Microtainer: social innovation & lab links we’re following (August 2013)

 

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 2013. In no particular order:

 

 

1. Article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review by Sarah Schulman about Kennisland’s Lab with Lab practitioners from around the world.

2. Video from Helsinki Design Lab lecture at the University of Melbourne. Bryan Boyer presents ‘Brickstarter’ and Justin Cook presents ‘Low2No’, followed by a conversation with journalist/architect Rory Hyde and audience Q&A.

3. Seven short videos from seven IDEO teams from across the globe explaining one of their core values — including: take ownership, talk less do more, make others successful, be optimistic, collaborate, learn from failure and embrace ambiguity.

4. Blog post by Andrea Yip exploring design thinking as a concept and how it can apply to designing strategy for campus mental health

5. Idea Bank: platform to crowdsource ideas on how to foster innovation in the public sector. The EU Commission, MindLab and a working group are collecting ideas around five topics: vision for the state in society, enabling innovation, leading innovation, doing innovation, and measuring innovation.

6. Article about a talk by Open IDEO’s Tom Hulme where Tom discusses the rise of widespread community engagement, what they have learned from OpenIDEOand how OpenIDEO is leveraging the rise of the participation economy.

7. Article sharing the top tips of public innovators on how they have been encouraging local government teams to innovate.

8. Blog post by IDEO’s Tim Brown sharing thinking about intentional design “how your morning coffee can make you a better designer”

9. Blog post by Sarah Schulman reflects on observations between labs in Canada (MaRS Solutions Lab), Singapore (The Lien Centre) and France (27e Region).

10. Reading list for this year’s Social Innovation eXchange (SIX) Summer School in Seoul, Korea. Resources relate to the conference’s theme of ‘Reshaping our cities and making them thrive’.

11. The Campaign Lab, an initiative is supported by nef and the finance innovation lab,  is a 9 month program for ‘economic justice campaigners’ to think systemically and strategically about the issues they are tackling.

12. New Economics Institute: working to build a New Economy that prioritizes the well-being of people and the planet. They are the north american sister organization of the new economics foundation.

13. Blog post discussing the way to a designer’s heart. A cheat sheet for working with designers

14. Video interview with MindLab’s Runa Sabroe talking about how user-centered innovation can create new solutions for the public sector

15. Resource page from the The United Way of Calgary: Leading Boldly Network’s Toolbox Series. The Toolbox contains FAQ around social innovation and change labs and links to videos, articles, reports and case examples.

16. The Government Innovator. A short video put together by the Nova Scotia public service as a promotion to a conference last year. So great.

What have we missed? We invite you to share in the comment section the resources that you’ve come across recently that you think would be interesting to this community!

Satsuko

The Social Innovator’s Guide to Systems Thinking Part II: Rules for Innovators Leveraging Bigger Change

This is the second part of a blog series on systems thinking. In part I, Realizing the ultimate impact of community-based innovations,” I introduced the theory and core elements of systems thinking.

In Part II let’s begin with two questions: what can individuals and organizations do to be part of systemic change? And how can powerful institutions like governments be more part of the solution than the problem?

In Systems Innovation, Geoff Mulgan suggests two sets of answers.  The first: it is essential to ground individual change actions within the context of the “broader movement of change, and with a sense of the bigger picture.” For Mulgan “the ideal is to iterate between the big picture and small steps. Realism about power and knowledge can also help: if you have knowledge but not power then you need to find allies, and points of leverage. If you have power but lack knowledge you need to experiment and learn fast.”

The second: recognize and leverage the essential role of what I call the missing middle or what Mulgan calls intermediaries. In order to succeed, “the creation or mobilisation of intermediaries can be crucial, to articulate the direction of systemic change, and link big ideas to individual innovations. In retrospect this role was sometimes played by networks, clubs, think tanks and development agencies.”

The roles played by intermediaries can include: orchestrating advocacy campaigns; engaging critical stakeholders; demonstrating alternatives; and facilitating the required networks into power structures and changemaking communities. Some of these roles resemble those of “backbone” organizations in collective impact initiatives. Mulgan lays out a valuable chart for seeing the range of roles and their goals:

goal-actions_geoff

Joined-Up Innovation, Geoff Mulgan p. 21

Building the Enabling Systems-oriented Ecosystem

What would be elements of an ecosystem building approach for systems innovation that a government should focus on? Social Innovation Europe suggests seven:

1.    Developing a common vision around the need and potential for systems change
2.    Supporting greater experimentation
3.    Expanding rapid learning through open innovation platforms, greater transparency, and much more cross-sector collaboration
4.    Expanding incubation support systems and platforms to enable systems innovations
5.    Targeting capacity building focused on critical competencies
6.    Developing enabling conditions through funding instruments, regulation and legislation
7.    Growing networks connecting key stakeholders in order to spread and disseminate innovative practice and generally enable knowledge mobilization.

