Labs in Place: Weaving Networks to Achieve Systemic Change

Designed by Karen Gomez, background image from LEDlab.

In 2015, Ecotrust Canada and RADIUS SFU partnered to initiate a social innovation lab to design, test, and scale solutions for a more vibrant and inclusive local economy in Vancouver’s inner city.

In the consultation phase, the team analyzed current literature on social innovation labs to develop a presentation of how a lab process might work in the Downtown Eastside (DTES). We then took this presentation to DTES community organizers and change leaders, where we quickly learned that adaptation, flexibility and continual iteration needed to become our mantra. A centralized, process-driven approach was not welcome in this particular community, and had the dangerous potential to entrench problematic dynamics already at play.  

This early lesson started the Local Economic Development Lab (LEDlab) on a path of iterating a social innovation lab model with the added characteristic of place. Our hypothesis is: when embedded in a community context, labs need to be respectful of preexisting relationships, networks, and change initiatives – and must adapt their role from process designers to network weavers, working in service of systemic change.     

Principles of Place-based Labs

Zaid Hassan (2015) describes social labs as multi-stakeholder change processes that are social, systemic, and experimental.1  The Social Innovation Lab Guide (2015) defines a Social Innovation Lab as a three-step process involving (1) Initiation, (2) Research and Preparation, and (3) the Workshops.2 While LEDlab embodies many lab-characteristics – such as problem identification, co-creation of solutions, rapid prototyping and continual learning – we felt compelled to re-imagine a lab model without highly structured workshop settings, where the inflow and outflow of participants could be more fluid.  

Below we share the principles of what we are now calling LEDlab’s place-based lab approach. These are our lessons learned from reconciling a more expert-driven social innovation lab process with our experience of working on the ground in the DTES community to create systemic change.

Please note: The principles below were gleaned from working in the DTES, which is a very rich and resilient community with a long history of activism and a difficult relationship with the research community. There are many people, places, and systems that may be open to more structured innovation processes, or which may present a different set of conditions, opportunities and constraints. The principles outlined below speak only to our current experience.

Daniel, past intern at the LEDlab, worked with the Downtown Eastside Market. The Market supports hundreds of vendors by providing a safe space to conduct business and allows them to earn extra income to supplement their income assistance. Image from LEDlab.

We embed ourselves in existing community networks and processes

Many labs seek to pull people out of their work in order to challenge assumptions and co-design new solutions. Our experience in the DTES suggests that in a neighbourhood and community context you can’t/shouldn’t pull people out of their work because it is EXACTLY their work and the ability to prototype within it that holds the substance and opportunity for solution-building. Convening of any kind is inherently exclusive – there are always people that are ‘in’ the group or the process and others who are not. In a community setting, the creation of any ‘exclusive group’, even when the group is convened for the good of the whole, can quickly become political and may cause real harm to relationships that exist between neighbours, friends, and colleagues.  

In a place-based lab model, we have learned instead to leave the community where they are and to embed ourselves into existing community networks and processes to identify high-impact ideas. We fundamentally think of innovation happening in and with the community, not about innovation happening in our lab.  

We build trust in service of systems change

We consistently ask ourselves: How can we add value? The answer is often surprising. Something as simple as sending a personal invitation to a meeting, calling a colleague to celebrate a win, or transitioning a network’s membership list to a listserv can offer tremendous value to a network. We often don’t place enough emphasis on the small acts of service that can build the trust within a network. The quality of relationships between people matter, and are so foundational to affecting systemic change.

We work at multiple scales, convening the ‘whole system’ in a responsive and emergent way

Interested in the incredible work of the LEDlab? They are hiring! Deadline to apply to their internship program is June 13, the internship is open to grad students only. Image from LEDlab

As ideas surface and gain momentum from various community members and stakeholder groups, the lab is able to responsively convene from across the system around a specific project idea or strategic initiative.  In this way, co-design is first grounded in community insights and felt needs. Second, we ask: who isn’t at the table, and bring together people with resources and mutual interest to develop out and test community-driven innovation.  

In the LEDlab model, there isn’t just one group of lab participants, but rather the lab is embedded in a multi-hub network, working on multiple solutions, where we play a bridging role across multiple networks, sectors, and scales. 

