INNOVATING INNOVATION: Connecting technological, business and social innovation

SiG Note: This article was originally published on the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation blog and Tamarack CCI.  Earlier Spanish and Basque versions of this blog were published in Spain by Innobasque.

We have reached a watershed moment.

After a century of robust development of technological and business innovation, plus several decades of cracking the code of social innovation, the time has come to create an integrated innovation system.

Nasa_grid Innovation has long been recognized as necessary for a nation’s economic and business success. But citizens have relied on a trickle down approach for the benefits from technological and business innovation to trigger broad societal well-being. Unfortunately today’s social, ecological and economic problems – ranging from preventable chronic disease to social exclusion to youth unemployment to climate change – are escalating in scale, severity and urgency. They won’t wait for laissez-faire innovation.

Society’s needs and innovation’s benefits can be more directly connected and aligned. The opportunity of the 21st century is to harness the combined power of social innovation and mainstream (technological and business) innovation.

Mainstream innovation is an advanced ecosystem of technological, business, financial and human resources wired to produce efficiencies, profit and, increasingly, disruption. Social innovation works primarily at the margins to take on the most pressing social and ecological challenges of the 21st century. Social innovation responds to gaping tears in our social fabric made more visible as aging systems fall behind or fail to use new tools like behavioural economics, human-centred design, collective intelligence, and both open and big data.

The urgent call is to steward a new collaborative mindset and approach. One that integrates today’s tools and technologies with new knowledge emerging from across all sectors on innovation, social behavior, social capital, collaboration and networks.  We need an innovation system driven by a new integrated innovation paradigm and a solutions-oriented economy.

The status quo isn’t working.

The OECD reports that “[i]n 2014, OECD countries devoted more than one-fifth of their economic resources to public social support”.  It is estimated that 17% of Canada’s GDP, or approximately $300 billion, is spent on social outcomes. In the US, that figure is closer to 19.2% of GDP and in Spain, it is higher still, at 26.8% of GDP.

What are we missing by not having a more inclusive, integrated national innovation system, capable of producing greatly improved and robust social outcomes? How can we repurpose the large investments in social programs that are structured mostly to mitigate rather than solve societal challenges? How can we catalyze a purpose-driven innovation ecosystem?

The problem is not that these questions are not being asked. Nor that we are not already deploying social innovation and advancing social outcomes in critical domains. The problem is that these efforts remain marginal to the scale of our challenges.

Something more is needed: we must rewire the innovation system.

We have to be intentional around rewiring the innovation system with a solutions-orientation. This includes its:

  • Purpose: Solving grand challenges in the pursuit of inclusive prosperity and well-being;
  • Processes: Integrated social, business and STEM innovation;
  • Players: Public sector, business, civil society organizations, marginalized communities, media and academia; and,
  • Guiding rules: New paradigms of collaboration and competition, new open and bottom-up principles, new forms of interoperability and sustainability.

This will require a new role for public investment, one that honours the vital role of government in market creation and driving periods of transformative change.

Economist Mariana Mazzucato, in her groundbreaking research on public investment, notes:

“…markets are ‘blind’ and the direction of change they provide often represents suboptimal outcomes from a societal point of view. This is why, in addressing societal challenges, states have had to lead the process and provide the direction towards new ‘technoeconomic paradigms’, which do not emerge spontaneously from market forces.”

14224001703_03a3ba6ee6_zMazzucato identifies the role that government must continue to play as a key, and often more daring, partner of the private sector, derisking critical directions for market development. Recognizing government as a public investor opens up the opportunity to re-deploy vast resources (currently being spent on shoring up frail systems inadequately serving public needs) toward a common mission of integrated innovation for shared and inclusive prosperity.

It won’t be easy. As Mazzucato’s colleague, Essex University’s Andy Stirling, notes:

“The more demanding the challenges for innovation (like poverty, ill health or environmental damage), the greater becomes the importance of effective policy. These challenges of innovation policy go well beyond simplistic notions of governments trying to ‘pick winners’…This is about culturing the most fruitfully cross-fertilizing conditions across society as a whole, for collectively seeding and selecting across many alternative possibilities and together nurturing the most potentially fruitful. This involves collaboratively deliberating, negotiating and constructing what ‘winning’ even means, not just how best to achieve it.”