How imminent is a heightened focus on systems change? What conditions will prevail to shift us in that direction? Charles Leadbeater, in his essay in Systemic Innovation: A Discussion Series, says there are four main ingredients to the systems shifting process (that he calls “regime change”):

1.    Failure Stacks Up – The multiplying failures and frustrations with the current system
2.    Landscape Shifts – The landscape of the current regime shifts so much that it is left at odds with the world
3.    Alternatives Accumulate – Real alternatives start to grow, multiply in overlapping fashion
4.    New Technology Offers Accelerated Impact – “These new approaches are energized by the application of new technologies, which open up new possibilities for organizations, businesses and consumers. These rising new technologies add to the momentum and excitement for change.”

Alice Casey, from her vantage point in Nesta’s Public Service Innovation Lab, highlights two additional ingredients for people working on systems change at the community level. Her essay in the Discussion Series advocates for:

1.    Structures that value collaboration and that assist people escaping their narrow service silos to think and work together, and
2.   Relationships that enable power sharing by using an asset based approach and drawing on the tools of co-production that “help create collaborative and trusting relationships that give people the risk–friendly space they need to engage and behave in different ways.”

Systems Thinking Into the Water Supply

How do you see the issues you care about through a systems thinking lens? Does systems thinking have implications for how you imagine deepening your impact over the next decade? One of Canada’s social strategists extraordinaire, Al Etmanski, is fond of saying that we need to get “social innovation into the water supply”. For many years now he has applied his talents at the systems tilting end of the social innovation spectrum. How do we take Al’s lead to expand that essential “systems think and do”?

Related Links:

  • The indispensable desktop resource on systems thinking is the short book by Donnella Meadows, Thinking in Systems: A Primer (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2008). Donnella was a co-author of the 1972 watershed book Limits to Growth that was a catalyst for recognizing earth as a system with finite limits.
  • The SiG Knowledge Hub is replete with useful content including the sections on Systems Thinking (Dip into Systems Thinking, Dive in Systems Thinking)
  • The Social Enterprise World Forum, taking place in Calgary Oct 2 – 4, features an extensive line-up of systems thinkers and social innovators.
  • Nesta’s robust website contains two excellent 2013 PDFs on systems thinking: Systems Innovation and Systemic Innovation: A Discussion Series. The latter carries a contribution by Canadian Daniel Miller a St. John’s, NL-based independent researcher who has a web site Systemnovation dedicated to systems thinking.
  • The field of social innovation, design or change labs is developing across Canada. It offers a growing set of basic tools to assist organizations, businesses and governments in initiating practical multi-stakeholder processes to develop, prototype and scale systems-shifting innovations. SiG has just published a new map to those resources.

Editor’s note: this blog originally appeared in Tamarack’s Engage! newsletter on July 16, 2013. It has been cross-posted with permission.

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.

Partnering skills are essential to scaling social finance in Canada

Editor’s note: this blog originally appeared on socialfinance.ca on March 28, 2013. It has been cross-posted with permission.

Moving the field of impact investing forward requires governments, businesses, social entrepreneurs and foundations to work together. This need for collaboration is precisely why social finance has the potential to be so transformative. And yet, this cross-sector work is also what makes the field a tricky one. In many ways, a fragmented and siloed reality persists.

My friends in the world of social finance have told me that specific challenges to collaborations include:

  • Managing the varied expectations that collaborators bring to the table about the work, themselves and other partners
  • Understanding the philosophies, approaches, and languages that are commonly used in one sector but may be unfamiliar in another
  • Ensuring transparency around organizational goals, motivations and values between collaborators

The good news is that these are common challenges faced by all collaborations that span sector boundaries.

The bad news? Unless we develop the capacity to overcome them, these challenges will make our work slow and frustrating, and will ultimately reduce our ability to create real value. So what should we do?

We need to get skilled in the art of brokering partnerships.

