Blog (2011-2014)

  • Social Innovation Labs: Top Tips & Common Pitfalls

    Social Innovation Labs: Top Tips & Common Pitfalls

    [aligning for systems change: image via buamai]

    [Note: versions of this post were previously posted to the MaRS Discovery District blog, the Social Innovation Generation blog and the Social innovation eXchange blog]

    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.

    Last month, Director of the MaRS Solutions Lab, Joeri van den Steenhoven, presented his views on systems change and social innovation labs in a public talk at MaRS. Here is the video from that talk:

    With more and more practitioners, organizations, and groups embracing a lab-like approach, Joeri’s expertise and reflections are timely. Below are top tips and common lab pitfalls highlighted in the 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, ensure the emerging solutions have the potential to scale. With regards to social innovation, scale refers to both scaling out -- 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 it’s 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 a community, 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 thinking 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”

    Labs tackle challenges that are not black and white but rather 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 rather 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 brainstorm. Labs must take the next steps of trying out their recommendations, adapting them based on the realities on the ground, navigating bureaucracies, building networks, partnerships and champions, and 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.

    Here are the slides from Joeri's talk:


    For more about the MaRS Solutions Lab, including the challenges the lab is tackling (the future of food, the future of health, the future of government and the future of work) visit their website. Also, stay up to date on lab related content via the Microtainer blog series, a monthly compilation of external links of interest to lab practitioners and the lab-curious curated by myself and SiG colleagues. Social Innovation Generation (SiG) has launched a video series, Learning As We Grow, to showcase some of these Canadian lab stories (including the latest release featuring Joeri). And, other lab related materials can be found via SiG@Waterloo webpage, the SiG website and the SiG Knowledge Hub

    - Satsuko

    Related posts: Architecture of Change (reflections on systems change from Bryan Boyer's Toronto visit), Lab Landscape Part 1: Maximizing the Potential of Innovation Labs in Canada (essay exploring social innovation Labs for a Canadian context), Three Problems With Design Thinking (making the argument for strategic design).

    Also, see the Lab section of Think Thrice for ongoing updated resources.

  • Co-Production: A Powerful Approach For Public Service Designers

    Co-Production: A Powerful Approach For Public Service Designers

    (uncovering hidden assets: image via pinterest)

    [Note: a version of this post was previously published on the MaRS Discovery District blog and Social Innovation Generation blog]

    There are many entry points for co-production: well-being and happiness indexesasset-based community development, opportunities for impact investing and social impact bonds, the transition town movementinnovations in elder carecollaborative consumption and the list goes on. Co-production is an approach so well suited to creating positive social change that once it is learned you start seeing potential for it everywhere.

    At least that was my reaction. I first learned about co-production during a work term at MindLab in 2011. As a research analyst for the Danish cross-ministry innovation lab, I scoured the web and devoured any reports, articles, blog posts and news stories I could find on the topic. Lucie Stephens, the head of co-production atthe United Kingdom–based new economics foundation (nef) had written many of these pieces. For the past 10 years, Lucie and her nef colleagues have been thinking, writing about and doing co-production. We were delighted to have Lucie join SiG’s Inspiring Action for Social Impact Series (in partnership with the MaRS Global Leadership series) to share her latest thoughts on co-production via a public talk at MaRS last week.

    What’s the big fuss? Co-production is a different approach to public service delivery

    In a nutshell, co-production is about designing and delivering services in a true partnership with both citizens and professionals. That’s right, citizens are expected to take responsibility, alongside professionals, for helping themselves and one another. The secret sauce of co-production is that it values professional training and lived experience equally. By blending top-down and bottom-up expertise during the design and ongoing delivery of services, the approach creates better outcomes for citizens and is more cost effective for governments.

    “Co-production is a relationship where professionals and citizens share power to plan and deliver support together, recognizing that both partners have vital contributions to make in order to improve quality of life for people and communities.” —Co-production Critical Friends Group, 2012

    Co-design is obvious, but co-delivery is not… yet

    The strategic design (and design-thinking) community has long embraced both human-centred approaches that prioritize the needs of the end user above all and participatory approaches that involve end users throughout the design process. However, it is still less common for designers to incorporate end users as part of the ongoing delivery of the service—that is, for the end users to be co-deliverers alongside the professionals.

    (co-production grid: via The Challenge of Co-Production)

    Furthermore, designers who are incorporating co-delivery seem to be doing so almost by accident, without realizing all of the positive benefits of this approach. A designer may choose to incorporate co-delivery because he or she recognizes that doing so makes the service more responsive to the realities on the ground, as well as cheaper to operate than what is currently in place. However, he or she may not realize the added sociological benefits. For example, contributing is an essential daily ingredient for well-being. Enabling someone to give back to society also yields other positive benefits, like a strengthened social fabric, which in turn leads to greater feelings of safety, trust, inclusion and quality of life for those who are part of that community.

