as economic growth and competitiveness. This is the opportunity facing Canada now as we design our innovation agenda.

Seize the moment

Integrated innovation is the leading edge of a market disruption that is creating more than economic value. Inclusive innovation is necessary for communities to thrive in the 21st century.

Canada and Canadians will succeed when we clearly align our innovation policies with the range of economic, social, cultural and environmental challenges we face and embrace all expressions of innovation leading on that challenge. We can take advantage of Canadians’ cultural affinities for collaborative working arrangements to bring very diverse innovators together to amplify their impact.

2017 is the moment to seize the assets and capabilities of all sectors, including Canada’s 160,000-strong charity and non-profit sector, as well as the power of passionate amateurs, to ensure innovation is a projet de société.

Why experiment, anyway?

A Year of Exploration

From Wikimedia Commons

December has been a month of reflection for many years – not because it’s close to year-end but because I moved to Canada as a preteen in December. I remember the start of my journey in this beautiful country. My earliest memories of Canada are snow, the holidays, and some of the more unique things we have put in place to care for one another as a society. Things like the Canada Pension Plan (CPP), Registered Education Savings Plan (RESP), and a high-functioning public education system were foreign to me. My mother took English as a Second Language from an immigrant services organization that was supported by the local community foundation. The idea of a community foundation was foreign to me.

St. Elizabeth

Today, community and social assets, such as the ones I learned about when I first arrived, are all around us – many invisible. You could say they are in the air we breathe. Yet, once upon a time, they were novel. They were innovations. Some folks somewhere, decided to craft hypotheses, do research, run experiments, test assumptions, take risks, and scale what worked. No asset is designed to operate at its optimal forever, and in a fast-changing world, we often forget how fragile our community and social assets can be. How might they be ready for and evolve in a way that attends to tomorrow’s needs? How might the spark of experimentation that led to the creation of these assets be rekindled, sustained and embedded within these organizations? What conditions are necessary to make continuous innovation worthwhile?

Questions such as these led us to kick-start an exploration to strengthen community and capability, and seed more capital for social impact organizations practicing research and development, or as we are calling it for now, “Social R&D.” The exploration is incubated by SiG, supported by The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation, and is championed by a growing movement of organizations including: Community Foundations of Canada, Open North, MaRS, Skills Society, Engineers Without Borders Canada, WEST Neighbourhood House, York University, and many others.

The Social R&D exploration caught the wind this year, taking a multi-sector approach. There were policy professionals, front-line agencies, executives, academics, entrepreneurs, storytellers, engineers, designers, and many others contributing to the journey.

We focused on four primary areas of enhancement to social and grant-making organizations:

Demystifying R&D and demonstrating R&D in action

Through Appreciative Inquiry principles, we researched and shared 50 inspiring R&D practices in Canada’s social impact sector to demystify the practice, surface resonating language, and identify ways for grant-makers and social mission organizations to better activate, empower and build R&D capacity, capability, community and capital. We packaged the practices in a first-of-its kind report in Canada – called ‘Getting to Moonshot’ with a Foreword by Geoff Mulgan, Chief Executive of Nesta.

CommuniTEA

Catalyzing a community

We hosted gatherings, had one-on-one meetings and phone calls, and engaged over 100 people practicing R&D within their organizations. Through this exploration, more Social R&D practitioners found each other. Peer relationships began to deepen and grow, across geographies, sectors and disciplines. This community has its roots in a Social R&D Declaration of Action that was co-created and jointly signed in late-2015.

Advancing practice

We designed and hosted two unique gatherings this year to cross-pollinate, advance, and increase the adoption of R&D practices. In August, we convened approximately 20 practitioners from across Canada to connect with one another and with funders to learn, share insights, exchange methods, and find ways to strengthen their organizational R&D craft. In October, in partnership with Community Foundations of Canada, we led an inaugural study tour to Silicon Valley to learn about R&D practices, emerging technologies, and innovations in the world’s leading lean R&D ecosystem. We also contributed to the development of a new labs and experimentation learning module hosted by Innoweave. The module kicks-off in January.

Grantbook

Influencing policy

Social R&D can lead to better policy development. We also believe that Canada can drive inclusive growth by strengthening R&D in the not-for-profit and charitable sector. However, this sector remains one of the least supported in terms of access to federal R&D infrastructure, advisory support, capacity and capital. We helped to convene a cross-sector policy gathering with Public Policy Forum in June; participated in policy meetings and consultations, including the pan-Canadian innovation policy consultation, and; submitted a policy brief to the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development focused on enhancing federal R&D support for Canada’s social sector.