The Tapestry of Systems Change

Taken together, these principles inform a  lab model that sees itself as a platform for systemic change, willing and ready to respond to the emerging needs of the system in which it is embedded.

Recognizing that the DTES community is fertile ground for innovation, LEDlab’s work is two-fold:

  1. To keep our eye on, and give voice to, emerging ideas with the potential to contribute to the overall objective of creating an inclusive and vibrant local economy; and.
  2. To responsively convene new human groupings with the dynamic potential to create and implement innovative solutions. 

LEDlab is continuously creating and supporting social infrastructures to achieve new results. For this reason, our lab staff might more accurately be described as “systems entrepreneurs” – weaving their way across and through complex systems and networks, stitching together a vision and strategy for collective action. The approach is showing promising results in Vancouver’s inner city.

We welcome feedback from other practitioners, community members and academics. We look forward to adding to these principles and documenting the methodology in more detail as it evolves.

The author would like to thank Brenda Kuecks for her thought partnership and contributions to this blog.

Hassan, Z. (2014). The social labs revolution: A new approach to solving our most complex challenges. California, USA: Berret-Koehler Publishers, Inc.
Westley, F., Laban, S. (2015). Social Innovation Lab Guide. Waterloo Institute for Social Innovation and Resilience. Retrieved from: https://uwaterloo.ca/waterloo-institute-for-social-innovation-and-resilience/sites/ca.waterloo-institute-for-social-innovation-and-resilience/files/uploads/files/10_silabguide_final.pdf

LabWISE on Trust and why it matters in a Social Innovation Lab Process

 SiG Note: This article was originally published on the RECODE Blog.  It has been cross-posted with permission. 

LabWISE is priming collaborative groups to create big changes to major challenges across the country. Launched in mid October, the LabWISE program is a partnership with the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation and the Waterloo Institute of Social Innovation and Resilience (WISIR), and is designed to train community-based teams in the WISIR social innovation lab process. It provides ongoing coaching to support Canadian organizations in leading a social innovation lab to tackle intractable social and/or environmental challenges.

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: lab resources (archive)

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Civic Quarterly

c/o Civic Quarterly, Issue 2, Winter 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

c/o Wired Magazine

c/o Wired Magazine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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?

Hamilton: Canada’s human capital edge

Note: This post was co-written with Geraldine Cahill, Communications Manager for SiG National. 
 
When you think of Hamilton, Ontario, what comes to mind? The Hammer? Steel Town? Smokestacks?

When we visited Hamilton in February, we saw a beautiful city nestled between the soaring Niagara Escarpment to the south and Lake Ontario to the north, surging life science and health academia and businesses, and a downtown core poised for growth and change. The most striking thing of all was the conviction and passion of our hosts about Hamilton and the potential of its people.

The Hamilton Chamber of Commerce believes it might be time to unleash this potential by adding a citizen-led social innovation lab to the city’s arsenal. Let that sink in for a moment. At MaRS Solutions Lab and Social Innovation Generation, we regularly receive requests from governments and community organizations for advice on setting up social innovation labs, but this is the first time we’ve had such a request from business owners.

Business turns to labs

In 2012-2013, Geraldine Cahill and her colleagues undertook field research about Hamilton’s social and economic challenges as part of the Waterloo Institute for Social Innovation and Resilience Graduate Diploma in Social Innovation. When the results of the study were presented, the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce was sufficiently convinced of the value of a social innovation lab that it wanted to explore the idea further with a broader group of Hamiltonians. Thanks to Keanin Loomis, president and CEO of the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce, and Doug Ward and Paul Lakin, members of the chamber’s Science, Technology and Innovation Sub-Committee, we found ourselves introducing social innovation labs to a room full of business owners, academics, community leaders, political leaders and civil servants at McMaster Innovation Park.

Click to see our presentation on building a Hamilton CityLab
Tensions and uncertainties

Like many contemporary peer cities, Hamilton is grappling with tensions and uncertainties.