    While it is important to note that co-production is not the answer for all services, there is an enormous opportunity to incorporate a co-production approach in many of our public services. Public services that traditionally have long-term relationships with citizens, such as caregiving, healthcare, justice and education, make particularly good candidates for re-designs that consider co-production. Despite its incredible potential, co-production remains largely under-used, as many designers are not aware of its full range of capabilities.

    The Family-by-Family program illustrates the power of co-production

    Designed by the team behind In With For at the The Australian Centre for Social InnovationFamily by Family is a mentoring program where a network of families helps other families to grow and change together. The In With For team aimed to address the problem that an increasing number of children were being taken out of their families and thrust into foster care while social services did not have the resources to keep up with the growing demand.

    The In With For team spoke with and involved end users (the families) throughout the design process. What surfaced was that struggling families would benefit immensely from support and mentorship from other families who had been through similar rough times, who were now doing better and who could share their lived experiences. Family by Family matches whole families with whole families, shifts the roles of professionals from experts to coaches, increases resources as the program succeeds (and as there are more families to help other families) and focuses on thriving rather than simply surviving.

    What I find particularly exciting about this example is that it enables families to become self-reliant and empowered by their services, not at the mercy of them. Plus, it takes an asset-based approach (abundance thinking) that values and celebrates the skills, innate gifts and lived experiences that already exist within the members of the families. Through this example, service designers can see how progressing past co-design to include co-delivery can significantly accelerate the positive impact of a service solution.

    Co-production is not a new approach; it is the way we did things before there were public services. Using co-production intentionally as an approach to designing public services has the power to help us transition to a world where communities spearhead the changes that are most relevant to their needs, with the support of government policy.

    - Satsuko

    Are you wondering if your service involves co-production? Check it against nef’s list of six co-production principles.

    1. An asset-based approach: Does your service acknowledge and celebrate the assets within the community?
    2. Working on capabilities: Does your service build the skills of those involved?
    3. Developing mutuality: Does your service broker a true partnership between professional and user?
    4. Growing networks: Does your service support, share and stretch, connecting with those other than the usual suspects?
    5. Blurring roles: Some people are paid, others are not, but all are important.
    6. Acting as catalysts: Does your service provide a new role for professionals — from experts to coaches and facilitators?

    Further co-production resources

    Related posts: How to Catalyze Innovation In The Ontario Public Service (take-aways from an unConference at the OPS), Top 3 Co-Production Aha! Moments (reflections from my work term at MindLab), Innovations in Elder Care (provides many examples of co-production)

    Also, see the Co-Production section of Think Thrice for ongoing updated resources.

  • Innovations in Elder Care

    Innovations in Elder Care

    Last week upon my return from holidays, I did a pechakucha (a presentation format where 20 slides are shown for 20 seconds each; total of 6 minutes 40 seconds) about innovations in elder care. This short talk would never have been possible without my wonderful and talented best friend Pamela Rounis who designed my kick ass slides (and this blog for that matter). The slides are viewable below with the accompanying explanation. If you are interested in this topic, PLEASE get in touch and let's make stuff happen. It's important.

    In 20 years, Canadians aged 65 years and older will account for roughly 1/4th of our population. But our elder care system is already strained and looking more and more like an assembly line, with our loved ones being commoditized. 

    These issues are close to my heart because for the last 6 years of my father's life, we navigated the healthcare and elder care system together. We experienced a system that is more about keeping people alive than about quality of that life. Particularly in nursing homes, I witnessed very upsetting loses of dignity. I have since learned of exciting, inspiring, awesome approaches to elder care from around the world that we need here in Canada. Tonight, I will share three.

    This first model comes from Denmark’s Fredericia Municipality and got started because of a pair of socks. Imagine I’m an elderly woman and I’m having trouble putting on my control socks. Instead of a caretaker coming to my home twice a day to put them on and take them off, under this the new model…

    ... a personal trainer would come to my home and work with me to get stronger on a 6-8 week program so that I can manage my socks myself. There are immediate cost savings (8 wks vs. twice daily forever) and preventative cost savings to the health system since I am healthier in general. 

    Most importantly, from the citizen perspective, I can walk up the stairs with more ease, play with my grandchildren, and am more comfortable in my own body. I feel empowered by the system, not at the mercy of it.  A big part of the model is session like the one pictured here where professionals come together to co-create the senior’s rehabilitation plan with the senior.

    They ask a very simple question… “What would you like to be able to do again”, focusing on bringing back the ability to function in a self reliant way. The public service is treated as an intervention rather than a long term relationship with the citizen.