We have just begun this journey. Not everything worked as planned, there were failures along the way – there always will be (more on the failures in January). We are thrilled to advance each of the above four areas in 2017 and have you join this exploration as a partner, champion or practitioner.

The funny thing with mainstreaming experimentation is that we will not know what approaches will work best in advance. Only through experimentation, fast learning, and showing how it’s improving lives will they materialize.

Is our playbook out of date?

A photo by Greg Rakozy. unsplash.com/photos/oMpAz-DN-9I

Canada spends over $300 billion annually on social outcomes, according to the OECD. Our fast-evolving societal challenges — ranging from mental health, Indigenous communities’ access to quality education, and a lack of affordable housing — demand equally fast-paced and nimble research, learning, experimental and replicating approaches so people can access the best possible services, supports and solutions, no matter where they live in Canada. This is where R&D comes in.

Canada’s not-for-profit, charitable, B Corp, and social enterprise organizations have built strong capabilities in volunteer management, donor stewardship, and program delivery, among other things. Along with an appreciation and celebration of these competencies, there is increasing consensus that social change in the 21st century requires an additional strong capacity and capability in research and development, or R&D.  

Just as R&D in the business world drives new and improved products and services, R&D can also help social mission organizations generate significant and rapid advancements in services and solutions that change lives. However, currently only a small proportion of social mission organizations repeatedly incorporate a wide range of new knowledge (like insights into how the brain works and how positive behaviours can be encouraged) or new technologies (like machine learning) or new processes (like human centred design).  

R&D is not yet well understood, funded or widely practiced by the social impact sector and thus is not yet adopted as a core organizational practice. It is a new field with a small body of codified knowledge and practice.

The “Social R&D” exploration aims to catalyze a change. The exploration is incubated by SiG, seeded by The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation, and is championed by a growing movement of organizations including: Open North, Community Foundations of Canada, MaRS, Engineers Without Borders Canada, among many others.

The new report, Getting to Moonshot: Inspiring R&D practices in Canada’s social impact sector authored by SiG Fellow Vinod Rajasekaran, with a Foreword by Nesta’s Chief Executive Geoff Mulgan, highlights 50 compelling R&D practices from 14 organizations across Canada, including: Saint Elizabeth’s field visits with frontline staff, GrantBook’s digital simulations, Skills Society’s neighbourhood prototyping and The MATCH International Women’s Fund’s 15% staff time for experimentation. The report illustrates that pursuing R&D helps organizations minimize costs in program growth, track improvements and learning more effectively, and ultimately deliver better outcomes for and with the people they serve. The intention in the future is to move beyond the report and host an online collection of practices with open access.

There are wonderful elements of R&D in Canada’s social impact sector and this report is an attempt to make a small portion of them visible to demonstrate that investment in R&D is a critical success factor in seeing measurable gains in social wellbeing. Against a backdrop of increasingly complex social, ecological and economic challenges, together we can transform how social mission organizations enhance lives for the 21st century.

SiG invites grantmakers, philanthropists, governments, and practitioners to join the movement to boost Social R&D capacity, capability, infrastructure and capital in communities across Canada.

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

Nesting Social Innovation

“What does social innovation mean?”
“Is my work called social innovation?”
“Is that social innovation?”

These types of questions are asked all the time, showing that definitions for promising ideas can be very useful, but also alienating. Too often, they come across as a value judgment, privileging some ideas and actions over others. But what if it’s not really a competition? More than any one individual piece of work, it might be even more important to consider the relationships between them. There is something about the interconnections between intention, involvement, invention and innovation that are central to social innovation.

Intention: it’s sparked by a moment in time when people become more consciously aware of a problem in a way that there’s no turning back from. They are changed and, as individuals, they now genuinely care about something that is broken in the world. They develop a deep intention; they care – and they sincerely want change to happen.

That intention often leads to new levels of engagement; their growing awareness and emotional connection wants to be translated into action and they feel compelled to DO something. Doing can take a lot of forms – learning more, giving money, volunteering, working in the problem domain. Whatever first (and next) steps mean to them, they move into involvement; they are actively helping change to happen.

To some extent, they are now part of the field, part of working for change, and some will get involved enough to develop more knowledge and experience in this realm. This allows them to creatively experiment with new ways of addressing problems. They are excited by invention; they can now imagine and act on radically different ideas for change.