From adhocracy to transformed systems.

There are exemplary cases of social and mainstream innovation converging to produce transformational social and economic outcomes, such as the Grameen-Danone Partnership, the co-operative movement, and the Toronto Atmospheric Fund. But we need to support a move from  exceptional successes on the margins to a mainstreamed mindset of, and approach to, integrated innovation.

light-bulb-ideaTo succeed, we will rely on new agile innovation hosting platforms where business, STEM and social innovation can actively come together with shared accountabilities and support systems. The opportunity here is to build on local experiences, capacities and knowledge assets, as well as global insight, evidence and models. One groundbreaking Canadian example of this is Grand Challenges Canada, tackling global health challenges affecting the developing world.

In the near term, this requires  a new narrative about the origin and the role of innovation, as a process that facilitates direct, not laissez-faire, public benefits. Aligning our innovation systems more tangibly with inclusive prosperity and social outcomes depends on shifting how we understand, value, practice and apply all streams of innovation

This is the watershed moment: a multi-sector opportunity and imperative to unleash the full potential of our creativity, research capacity, knowledge and resources on our most pressing social, economic and ecological challenges to foster lasting, sustainable well-being and prosperity.

 

What I Learned from the ABSI Connect Fellows

SiG Note: This article was originally published on ABSI Connect on April 22, 2016. It has been cross-posted with permission from the author.

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It is time to pull back the current, briefly. For the past 8-months, I have had the privilege of being the administrator and an advisor for the ABSI Connect Fellows.

My ‘usual hat’ is Senior Associate at Social Innovation Generation (SiG) National, based in Toronto. It seemed curious to many that myself and my colleagues would be the backbone administration for the Fellows. The simple truth is that SiG, with our national scope, was a nimble and willing platform of support when the idea of ABSI Connect was first conceived. An experimental initiative launched at a time of immense disruption focusing on a concept with a vexed reputation in the province, the focus of ABSI Connect on emergence, deep listening and relationship-building resonated strongly with the type of approach that we’ve learned can significantly support transformational change. It was our pleasure to help.

Despite the Toronto location of the Fellows’ administrator, ABSI Connect was from Alberta, about Alberta, for Alberta, and led by Albertans. The Fellows tenaciously spearheaded the initiative with patience, determination, humility, deep reflection, passion and critical thought, embracing their role as systems thinkers, bridges, resources, relationship brokers and capacity builders.

Their collaborative effort produced the story of Albertan social innovation, as they heard it, patterns of cultural elements accelerating or holding back the community, and a common agenda to move forward together in a uniquely Albertan way. The full richness of their findings can be read in their paper, “The Future of Social Innovation 2016” or you can read the summary paper here.

Here is what I learned from the ABSI Connect Fellows…

Alberta is rad(ical).

Alberta has a rich tradition of social innovation. It is the province of the Famous Five, who secured women legal recognition as ‘persons’ in Canada, leading to a radical shift in our social relationships and in Canadian jurisprudence. It is the only province where the Métis have a legislated land base, with the goals “to secure a Métis land base for future generations, local autonomy, and economic self-sufficiency” (Source: Alberta Indigenous Relations). And it was the first province to develop a formal interface for non-profit sector leaders to address high level, sector-wide issues directly with government officials – the Alberta Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Initiative.

Alberta has consistently been the home of key justice and equality movements, from the United Farmers of Alberta to the Pembina Institute.

What is common to all of these milestones? Each transforms a critical relationship, introducing a new status quo that advances, in some way, inclusion, openness and deeper collaboration.

Author Thomas King (and a former professor of Native Studies at University of Lethbridge) writes, “the truth about stories is that that’s all we are” (The Truth About Stories, 2003). The stories we tell about ourselves matter; they inform how we see, show up and act in our daily lives. The Fellows amplified Alberta’s story as a leader in doing what it takes for community well being and equality, shedding light on an inspiring legacy of operating at the radical edge of innovation.

It is time to raise a barn together.

While there is this rich history of social innovation in Alberta, one contemporary pattern the Fellows surfaced was in the opposite direction. Today, the social impact ecosystem celebrates and rewards individualism over collective action. There has been a shift toward communities of heroes, rather than heroic communities. Short time horizons for results and a focus on individual agency undercuts an otherwise deep interest in collaborative action and isolates successful initiatives embodying this approach.

