Doing Good Better: Upping Canada’s Game with an R&D Engine

Canadians take great pride in our history of innovating for the public good. Today there are a wide range of people, projects, networks, and organizations working in the social impact space across diverse sectors – ranging from enterprises and social service agencies to schools and community foundations.

Innovations such as The Women’s Institute (1897), the Palliative Care Movement, Insite – North America’s only supervised injection site, Roots of Empathy, the Desjardins and Credit Union Movement, and the Registered Disability Savings Plan are Canadian social innovations in the public, private and not-for-profit sectors that have and are significantly improving outcomes around the world.

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Yet, it’s an uncomfortable fact that Canada’s many billions spent in social outcomes can produce better outcomes. Our contention is that while the social impact sector has always conducted research & development (R&D) and innovation to some degree, the scale and complexity of the challenges we face today mean we need to dramatically up our game.

What if Canadians embraced the value of R&D for

generating outstanding outcomes in social impact?

R&D for social impact could be far more intentional, connected, and supported. In that way, it would be much more accessible, widespread, celebrated, and most importantly, impactful.

What if we had a virtually accessible, distributed R&D function for the sector that everybody could share in and benefit from? This would an audacious opportunity for Canada as we near our country’s 150th birthday in 2017: we can create a breakthrough in the way that R&D is conceptualized, catalyzed, shared, incentivized, and made accessible for the world.

The functions of an R&D engine might be a range of possibilities, including catalyzing and incentivizing — as well as amplifying and sharing — new impactful processes, approaches, knowledge and models for the benefit of all. This might include:

  • helping to catalyze a national network of social innovation labs in communities;
  • designing a pro-active obsolescence management system for social programs and services; or, 
  • developing a financial incentive for NGOs to conduct R&D, similar to the Scientific Research & Experimental Development (SRED) tax credit available for the private sector.

R&D has shifted the paradigm of how new and relevant solutions get unleashed in sectors such as: automobile, life sciences, construction, and technology. Now imagine the benefits of robust national R&D resources and support systems for the immigrant settlement, or child & youth development, or senior care sectors.

Canada has yet to marshall required resources to develop a comprehensive networked R&D engine (our metaphor for Canada’s high octane social impact R&D function for the 21st century) that all sectors working to better the world can use. Not-for-profit leaders, passionate amateurs, social purpose entrepreneurs, public policy professionals, philanthropists, think tanks, front-line social service professionals, corporates, private and community foundations, and academic partners are often unable to access the appropriate resources to conduct R&D and innovate on an ongoing basis.

An R&D engine could help share knowledge, tools, platforms, innovation systems and supports to:
  • rigorously define problems;
  • generate hypotheses and conduct better experiments;
  • leverage big data in new ways being pioneered for the social sector by organizations like Data For Good and others;
  • access models and approaches from across the sector and beyond;
  • build and test prototypes;
  • assess which initiatives to scale or pivot;
  • share failures;
  • simulate solutions and scenarios;
  • design feedback loops for pro-active obsolescence management; and,
  • surface and share what works widely and accessibly.

Platforms like MaRS Solutions Lab, Alberta’s CoLab, Canada’s funding bodies’ knowledge mobilization networks (jointly funded by SSHRC, CIHR and NSERC), Ashoka Canada, the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation’s Social Innovation Fund and Innoweave, Tamarack’s Vibrant Communities, the global Impact Hub network (and home-grown domestic analogues like the Centre for Social Innovation and HiVE), BC Partners for Social Impact, CIFAR, Grand Challenges Canada, and the UK’s Nesta and What Works Network serve as helpful launch points.

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A sector-wide R&D engine would learn from, expand upon and complement existing platforms, and offer Canada the ability to actively foster process, product and systems innovation in a cohesive and networked way by better generating the right questions, challenging existing orthodoxies, launching grand challenge competitions, and catalyzing moonshots – practices, systems, tools or products that have the potential to become mainstream in 10 years.

Such an engine could:
  • catalyze, conduct, apply and evaluate R&D;
  • incentivize R&D;
  • build accessible R&D capacity, available to organizations and passionate amateurs;
  • strengthen purposeful cross-disciplinary and cross-generational collaboration;
  • scout, harvest and share R&D from across the sector and beyond; and,
  • celebrate and nurture a culture of inquiry.

More broadly, it could expand our collective understanding of how social and systems innovation takes place in Canada and how it can be accelerated. The engine could become a proof point demonstrating the power of R&D unleashed to do good better.

Why does R&D matter?

Canada is fortunate to have some remarkable social service systems. Unfortunately, many of them, conceived and deployed many decades ago, are struggling to renew themselves.  They aspire to evolve through continuous refinement to ensure they stay relevant for the growing complexity of Canadians’ needs in the 21st century. Think of challenges like fetal alcohol syndrome, increasingly unequal levels of educational attainment for different populations, child and youth mental health, an aging population, or retooling a curative health system into a preventative one. New R&D support tools like the Canadian Index of Wellbeing and the Social Progress Index can be used in local or national contexts to help orient public policy.

