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.

Fair Exchange: Public funding for social impact through the non-profit sector

Screen Shot 2013-07-09 at 11.21.13 AMAfter more than three decades writing grant proposals in the non-profit sector, I switched sides to work as a public funder. For many years I held a granting portfolio with the Ontario Trillium Foundation, and participated in the funding reform discussions of the federal and Ontario governments. In the text Fair Exchange: public funding for social impact through the non-profit sector,  I offer the result of those experiences – a funder’s perspective on how we might do the work of public funding more effectively and increase the potential for impact as a result of our investments.

The world is changing faster than before. Civic organizations, often swifter than government policy, are emerging as the knowledge brokers pointing the way to the future and offering solutions to the “wicked” problems facing communities. How they finance that work – their access to public capital to generate public benefit – is a critical preoccupation. Governments and citizens’ organizations have a shared interest in ensuring that public funds flow in a way that best creates the conditions for recipient organizations to achieve social impact. This matters more than ever now in times of constrained public funds and increasing social need.

Good funding process is a matter of public trust

Public funders bear the responsibility of ensuring that what we fund is the best option on the table – but also of ensuring that how we fund is directly focused on enabling social impact. It simply makes no sense to spend more on the funding process than necessary, to create delays, limit other funding opportunities, or increase recipient costs with excessive red tape. It is a matter of public trust that funding processes and practices be cost efficient and geared to support outcomes of public benefit.

The case for public funding reform

Although we have an almost two decade history of discussion on public funding reform – and a comprehensive literature of sector critique – no single organization champions the reform discussion. There is no little red schoolhouse for public funders to learn their trade, few opportunities to look across programs for the best ways of doing business, and almost no theory of good design for funding programs. Also, funders seldom generate cost-to-disbursement ratios – a basic accountability measure that tracks how efficient funding processes are at distributing funds entrusted to their care. As a result, practice reform efforts have been far from stellar. Now, when every nickel in the treasury counts, high disbursements costs mean less money out the door to solve social problems.

As civic organizations begin to tap into a much broader funding economy of social finance, corporate social responsibility, crowdsourcing and the like, organizations are diversifying their revenue sources, some drawing funds from as many as a hundred different sources. Consequently, their needs as recipients have changed. Often they are also working collaboratively, bringing unusual partners to the table to increase innovation in their approaches to public issues, taking up opportunities as they arise. You can see these emerging resourcing trends through Ajah’s Fundtracker initiative, a web based directory of who is funding who. As the non-profit sector’s opportunities to contribute increase, funding practices must shift to account for the more complex financial environment in which they work. 

Evaluating funding programs for how they disburse funds

Funders often evaluate recipient’s efforts at outcome achievement, but seldom examine their own processes for how they enable, or hamper, efforts to produce social impact. Taking a design approach to funding programs enables us to be deliberate about the elements of process, and evaluate the effectiveness of administrative processes, risk management, and the funding relationship. Recipient critique tells us that funding programs must be more predictable, more flexible, reduce administrative burden, and develop stronger relationships with applicants and grantees. These elements of program performance can be measured.  Too much red-tape, for example, is an almost inevitable result of longevity of a funding program. We can predict it, track it, and shift practices to reduce it. “Streamlining” is not just about web portals, but also about how good people working in well-designed programs make use of strong relationships to understand the sector they fund and constantly evaluate how their work contributes to the ability of organizations to generate impact.

A Fair Exchange

In Fair Exchange, I offer a beginning theory of practice for public funders in Canada. I suggest language and frameworks common to all public funders and consolidate the most effective practices from prior reviews. It is my hope that this paper will help public funders to build a richer theory of design and practice that not only accounts for internal risk management but also evaluates funding processes for practices that are most effective in supporting the production of social outcomes, which is the reason why we fund.