A Global Meeting of the Minds: The Road Ahead for PSI Labs

SiG Note: This article was originally published by MaRS Solutions Lab on June 17, 2014. It has been cross-posted with permission from the author.
 

“Who in this room thinks they’re a contrarian?”

IMG_7602-1024x454On May 26, at the Labs for Systems Change event at MaRS, Geoff Mulgan, CEO of Nesta, opened his keynote address by asking the audience this question. Many of the event’s attendees raised their hands, which fit the Labs for Systems Change mindset. Lab practitioners are required to look at complex societal problems from unconventional perspectives to produce creative and impactful solutions and, according to Geoff, “contrarians naturally disagree with things and [out of this] instinct, they are able to generate better ideas.”

Labs for Systems Change brought together many outside-the-box thinkers to discuss, debate and challenge the new field of labs. The event resulted in abundant discussion on topics including functional lab challenges, lab values, institutional structure and new ways to impact public policy.

“Contrarians naturally disagree with things and [out of this] instinct, they are able to generate better ideas.”

Global labs gathering

Labs for Systems Change is the public portion of this year’s Global Labs Gathering, a now annual gathering of public and social innovation lab (PSI labs) practitioners from around the world. The event was the third and largest gathering yet and was organized by the MaRS Solutions Lab, in partnership with Social Innovation Generation (the first meeting was held by MindLab in Denmark; the second by Kennisland in the Netherlands).

Labs for Systems Change brought together 50 international guests and 100 participants from across Canada. Designers, policy-makers, academics, consultants and lab practitioners all convened at MaRS to explore, expand and define the lab landscape. Distinguished members of the Canadian federal government and members of the Ontario Public Service were also among the attendees. The event was livestreamed in North America, Europe and Asia.

The notable lineup of guests included Frances Westley, Director of the Waterloo Institute for Social Innovation and Resilience; Jari Tuomala, Partner at The Bridgespan Group in New York City; Christian Bason, Director of Innovation at MindLab in Copenhagen; Beth Simone Noveck, Director of The Governance Lab at New York University; and Adam Kahane, Chairman of Reos Partners North America, among over 40 eminent international guests.

First Roundtable discussion on lab approaches

These guests participated as panelists and keynote speakers on three topics: the state of public and social innovation labs; design for public policy; and labs, governance and technology. Table discussions on lab approaches, the organization of the lab and the future of labs were also held throughout the day. These interrelated topics helped guide the event towards a productive conversation about the past, present and future of the labs field.

Current lab challenges

Although Geoff emphasized contrarianism as a quality that lab practitioners should have, it was not the only quality he spoke of. His more controversial point came from his understanding of Niccolò Machiavelli’s works on political strategy. Geoff suggested that guile—that is, “cunning in attaining a goal”—is another quality that lab practitioners should have. His remark garnered a good laugh, but it also piqued the interest of the attendees, as guile would certainly come in handy when embarking on the long journey toward public-sector intervention and policy change.

Geoff Mulgan reflection talk

Laughs aside, the need for new strategies for approaching systems change through policy interventions is very real; it is a need that was reflected by the large number of lab practitioners and public-sector innovators at the event. Labs for Systems Change created a platform for further developing the field of systems change labs by bringing together key players in the field to discuss the issues commonly faced by labs, as well as core concerns such as values, institutional structure and the future of this growing field. Moreover, many significant challenges were raised during the event, including prototyping, scaling, defining the metrics of success and change, creating a sustainable business model, and facilitating more networked ways of learning between labs to better share the key lessons learned along the way.

During the first panel, the institutional structure of labs (that is, whether labs should exist inside or outside of government) was a point of contention. Labs designing citizen-centred, bottom-up processes and using tools such as big data and social physics are able to gather data outside of government. However, when labs are looking for resources, governments seem to be the key stakeholders and funders. Increasing funding options through outside sources like venture capital might be a way forward for some labs. Nevertheless, other attendees suggested that being inside or outside of government shouldn’t matter, as long as labs were producing an impact.

Future lab challenges

Christian Bason talk

According to Christian Bason, Director of Innovation at MindLab, viewing policy as an impact instead of a strategy may “require having to change the entire policy.” This might be one of the unintended consequences, whether good or bad, of systems change. If governments are ready to be open about addressing their challenges, labs need to help them to “expand the range and types of tools that government can use and expand, or create new tools if [current] tools are ineffective,” he said. This ties into the idea of envisioning a new future for society through systems change lab experimentation and, as Christian explained, showing government how to “stop resisting change and [instead] embrace it.”