  • In October 2013, the Toronto Star ran an article on Hamilton’s economic and social rise, quoting its mayor Bob Bratina as saying: “We’re now at the tipping point of a new city—one we all knew could exist.” Within the same article, a young McMaster student was quoted saying that she feels the political leaders in Hamilton are distant and need to be more in touch with the public. This sentiment was heard repeatedly during the field research on Hamilton.
  • In December 2013, the unemployment rate in Hamilton stood at 5.9%. This is a very strong number compared to unemployment rates in other Canadian cities of a similar size. Yet few newcomers to Hamilton are settling in the city permanently. The thousands of graduates from the city’s university and colleges don’t stay. What kind of a Hamilton do newcomers and graduates want?
  • According to Statistics Canada data from 2011-2012, 60.4% of Hamiltonians are overweight or obese, a figure that is significantly higher than Ontario’s 52.6% and Canada’s 52.3%. McMaster University researchers and McMaster Children’s Hospital clinicians have joined forces to tackle childhood obesity, combining expertise in genetics, metabolism, biochemistry, physical activity and other areas to develop new ways to prevent and treat obesity-related diseases. But will this be enough?

All of these issues are highly complex and seemingly intractable. There are no easy solutions that experts, stakeholders and citizens can all agree on. These are problems that we can only solve through trial and error. However, this necessary experimental approach seems impossible for government with its current structures, especially in an economic climate of decreased public resources and increased scrutiny. But the capacity for society—businesses, non-profit organizations, entrepreneurs and individual citizens—to solve problems is at an all-time high. People are better educated and have access to more technology and information than ever before.

Private capital for social good is more available than it has ever been. Social innovation labs (#PSILabs) likeMaRS Solutions Lab capitalize on this emerging problem-solving capacity to meet complex social and economic challenges with society.

A history of experimentation

Hamilton has a long history of experimentation, adapting and thriving against overwhelming odds. In fact, rising from the massive losses in its steel industry, Hamilton is the most diversified economy in all of Canada. Hamilton Health Sciences is now Hamilton’s single largest employer, while corporate construction projects have topped Canadian cities two years in a row.

At our presentation, the passion and readiness of the Hamiltonians in the room was apparent. There was a flurry of questions, from how quickly we could get started and how much it would cost to what the team would need to look like. Discussions about what was possible had already begun. We felt the rare willingness to collaborate across organizations and sectors. There was tangible excitement about even our most audacious suggestion of a challenge: to transform Hamilton into a city of innovators and entrepreneurs in life sciences, advanced manufacturing, arts, logistics and agri-food—essentially to become Canada’s cutting-edge human capital hub.

After the presentation, Keanin Loomis took us on a tour of Hamilton. From the top of Stelco Tower, the panorama of Hamilton was breathtaking.

“I wish every Hamiltonian could see this,” said Keanin, pointing to the sweeping view from the knife-edged escarpment to the sparkling waterfront, “and be excited by how much more we could be!”

We believe that a social innovation lab will help drive and capitalize Hamilton’s ambitions. Is a social innovation lab right for your city?

You can view our presentation on building a Hamilton CityLab here.

– Jerry & Geraldine

This post was originally published on the MaRS Blog on March 7th, 2014. 

 

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

This mini blog, or bloggette, is part of our ongoing effort to spread information that we think will be interesting, insightful and useful to lab practitioners and the lab-curious. Below is a collection of resources that crossed the desks of Hyun-Duck Chung (MaRS Solutions Lab) and Satsuko VanAntwerp (SiG) over the month of February 2014. In no particular order:

  1. Blog post by Fast company with a round up of alternative design education options that “won’t break the bank” (ie. from $25/month to around 10K, instead of 100K and 4 years). Includes online options, pop-up design courses and boot camps from the likes of Austin Centre for Design, Stanford D.school, Behance, etc (found via Alexander Dirksen).

  1. Article on “The Nexus Effect: When Leaders Span Group Boundaries” highlighting three stories of cross-sector, multi-stakeholder partnerships and how this approach to leadership is becoming increasingly important for our changing times.

  1. This past Saturday, OCAD’s Situation Lab hosted a design jam, called Futurematic, where the group designed and created products from the future using the Extrapolation Lab’s foresight methodology. These products are in a vending machine in the main OCAD building — don’t miss this glimpse into the future: go see them for yourself! (My fave: In Touch – how do you really feel?) Stuart, we hope you will host more of these soon!

