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

C/O Matt W Moore

C/O Matt W Moore

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 April 2014.

We are trying something new this month by organizing by theme area. Enjoy!

Behavioural Change/Economics

1. EAST: Four simple ways to apply behavioural insights is a simple framework from the Behavioural Insights Team in UK that evolved as a more accessible model from the MINDSPACE model.

Gist: Behavioural change nudges need to be Easy, Attractive, Social, and Timely.

2. Cass Sunstein — co-author of New York Times Bestseller, “Nudge: Improving Decisions on Health, Wealth, and Happiness,” Harvard law professor, and former Obama administration official — has a new book and new insights: “Why Nudge? The politics of libertarian paternalism.” The book explores how we can responsibly approach guiding people toward more beneficial choices and how the effects of those healthy choices spread through the community.

Scaling

3. Increasing the scale and adoption of population health interventions: experiences and perspectives of policy makers, practitioners, and researchers – an academic paper in Health Research Policy and Systems — talks about some of the barriers to scaling public health interventions: e.g. lack of information on the cost of operating at scale and lack of evidence on how effective local interventions have been in the past. They recommend the co-production of research among policy makers, practitioners, and communities to gather relevant evidence and data for scaling, shifting research energies beyond just the requirements for academic publication.

4. UNDP Eurasia Team’s Milica Begovic Radojevic and Giulio Quaggiotto published their second blog post on their reflections (and the challenges!) of scaling up in international development work. This second post, “The evolving finch fund: Two early insights on scaling and lots of work ahead,” explores their thinking, following a meeting of diverse experts in different areas of scaling, systems, and complexity that took place in NYC a couple weeks ago. “We have to acknowledge that there is still a major language barrier between the various disciplines and that translating multi-disciplinary insights into tangible criteria applicable to the “finch fund” will require a significant amount of honing…”

5. Leading global lab practitioners Jesper Christiensen (MindLab, Denmark), Anna Lochard (La 27e Region, France), and Sarah Schulman (InWithForward, Netherlands) share their latest thinking about their practice in the blog post, “Spread and Scale: What and How.” This time, they used the prompt, “There’s a lot of talk about spread and scale. We think it’s about spreading processes, not scaling products. So what does that mean?” to launch this installation of their debate writing on Sociology & Scale.

6. Stanford Social Innovation Review article, “Transformative Scale: The Future of Growing What Works,” discusses nine strategies to deliver impact at scale. Top tips in the article include: taking an ecosystem approach [2. Recruit (and train) others to deliver the solution; 5. Don’t just build organizations and programs, strengthen a field], addressing the elephant in the room -> innovating the governance structure of public institutions [6. Change public systems; 7. Embrace the need for policy change], and catalyzing culture shift [9. Alter people’s attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors]. The article also offers practical advice on “the how” of implementing these tips.

Blending Perspectives

7. Maturation of Discourse around Social Entrepreneurship and Wicked Problems: a blog article from Austin Centre for Design (AC4D) emphasizing the weight of consequence and accountability for those taking on wicked problems. Their site also offers a great Design Library that includes guides on ethnography, facilitation, ideation, synthesis, and worksheets.

8. Video4Change Impact Research – a blog post by OpenDocLab Fellow Andrew Lowenthal — provides a nice overview of how video and documentary media have been used in advocacy work, before YouTube and mobile video. He discusses the origins of EngageMedia, the video4change network, and his current work at the Lab that will lead to a toolkit for measuring and communicating the impact of video use by changemakers.

Public Sector Innovation

9. Finalists announced for Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Mayors Challenge: The Mayors Challenge is a competition to inspire cities to generate innovative ideas that solve major challenges, improve city life, and ultimately can spread to other cities. One grand prize winner will receive €5 million for the most creative and transferable idea; four additional cities will be awarded €1 million.  All will be announced in the fall. The finalists’ proposed solutions address some of Europe’s most critical issue areas: youth unemployment, aging populations, civic engagement, economic development, environment and energy concerns, public health and safety, and government efficiency.