    The model is gaining popularity in other municipalities in Denmark. According to MindLab, it is rumored that two thirds of Danish municipalities are using some form of the Fredericia model. The previous director of care in Fredericia has stated that the model provides an efficiency dividend of around 15% annually. This is all while increasing citizen satisfaction and quality of life!

    The next model is from Japan, where the nursing home system had long been two tiered: either low quality of care or extremely costly and thus out of reach for most. Also, nursing homes were less culturally accepted because it was thought to be honorable to take care of ones parents into their old age, despite the strain this may have on career paths and personal lives.

    The Shinkoukai model addresses quality of care and affordability in three unique ways: it has a social impact element by employing marginalized citizens (including homeless, disabled and non-Japanese Asians), it ensure high quality of care by gaining third party certification (the ISO-9001, a quality rating used by restaurants and hotels), and minimizes costs by purchasing unused buildings (farmhouse, university dorm, office buildings) and converting them into nursing homes. 

    The founder of the model, Masue Kitayama, has been working on elder care challenges for over 40 years and has become one of Ashoka Japan’s first two fellows. She is credited for catalyzing change to insurance laws, that initially only insured incapacitated seniors, but now also covers seniors who require less care.

    Masue’s impact can be seen manifested in the growth in number of care homes across Japan: from 2500 in 1985 to 7300 in 2009. She just opened this intensive care unit, picture here, a couple weeks ago. 

    This last model is a different approach to rest homes; it is a cohousing model for seniors started by a group of aging feminist activists in the Paris suburb of Montreuil. These women had fought for their rights their whole lives  and were not interested in living by someone else’s rules or schedule as they got older.

    The idea is simple: Rather than moving into a seniors home, the women would live together in a large house and take care of one another. No professional staff, like nurses or cooks. They would be free to live as they chose.

    This model was created by Therese Clerc, who, in her 60s, began thinking hard about how she wanted to live in her old age. To learn more about her options, she began visiting seniors homes and talking with residents about their experiences. 

    Appalled by what she learned, she rounded up a group of friends and began lobbying French politicians to fund what became the baba yaga’s house. It took 13 years, but the women eventually convinced funders to construct a 6 million dollars 6-story women only seniors home. The women moved in Oct 2012.

    All of this inspired Montrealer Janet Torge to start tinkering with the baba yaga model to see how it could be replicated in Canada. Based on the same co-housing principles of living together without professional staff, Janet’s radical rest home concept is about getting together with a group of friends to find a place to live. Once you’ve moved in, you declare yourselves a radical rest home. 

    She is envisioning a Radical Resthome Association, which is currently a work in progress, to help with setting things up, figuring out resources and connecting with the broader rest home network. There is another group called Baba Housing in Canada that was inspired by the Montreuil babas and have ambassadors in many cities across the country.

    These models give us a glimpse of what is possible. But, as artist activist Ai Wei Wei put it

    “the world is not changing if you don’t shoulder the burden of responsibility”.

    In other words, it’s up to us. What would it take to implement these models in Canada? How can we shift our elder care to models that emphasize thriving not just surviving? How can we design systems that empower seniors to be self-reliant and make their own decisions? 

    I didn’t have time to mention these other aging and elder care initiatives but they are also awesome. Here are the links:

    • The AmazingsClasses, courses and wisdom from elders with amazing life experience
    • Fureai Kippu: "Caring Relationship Tickets" are based on the time bank concept; allow people to help seniors in their community and earn credits transferable to other cities
    • Tyze: online tool that helps people care for others
    • Merevale House, UK20: small-scale domestic living where people are seen to be living and working together, sharing their community and daily life
    • Carebanks, Timebanks: helps seniors age-in-community irrespective their economic situation
    • Visiting Nurse Servicehigh-quality health care in the home and the community
    • Lotte Housenursing home where 23 men and women live like a family
    • Aging Studio, HDL: The Studio set out to articulate a new understanding of the ageing population
    • Age Unlimited, NESTA: program developing and trialling new services for 50-60 year olds to continue contributing to society
    • Weavers, InWithFor: Helping people balance caring with the rest of life
    • AgeLab MIT: innovation lab that designs, develops and deploys innovations focused on aging
    • Southwark Circle, Participle: membership-based service supporting +50 year olds to lead the lives they want to lead.

    If you’re inspired and want to do something about this topic, let’s talk! Or, you can reach me via email or twitter. Also, I will be adding to the page as I go.

  • What Is The True Nature Of Partnerships?

    What Is The True Nature Of Partnerships?