Listen to speak.

When the Fellows began their journey last summer, social innovation was a vexed concept in Alberta, specifically in Calgary and Edmonton, where their efforts were concentrated. Some folks considered it a critical new process to advance long sought social change, others considered it an empty fad, others still saw evidence of neoliberalism in the approach, and yet others felt it was either a useful or obnoxious term to describe the kind of breakthrough work they had already been dedicated to for years.

The Fellows started from a place of deep listening, inviting each person they spoke with to share what they thought the value, definition, and possibility of social innovation is. In doing so, the Fellows killed two birds with one stone: they discovered that there is a common direction that people want to walk together  (toward solving root causes) and, by listening and resourcing, they empowered the work of a diverse array of actors in both their current work and towards that common direction.

The Fellows learned that it absolutely matters to have a shared story, but that story must be accessible, inclusive, inspiring and democratic. Here is how I heard it: our common ground is in our deep dedication to aligning our social change efforts with our fundamental intent. If the goal is to solve something, then we focus on solving it. If the goal is to change the status quo, then we reimagine it. There is a growing movement of processes, models, approaches and shared learning that will help us align intent with action, whether we must invent, innovate, adapt, adopt or collaborate to get there.

Social innovation is the stuff of culture.

With little or no preconceptions of what they would be sharing back with community at the end of their term, the patterns and opportunities the Fellows identified through emergent learning all relate to the cultural elements shaping how and why we seek to forge solutions to our most complex challenges.

What they heard and learned strikes at the heart of how we think about, enact and vision impactful social change. What we call it matters less than identifying the systemic patterns shaping how we go about it and working to break the patterns holding us from our core intent.

Like any journey without a map – and solving complex social and ecological problems is as far from having a map as possible – we must constantly check-in on our direction and our path, referencing the changing landscape, the local know-how, resonant examples, our experiences, the experiences and stories of others, and our own courage to try a path untested. With an appreciation that we alone do not have the answers, but the answers are out there, we can make a concerted effort to contribute to their collective creation.

Thank you to the Fellows for leading and inspiring a unique inquiry, learning journey and community. Thank you all – especially the funding partnershostsadvisors and contributors – for your time, contribution, support, insights and partnership. The journey continues with the Fellows’ insights offering pathways forward and a true shock of the possible.

How Elections Determine the Future of Innovation

With the Federal election campaign well underway it is high time we talk about innovation.

Governments are often written off as a potential engine for innovation, but innovation in government is at the core of its future and the future of our country.

“Necessity is the mother of innovation” and in a time of complex social and ecological issues, rising deficits, and where calls to reform the state get louder across the world – innovation has earned its place in this discussion.

There is no better time for this discussion than during an election period. A change in government can mean radical disruption, even a slight shift in the balance of representation can allow for renewed interest and traction on otherwise forgotten initiatives. It also provides an opportunity to reframe, rethink, and reinvent current initiatives.

Ultimately, an election provides us with an opportunity to pick a vision for the future of our country, and by extension decide where resources will be allocated, which often dictates the government’s role in the market.

The current prevailing archetype for government is that of market regulator: offering both oversight and at times, salvation for dying industries and businesses. But governments have done and can do more for the economy.

entrepreneurial-state-368x535 Governments have been unsung risk takers for decades, making significant investments in groundbreaking research, innovations, and businesses. In her book, The Entrepreneurial State: Debunking Private vs. Public Sector Myths, economist Mariana Mazzucato delves into the incredible impact government-funded research has had in innovation as a result of what she refers to as “The Entrepreneurial State.” The State, as she illustrates, uses vision and the financial means to position itself as a market shaper – not fixer.

Government-funded research has created the elements necessary for some of the biggest and most successful products and companies today. Mazzucato cleverly illustrates her point with the iPhone, whose components and features like GPS, the internet, touch screen display, microchips, and more were a direct result of robust government-funding in innovative technologies. Governments were the catalysts that helped fund the building blocks to the modern world.

On January 25 two Toronto teens sent a Lego man into space aboard a homemade weather balloon.

Two Canadians sent a Lego man into space aboard a homemade weather balloon in 2012.