10. UK’s Policy Lab announced it will be headed by Andrea Siodmok, formerly an advisor to the Technology Strategy Board at Cornwall Council and the Chief Design Officer at Design Council. Created to bring ‘design thinking’ into government and to create policy with users in mind, the lab presents local governments with a unique opportunity. More information about the announcement via the Design Council blog.

11. Finance Minister Simon Hamilton MLA announced a new Northern Ireland Public Innovation Lab, described as a new Innovation Laboratory to modernise and reform public sector services.

12. New Book, “Well-Being and Beyond: Broadening the Public and Policy Discourse,” aims to broaden the public and policy discourse on the importance of well-being by examining psychological, social, environmental, economic, organizational, institutional, and political determinants of individual well-being. Chapters are written by international thought-leaders, including one by Geoff Mulgan (Nesta). In his chapter, Geoff examines: 1. How governments can influence well-being; and 2. How capitalism influences well-being. He argues that in both cases the aggregate picture tells us less than we might hope; however, the more detailed picture of public programmes and the influences of different aspects of capitalism can be very instructive. The implication is that we need to choose our levels of granularity with care.

13. Book, “In The Persistence of Innovation in Government,” by Sanford Borins, maps the changing landscape of American public sector innovation in the twenty-first century, largely addressing three key questions: 1. Who innovates? 2. When, why, and how do they do it? and 3. What are the persistent obstacles and the proven methods for overcoming them? Probing both the process and the content of innovation in the public sector, Borins identifies major shifts and important continuities and offers a thematic survey of the field’s burgeoning literature, with a particular focus on international comparisons (h/t Giulio Quaggiotto).

14. ITU’s Innovation in the Public Sector page is a jam-packed list of resources for the government innovator. The curated list includes key reports, case studies, books, global indices, articles, and news items written by international social innovation thought-leaders.

Inside Public & Social Innovation Labs

15. Reflections by Lauren Tan from her time at DesignGov: 1. There are different engagement models for design with an organisation; 2. Design thinking is easy to understand, but harder to do; 3. Designers can invent an infinite number of tools and these tools are bespoke; 4. The ambition for design must be carefully executed; 5. I think we achieved what we set out to accomplish (Note: Lauren is also a co-author on the very cool book Design Transitions, which you can order here).

16. Blog post by UK-based social innovation lab FutureGov shares “5 Local Government Lessons Learned,” a reflection piece after a year of working on a lab for the local government of Lewes and Eastborne Borough Council. The Lab served as an innovative space to work with Council and other service providers to develop and test new ideas for improving financial resilience in the area. Top five lessons are: 1. Making time to work collaboratively is really valuable; 2. Combining new perspectives with local knowledge is essential; 3. Target your energy; 4. Create space for ideas; and 5. Don’t underestimate the power of delivery.

17. Must read: InWithForward shares their 21 hunches for 2014 on how to prompt change. The hunches are tagged under the themes: methodology, business model, measurement, and team. Also written by the InWithForward team, this blog post, “Belonging vs. Change,” talks about their recent work with St. Christopher House’s daytime drop-in centre, The Meeting Place. The team spent time with 16 of the 200+ members and uncovered some fascinating insights and deeper questions: Is too much community – too much belonging – a barrier to change?

18. Zaid Hassan was recently in Toronto and continues on his global book tour (is he coming to your town?). Matt Fitzgerald blogged about his takeaways from the training he attended in San Francisco, “A Social Labs Revolution in the Making.” Developmental Evaluation guru Mark Cabaj shared his reflection of Zaid’s book in this article and Toronto’s own Cameron Norman blogged his book reflections here.

19. Christian Bason of MindLab recently gave a talk — “Redesiging Governance: in search of the next public business model” — as part of GovLab’s Ideas Lunch series. The video of the talk is viewable here. Christian also recently wrote an interesting blog post, “Finding the Balance,” about “soft” public sector reform — that is, the bottom up tools such as involvement, support, and facilitation — and the delicate balancing of bottom up (soft) and top down (hard, e.g. regulation, inspection) reform.