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While Canadian social impact organizations in the private, public and not-for-profit sectors have deep knowledge about the vulnerable populations they serve, they are often trapped in highly restrictive funding models that don’t value their strategic work as social impact innovators. They lack access to financial, knowledge, process and systems innovation resources — resources that would enable experimentation, innovation, cross-sector collaboration and multi-organization consortia to respond to new needs and to improve outcomes on longstanding social problems.

New insights and new tools are emerging. The last decade has produced an enormous suite of applicable new knowledge and tools. Think of the new methodologies and approaches, like social innovation labs, for designing enhanced social outcomes that derive from…

  • the application (and combination) of new hard and soft technologies (e.g. smart phones and apps);
  • new “nudge” insights or “social stickiness” (informed by the rapidly growing knowledge about human psychology and brain science); and, 
  • the range of ways that social innovation researchers (an academic field only several decades old) are beginning to crack the innovation code.

Many social service delivery systems, originally established and funded only to ameliorate symptoms, are itching to repurpose themselves and solve problems at their roots by using their accumulated experiential wisdom plus new innovation tools and insights to reinvent pathways to sustainable wellbeing.

Think of a microcosm of social delivery, the immigrant settlement community. Currently, it is a billion dollar industry on its own. Doesn’t it make sense to have a national centre of excellence supporting immigrant settlement service innovation?

Do we have an innovation system commensurate

with our public spend for social outcomes?

Looking down from 70,000 feet, Canada’s public spending on social outcomes (health, education and social policy) represents a whopping 17% of Canada’s GDP, or $338 billion (2014 estimate). Canada’s not-for-profit sector (including hospitals and universities) is calculated to be about 7% of GDP or $100.7 billion (2007). While there is some very sophisticated R&D in parts of the social impact sector, like health, there is a real thirst for R&D by leaders in others, like frontline community services.

Now imagine…

What if social impact organizations had access to an R&D function in the same way they have access to a finance or communications function? What if funders, donors, and grantmakers support, incentivize and even reward R&D? What if an R&D engine could help organizations with pro-active obsolescence management, so social services and programs are constantly renewed? What if we could invest in growing R&D capacity within organizations?

What if Canada led the world in achieving breakthroughs in homelessness, child and youth mental illness, community care, and other complex challenges as a result of a robust and integrated R&D function shared by social impact organizations across the country?

Author’s note: The authors would like to thank outside readers, listed below, for making important comments on earlier drafts of this blog. Of course, any errors or affirmations remain the responsibility of the authors. Thanks to: Maureen Fair, Zoe Fleming, Tatiana Fraser, Allyson Hewitt, Stephen Huddart, Indy Johar, Luc Lalande and Geraldine Cahill.

About the authors

Tim Draimin Photo smallTim Draimin, Executive Director of Social Innovation Generation (SiG), partners on collaborative cross-sector initiatives strengthening Canada’s social innovation ecosystem. He is a member of the scientific advisory board of Grand Challenges Canada and a senior adviser to MaRS Centre for Impact Investing.

unnamedVinod Rajasekaran is an engineer and cross-sector leader helping to enhance Canada’s impact infrastructure so we can do good better for the next 100 years. He works with The HUB, the world’s fastest-growing professional community and innovation platform for people working to better the world. Vinod is also involved in HUB’s incubation of Rideau Hall Foundation, which aims to catalyze and align ideas, people and resources to move the Canadian spirit forward.

Microtainer: lab resources (April 2015)

SiG Note: This article was originally published on April 7, 2015 on the MaRS Solutions Lab Blog. It has been cross-posted with permission from the author.
Launched August 2013, the Microtainer series was created and curated by Satsuko VanAntwerp of Social Innovation Generation. The MaRS Solutions Lab is excited to take on this legacy to spread information that will be interesting, insightful and useful to lab practitioners and the lab-curious. To access the whole archive of Microtainers, please visit the Microtainers series page.
Interesting resources that came across our desks in the past 4 weeks (in no particular order):
1. Danish Design Centre’s interview series on “When does design become a political act?”

Engaging interviews with:

Scott Brown, Research Associate, Parsons DESIS Lab, The New School

Christian Bason, CEO, Danish Design Centre

Rosan Bosch, artist and founder of Rosan Bosch Studio

Kit Lykketoft, General Manager, MindLab

2. Jon Turney’s aeon article “How to design the future”

As technological choices become ever more complex, design fiction, not science, hints at the future we actually want.

How to design the future

C/O Dunne and Raby via aeon

3. Eric Schnurer’s article in The Atlantic “When Government Competes Against the Private Sector, Everybody Wins”

If civil servants are pitted against businesses, they become more innovative and secure most of the contracts put out for bid.