Eventually, a number of these creative, adaptive entrepreneurs, either individuals or organizations, come to realize that even with some success, the fundamental brokenness that caught their attention in the first place, still lingers – the problem has barely changed at all. It becomes clear that their work is critically important, but alone, it is not enough. And, if possible, they turn their attention to whatever bigger picture elements appear to be keeping problems so frustratingly stuck. They, with others, begin to work for innovation; they step into new spaces to engage with strategies for getting at the root causes of these very complex problems.

Babushka Dolls of SI copy

Babushka Dolls of Social Innovation – image graphic provided by Karen Gomez

I’ve come to understand the necessity and the interdependence of each of these four different. but related, uniquely powerful parts of change-making.  I think of them like the Russian babushka dolls; nested pieces, one inside the other. While each individual piece can stand alone, the full impact is really only possible when they are together.  Social innovation nesting looks something like this; real, lasting innovation at a systems level cannot happen without enough creative invention to demonstrate and prepare the new possibilities. This rarely happens without significant involvement to gain deep understanding in the issue area, which itself will never occur without sparking individuals’ intention, their desire to be part of making change happen. When this interconnectedness is present, the energy of a whole field works for impact – and that can make all the difference.

So I’m really drawn to think about the whole – and, therefore, to holistic questions that unite rather than divide our change efforts; ones that point to the relationships between initiatives and to ‘nesting’ one piece of change work within another.  Rather than questions about what is or is not social innovation, let’s explore if and how this kind of initiative and that type of activity fits within, supports, leverages, communicates with, and connects to a whole web-like strategy, every single piece of which has a role to play in achieving real and lasting change.

Intelligent Failure in Practice: Fail Forward 2014

wknzw8 (1)With the Fail Forward 2014 conference fast approaching, I wanted to share some of the inspiring and formative theories of change behind the conference.

We’ve brought together some of the leading thought-leaders on intelligent failure for one stimulating and engaging day to help us develop effective tools and practices so that when a failure inevitably happens (and it will!), those experiences become opportunities for learning, adaptation, and so much more.

Below are highlights from a few of our thought-leaders who offer uniquely forward-thinking approaches to failure, as they work to transform our mindsets, workplaces and society away from fear of failure and toward productive failure. Here is a preparatory ‘crash course on intelligent failure’ with key insights from their work:

Dr. Brian Goldman

Our keynote speaker, Dr. Brian Goldman, is a highly regarded Toronto emergency room physician who is on a lifelong campaign to confront medical errors and create a culture of safety for patients. His keen observations about the culture of medicine apply to organizations everywhere and have us asking the question, “Do we really expect that doctors are always perfect or do we want a culture where they can be open about their mistakes and learn from them?” His TED Talk Doctors make mistakes. Can we talk about that? has reached nearly a million viewers and has moved countless individuals and organizations across sectors with his powerful message that failures need to be talked about if they are to be learned from.

Dr. Mandy Wintink: ‘Your Brain on Failure’

What happens in our brains and bodies when we experience failure? Dr. Mandy Wintink explains our learned and instinctive reactions to failure from a neuroscience perspective. She will lead participants through an exercise to experience and understand the physiological responses that trigger our defensive and dysfunctional reactions. Wintink’s approach offers effective strategies for dealing with these reactions to failure so that we can learn to respond more productively. 

The Risk Sandbox

Laurie Michaels, the founder of Open Road Alliance, and Tom Moir, a Safety-Risk Management Consultant, discuss the concept of ‘The Risk Sandbox’, an effective tool for understanding the dynamics of risk and failure in our work and mapping the current and desired areas for creativity, risk, and innovation. Most of us unconsciously avoid taking risks, largely because we just don’t understand how much and what kind of failure is acceptable in pursuit of innovation.  This session is about creating the space to take smart risks for increased performance, achieving ambitions, growing revenue, and the agility to stay relevant and competitive. Learn what’s possible if we understand what our risk tolerance truly is!

All we’re typically taught about failure is to avoid it at all costs. It’s time to change that. Intelligent failure plays a vital role in learning and innovation and is an essential skill in our uncertain and interconnected world. This is your crash course on how to fail well.

Hope to see you at Fail Forward 2014!

~ Ashley

To learn more about the practice of intelligent failure, attend the Fail Forward 2014 Conference, taking place on Wednesday, July 9th at MaRS Discovery District.*
*There are 30 spots remaining and to fill them, a special 20% discount is available. Register here with the code – 30Seats – for the discount.

Bees, Trees and the Innovation Ecosystem

Sherri_Torjman bees and treesIf you ever have the good fortune to spend time with Tim Draimin, Executive Director of Social Innovation Generation National, you will learn a lot about social innovation − in Canada and abroad.