  1. Article in Stanford’s Social Innovation Review about how funders are exploring the deliberate reintroduction of risk-taking (ie. incorporating learning from failure and trial & error tinkering) into their processes and portfolios, in order to catalyze breakthrough change. Also, this blog post by Nesta’s Philip Colligan and Helen Goulden talks about how labs can make better funding decisions.

  1. A guide to prototyping new ideas put together by Nesta and ThinkPublic.

  1. Article highlighting nine strategies to deliver impact at scale distilled from Year Up’s lived experience of “scaling what works” (note: also appeared in SSIR). For another angle on the topic of scaling, check out this super interesting blog post exploring “Innovation for Development: Scaling Up or Evolving?” by Giulio Quagiotto, UN Global Pulse Lab, and Milica Begovic Radojevic, UNDP Europe & Central Asia. Also, this e-book,Scaling: Small Smart Moves For Outsized Results,” explores how to achieve big goals using minimal efforts.

  1. Two great publications from Accenture on public sector innovation: “Delivering Public Service for the Future: Navigating the Shifts” describes four profound structural shifts and a corresponding framework of practical actions governments can take to deliver the public service outcomes they want at a cost that can be sustained. “Radically Rethinking Public Services” makes the case for citizen-centred public services that are co-designed with citizens — in order to lower the cost of service delivery, while improving citizen outcomes (reminded of Nesta’s Radical Efficiency model, also awesome)

  1. Report and implementation how-to guide:Public & Collaborative: Designing Services for Housing” by Public Policy Lab, New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development and Parsons DESIS Lab, brings together 18 months of discovery and co-design with agency staff, service providers, and New York City residents. The report illustrates how the team applied user research and service design methods to the provision of housing services.

  1. Blog post by Momenteer Erika Bailey about culture and behaviour change and why discomfort is part of the process: “It Gets Worse Before It Gets Better – A Cautionary Tale.”

  1. Article in FastcoExist, “How To Turn Colleges Into Incubators For Changemaking Design,” provides five tips for reaching out to colleges. The article also makes the case for seasoned designers to work with design students in order to plant the seed for a future in social good design.

  1. Book:Enabling City 2” (and this cute, short video: Your Imagination Matters) by Chiara Camponeschi. In the words of MindLab’s Christian Bason, “Chiara Camponeschi has written a powerful contribution to our thinking about the future of cities. Collectively, the essays, articles and cases presented in this volume provide more than insight and inspiration – they demonstrate the emergence of a very different kind of urban reality: human, sharing, inclusive, resilient, innovative. The ideas in this book should influence anyone involved with urban and civic development, whether professionally or personally. Enabling City will be a tremendously valuable resource for many years to come.”

  1. Online version of Kennisland’s Annual Report for 2013 — beautifully designed and highlighting some great achievements including: a neighbourhood crowdfunding initiative, a series on social design for complex societal problems (the wicked series), and a social innovation lab gathering with leading labs from around the world (can you spot SiG@Waterloo’s own Sam Laban in the picture?).

  1. Excellent write up by Nesta’s Geoff Mulgan about public sector labs and social innovation labs: what are they, background, different methods, different typologies, and some great questions for the future of lab practice.

  1. Blog post exploring the differences between social entrepreneurship vs. social innovation (I’ve found this paper by France Westley helpful in defining this difference, particularly figure 1 on page 4).

  1. Fascinating summary of the book, The Moral Imagination: The Art & Soul of Building Peace, by John Paul Lederach – explores the theory of moral imagination, which has many overlaps with movement building, partnership brokering, facilitation, non-violent communications… all in the name of developing solutions (co-designing them!) to tough social challenges. The summary also has a lot of great metaphors: spiders and webs, partnerships, yeast – catalysts for movements.

  1. Blog post summarizing thoughts and perspectives from GovLab Ideas Luncheon Series on “Applying Human Centred Design Principles to Public Problems” with Jesper Christiansen of MindLab. Jesper illustrates the concept by talking about the Ministry of Employment’s approach to transforming the employment system — a cornerstone of their social welfare system and a significant public expenditure.