4. Simon O’Rafferty’s slides “Service Design: Tactics + Pitfalls”

Great slidedeck by Simon O’Rafferty on the methods of Service Design and its pitfalls.

5. Google Cultural Institute

Take a look at the work of The Lab at the Google Cultural Institute, merging ideas with art and technology.

Google Cultural Institute

C/O Google

6. News: The new Arts Impact Fund in UK

The Arts Impact Fund is a new £7million initiative set up to demonstrate the potential for social investment in arts. Note: Restrictions on funding from some partners mean the Arts Impact Fund can only lend to organisations registered in, and operating primarily in, England.

7. Dr. Andrea Siodmok’s blog “Design in Policy Making”

Can we create public services that are valuable to the public, so that they are delighted, even proud of their existence – whilst simultaneously saving money?

8. Laura Bolt’s blog on AIGA “A Genius Lesson from Franklyn in How to Rebrand a Branding Agency”

Great design example of rebranding an innovation firm.

Redesign innovation firm

C/I AIGA

For more speedy PSILabs updates, follow MaRS Solutions Lab @solutions_lab and Terrie at @terriehyichan.

Microtainer: lab resources (archive)

SiG Note: This article was originally published on March 17, 2015 on the MaRS Solutions Lab Blog. It has been cross-posted with permission from the author.

Launched August 2013, the Microtainer series was created and curated by Satsuko VanAntwerp of Social Innovation Generation. The MaRS Solutions Lab then took on this legacy to spread information that was interesting, insightful and useful to lab practitioners and the lab-curious. To access the whole archive of Microtainers, please visit the Microtainers series page. It has since all been archived.

Interesting resources that came across our desks in the past 6 weeks (in no particular order):

 

1. Practical illustrated summary of Lab Matters: Challenging the practice of Social Innovation Laboratories

Written by Marlieke Kieboom (Kennisland) in a more illustrated format.

2. Civic Quarterly’s articleCollaboratively Designing Public Services“ by Chelsea Mauldin

“Citizens often bear the burden of public services that weren’t designed with their experience in mind. If civic designers are ever going to improve these services, we’ll need to engage both citizens and civil servants alike in their creation.”

Civic Quarterly

c/o Civic Quarterly, Issue 2, Winter 2014

3. The New Yorker’s article “The Shape of Things to Come

A rare in-depth look at Jonathan Ive and his team and “how an industrial designer became Apple’s greatest product”.

4. Devex’s article “Putting evidence into policymaking: RCTs as a tool for decision-making

“In India, the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab, a network of researchers who run randomized control trials based at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is working with the Tamil Nadu government to integrate findings from RCTs into the policymaking design phase — a collaborative approach which evolved from J-PAL’s existing evaluation programs there.”

5. News: “Government’s new innovation ‘Hub’ open to new thinking

“The federal government has opened its long-awaited ‘hub’ of thinkers and policy wonks whose brainstorming could reshape the way policy is made and services are delivered in Canada.”

6. Wired Magazine’s “15 Predictions for Tech and Design in 2015

15 projections from experts in the advancement of design and tech, including edible technology, adaptive education, and health diagnosis with nano particles.

c/o Wired Magazine

c/o Wired Magazine

7. Civic Quarterly’s article “Untangling Complexity: Designing for Shared Understanding“ by Jacqueline Wallace

“The next phase of the digital revolution will be defined by products and services that facilitate shared understanding, allowing concerted participation around complex issues. In working to show the way, civic designers will need to call upon the powers of systems research, design research, social science, and open data.”

8. CBC’s news articleHarper government examines game-playing to motivate bureaucrats

“Federal memo says computer games have potential to train public-sector workers, engage citizens. The Privy Council Office, the central organ of government and the prime minister’s own department, now is looking at adopting gamification as it renews the entire federal workforce over the next five years.” ‘Harnessing the Power of Gamification’ was written by Coleen Volk, deputy secretary to the federal cabinet. Volk proposes that game-playing be promoted by a policy think-tank established by the government in mid-February, called the central innovation hub.”

9. News: “Financial Solutions Lab Announces $3 Million Competition to Tackle Consumer Financial Security

“The Financial Solutions Lab at the Center for Financial Services Innovation (CFSI) with founding partner JPMorgan Chase & Co. today announced a $3 million competition for technology innovators working to address consumer financial challenges.”

Save

Save

Microtainer: lab resources (January 2015)

SiG Note: This article was originally published on January 3, 2015 on the MaRS Solutions Lab Blog. It has been cross-posted with permission from the author.

Launched August 2013, the Microtainer series was created and curated by Satsuko VanAntwerp of Social Innovation Generation. The MaRS Solutions Lab is excited to take on this legacy to spread information that will be interesting, insightful and useful to lab practitioners and the lab-curious. To access the whole archive of Microtainers, please visit the Microtainers series page.