This need resonated among event attendees. Labs and practitioners should be more than neutral facilitators. They should have a concrete vision of their purpose and use it to guide their decisions. Whether that vision is like that of Gabriella Gómez-Mont, Director of Laboratorio para la Ciudad, who views Mexico City’s citizens as being not “22 million mouths, [but] 22 million minds,” or whether it is like that of Adam Kahane, who believes in checking one’s biases at the door before getting involved in a project, having a concrete set of values or a manifesto can be beneficial to any organization or field. Having a vision provides a general foundation from which to grow.

If governments are ready to be open about addressing their challenges, labs need to help them to “expand the range and types of tools that government can use and expand, or create new tools if [current] tools are ineffective.”

Overall, Labs for Systems Change was an incredible learning experience. The event was a forum for lab practitioners, policy-makers, designers, academics and consultants to interact and share their experiences in a collaborative environment. With so much cross-pollination of lab processes and systems change ideas, the potential for positive outcomes is immense.

Moving forward, lab practitioners will need to address the key challenges facing labs, including defining metrics, scaling solutions and building sustainable business models. Moreover, labs as a field should create a repository of systems change interventions, in order to share information on what works and use these interventions as concrete examples of lab results. Both of these actions will do more to enhance the field than simply spreading lab processes, as more is not always better and even an unintentional decline in quality due to quantity could hinder rather than help this relatively new field.

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Witnessing Care: Innovating for Caregivers at SIX 2014

Last week, the annual SIX Summer School was held in North America for the first time, bringing together leading social innovation thinkers, practitioners, grassroots activists, and policy makers from over 20 countries to explore: How can we increase our impact? Shifting cultures, changing systems and preparing for surprise. 

SIX Vancouver 2014 was a three-day journey into culture shift and the spirit and humanity of social innovation. Day 1 and 2  were curated to dive deep into our spirit and our sector experiences, while Day 3 prepared us to surface with fresh perspectives and consider: how can we ‘grow change’ in society and nurture the conditions for social innovation?

To capture the depth and collective wisdom of this journey, six Witnesses were chosen to reflect on and give testimony to the powerful undercurrents of SIX Vancouver: power & love, empathy, generations, courage, beauty, and empowerment. Honouring the oral tradition of the Musqueam People, our hosts on Day 2, each Witness — or Listener — was responsible for listening for and witnessing the truth of his or her theme. 

In two poignant blog posts this week, a seventh witness surfaced: Donna Thomson — an author, activist, and mother — witnessed and listened for care during the Summer School and testifies to care in her writings on SIX:

June 1: Innovating for Caregivers at The SIX Vancouver Summer School

Innovating for Caregivers at The SIX Vancouver Summer School

Innovating for Caregivers at The SIX Vancouver Summer School

The place of care in social change was a theme that ran through every discussion and workshop and we were nudged to think about care through the cultural lens of Canada’s First Nations…” In her first post, Donna reflects on the paradox of ‘real life’ versus ‘real work’ that emerged on Day 2: care is often seen as part of ‘real life,’ but not ‘real work’ — and as a result, can be edged out of our ‘real lives.’ Driven by the fear of our own vulnerability, we might dismiss the vulnerability of others, devalue care, and forget that love and care are both the impetus and guides for social innovation. Read on.

They cannot scare me with their empty spaces
Between stars – on stars where no human race is.
I have it in me so much nearer home
To scare myself with my own desert places.

— Robert Frost

(cited by Frances Westley, Opening Address, May 28, SIX Vancouver)

June 4: Powerful Lessons Learned

Innovating for Caregivers at the SIX Summer School - Powerful Lessons Learned

Innovating for Caregivers at the SIX Summer School – Powerful Lessons Learned

I learned that we must forge a movement to place power in the language of caregiving…” In her second post, Donna draws on the experiences of leading change lab and solutions lab practitioners, who led a session on “Experimenting with Enemies and Strangers.” The session leaders focused on the immeasurable potential and value of collectively co-creating new social realities and solutions — a process that requires balancing love with power, or as Donna shares, empowering the language of care with strength against silence or dismissal.  In her reflection, Donna calls on caregivers to use the fire of love to light a powerful torch for collective creation, nurtured through care. Read on. 