  1. The Natural Step’s Sustainable Transition Lab has updated the stages in their lab process on their website. Check out what happens during Pre-lab, Phase I, II, and III.

  1. Interesting blog post by Joe Julier, researcher at FutureGov and London’s DESIS Lab, exploring whether social design is a new tool for a designer’s toolkit or whether it is becoming ingrained in design philosophy (found via Terrie Chan).

  2. This is very cool: “ReFraming: The Art of Thinking Differently” is a website that takes you through, step-by-step, to help you reframe a situation or challenge – that is, to see the other side of the coin.

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

Hyun-Duck & Satsuko

Microtainer: social innovation & lab links we’re following (Dec 2013 & Jan 2014)

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 months of December 2013 and January 2014. In no particular order:

  1. Article by Zaid Hassan exploring “what are social laboratories?” — Zaid explains that social labs are social, experimental and systemic. For a quick glance, check out Zaid’s webinar and slides via the ALIA Institute. For a deeper dive, check out his website and newly launched (this past monday!) book: the social lab revolution.

  1. Article about the UK Government’s design lab pilot: a Policy Lab to apply design principles to policy-making and public service.  Additional links in the article about the benefits of applying design in policy making.

  1. Awesome map of the global government lab landscape and website acting as a hub of information on the public innovation spaces — prepared by Daniela Selloni (Polimi DESIS Lab) and Eduardo Staszowski (Parsons DESIS Lab), Christian Bason (MindLab) and Andrea Schneider (Public By Design).

  1. Operating much like a think tank within the Singapore Government, the Centre for Strategic Futures acts on what will be the important challenges of the tomorrow — aiming to create an agile public sector in Singapore.

  1. Nesta’s Geoff Mulgan writes an excellent paper about design in government and social innovation and blog post with smart suggestions for making the case for social innovation to elected officials.

  1. Media update and project summary about the European Design Innovation Platform (EDIP) – a project to increase the use of design for innovation and growth across Europe, financed by the European Commission and in collaboration with Design Council, MindLab and others.

  1. Online mentoring and training program about Gov 3.0 offered by The Governance Lab (GovLab) out of NYU. The website also provides thinking and exploration into the notion of Gov3.0 (different from gov 2.0).

  1. ReportRestarting Britain 2” by Design Council explores the impact of design on public, private and design sectors and shows that the best of design thinking can help to make (public) services more relevant to current needs and reduce cost.

  1. PaperThe Journey to the Interface: how public sector design can connect user to reform” by UK-based think tank Demos explores public service design and it’s relationship with citizen engagement and co-production.

  1. Upcoming book (September 2014 release) “Design for Policy” by MindLab’s Christian Bason provides a detailed analysis of design as a tool for addressing public problems and capturing opportunities for achieving better and more efficient societal outcomes for citizens and governments (ie. co-design, co-creation, co-production). Also see Christian’s latest blog post: 2014 will be the year of Experimentation talking about the shifting narrative in the public sector around learning from failure (and along the experimentation vein, don’t miss the upcoming Fail Forward Festival coming to Toronto in July).

  1. Great blog and master’s program on service innovation and design offered by the Laurea University of Applied Sciences in Espoo, Finland. Also, there is a PhD in design for public services out of the AHO university in Oslo, Norway.

  1. Excellent articulation of empathy — this video by RSA Shorts to the soothing voice of Brene Brown (of the Tedtalk on vulnerability) and this bookRealizing Empathy” by Slim (thanks to Andrea Hamilton for letting me know about this great talk at Rotman as part of Rotman’s ongoing speaker series… last night was David Kelley of IDEO and coming up is Geoff Mulgan).

  1. Explanation of a powerful convening technique called “Peer Input Process” via the Tamarack Institute. Peer Input Process is a technique was designed to assist people obtain input from peers in a relatively quick and structured way.

  1. Blog post about embracing difference and how cultivating our ability to collaborate among diverse stakeholders will allow us to create truly transformative change. Written by the wonderfully articulate art of hosting steward Tuesday Ryan-Hart.

  1. Blog post on the Good website “From Pools to School Lunches: Why public interest design is changing the way we do things” overflowing with exciting projects at the intersect of design x public (and societal) good.