    (image via Derek Beres)

    [written for the Design with Dialogue blog]

    Despite being held at 6pm in the middle of the workweek, the monthly Design with Dialogue meet-up, now in it’s fifth year, has established quite a steady following. March’s topic ‘What is the True Nature of Partnerships’ led by Mary Pickering of the Toronto Atmospheric Fund attracted 30 or so individuals eager to engage as both listeners and contributors in authentic dialogue. The session was rich with insights. Here are my top take-aways around contracts, money and forces.


    Drawing up a letter of intent, contract, or, in the case of a romantic partnership, a prenuptial agreement, is helpful because it forces us to go through the motions of discussing what assets exist, what our strengths are and how we can be fair with each other. However, if the partnership gets to the point where this agreement needs to be used, it often means a deeper betrayal occurred at some point and this issue(s) needs to be resolved before the partnership can be resumed. This highlights the need to think about succession and exit planning (less so for romantic partnerships of course) during the early stages of the partnership and to be very up front about timelines and needs.


    Contributing money doesn’t equal a true 'buy-in' (i.e., partnership) because one's personal value of money is weighted by how much you have in your purse. Mary explains that one of the fundamentals of true partnerships is that all parties “have skin in the game”, ie. contribute and incur risk by agreeing to engage. However, with agreements where power is imbalanced, such as those between investor and entrepreneur or music label and musician, it can be difficult to decipher whether an offer to engage is a transaction or a partnership. The intention of the engagement and level of commitment is the difference between a transaction (purely a business exchange, short-term in nature, and often a one-time deal) and a partnership (founded on reciprocity, cooperation and mutual growth and often long-term). These semantics are important because they have very different implications when things don’t go according to plan (and they never do). Simply bringing money to the table does not guarantee commitment, so how can we better neutralize these imbalances? 


    Forming partnerships can be hard enough, and, once formed, there are also forces working to pull them apart. Personal responsibilities, job requirements and navigating hiccups across projects all compete for our mental-bandwidth; thus, limiting the attention we can give to nurturing partnerships. Much like an untended garden that becomes overrun with weeds over time, unmaintained partnerships can take you steps backwards by growing once small nuisances into much larger issues or causing strain to relationships. Partnerships, like living organisms, need ongoing TLC to thrive.

    In the social innovation context, we are acutely aware that our complex systemic challenges (such as homelessness, income inequalities or climate change) cannot be solved in siloes. The growing need for cross-sector, cross-disciplinary collaboration to tackle these challenges amplifies the need for individuals skilled at managing and brokering partnerships. For more information about the process Mary described during the session, visit the Partnership Brokers Association website

    - Satsuko

    Related posts: The Art Of Collaboration (highlights from Montreal's 2013 Art of Hosting training), Partnering To Tip Systems (overview of Constellation Governance and Collective Impact models)

  • The Art Of Collaboration

    The Art Of Collaboration

    (image via mackink)

    [A version of this post also appeared on the Social Innovation Generation blog]

    We removed our wet boots at the entrance to L’Espace La Fontaine on a typical snowy February morning in Montreal. Located in the middle of a park with a skate rental shop downstairs and a frozen lake nearby, the upstairs of the building had been transformed to host about 115 men and women to participate in The Art of Hosting – a three-day workshop exploring how to create spaces for meaningful conversations. In the wake of 2012 Quebec university student protests, the participants were eager to tackle social problems with fresh ideas.

    Here are two highlights from the three-day workshop: connecting and harvesting

    1.  Arriving, Connecting and Being Present

    (image via thefancy)

    Overheard at a meeting near you: “The sooner we get down to business, the sooner we can get back to work”. Our fast-paced lives push us to jump straight into serious discussion at meetings, cutting the fat (small talk) to get to the meat (business). But how do rushed interactions affect the quality of collaborations and relationships? Ignoring the crucial step of settling in and establishing connection among fellow meeting participants can result in lost attention (manifested in the form of checking emails and taping away on smartphones while others talk) and, over the longer-term, prevents deeper relationships and trust to form. In other words, not making time to connect makes effective collaboration very difficult and negates the whole point of coming together in the first place. Particularly in lab settings, where compressed timeframes are the norm and deep collaboration is necessary, building in time to connect is crucial.

    I experienced both sides of the coin during one of the exercises at the training. All of the training participants separated into groups of three to work on a respective group member’s, real-life work challenge. Due to some confusion, though, my group of three arrived a half an hour late to our designated table. We felt the time crunch (!) and began haphazardly proceeding through the exercise barely having taken off our jackets. That’s when we decided to stop and take a moment to properly ‘arrive’.  We each shared past experience relevant to the project, enabling us to build a shared understanding of our individual lenses and connect with one another. By the end of the exercise, we were laughing with one another and had come up with actionable items to help our group member, Marco, move forward with his project. Taking a moment to settle in and connect made the remaining half hour productive and fun, reminding me that it doesn't have to be one or the other.