Interesting resources that came across our desks in the month of January 2015 (in no particular order):

 

  1. Nesta’s annual predictions “10 predictions for 2015″ (podcast)

    “This year, we’re predicting that a new online political party will emerge in the UK, there will be new ways to interact with our national museums and galleries, and there will be a surge in young people expressing their creativity using new digital tools.”

  2. Medium blogChile’s new public laboratory and its many waters”

    Read more about Chile’s upcoming new public sector lab, the GobLab.

  3. MindLab’s blog “Design Games That Play”

    “A design game is an effective and inspiring playground, where you can practise before ideas turn into reality. Get good advice and navigate around the most common pitfalls, if you are faced with rethinking or developing new services for your users.

    C/O MindLab

    C/O MindLab

  4. Government Technology’s news article “Google Reveals its Innovation Lab for Government”

    “Google plans to institutionalize innovation through a mobile innovation lab that combines its suite of apps with motivated government innovators.”

  5. Wired Magazine’s article “Serious Games Go Offline: Bringing the Board Game to the Board Room”

    “Instead of e-learning, apps or social media, [companies] use physical simulations inspired by board games to accelerate the organization’s ability to learn and adapt to change.”

    C/O Wired Magazine

    C/O Wired Magazine

  6. Stanford Social Innovation Review’s article “The Dawn of System Leadership”

    “The deep changes necessary to accelerate progress against society’s most intractable problems require a unique type of leader—the system leader, a person who catalyzes collective leadership.”

  7. The Social Labs Fieldbook 

    Download the first section of the Social Labs Fieldbook. “This is a practical and interactive ebook that will guide you in creating and sustaining an effective social lab with passion, precision and purpose.”Social Labs Fieldbook

In case you’ve missed it:

 

  1. The Long + Short’s blog “Hooked on Labs: The experimental life is being created all around us”

    “Labs are places where people conduct experiments to test out theories. The new labs proliferating outside the hard sciences are a symptom of the spread of experimentalism as an ideology for how we should shape the future.”

  2. Nesta’s guide “Innovation teams and labs: a practice guide”

    “This practice guide shows what innovation teams and labs do, and provides a practical introduction to establishing and running a new team or lab.”

  3. Deloitte’s Gov 2020 

    Explore trends and drivers for the future of government in year 2020. A resource accumulated by Deloitte.

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

Curator’s note:
From 2015, I will be handing over the creation of the monthly Microtainers to Terrie of the MaRS Solutions Lab. Terrie is extremely plugged in to all things design x social innovation and a natural fit for this bloggette. It has been an absolute pleasure to curate these lists ~ thank you for your readership and recommendations!  — Warmly, Satsuko

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c/o Suzanne Antonelli

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 Terrie Chan (MaRS Solutions Lab) and Satsuko VanAntwerp (SiG) over the month of November 2014. In no particular order:

LABS

  1. SSIR blog post: “Four Social-Change Results That Innovation Labs Deliver,” by Amira Bliss (Rockefeller Foundation) and Nidhi Sahni (The Bridgespan Group), describes the four core unique deliverables that social innovation labs could provide.
  1. Webinar: “A New Approach to Tackle Systems Change: Social Innovation Labs,” by The Bridgespan Group, intends to build an understanding of what social innovation labs are and how they can be used to address complex social and environmental problems. The webinar shares research, expert insights, and perspectives on how these labs have helped funders and nonprofit organizations create environments conducive to innovation and experimentation.
    1. Blog post: “What Are Social (Innovation) Labs, and Why Should You Care?” by Zaid Hassan (co-founder of Reos Partners), does exactly as the title suggests. Zaid explains that social labs have three characteristics:
  • Social labs involve diverse stakeholders, including the people impacted. By contrast, a planning approach would bring together a small group of experts and develop a top-down, command-and-control solution.
  • They are experimental, relying on trial and error to create and manage a portfolio that guides investment decisions. A planning approach can put all its eggs in one basket.
  • They take a systems-based approach that addresses challenges at a root-cause level. A planning approach may address the symptoms, but not the cause, of a social problem.

Also, check out this video that explains social labs and Reos’ approach.

  1. Report: “Evaluating New Housing Services,” by Parsons DESIS Lab, Public Policy Lab, and The NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development, details the findings from their ambitious partnership to design better services for New Yorkers seeking affordable housing.
  1. Blog post: “4 Key Challenges Facing Local Government Innovators,” by Nigel Jacob of New Urban Mechanics in Boston, reflects on a six-month selection process for the City Accelerator’s first cohort on embedding innovation in local government. The selection process surfaced four key tensions that our finalists, and many other cities, are struggling with in the work to make innovation course-of-business. These are:
  • Balancing incremental improvement and “disruptive” or “transformative” approaches to innovation;
  • Putting city residents at the center in a bureaucratic environment;
  • Nurturing innovation in city departments; and,
  • Developing and structuring innovation partnerships.
  1. Learnings and reflections pushing the boundaries of the lab practice (blog post): “A new kind of prototyping,” by Sarah Schulman of InWithForward, reflects and shares the team’s journey (including what’s working and isn’t working) on their Burnaby project.