Canadians have much to be proud of when it comes to innovation. Canada was the third nation on earth to travel to space. Canadians have made huge leaps in medical science, including the groundbreaking discovery of insulin. Canada continues to be a robust research and development machine championing public-private partnerships, but work remains to be done to encourage businesses to increase their efforts in research and development.

In Canada, governments contribute 10% of the billions spent on research and development, but they play an important role by providing time and the resources necessary for change to occur.

True change takes time, but it also takes the vision to commit to change. The country is staring down some of the most complex issues ever faced and we need the gusto to face them with a research and development machine that focuses not just on traditional tech inventions, but one that catalyses social and ecological innovation, as well as the intersect between the three.

We are starting to accelerate in this direction. Various levels of government have given bold mandates and government-funding to explore challenges through various task forces and commissions.

A powerful example that comes to mind is the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), an important first step to a renewed trcrelationship based on mutual understanding and respect with First Nations, Inuit, and Métis people in our country. There was a powerful call to action made by the TRC for different levels of government to work together in order to implement the recommendations in areas like Child Welfare, Education, Health, Justice and more – all areas in which First Nations, Inuit, and Métis people face unique barriers that must be addressed.

Another that comes to mind is the Advisory Panel on Healthcare Innovation, whose mandate was twofold. First, to “Identify the five most promising areas of innovation in Canada and internationally that have the potential to sustainably reduce growth in health spending while leading to improvements in the quality and accessibility of care”. As well as, to “recommend the five ways the federal government could support innovation in the areas identified above.”

Coming out with a report just last month, the Advisory Panel went against its mandate boldly recommending the creation of an annual $1-billion Health Innovation Fund. Their justification was simple; in our system we have been missing “a pool of funds to support change agents as they seek to develop and implement both incremental and disruptive innovations in the organization and delivery of healthcare.” Incredible work to improve delivery of our healthcare system has been accomplished, but there is no way to scale their success. The Innovation Fund would change that.

logo- ecofiscal comLast, but only one of the many examples of work done in the last decade, is the Ecofiscal Commission which although independent of government, aims “to serve policy-makers across the political spectrum, at all levels of government.” Their mandate is to “identify and promote practical fiscal solutions for Canada that spark the innovation required for increased economic and environmental prosperity.” The 12 economists who make up the Advisory Panel released the Commission’s inaugural report, advocating for every province to put a price on carbon.

These reports include the work of leaders across all sectors and fields who sense urgency and a need to act now. As we continue to navigate the longest election since 1926, it is important to bring these conversations into public discourse and encourage all parties to embody the Entrepreneurial State in their platforms. Regardless of the results from October 19, Canada needs a government that will champion catalytic innovation, evidence based decision making, and impact investments that will establish Canada as a leader in green energy, in health innovation, in social innovation, in research and development, and more.

Microtainer: lab resources (July 2015)

SiG Note: This article was originally published on July 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 month of June 2015 (in no particular order):

News: Thursday, July 9th, is the global labs gathering in London with LabWorks! Follow #LabWorks for this exciting conference and the latest learnings from 50 labs globally. 

1. WISIR’s Social Innovation Lab Guide is out!

This long-awaited lab guide presents a step-by-step process in designing and implementing your social innovation lab, with tips and advice on how to iterate and adjust design based on the context. We are thrilled to have had the opportunity to work with WISIR’s team, including Frances Westley and Sam Laban, and to share our learnings within the Prologue with Joeri’s “Testing a Lab Model”.

Social Innovation Lab Guide

2. Kennisland’s Publication: “Lab Practice: creating spaces for social change

How to organise and run a social lab? Lab Practice aims to share experiences from doing a social lab with elderly people in Amsteldorp by sharing methodologies and stories from both changemakers and social lab facilitators.

3. Participate in RSD4 Symposium on Systemic Design in Banff, September 1-3

The RSD series has advanced an agenda for a strong integration between systems thinking and design to take on the most important challenges facing our planet today. The theme of this year’s symposium is At the Frontiers of Systemic Design.