    2. Visual Learning and Harvest

    Incorporating illustrations and stories that anchor in emotions can make even dull meeting summaries and report-backs come to life. This is the premise behind the art of harvesting, a parallel practice to the art of hosting. What’s important about harvesting is: actively listening to the whole room, capturing the magic from conversation (quotes, stories, compelling points), synthesizing theses bits to pull out underlying messages and themes, and creating a meaningful record of the conversation that inspires action. Before attending the training, I understood harvesting to be synonymous with graphic recording (i.e. “capturing people's ideas and expressions—in words, images and color—as they are being spoken in the moment” World Café definition). With so many creative people at the training, my eyes were opened to many forms I had never considered including: poetry and spoken word, photography, singing, ukulele playing, and improvised dance. It was unexpected and refreshing to experience a report back in such creative ways. 

    Some harvesting resources:

    The Art of Hosting website has information about the underlying philosophies and upcoming trainings (another Montreal training will take place in Oct 2013 and some friends and I are working to bring a training to Toronto for around the same time). There are books (World Cafe, Open Space, Circle) and videos (Proaction Cafe, Storytelling Harvest) and PDFs (Strategic Harvest, Asking Good Questions, Hosting in a Hurry) that are very useful in unpacking the methodologies and the philosophies.
    - Satsuko
    Memorable lines from the training:
    • "what is set in stone and what is set in clay?" Tuesday Ryan-Hart referring to constraint and possibility
    • "we grow in the direction of the questions we ask" - David Cooperrider (Appreciative Inquiry Guru)
    • Organizational principals not as rules but rather as conversations we'd like to have ("how are we doing with transparency")
    • "A person who cannot ask for help cannot be trusted" - Toke Moeller
    • "Let's renew our vows with community" - AoH participant
    Related posts: Two Brilliant Bits of Wisdom And One Big Question From ALIA 2012 (reflections from the ALIA Conference) and Skating Lessons From an Eternal Optimist (Paul Born's essay on coming back to community)
  • Architecture Of Change

    Architecture Of Change

    (image via Khooll)

    "What is the architecture of change?" asked Mark Kuznicki of The Moment, referring to what structural needs, supplies, labour, skills and other ingredients are needed to create systemic change. This was one of many big questions served up to SiG guest Bryan Boyer (Helsinki Design Lab) during a private session held at MaRS with a dozen or so social innovation ‘doers’. As part of my work with SiG, I got to be a fly on the wall as Bryan answered questions like this at engagements across the city. SiG hosted Bryan on a cross-Canada tour where he spoke at three public talks and met with government folks, funders, academics, designers, social entrepreneurs and social innovators to share his experiences and insights from work at Sitra and Helsinki Design Lab in Finland. The following is my attempt to unpack my top take-aways (around legibility, dark matter and scale) from his two days in Toronto as well as some great one-liners I was able to capture in my notebook.

    1. Making The Work Legible (through deep reflection)

    'Legibility’ caught my attention. The Helsinki Design Lab (HDL) team puts extra effort into making their work legible to a broad audience; i.e., accessible and digestible, so that it’s easy for people to identify and engage with HDL’s work. This starts by removing jargon and finding useful analogues to clearly communicate complicated subject matter.

    “I wanted to write you a short letter but I didn’t have time so I wrote you a long one” - Mark Twain

    Achieving legibility goes hand in hand with deep reflection. Making time for pondering and for discussion seems engrained in HDL’s culture. For example, Bryan mentioned that the team has ongoing conversations about what they do and how they do it, which often continue as they are leaving the office to catch the subway home. This reflective behaviour is further reinforced through self-imposed incentives, such as the team's commitment to blogging at the end of each week about what they've been up to. I was left reflecting on how to incorporate reflection and legibility into my life. Hopefully I have already begun; is this post legible!?

    2. Running Into The Dark Matter (with an artifact)

    Learning from trial and error has long been the entrepreneurs' edict; however, when trying to connect the dots of an abstract concept or hunch, it can feel like you’re left in the dark. Not knowing where to start can be paralyzing. Acknowledging and labelling the unknowns can be a helpful first step in itself. Dark matter, in the social innovation context, can be used to describe this realm of the unknown (e.g., unwritten rules, rituals, organizational culture, influence, incentives, policies, regulations) that exists within systems (e.g., organizations, neighbourhoods, fields of work). Thus, “running into the dark matter” refers to embracing the unknowns of a system and tinkering there within.