Co-Production

20. Excellent 3 minute animation by SPICE explaining the concept and thinking behind co-production. The video makes a strong case for why coproduction is such a powerful approach to delivering better public service outcomes for citizens (particularly the first minute and a half is great!). And, for a local co-production example, make sure to track CAMH’s project, “Service Collaborative Communities” (and follow project coordinator Josina Vink for project updates and general awesomeness).

Tools, Methods, Guides

21. Unicef guide, “Do-It-Yourself Innovation Labs,” is an excellent one-stop-shop platform overflowing with resources for running a lab. The guide includes theoretical definitions and practical how-tos (h/t Lisa Joy Trick and her Graduate Diploma in Social Innovation team).

22. Community-centered design agency Context Partners has published some of their facilitation and convening methods as: the “Experimentation Starter Kit.” This Starter Kit outlines steps you can take to identify and vet new ideas and share experiences and lessons learned.

23. Empathy Map downloadable template (worksheet), from digital engagement firm Tadpull, provides a nice introduction to generating user-centered ideas.

24. Great blog post by Studio [Y] fellow Jamie Arron, with ‘open space’ and ‘unconference’ resources for hosting meaningful conversations.

25. NESTA Guide, “Good Incubation,” charts the rise of social venture incubation with a focus on what can be learned by this burgeoning sector from programmes around the world.

26. Quiz by Nesta, “Innovation Population,” uses a selection of questions from their research on innovation and offers a detailed analysis of segment definitions in their Innovation Population report.

“Is innovation a vital part of our economic future? Or is it just meaningless jargon? The British public falls into five broad categories in their attitudes towards innovation – take our quiz and find out which one you are.”

Launch Pad

27. BC’s social innovation (online) platform: Hubcap. Hubcap is BC’s online social innovation community — a place to share information and make connections with innovators, entrepreneurs, educators, funders, and public policy makers. It is an initiative of BC Partners for Social Impact, a multi-sector partnership of individuals and organizations that is working to build BC’s capacity for social innovation, social finance, and social enterprise.

28. Launch of Cities for People, a lab-like experimental initiative for more resilient, livable cities. The initiative leverages innovation networks across Canada and the US. “Like any ecosystem, a city’s strength and resilience depends on its ability to nurture the full diversity of its inhabitants and give them what they need not just to survive, but thrive.”

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

- Hyun-Duck & Satsuko

 

Wicked Problems & Empathy (Part I)

“And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others…” – Marianne Williamson

The ‘mechanics’ of social innovation are difficult enough: achieving durable, transformative impact at scale to fundamentally disrupt the very system that created a wicked problem in the first place.

As a sociologist and cultural theorist, I can’t help but complicate things further by focusing on the social in social innovation – the cultural conditions and the very fabric of human relationships at play when we think about systems or breakthrough social change. By looking through a social lens, we dive even deeper into the complexity inherent in wicked problems.

A call for empathy

Two weeks ago, graduate students at the Munk School of Global Affairs decided to take this dive into the social, kicking-off the 8th Annual Munk Graduate Student Conference with a keynote address by Seán Coughlan, Chief Executive of Social Entrepreneurs Ireland (SEI), on subject of: Wicked Problems, Effective Solutions and the Role of Innovation and Empathy.

Roots of Empathy c/o Naming and Treating

Roots of Empathy c/o Naming and Treating

Seán Coughlan opened his address with a tip of the hat to Roots of Empathy, a Canadian social enterprise with a mission “to build caring, peaceful, and civil societies through the development of empathy in children and adults” that has successfully scaled out of Canada to the US, UK, Europe, and New Zealand.

The impetus for Roots of Empathy is similar to that behind a broader call to nurture empathy in society: there is a critical need to build understanding, break cycles of violence, and shift systems by opening our eyes to see, sense, and care for the networks of individuals around us.