Confirmed 5 extraordinary keynote speakers over the three day event:

  • Mugendi M’Rithaa, Cape Peninsula University of Technology, South Africa
  • Don Norman, University of California, San Diego, US
  • Lia Patrício, University of Porto, Portugal
  • Ann Pendleton-Jullian, The Ohio State University and Georgetown University, US
  • Ursula Tischner, Agency for Sustainable Design, Cologne, Germany
4. Service Design Berlin’s “Prototyping Public Servicesslidedeck:

A great slidedeck on the difference between prototyping and piloting and  3 approaches to prototyping in the public sector.

Service Design Berlin prototype

5. Thoughtwork’s blog on Pixar’s 22 rules of storytelling adapted for UX:

As relevant for UX as for public + social innovation labs. Inspirational and interesting.

Microtainer UX

 6. Fast Co.Design’s “How Google Finally Got Design

A quick history to how design proliferated the DNA of Google. “Google has come so far, despite years of self-defeating battles over what constitutes good design. ‘When we brought up design at Google, people used to scoff,’ says John Wiley, a designer who, in nine years at Google, has seen the company transform. ‘It made it hard for us to hire great design talent because it didn’t seem like we had the full measure of respect for design.’ Here’s how an organization that once crowed about testing 42 shades of blue and called that design created a user-savvy organization that even Apple could learn from.”

7. Video: “Why Design Matters

A quick 3:42 minute video on why design matters, taking a historical approach on design through exploring politics and religion. Interesting!

Microtainer Why Design Matters

8. Business Insider’s “Art schools have minted more mega-unicorn startups than MIT

“The most surprising finding in this list is that MIT has produced fewer mega-unicorns than two tiny art schools — the Rhode Island School of Design and The Art Center School of Design. […] Two of Xiaomi’s founders were design majors. RISD, an art school that isn’t even included in the U.S. News & World Reports rankings, educated two of Airbnb’s founders.”

9. News: “Google creates Sidewalk Labs to redesign city living with technology

…”Google CEO Larry Page says Google will focus on improving city living for everyone by developing new technologies to deal with urban issues like cost of living, transportation, and energy usage. The new company, based in New York, will be headed by headed by Dan Doctoroff, formerly New York Deputy Mayor of Economic Development and Bloomberg CEO.”

10. Recap of last week’s Civic Design Camp via Storify

We hosted Canada’s first Civic Design Camp on June 26, with an audience of 120+ designers, programmers, and civil servants to design responses to 5 real-life challenges submitted by the Canadian government and research organizations alike.

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?

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

C/O VBG

C/O VBG

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 March 2014. In no particular order:

1. Booklet by Innovation Unit, “10 Ideas for 21 Century Healthcare,” describes an exciting possible future where services are delivered in radically different (empowering!) ways. The booklet provides compelling examples from around the world of how the ideas are being brought to life and explores some of the vital principles underpinning 21st century healthcare.

2. Great simple ideas for bringing more wellbeing and happiness into our everyday lives: 100 days of happy, a pledge to acknowledge and share one thing per day that makes us happy, and 24 hours of happy, a seemingly never-ending dance video of people dancing in the streets, in buildings, in gardens, with friends, to an addictively upbeat tune.

3. Excellent report,Systemic Innovation” by The Social Innovation Europe Initiative (SIE), explains what systemic innovation is, explores strategies for transforming systems, highlights European examples of initiatives driving towards systems change, and makes recommendations on how to support systemic social innovation.

4. Blog post with a rich collection of resources,45 Design Thinking Resources for Educators,” that are useful to anyone wanting to understand more about the design thinking movement and how strategic design may be relevant and helpful in your own setting (education-related or not).

5. Interesting read, “Systems, Messes and Interactive Planning” essay by Russell Ackoff, about the System around us, how we got into some of the mega messes (a.k.a. wicked problems), and why they are so tough to navigate and address (h/t John Maeda).

6. Huffington Post article, “What does public innovation mean?,” answers this question by pointing out that public innovation isn’t necessarily about something shiny, new or complex, but it is about something that works better, leads to better results, and creates a better pathway forward.

7. For the last half of March, three members of InWithForward were in Toronto, ON to work with St. Christopher House. The team were there to capture stories and start to re-imagine, with Drop-in Centre members and staff, what could be different for the Meeting Place and other Toronto Drop-in Centres at a system-level, service-level, neighbourhood-level, and relationship-level. The team is now onto their next Canadian starter project in Burnaby, BC. Make sure to check out InWithForward’s business model and hunches, which offer a super interesting and innovative approach to running a lab.