    “Practical information comes for free from doing things” - Bryan Boyer

    An initial 'tinkering', as Bryan suggests, can be creating an artifact: something physical such as a publication or prototype that people can see, touch or connect with. Artifacts can be immensely helpful in structuring where in the dark matter to start prodding and directing ones efforts. For example, when starting Low2No’s Food dossier, HDL threw itself into the dark matter of Helsinki’s restaurant scene by creating a publication about Helsinki’s Street Food. Acknowledging that dark matter exists, and that artifacts can help us navigate the unknowns, helps with embracing uncertainty and the emergent nature of fields like social innovation. (phiew!)

    3. The Right Scale To Get To The Next Scale

    (image via girlhula)

    While HDL is now known for their high-profile systemic change projects (ex. influencing changes to Finland's fire code via their Low2No program), they first built trust and evidence, by starting small. For example, to test the HDL inStudio model (a 5-day charrette-style workshop described in detail in 'Recipes for Systemic Change') with a real world issue, HDL asked Finnish Ministers for challenges that were currently on the backburner. A lower-level issue that emerged was around Finnish high school drop outs, since Finland's high school education system was already ranked among the top of OECD countries, with only 50 or so annual high school drop outs (compared to roughly 190K high school drop outs in Canada that same year). This challenge exempted the HDL team from some of the scrutiny associated with high profile issues. Hence, the liberties of a small-scale issue provided the experimental freedom needed to illustrate the potential of the inStudio model to build solutions to complex social challenges (view the solutions summary and video from the education studio here). The importance of starting at a small scale and building up relationships with stakeholders at an individual level is futher discussed in this compelling TedTalk by Enestro Sirolli. Rather than "go big or go home" we need to think in terms of what is "the right scale to get to the next scale".

    "It's more meaningful to be incredibly successful at a small scale than mediocre at a bigger scale" - Bryan Boyer

    If you missed Bryan's public talks while he was in Canada, you can view his MaRS talk here (the OCAD talk was also filmed and should become available soon, stay tuned!). As well, here is a blog post by my colleague Geraldine about his visit. I would love to hear your perspective and take-aways and invite you to share them in the comments section below.

    Also, what other elements do you think are important in the architecture of change?

    - Satsuko

    Other memorable lines
    • There is a scarcity of patience not of capital
    • The right scale to get to the next scale
    • Compose truth without scientific fact (to counter "truthiness")
    • Issues in the no-mans land (referring to wicked problems)
    • We don’t have enough data to know if our choices align with our values
    • Cost of failure is cheaper than the cost of planning
    • BETA suggest "we need your help in how to develop this"
    • When a music note is wrong, move on and treat it as an interesting fact

    Related posts: 3 Problems with Design Thinking (conversation with Bryan Boyer in Dec 2010), Two Brilliant Bits of Wisdom And One Big Question From ALIA 2012 (reflections from the ALIA Conference), and Social Innovation Musings (things I was thinking about at the time I started at SiG).

  • Partnering To Tip Systems

    Partnering To Tip Systems

    (image via Kozyndan)

    [Previously published on the Social Innovation Generation blog, the original motivation behind this post was to highlight an upcoming Partnership Brokers training in Toronto that SiG is helping to promote. However, once I started writing, I was struck by the fundamental role partnerships play in social innovation, particularly when building solutions for systemic/complex challenges. The resulting post looks at partnering through a systems lens and highlights two models that encourage cross-sector/multi-stakeholder partnerships. This post was updated on Nov 16, 2012: new training dates for the Partnership Brokers training were added at the bottom of the post]

    When developing solutions for complex systemic issues, social innovators know it is futile to operate in silos.

    “We act like systems in creating large-scale problems but we act like individuals in trying to solve them” – Eric Trist, Social Scientist and Co-Founder of the Tavistock Institute

    In a recent talk, Dan Hill of Helinski Design Lab explains that ‘wicked’ or complex problems are unclear and interdependent, with no client to take responsibility “except the entire human race”. We are very much all in this together, so what better way to take a whole-system approach and pull in wisdom from different perspectives/stakeholders than via partnerships.

    Here are two progressive models for tri-sector / multi-stakeholder partnering…

    1. Constellation model

    (image via University of Virginia)

    This model for complex organizational collaboration, developed by Toronto’s own Tonya (CSI) & Mark Surman (Mozilla), is an excellent tool for managing and collaborating across multi-organizational partnerships. The beauty of the model is that it allows multiple interested stakeholders to form a ‘working group’ of partners without having to create a separate umbrella organization. Not creating a separate entity allows the groups to 1) minimize infrastructure and administrative costs 2) avoid creating competition for their own respective organizations and 3) avoid confusing their clients/customers/user groups. It is a way to pool resources and skills, create a shared voice, coordinate strategy, jointly fundraise, and take an action focus towards a shared goal, all while preserving organizational autonomy. Thus, the model is ideal for long-term complex solution building.