But you will also find out quickly that Tim is thinking about something that goes beyond innovation itself.  He is preoccupied with a notion called the “innovation ecosystem.”  You might wonder what on earth he is talking about.

Here is my interpretation.  Innovation represents a product, service, process or way of thinking that is qualitatively different from what is currently in place.  The innovation could be new or newly-applied.  The latter refers to something that has proven successful elsewhere and is now being applied to a new context or community.

The innovation ecosystem comprises all the actions you need to take to both sow and grow the innovation seeds.  A good idea − whether a product, service, process or new way of thinking − does not take hold just because it happens to be a good idea.  It needs to be planted in the right conditions and carefully cultivated to ensure it can take root and flourish.

bees meet trees

Report on how large social sector organisations can help to scale social innovation

Tim has recently read a report called When Bees Meet Trees: How large social sector organisations can help to scale social innovation.  The paper builds on earlier ideas that depicted bees as small organizations, individuals and groups that have the new ideas and are mobile, quick and able to cross-pollinate.  The trees, by contrast, are the big organizations − governments, companies and large not-for-profits − which are poor at creativity but generally good at implementation.  They have the resilience, roots and scale to make things happen.  Both the bees and the trees need each other.

 

While the ideas in this report may be interesting, they will not be applied unless they are disseminated, digested, discussed and debated.  Any innovation − including a new way of thinking − needs an innovation ecosystem in order to take hold.  This innovation ecosystem comprises of several components.

First, it is essential to identify the people who would have an interest in this product, service, process or new way of thinking.  Among them are those who are willing to go one step further and spread the word.  They may even be early adopters ready to apply the innovation to their own workplaces or communities.  There is a vital human resource component to the innovation ecosystem.

An innovative product, service, process or idea typically involves a variety of associated changes to take root.  When it comes to applying an idea, for example, it may be necessary to create new teams that work together in clusters rather than individually at desks.  Community locations, such as a coffee shop or neighbourhood hub, may replace a central office.  Virtual work spaces may be set up at home.  These are the physical space dimensions of the innovation ecosystem.

Before any new product, service, process or idea is introduced within an organization or community, there must be an assessment of who might be affected by the innovation and in what ways.  Innovation usually is ‘disruptive’ in that it implies a qualitative shift in how things are done.  While disruption is vital to innovation, it is important to try to minimize potential harms, such as job loss or exclusion from an essential service.  There is a key information component to the innovation ecosystem.

There are also legal dimensions to the innovation ecosystem to which innovators must pay attention.  It is possible that clients of a service may decide to launch a lawsuit, for example, if their benefits or supports are protected through legislation.  Employees may lodge a complaint or grievance if they feel that their contractual agreement has shifted fundamentally from its original signing.  While these possibilities should not necessarily block the innovation, change makers must be aware of the potential legal implications of their actions.

Of course, money is always a consideration.  How much will the innovation cost and from where will the funds come to support this new good, service, process or way of thinking?  Will they be redirected from another activity or program or will additional dollars have to be found?  Are there potentially new funders or sources of financing that might be tapped?  This is the financial component to the innovation ecosystem.

Finally, the policy component of the innovation ecosystem can help or hinder the application of a new product, service, process or idea.  For example, existing legislation may prevent non-profit organizations from raising new funds through profit-making activities.  Enabling policies, by contrast, could help open the door to new forms of financing.

At the end of the day, an innovation that has been applied well will probably be sustained over time.  If successful, other organizations and communities often want to apply it as well.  Sustainability and scaling are vital features of successful innovation.

No wonder Tim is obsessed with the innovation ecosystem.  Without it, innovation will likely not take hold.  For sure, it will not survive or go to scale.  Tim knows that it is imperative to create the conditions for success when the bees ultimately meet the trees.

Innovation: The ultimate team sport

http://alison-maxwell.blogspot.ca/2012/03/thinking-together.html

c/o Alison Maxwell

It’s a tall order to make innovation sound compelling these days. Countless companies use the word in their taglines and advertising campaigns. It’s a word thrown up on billboards to sell everything from cars to energy drinks. Yet innovation is more than just something new. As MaRS CEO Ilse Treurnicht explained at the MaRS Global Leadership event in early October, we keep driving to innovate—to create something new andof value—because our future literally depends on it.

The question of value, including what it means and for whom it is created, is an interesting one. Importantly, there is a growing recognition that there are certain challenges—those that are complex and that cross sector domains and national boundaries—that require the creativity and commitment of all of us to solve. This is perhaps the most important task of innovation: to find solutions to complex challenges that will provide value for many.

As Ilse said: “Solutions require coalitions of problem-solvers who coalesce around a shared vision.”