Why are there cycles of violence or wicked problems in the first place?

Seán Coughlan shared his belief that human nature is basically good – generally, people are good. But “if a majority of people are good, why don’t we have a greater impact?”

The first answer: an absence or lack of empathy, emphasizing the critical importance of cultivating empathy among children – the driving force and goal of Roots of Empathy.

The second answer (potentially an even more broadly entrenched barrier): a fear of empathy – a fear of really walking a mile in someone else’s shoes.

Seán explained that this fear of empathy grows from a fear of helplessness. Empathy is ‘to understand and share the feelings of another’ – but what if we feel for someone, but feel powerless to help them? If we can’t see a solution, we are afraid to feel for the person facing the problem. Or as Seán put it, it may seem “better to be blind than feel helpless about the situation.”

It is hard to hear that articulated (or read it written) without immediately stopping to consider: “Have I done that?” Sitting in the front row of the lecture hall, I followed Seán’s train of thought one station further: our fear of empathy is likely also rooted in a fear of guilt or culpability.

What if we do understand what someone else is experiencing, what if we feel for them, but do not try to help? Or worse, what if we do understand, feel for the person, know what to do…and still do nothing?

In a way, we face these questions and their consequences every day, several times a day, beyond our own relationships or communities. Globalized communications, transportation, and information networks mean an entirely new scale of access to stories of suffering.

In sociology, there is a great deal of focus on the power of images and stories to shape our cultures and socialize our actions. The explosive and calculated use of deeply evocative images of suffering by cause-related campaigns and media (in the public, private, and social sectors) often overwhelms our compassion, while the language of globalization – and global power flows – implicates not only our role in these problems, but often (rightly or wrongly) our capacity to simply do something about it.

This can lead to pushback: ‘I can hardly handle empathizing with all the suffering in the world; I can’t be responsible for it all.’ The combination of helplessness, guilt, and responsibilization becomes an enormous deterrent to empathy, deepening our fear of opening up to empathy.

Fostering conditions for empathy

During his address, Seán Coughlan offered a way to counter this fear of helplessness: new, powerful solutions to complex problems that help us tackle these challenges and tie us to the calling of empathy to grow the solution. With this in mind, Social Enterprise Ireland focuses on the systems-changing potential of social entrepreneurs who “have the most potential to have an impact.”

Charismatic leaders and role models in and of themselves, these social entrepreneurs dare to prototype solutions to wicked problems, thereby empowering us as a society to re-engage fearlessly in empathy. Our fear can dissipate when the possibility of helplessness is erased. All the power is stripped from our fear- and guilt – by the power of the solution.

Empathy becomes an inherent cascading effect of impactful social solutions.

I like to think of it as ‘solutions-oriented empathy training’. By supporting innovative social entrepreneurs to scale their impact and reach more people, Social Entrepreneurs Ireland implicitly fosters the conditions for empathy – scaling the solutions that might just empower us to empathize with others through the possibility of positive action. 

Chicken-and-egg

The cultivation of empathy is also a fundamental step to further fostering the conditions for broader social innovation (as SiG Communications Manager Geraldine Cahill explores). Empathy is an important element of systems thinking; understanding and caring for others enables us to appreciate multiple perspectives and better understand the networks of relationships in a system. At the end of the day, social innovation and empathy are mutually constitutive.

C/O B Hartford J Strong

C/O B Hartford J Strong

Systems-change will never be the work of one person; but one person, or a small group of people, can be essential to tipping the scales on emotional norms, inspiring us to embrace, not fear, empathy. Art, literature, and films abound with the stories of these inspirational figures: they share their hope, challenge our helplessness, and invite us to welcome, care for, and share in the experiences of each other.

But not all stories get to be heard. As we begin to conquer our fear of empathy, and resolve the absence of empathy, through powerful social solutions and innovations, the next challenge will be to listen for the voices of those whose stories and experiences we don’t even know exist.