What is partnership brokering? Partnership brokering is the “skilled management of the partnering process”. This unique approach to managing multi-sector collaborations was developed by the Partnership Brokers Association in the UK. Their vision has been to create, “a more equitable and sustainable world by building capacity for innovation, efficiency and excellence in cross-sector collaboration”.

Since 2003, they have worked towards achieving this vision through the development and delivery of capacity building training and professional development for people who find themselves in the often undefined and murky role of coordinating and managing collaborations.

These roles have many names. I have recently learned about tri-sector leaders and boundary spanners, and I’ve also heard of weavers and change managers. What they all have in common is a requirement to make sense of the different realities, needs, expectations and motivations of partners in order to develop collaborations that deliver value and impact.

That means “brokers” often need to influence, negotiate, build consensus, and acknowledge and manage conflict while at the same time representing their own organization’s objectives at the partnering table. Adding to this complexity is the fact that brokers are often operating in situations where power dynamics are unclear and/or unbalanced. Sound familiar?

If it does, then you may benefit from learning how to use the partnering process framework and a set of partnering tools to bring greater success to your work. As Greg Butler, Senior Director of Education Partnerships at Microsoft explains in Good for Business? An enquiry into the impact of Microsoft’s investment in partnership brokers training:

“Partnerships come in all shapes and sizes. In the private sector, many so-called ‘development partnerships’ are essentially transactional and tactical involving philanthropy on the one hand or service-type contractual arrangements on the other.

However, we came to realise in Microsoft that a true partnership approach is something very different. A better managed and understood partnering process can lead to genuine win-win collaboration—where the conversation moves from ‘here’s some money, this is what we expect you to deliver’ to ‘this is the problem/challenge, how can we solve it together?’

A few years ago, Microsoft’s desire to move away from a traditional “vendor-client” relationship to that of a “true” partner led them to the Partnership Brokers Association Level 1 course which focuses on developing this initial understanding of the partnering process and works to develop the skills needed to move through this process effectively. A recent examination of the effects of this training on Microsoft’s team of 94 brokers discovered the following benefits:

  1. An increased ability to conduct effective and productive conversations, leading to an increase in efficiencies in the process and increased overall value from the relationship
  2. An increased ability to make faster assessments of a partnership’s viability through effective conversations to understand each potential partners motivations
  3. Brokers were better equipped and more confident to approach others as agents of change, creating linkages, opening doors and suggesting new ways of working
  4. An increased ability and confidence to acknowledge and work with complexity rather than ignoring it

In addition to these benefits, many on Microsoft’s team were able to describe how changing their approach to developing partnerships (as a result of what they had learned in the training) had increased the success of the collaborations they worked on and led to a greater number of beneficiaries.

partnershipbrokers

If this type of training piques your interest, learn more about being a broker and the Level 1 training on the Partnership Brokers Association website.

The next training is coming up in Toronto on April 8th, courtesy Social Innovation Generation, and there are only a few spots remaining,  so sign up!

I took my Level 1 training last year in Wales and am now undertaking my Level 2 accreditation. If you’d like to ask about my experiences as a broker or my thoughts on the Level 1 training, you can reach me at ahamilton[at]marsdd[dot]com

The Problem With Design Thinking: Conversation With Bryan Boyer

“Design Thinking” has overtaken “Sustainability” to become the latest business buzz word; however, there are flaws in the way it is being adapted to corporate settings. In a conversation with Bryan Boyer, Architect and Strategic Design Lead at Sitra & Helsinki Design Lab, I gained a designer’s perspective. Below are three reasons why we need to re-think Design Thinking.

(image credit: The Danish Design Centre)

1) Thinking is important, but the biggest challenge is the actual “doing”

Design Thinking can create holistic, innovative, out-of-the-box solutions; however, if a brilliant solution is followed by an inflexible execution plan to roll it out, we miss the whole point of thinking like a designer. Bryan points out that one of the key parts of being a designer is to steward something from the first sketches to the final implementation because “there is a big gap in the plans that you draw and what actually gets built”. Making a solution work requires tweaking and changes as-you-go to account for the unexpected and unpredictable realities of everyday life.
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Tackling Social Innovators’ Last Mile Challenge

The development of social innovations is often a complex on-going process of insight, trial and error, insight, trial and error, insight…until things felicitously fit into place and a smart approach reaches a new plateau.

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