“It is what we value that will align our aspirations and help us build the future we want and the future our children deserve.”

Innovation is no longer the domain of a few. Given the acceleration of change and global pressures today, progress calls for new partnerships. These partnerships must draw on both deep domain expertise and entrepreneurial drive, and must involve all sectors—government, science, academe, industry and community—collaborating together in new and open ways.

It was this knowledge—this awareness that innovation is not a solo exercise, but a team sportthat helped shape the mission and operations of MaRS. Deliberately designed to bridge the public and private spheres and to match capital to entrepreneurs to business development expertise, MaRS also recognized the necessity of creating social value alongside economic prosperity.

Throughout MaRS’ early years, awareness of social innovation was barely on the public radar. However, MaRS Founder Dr. John Evans and Ilse approached Tim Brodhead, then President of the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation, with a proposal to embed social innovation in the MaRS system DNA as SiG was forming in 2006.

Now, “social innovation is moving into the mainstream, the evidence is everywhere,” says Ilse. And MaRS finds itself at the leading edge of this innovation space. As an innovation incubator that could compare itself with the likes of Boston’s Kendall Square or the East River Science Park in New York, Ilse opts to speak of MaRS as a change agent.

“Now that we finally realize we can’t solve problems alone—that challenges like healthcare costs will not be solved by new drugs and gadgets or cost-cutting measures—we must do things differently,” said Ilse.

That difference involves building unique, collaborative and productive partnerships, and creating spaces that allow many different people to come together to work on the problems we share as a community, as a country and as global citizens.

There has always been a lot of lab talk at MaRS. With a history of medical discovery within the building’s old walls, it’s understandable. However, as Ilse reminded us, there is a particular burden in that legacy and that is about continuing to search, test, prototype and identify qualities and ideas that are capable of positive change in our society, and then to build the coalitions and to work on the hard stuff of partnerships and policy development that will enable the good ideas to scale and have impact.

Watch Ilse deliver “Innovating Innovation,” a presentation delivered in partnership with MaRS Global Leadership and the SiG Inspiring Action for Social Impact Series. Consider the levers for change. How might you be involved in this work?

The War on Poverty or the Weapon of Choice?

Musings on Our Crowdfunding Campaign

CrowdfundingThe 150-second challenge turned out to be only the start of the tough decisions in our crowdfunding campaign.  In 2.5 minutes or less, we needed to make a video that would introduce ourselves, explain our issue, convince others that it should be of concern to them and ask them to take action on behalf of the cause.

This challenge would be tough under the best of circumstances.  But it is harder when the purpose of the campaign involves a complex public issue.

As it turns out, we were trying to explain two important problems at the same time: the war on poverty and the weapon of choice in this tough battle.

The war on poverty involves rallying around the fact that welfare recipients − typically the poorest of the poor − live on incomes that are drastically low.  The Welfare Incomes report calculates these annual amounts and compares them to major poverty measures and income measures.  Both of these comparators give a sense of adequacy – or serious lack thereof.  Welfare incomes fall well below poverty rates in all parts of the country and are only a fraction of the average incomes of Canadians.

The data and evidence in Welfare Incomes that point to the huge gaps in adequacy comprise the weapon of choice.  This information helps us make the case for why we need not only to bolster the incomes of welfare recipients but also to fundamentally reform that program, which entails dismantling welfare and replacing it with stronger and more effective income security programs.

This crucial information was slated to be lost forever with the federal dismantling of the National Council of Welfare and all its work.  No government department would be taking up the slack.

So should we ask viewers to pool money to fight the war on poverty?  Or should we ask them to help rescue the words (and figures, tables, charts and graphs) that comprise its foremost weapon?

It may have been preferable to focus on the war on poverty.  It is easier to understand and rally people around this pressing need.  But we chose instead to highlight the #datarescue challenge with its more subtle message.

So why make this crowdfunding task more difficult than it already is?  Why take the risk of having our campaign confused with a serious computer malfunction (the more typical interpretation of our campaign hashtag)?

Because the prospective loss of Welfare Incomes is only the thin edge of the wedge.  There has been a steady decline in the number of diverse sources of national public data that help us understand poverty and trends in labour market participation, levels of earnings and income inequality.

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Caledon Institute is a social policy think tank

We are strong as a social policy community only to the extent that it is possible to make a clear, informed case for action on poverty and the reform of income security measures that can help fight poverty.  And we are strong as a nation only to the extent that we can make a cogent and articulate case for paying attention to the well-being of all citizens, especially those who live in poverty.  We will be neither in the absence of solid and  trustworthy information.