8. Pretty neat! “Design Action Research With Government” is a guide (with examples) for designing and implementing civic innovations with Government.

9. Super interesting blog post, “Social Sciences in Action,” by Jakob Christiansen of MindLab, where he shares the exploration, debate and “a-has!” from a meeting between social scientists Sarah Schulman (InWithForward), Anna Lochard (La 27e Region) and Jakob. Take a peek into their minds as they dive into questions like: How do we put social sciences into action and not just design thinking? What is the role of everyday people in our work? How do we spread and scale processes, not just products? “Of course, what we came up with was not definitive or polished. But it did open up some new arguments and ways of conceptualizing issues we each face in our day-to-day practice.”

10. Blog post, “How Social Innovation Labs Design and Scale Impact” by the Rockefeller Foundation, about the social innovation labs they support (including MaRS Solutions Lab!) and their thinking around the global labs movement.

11. We are always on the look-out for social innovation resources in French and we came across a bunch this month. We learned about the following french terms for “wicked problems:” problèmes complexes, problèmes irréductibles, problèmes indécidables, problèmes malins, problèmes épineux, and problèmes vicieux (h/t to Stéphane Vial and François Gougeon). Also, the National Collaboration Centre for Healthy Public Policy and the Quebec Government published this excellent french information page on wicked problems, “Les problèmes vicieux et les politiques publiques,” which explains and describes what wicked problems are and applies the concept to the realm of public health. There is also a new social innovation blog, “CRÉATIVITÉ 33” by Andre Fortin (formerly with  l’Institut du Nouveau Monde LABIS), with tools and advice for innovating. And finally, here is a round-up of what French Lab La 27e Région has in store for 2014 (they have English resources too – check them out, they are excellent communicators!).

12. Excellent report, “Innovation in 360 Degrees: Promoting Social Innovation in South Australia,” from Geoff Mulgan’s term as Adelaide’s Thinker In Residence. The report is from 2008, but there are tons of great insights for government innovators and systempreneurs. Geoff highlights key elements of public sector innovation, examples from around the world, South Australia’s biggest challenge areas (that are not dissimilar to Canada’s), and recommendations for becoming future-ready.

13. Provocative read: Guardian article challenges us to rethink the idea of the state as a catalyst for big bold ideas. Author Mariana Mazzucato argues that a program of forward-thinking public spending is crucial for a creative, prosperous society and that we must stop seeing the state as a malign influence or a waste of taxpayers’ money: “…the point of public policy is to make big things happen that would not have happened anyway. To do this, big budgets are not enough: big thinking and big brains are key.”

14. The Young Foundation announced that they’ve added top innovators to the team to spearhead its mission to disrupt inequality. You will gasp “wow” when you see the list, which includes Indy Johar (check out the SiG webinar with Indy, “From One to Many: Building Movements For Change,” from a couple months ago to get a taste of his thinking).

15. Great book lists this month: A team of editors at The Die Line, a platform and blog for package design, curated a selection of their favourite design strategy books (h/t Alexander Dirksen). The Guardian, with help from readers, came up with a list of the best books on policy leadership and innovation. And for a sure-fire way to get lost down the rabbit hole, Designers & Books is a website where 50 famous designers share the books — 678 in total — that inspire them (h/t John Pavlus via Andrea Hamilton).

16. Blog post from the Stanford Social Innovation Review, “The Ugly Truth About Scale,” offers three tips to those in the social sector tackling complex challenges: 1. Stop trying to feel so good; 2. Push to use technology much more strategically; and 3. Philanthropy must take risks (h/t Cameron Norman).

17. Blog post, “The Network Navigator,” explores how the power of a networked world is shifting the emphasis of work from expertise to navigation; includes the 8 skills of a Network Navigator, which are pretty interesting.

18. Last, but certainly not least, very exciting news from Alberta: the Government of Alberta announced the launch of a 1 billion dollar Social Innovation Endowment Fund – the first Canadian province to do so. The fund will support innovation via three streams, one of which is prototyping tools and methods, i.e. Labs. Here is the news release and the speech from the throne.

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