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 Lab, described 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

 

Social innovation labs: Top tips and common pitfalls

Social innovation labs (also called design labs and change labs) are an approach to tackling complex societal challenges that require systems change. This new league of labs provides a structured process for approaching messy and complex challenges and a safe and creative environment to experiment and prototype radical innovations. It also enables deep collaboration among multi-disciplinary teams and diverse stakeholders, and takes a user-centred approach as opposed to institution- or organization-centred approaches.

Labs are part of a global movement and Canada is no exception. There are a number of formal labs and organizations using lab-like approaches sprouting up across Canada. Some of these include:

It is worth mentioning that MaRS Solutions Lab is a pioneering partnership with the Government of Ontario, an example of hybridization where the government is co-creating a lab physically established on its borders rather than entirely in-house (where escaping “innovators’ dilemmas” is more challenging).

Last Thursday, Joeri van den Steenhoven, director of MaRS Solutions Lab, presented his views on systems change and social innovation labs to an audience of over 300 people. Joeri’s broad demographic audience ranged from federal, provincial and municipal public servants to global consultancies to grassroots NGOs and changemakers galore, not to mention citizens who as “passionate amateurs” hold the flame of commitment to a range of vexing social and environmental challenges.

Joeri brings to the lab a decade of experience in the lab world, founding and directing Kennisland (or Knowledge Land), a think-tank turned social innovation lab based in Amsterdam, Netherlands. It is not surprising, then, that his email inbox is filled with requests from across Canada for help implanting lab thinking and lab doing in this thematically diverse and dynamic field of social innovation solutions generation, prototyping and scaling.

Joeri_blog

Joeri van den Steenhoven discusses systems change during his talk

With more and more practitioners, organizations and groups embracing lab-like approaches, Joeri’s expertise and reflections are timely. Below are some of the top tips and common lab pitfalls he highlighted in his talk, which include an emphasis on scaling, learning and doing.

1. Scale: Build in the potential to scale solutions up and out

“If we want to change systems, we can’t do it without scale.”

If your lab has systems-tipping ambitions, it’s important to ensure that the emerging solutions have the potential to scale. When it comes to social innovation, scale refers to both scaling out—that is, replicating solutions horizontally across locations and geographies while adapting to local context—and scaling up—integrating solutions vertically across hierarchies.

In an article for Ecology and Society, Michele-Lee Moore and Frances Westley explain how the impact of an innovation and its ability to span boundaries are positively correlated: “Complex challenges demand complex solutions. By their very nature, these problems are difficult to define and are often the result of rigid social structures that effectively act as ‘traps’… Therefore, when a social innovation crosses scales, the innovation is crossing a boundary that separates organizations, groups, hierarchical levels or social sub-systems, whether they are economic, cultural, legal, political, or otherwise. The more boundaries that the innovation crosses, the wider and possibly deeper the impact, and the more likely the result is more transformative change.”

While isolated solutions can and do positively impact communities, a solution that intervenes across vertical and horizontal scales has the potential to fundamentally shift systems and get at the root causes of our really tough societal challenges. (Tim Draimin expands further on this topic in his blog post: “The Social Innovator’s Guide to Systems Thinking.”)

2. Learn: Enable key stakeholders and users to learn and reflect together

“Develop solutions with key stakeholders and users, not for them.”

The challenges that labs tackle are not simply black and white—they’re layered, messy and daunting. Part of the lab’s role is to enable stakeholders to deepen their understanding of the challenge by helping them to see themselves as part of the system and gain perspective into the challenges and tensions felt by other stakeholders. No one group has the answer, but by working together the lab is able to develop holistic, relevant and responsive solutions. Furthermore, involving stakeholders from the get-go builds champions that enable the solutions to reach scale.

3. Do: Push through the failure, sweat and resistance of implementation.

“Solutions have to break out of the safety of the lab.”

Traditional think-tanks stop at the brainstorming. Labs must take the next steps by trying out their recommendations and adapting them based on the realities on the ground, by navigating bureaucracies and building networks, partnerships and champions, and by doing the hard work of figuring out how to implement and scale. Labs act as a vehicle for change, but the road to systems change is long and winding.

Want to learn more about labs?

For more about the MaRS Solutions Lab, including the challenges that the lab is currently tackling (the future of food, the future of health, the future of government and the future of work), visit their website here.

This post was originally published on the MaRS blog on January 17. It has been cross-posted with permission from the author.