  1. Blog post by Amanda Mundy of The Moment about the journey and lessons learned from designing and setting up their innovation studio.

  1. The audio from a Metro Morning (radio) interview with John Brodhead exploring the future of public transportation and engaging in cross-sector collaborations. In this article, John also talks about his upcoming initiative “100 in 1 Day” where 100 urban ‘interventions’ will spring up across to Toronto in June (inspired by Montreal, Copenhagen and Bagota).

  2. The bookHappy City: Transforming our lives through urban design” by Charles Montgomery from the Museum of Vancouver (and MOV’s CityLab) gets rave reviews in the New York Times (glad I got this book for my BFF’s birthday!).

  3. Great concept: Pop Up Parks! The idea was part of Design Council’s Knee High Design Challenge (more info about the challenge and the other awesome projects ideas here). Also interesting on the topic of parks is Nesta paperRethinking Parks”, which highlights the need for new business models to run parks, given cuts in government funding, and discusses 20 international examples of how parks innovators are doing just that. (check out the Nesta’s Rethinking Parks contest to submit your ideas)

– Satsuko

Social innovation labs: Top tips and common pitfalls

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

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

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

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

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

Joeri_blog

Joeri van den Steenhoven discusses systems change during his talk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Want to learn more about labs?

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

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

Microtainer: social innovation & lab links we’re following (November 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 the desks of Hyun-Duck Chung (MaRS Solutions Lab) and Satsuko VanAntwerp (SiG) over the month of November 2013. In no particular order:

1. The UK Cabinet Office announces that they will be launching a policy lab in Dec 2014. This lab will work with government departments to tackle their toughest problems drawing on service design and human centred design methods. Rather than the focus being on greater internal efficiency, the lab will focus on creating better outcomes for end users (citizens).

2. Awesome manifestos by Brute Labs (design and tech studio with all-volunteer team that has launched 11 social change projects around the world) and InWithForward (the latest project by Sarah Schulman + Jonas, Dan, Yani).

3. Article by Beth Kanter “Seven Truths about Change to Lead By and Live By” expanding on great quotes including: “Change is a threat when done to me, but an opportunity when done by me”, “Change is a campaign, not a decision”, and “Everything can look like a failure in the middle”.

4. Report by nef’s Lucie Stephens and Julia Slay: Co-production in Mental Health: a literature review. The report looks at how co-production is being used in the mental health field, i.e. what evidence there is of the impact of co-production on mental health support, and which aspects of co-production are being developed in the sector.

5. Blog post by MindLab’s Christian Bason: Is the public sector more innovative than we think? Christian hypothesizes that the public sector is better at innovation than the private sector.

6. Super interesting talk by Indy Johar “Do it for (y)ourself” bursting with ideas for community-led social change, reflections on the challenge of scale, and the tension of ‘the craft’ and ‘the knowledge economy’, all in less than 20mins.

7. Reminded of these great method cards by IDEO: a 51 card deck to inspire design.

8. Another great article in the guardian about public service design. This one looks at asking quesitons, embracing risk and user-centred design. ‘Get creative: eight tips for designing better public services

9. Blog post by Nesta’s Laura Bunt exploring whether we need to find a better definition for social innovation.

10. Report exploring the relationship between Art and Resilience and how fortifying a city’s social and cultural fabric is just as (or more?) important as upgrading a city’s emergency response, planners, policy makers, social innovators, etc.

11. Metcalf report by reknowned ecological economists Tim Jackson and Peter Victor about work-life balance, wellbeing and the green economy at the community scale.

12. Recent blog posts by Assaf Weis on the sharing economy (Sharing Can Truly Disrupt Business) and Kaitlin Almack on building partnerships (Increasing the Impact of CSR Through Multi-Stakeholder Collaborations)

13. Infographic comparing ‘old design thinking’ with human centered design and co-design

14. Issue No. 2 of The Alpine Review includes articles by Bryan Boyer (about cultures of decision making) and Dan Hill (about Fabrica).

15. Awesome graphic recorders and facilitators: ThinkLink Graphics, Ripple Think Inc, PlaythinkDScribe. Also, see this monthly meet-up for visual thinkers.

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!

– Hyun-Duck and Satsuko