After 10-weeks of on-the-ground research, and 12-weeks of negotiations, the team is working with three service delivery partners to prototype new roles, human resourcing practices, and regulatory frameworks within the existing system. And, they share that they may have fallen short in the past due to the wrong (1) business model, (2) resource base, and (3) growth strategy. With prototyping set to go for the next 6 months, this is a live project you will want to follow.

        1. Online magazine: This season’s issue of “The Long and Short,” by Nesta, is dedicated to labs of all kinds. Articles to check out, include:
        • “Hooked on Labs,” by innovation guru Charles Leadbeater (also see this great reaction blog post, “Talking and Testing – the instinct of innovation,” by Martin Stewart-Weeks); and,
        • An awesome case study, “Techs Mex,” about Gabriella Gómez-Mont’s journey as founder and director of Mexico City’s Laboratorio para la Ciudad (Laboratory for the City), an innovation lab founded by Mayor Miguel Ángel Mancera and the first of its kind in Latin America.

GENERAL / RELATED

              1. HBR article: “Look to Government—Yes, Government—for New Social Innovations,” by Christian Bason (Danish Design Centre) and Philip Colligan (Nesta), urges people in search of innovation to look to governments. Coined as i-teams, these public innovation teams are set up by national and city governments to pioneer a new form of experimental government.
              1. Interesting blog post, “Communication can be a sore subject… or is that sensitive?” by Participle, on the importance of language and how it can be understood very differently by those who use the terms (public servants, service providers, social workers…) and those who use the service.

On a separate, but related note: Participle has titled their blog site Relational Welfare, which is an important concept for public service innovation. The concept is described as “a truly responsive welfare state that builds the capabilities of all: services that value and build on relationships.” For more about this way of thinking and how public servants can adopt it, see their blog post, “First steps to thinking Relationally?” which builds on co-production and asset-based thinking.

      1. Truly excellent podcast episode, “Solving it – solving our broken systems,” by TED Radio Hour, about complex social problems and how people are going about solving, working around, and addressing them.

Episode info: “From politics, to healthcare, to law and the justice system — some things just don’t seem to work as they should. In this hour, TED speakers share some big ideas on how to solve the seemingly impossible. Attorney Philip K. Howard argues the U.S. has become a legal minefield and we need to simplify our laws. Legal scholar Lawrence Lessig says corruption is at the heart of American politics and issues a bipartisan call for change. Health advocate Rebecca Onie describes how our healthcare system can be restructured to not just treat — but prevent — illness. Lawyer Bryan Stevenson explains how America’s criminal justice system works against the poor and people of color, and how we can address it” (hat tip Pamela Rounis).

    1. Blog post: “Mental models of change – the co-creative mindset,” by John Baxter, reflects on complex systems and on how difficult it is to create top-down change.
    1. Link to sign up for updates on Al Etmanski’s new book, coming soon. For a sample of his disruptive, bridging, and receptive innovator theory that he expands on in his book, see the transcript from his talk at SEWF (I may be biased as Al is one of SiG’s directors, but I found this talk to be incredibly moving and powerful // not to miss!).
    1. Super interesting paper: “Nudging: A Very Short Guide” by Cass R. Sunstein (Behaviour Economics guru / co-author of “Nudge” among many other books).

From the abstract: “The essay offers a general introduction to the idea of nudging, along with a list of ten of the most important ‘nudges.’ It also provides a short discussion of whether to create some kind of separate ‘behavioral insights unit,’ capable of conducting its own research, or instead to rely on existing institutions.”

The ten most important nudges listed in the paper are:

    • Default rules/ Ex: automatic enrollment in programs, including education, health and savings.
    • Simplification/ The benefits of important programs (involving education, health, finance, poverty, and employment) are greatly reduced because of undue complexity.
    • Use of social norms/ emphasizing what most people do. Ex: “most people plan to vote” or “nine out of ten hotel guests reuse their towels.”
    • Increases in ease and convenience/ Ex: making low-cost options or healthy food more visible.
    • Disclosure/ Ex: the economic or environmental costs associated with energy use, or the full cost of certain credit cards — or large amounts of data, Ex: data.gov & Open Government Partnership.
    • Warnings, graphics or otherwise/ Ex: as for cigarettes.
    • Precommitment strategies/ by which people commit to a certain course of action.
    • Reminders/ Ex: by email or text message, as for overdue bills and coming obligations or appointments.
    • Eliciting implementation intentions/ Ex: “do you plan to vote?”
    • Informing people of the nature and consequences of their own past choices/ “smart disclosure” in the US and the “midata project” in the UK.
    1. Website: Gov2020, by Deloitte, explores the future of government in the year 2020 by looking at Drivers of change (39 factors that change the context in which government operates) and Trends (194 government shifts that result from the drivers of change). Gov2020 aims to be updated on a regular basis based on reader input and changing circumstances in the world. So far, the website has some pretty neat infographics, including this one on the circular economy (or cradle to cradle).
    1. Excellent workbook, “Wicked Solutions: a systems approach to complex problems” by Bob Williams and Sjon van ’t Hof, on systems concepts (inter-relationships, perspectives and boundaries). The workbook aims to help readers:
    • Assess wicked situations;
    • Unpick the tangle of issues that need addressing;
    • Design suitable ways of tackling those issues and dealing with some tricky aspects of working in wicked situations; and,
    • Find more information about systems methods and managing interventions systemically (hat tip Cindy Banyai).
    1. The much anticipated book, “Design for Policy” by Christian Bason, provides a rich, detailed analysis of design as a tool for addressing public problems and capturing opportunities for achieving better and more efficient societal outcomes. The book suggests that design may offer a fundamental reinvention of the art and craft of policy making for the twenty-first century. From challenging current problem spaces to driving the creative quest for new solutions and shaping the physical and virtual artefacts of policy implementation, design holds significant, yet largely unexplored, potential.

The book includes contributions from lab heavy hitters: Scott Brown and Eduardo Staszowski (Parsons DESIS Lab), Banny Banerjee (Stanford d.school), Laura Bunt (formerly of Nesta), Jesper Christiansen and Kit Lykketoft (MindLab), Ezio Manzini (Politecnico di Milano & the DESIS Network), Andrea Siodmok (UK Policy Lab), Marco Steinberg (formerly Sitra & Helsinki Design Lab), Stéphane Vincent (La 27e Région) and many more! Microtainer readers can use discount code G14iPT35 to receive 35% off!

    1. Report: “How can public organisations better create, improve and adapt?“ by Geoff Mulgan, draws on past reports and makes linkages across Nesta’s recent practical and research work on how the public sector can become a more effective innovator. Geoff sets out Nesta’s approach to combining greater creativity with more attention to evidence and impact. The report aims to show:
  • Why innovation in the public sector matters more than ever at a time of austerity.
  • How innovation in the public sector is best managed at every stage, from the origins of an idea to large–scale impact.
  • How new tools – ranging from open data to crowdsourcing – can accelerate innovation in public organisations.
        1. And, another by Geoff Mulgan, an essay: “Policies to support social innovation: Where they are and where they may be heading” — on page 4 of the newsletter for the Bureau of Economic Policy Advisers (BEPA) — explores government responses to the need for social innovation and ways for governments to make more progress. Government responses include:
  • Funding for innovative projects in society — sometimes emphasising new ideas, and at other times emphasising formal experiments and ‘scaling.’
  • Policies that adapt more traditional technology support.
  • Addressing the conditions for innovation. Ex: new legal forms to make it easier to combine financial and social goals; new reliefs for social investment; new asset classes, such as social impact bonds.
  • Places, such as hubs, incubators, accelerators and zones. Ex: Bilbao pioneered a social innovation park.
  • Teams and structures — labs and innovation teams — often within or on the edge of government.
    1. Report: “Delivering Public Service For the Future: How Europe Can Lead Public-Sector Transformation” is a collection of essays on the opportunity and challenge of public service in the digital age. It includes one from Christian Bason on P.15, “Redesigning Public Institutions: Towards Democracy as Collaborative Problem Solving,” which illustrates the need for the public sector to shift towards co-production.

“Co-design between politicians, policymakers and citizens not only leads to more effective outcomes; it also redistributes the power dynamic by handing ordinary citizens a share of the influence, and a sense of empowerment, ownership and collective responsibility in governance drawn from their everyday experience.”

                                1. SSIR blog post: “The Tactics of Collaboration,” by Steve Wright, makes the case for participatory methods and collaboration, as well as for the “stages of moral development, where we learn to weigh personal benefit against collective benefit.” These stages are:
                                • Stage 1: Commitment/ the first stage of any collaborative effort is to create a context for membership.
                                • Stage 2: Partnership/ give and take defines the partnership stage—each party gives something of value and takes away something of value.
                                • Stage 3: Vulnerability/ vulnerability requires that we let go of control.
                                • Stage 4: Emergence/ doesn’t prescribe explicit outputs or milestones, but instead focuses on increasing the likelihood that an unforeseen solution will emerge.
What have we missed?
What lab-related links have you been following this past month?