    (image via CSI)

    2. Collective Impact

    Most simply, ‘Collective Impact’ can be explained as a coordinated effort by multiple parties towards a unified goal. Kania and Kramer have identified five conditions for successful collective impact: a common agenda (agreement of primary goals, common understanding of problem, shared vision for change),shared measurement systems (consistent metrics and activity reporting),mutually reinforcing activities (coordinated and different activities performed by different stakeholders), continuous communication (common vocabulary, building trust, frequent meetings that are taken seriously by executives and often guided by external facilitators), and backbone support (separate organizational support staff to coordinate, plan, and manage the initiative).

    “Large-scale social change requires broad cross-sector coordination, yet the social sector remains focused on the isolated impact of individual organizations.” – John Kania & Mark Kramer (Collective Impact, Stanford Social Innovation Review, Winter 2011)

    Constellations and Collective Impact are effective methods of managing and navigating multi-stakeholder/partner collaborations. However, they require a deep commitment from partners in terms of time, energy and financial resources. While there are other nuances between the two models, what stands out is that one uses an umbrella or ‘backbone’ organization while the other avoids one. Also, both methods behave like issue-agnostic labs.

    Partnering is not new and there are a number of other useful models including funder collaboratives (ex. FCYO), public-private partnerships (also: PPP, P3, or P3), public sector/citizen partnerships (co-production), etc. For more on partnerships, check out The Partnering Initiative for excellent resources on when to partnerthe cycles and principles of partnering and the benefits & risks of partnering.

    (Note: If you really want to amp up your partnering skills, UK based Partnership Brokers Association is holding a 4-day certification training in Toronto this November on the art of building/managing partnerships.) <- if you missed it, this training will be returning to Toronto in April 2013!

    What challenges have you had with cross-sector/multi-stakeholder partnerships and how did you over come them? What possibilty to you see for these kinds of partnership models?

    - Satsuko

    Examples of the Constellation Model in practice:

    For more on the Constellation model see:

    Examples of ‘Collective Impact’ in practice:

    For more on Collective Impact see:

    Related posts: Lab Landscape [Part 1]: Mazimizing The Potential Of Innovation Labs In Canada (explores lab dynamics which are similar to those of Constellation and Collective Impact partnering models) and Innovation At The Intersect Of Art & Society (great example of how a tri-sector partnership can bring delight to citizens)

  • Social Innovation Musings

    Social Innovation Musings

    (image via pinterest)

    [Adapted for Think Thrice. Originally written for and published on the Social innovation Generation blog]

    My first three weeks at SiG have flown by. As the newest member of SiG National’s team, I’ve had to hit the ground sprinting. I joined the SiG team to help create momentum for social innovation in Canada, with a particular focus on creating (and implementing) a strategy to support the existing Lab ecosystem across the country. You may be asking: what exactly is a Lab? There are a lot of definitions floating around. In the social innovation space, a Lab is a powerful tool used to develop holistic solutions to complex social problems (particularly those problems that have become resistant to traditional solutions). To help make all of this more clear, SiG constantly updates and develops new resources viewable on the SiG National and SiG@Waterloo website.

    As a quick peak inside my brain, here are a couple of current musings around Labs and social innovation that have piqued my interest.

    Language matters. We often don’t realize small distinctions, like the difference between the word ‘prototype’ (the first iteration of many, still emergent) and ‘pilot’ (has the connotation of more permanence). The ability to translate across different cultures, industries, demographics, socio-economic backgrounds …etc. is an invaluable skill when cross-collaborating. So how can we get better at it? And, how do we get better at using our ears and mouth proportionately (2:1 ears:mouth)?

    Blurred Divides. In social entrepreneurship and social enterprise we often talk about getting to a point where there is no distinction of the ‘social’; where all entrepreneurs and enterprises have the triple bottom line in mind. What if we push this thinking further to the sectors: private, public and social? What if all three sectors embodied the strengths of the others insofar that the lines, there too, become blurred. What do we need to do now to enable and accelerate this movement?

    Face to face. It is hard to find time for in person collaboration but magic happens when everyone is in the same room (inspiration and feeding off one another’s energy). As well, stronger offline relationships build trust and confidence in one another. How can we make the most out of in person meetings and get better at enabling this magic?

    Leveling the playing field. There is a lot of buzz about the democratization of knowledge (access to education and acknowledgement of various schools of thought), innovation/funding (no longer only the loudest and the most connected startups find investors), etc. But does all of this democratization really dissolve power, seniority and/or hierarchy? Particularly in the context of Labs, how can we create safe/neutral ‘containers’ void of egos and power struggles to enable innovation to flourish?

    In the wise words of organizational scientist William Starbuck, “the best way to understand a complex system is by interfering with it”. SiG is doing just that. I look forward to exploring these and other ideas around social innovation as we push the boundaries of this movement.