About Satsuko VanAntwerp

Satsuko VanAntwerp berlin squareSatsuko is a manager at Social Innovation Generation’s national office. Satsuko supports social innovation lab practitioners and government innovators through writing, research, facilitation and community building.

 

About Terrie Chan

headshot-Terrie-Chan.ver2-250x250Terrie is the Associate for the MaRS Solutions Lab. Terrie is passionate about designing interventions that encourage creative and collaborative behaviour. Fascinated by how spatial and communications design can affect group problem-solving capacity, Terrie invests her creativity and energy to make the Lab’s space design, communication assets, and collaborative tools stand out.

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

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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. Essay “Beyond 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.

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

C/O Ashley Goldberg

C/O Ashley Goldberg

This mini blog, or bloggette, is part of our ongoing effort to spread information that we think will be interesting, insightful and useful to lab practitioners and the lab-curious. Below is a collection of resources that crossed our desks over the month of September 2014. In no particular order:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

C/O Louise Boye

C/O Louise Boye

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 August 2014. In no particular order:

1. The final essay of a three part series on the future of independent work: “Fringe Benefits” by Bryan Boyer. In this third installment, Bryan discusses what independent workers have expressed as core needs (effort, flexibility, responsibility, pay, and security), as well as needs that are ripe for innovation (identity, community, professional development, and scaling ones own efforts), trade-offs that independent workers juggle, and questions that he is left pondering. Also see essay one, two, and zero (the prequel), the series is an interesting read for entrepreneurs, freelancers, contractors, consultants… that is, what Bryan terms: independents.

2. Another one related to Bryan: Blog post, “Bryan Boyer: Stories from 5 years at Helsinki Design Lab,” summarizes a GovLab Ideas Lunch session by Bryan, about his work at Sitra and the notion of “dark matter.” (for more on the vocab of strategic design, check out this book by Dan Hill)

3. Streamed half hour conversation with Bruce Katz (author of The Metropolitan Revolution) and Geoff Mulgan (Nesta) and moderated by Alexandra Jones (Centre for Cities), on “How to encourage innovation in city economies.” The trio explore the shifting innovation landscape: revaluing needs and assets; technology fusing with other clusters like education/health etc; countries leading the innovation charge; the role of creativity, etc.

4. Blog post: “We Need New Civic Institutions To Confront The Challenges Of The 21st Century,” by Thomas Neumark, explores the debate around whether to renew declining institutions or to create whole new institutions (as the title suggests, Thomas argues for the latter).

5. Blog post: “Why social entrepreneurship has become a distraction: it is mainstream capitalism that needs to change,” by the very wise Pamela Hartigan, Director of the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship at Oxford Said Business School. Some great lines include, “The key to sustainable capitalism is reasonable profits as opposed to maximizing profits…Fortunately, there are a growing number of people, particularly among the young, who embrace the notion of ‘entrepreneurship for society,’ rather than commercial or social entrepreneurship.  They are not waiting until they are 50 years old when they have ‘made their money’ and can ‘give back’.”

6. There is still a strong buzz about the book “Labcraft.” Here is a blog post about the making of the book on La 27e Région’s blog (en français) and Kennisland’s blog (in English). The book can be purchased from the Labcraft website (take a sneak peak of the book here).

7. Book: “Public Innovation through Collaboration and Design,” by Christopher Ansell and Jacob Torfing, with a chapter written by Christian Bason of Mindlab on “design attitude.” The book brings together empirical studies drawn from Europe, the USA and the antipodes to show how collaboration, creative problem-solving and design are important features of public sector innovation in many Western democracies with different conditions and traditions.

8. Article: “Finding a radical solution to a common challenge” explores the merits and potential of the Radical Efficiency model by describing the development of Family Voices — a project that emerged from work done by the Innovation Unit and the Children’s Centres in the Whiston Area of Knowsley (UK). Family Voices enables the Children’s Centres’ staff to achieve their universal mission, tailor delivery to local needs and reach more families, all while creating a measurably better service at a reduced cost. That is a win-win-win-win-win!

9. The DIY (Development Impact & You) Toolkit’s YouTube channel has a collection of thirty social innovation tools in the form of video tutorials. The DIY Toolkit has been specifically designed to arm people working in development with the tools to invent, adopt or adapt ideas that can deliver better development results and outcomes.

10. Nesta released a guide on 18 everyday social innovations – big ideas with positive socio-cultural impacts in the UK & beyond. They are:

  • Kindergarten
  • Cooperatives
  • First Aid
  • Girlguiding
  • Meals On Wheels
  • The National Childbirth Trust
  • Fair Trade
  • The Hospice Movement
  • The Open University
  • The World Wide Web
  • The Big Issue
  • Police Support Volunteers
  • Shared Lives Plus
  • Patients Like Me
  • Avaaz
  • BeatBullying
  • The Pennies Foundation
  • Code Club

11.  A great list (with hyperlinks) of the social innovation labs around the world, as part of next week’s Social iCon conference taking place in Singapore via the Lien School of Social Entrepreneurship. The list covers labs from Afghanistan (UNICEF Afghanistan Innovation Lab) to Zimbabwe (CCore Zimbabwe Lab),  and 40+ social innovation labs across Asia.

12. Great post: “6 Ways To Make Your Work More Effective, From Entrepreneurs Who Want To Change The World” on FastCoExist, by Finance Innovation Lab’s Rachel Sinha and The Point People’s Ella Saltmarshe. The six strategies highlighted are:

  1. Understand the system you are trying to change. But not too much.
  2. Experiment, prototype, test, and be prepared to be wrong. Dive in and act. Experiment. Learn. But don’t do it alone.
  3. Stop and learn. Reflection is essential to systems change.
  4. Don’t go it alone. Get smart about collaboration. If you want to create impact, you will have to collaborate. Full stop.
  5. Create liminal spaces that allow you to move in and out of the system you are trying to change. It can be hard to create radical change from within the status quo and it can be hard to influence a system from outside of it.
  6. Get humble. Become comfortable leading from behind. Don’t make yourself too central to the result. It’s often when you get out the way that the magic happens.

13.  Article: “Hacking democracy – nine interesting GovHack projects“ talks about GovHack – one of Australia’s largest hackathons — where teams of programmers and designers compete to come up with novel ways to use government data over the course of a weekend.

14.  Along a similar vein, UK’s FutureGov held a “Design Meets Social Care” Design Camp, which brought together the FutureGov team and 20 up-and-coming young designers for an intensive day of thinking big about the future of adult social care. The blog post contains images, tweets, and some of the provocations (“How would Zappos deliver social care?”) from the event.

15.  Blog post: “Reflections from Accelerate 2014: What does it take to collaborate?” by Saralyn Hodgkin of The Natural Step Canada’s Sustainability Transition Lab, emphasizes the need to collaborate across boundaries as the key to getting things done. Saralyn shares how she will pull this thinking into her work at the Lab; for example, “ask different types of questions, see their efforts within a system, and effectively shift systems to build a thriving society.”

16. Workshop: “Tapping the Power of Networks: Strategies for Innovation and Renewal,” with complexity inspired facilitator-coach-animator Liz Rykert, co-led by network weaving guru June Holley (a huge influence for SiG’s field building two-pager). The workshop introduced the network approach, an approach where everyone is potentially a leader. “Connections and relationships are key to unleashing innovation and amplifying your work to reach more people, more deeply.”

17. Article: “New Community Planning Method Evolves and Deepens Community Engagement” explores a week-long design charrette to build community engagement and consensus for an Official Community Plan in Tumbler Ridge, British Columbia. The process was led by Urban Systems, an progressive engineering firm with a sister social enterprise Urban Matters that is worth checking out.

18. Great (and humble) blog post: “Burnaby Summer Update,” by InWithForward, talks about which of their initial assumptions they got wrong and how they’re re-calibrating their prototypes based on what they learned. This post is helpful in getting a sense of why prototyping is hard and what it requires.

19. Also by InWithForward, an absolute must-read-immediately-if-not-sooner discussion paper, “Grounded Change,” about the next iteration of their approach. This approach dives deep into what the team has found to be the 7 missing links between Social Policy, Social Services, and Outcomes that keep coming up across the many projects they have led and been involved in. The team is also soliciting feedback on the paper, so please do read and respond with your (constructive) critique!

19. Blog post: “Minding the gap: Georgia takes a page from UK’s innovation guidebook” by the Public Service Development Agency of the Ministry of Justice of Georgia (PSDA), talks about their social innovation learning tour to the UK. The tour covered a wide range of organizations from different fields and foci, including government innovation labs, think tanks, and social enterprises. A nice way to take a virtual vacation!

20. From the i-teams blog: MindLab’s Christian Bason writes “Ask citizens and bring order to the chaos of society,”. In this post, Christian describes the value of i-teams (or innovation teams) within government. “…you might consider i-teams as organizations that help to create meaning in chaos by inviting, involving and engaging citizens, policy makers and other stakeholders to find new and more powerful solutions for society. You could say that they institutionalize innovation processes.”. Helpful in finding ways to articulate the value that labs offer~ thanks CB!

21. Adore this project: “The Community Lover’s Guide to the Universe” is a growing collection of stories about amazing people and their innovative projects — people who are actively and creatively nurturing community together and transforming where they live. The website is a wider collection of blog posts and reflective essays on this emergent new community culture. The aim of the Community Lover’s Guide is to surface and share this new community practice widely. How great is that! And, I heard that Zahra Ebrahim of archiTEXT is involved (why am I not surprised?).

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