    - Satsuko

    For more on the topics discussed above, check out these resources:

    • Re. Language: interesting talk by Linda Rottenberg (CEO of Endeavor Global) at the 99% Conference about how not having a word for ‘entrepreneur’ in Portuguese affected the number of startups and ventures in Brazil
    • Re. Blurred dividesTri-Sector Forum is a new platform aiming to help prepare leaders to make the transition between sectors and build solutions from multiple perspectives.
    • Re. Face to Face: great book about how to hold more effective and efficient meetings. How To Make Meetings Work! by Michael Doyle
    • Re. Leveling the playing field: great book exploring real examples from his work developing solution to complex issues, Power and Love by Adam Kahane
    Related posts: Lab Landscape [Part 1]: Maximizing The Potential Of Innovation Labs in Canada (essay on things to consider when building a lab), Two Brilliant Bits of Wisdom And One Big Question From ALIA 2012 (musings from the ALIA Conference)
  • Two Brilliant Bits Of Wisdom And One Big Question From ALIA 2012

     Two Brilliant Bits Of Wisdom And One Big Question From ALIA 2012

    (Image via Diem Chau)

    [Note: updated photo and new resource added as of Aug 6, 2012]

    What a week! As a first time ALIA Summer Institute participant, beginner meditator and member of the ALIA media/video crew, I 'filled my boots' at the 5-day Leadership Conference cum Mindfulness Retreat. The radically different perspective on Leadership at ALIA (in contrast to that of the business world) was particularly interesting. I left with two big take-aways, slow down and create containers, and one big question about the future of community.

    Question: Can Varying Scales Of Community Co-Exist?

    Are we losing touch with our sense of community? During his opening keynote, Peter Block pointed out that "we are always saying we need more money, better leaders, improved services, and more expertise; as consumers, we are always waiting for the next best thing". He explained that this ‘need for more’ is having detrimental effects on our personal relationships and our local communities. This is because we hire help rather than make time to get know our neighbours and, in the end, to support each other. (This point is further made in a recent McLean's article about how we are 'outsourcing' our lives)

    “Today, it is easier to reach out to the entire world then to communicate with your own neighbourhood” – Candy Chang, Artist, Designer, and Urban Planner

    But is this a problem? Isn't this just a sign that we are socially evolving and transforming? On one hand, this changing social structure (aided by technology) is giving birth to larger citywide, national and global communities. On a citywide scale, we are seeing this manifested in innovations like Tyze, an online platform and social network for elderly care-giving support, and Time Banking, a skill-sharing medium that uses Time as a currency to promote volunteerism (Trade School, a recent kickstarter project I backed, is an excellent example of the Time Banking principle used to provide alternative education to the masses). On a national and global scale, the collaborative consumption movement, which is described as "the rapid explosion in traditional sharing, bartering, renting, gifting, and swapping reinvented through network technologies” has been a boon to modern society by creating micro-entrepreneurs and a marketplace for new services. On the other hand, loss of local community can be dangerous because individuals tend to group with others who think and act like themselves; yet, diversity of interests and the complex web of a community is what has traditionally created the balance to hold each other accountable. “Like-mindedness is the end of democracy” said Peter Block. It’s in the differences that learning really happens and the whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts. 

    While the loss of local community is a legitimate concern, the question becomes whether different scales of community are mutually exclusive. A similar comparison of this question of scale could be between local shops (bookstore, craft fair) and online shops (amazon, etsy). So far, it seems that these two forms of shopping each have a distinct role and can co-exist. Is this the case for Community? Can we achieve a balance or must we choose only one form?

    Take Away 1: Slow Down

    (Image via Delivering Happiness)

    Each day, the conference opened and closed with a meditation session. At first, I didn’t quite get the whole meditation thing. It wasn't until a fellow attendee explained the value of meditation using the metaphor of an iphone (thanks Ko-Ichiro!). He explained that when many unused apps are open on an iphone, the operating system is slower and can sometimes cause glitches or crashes. The phone runs much smoother when unused apps are closed. Meditation (i.e. being still and concentrating on breath) is a way to close unused apps (or thoughts) that are clouding the mind. Doing so allows us to reach mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temper, especially when faced with challenging situations. This clarity better enables us to bite into the problems around us. The idea of slowing down was a major conference theme and was particularly profound for me, having just finished a gruelling two-year graduate business program in which my mind was at a constant tug of war between urgent and important. In the setting, endlessly cramming more into your schedule is the norm (as are panic attacks and stress induced anxiety). I can see now that slowing down is extremely important to our overall health and ability to perform (i.e., our work-life balance). A good friend recently showed me this website that also makes the point about taking a moment to yourself in a quietplace (it's great, check it out!). In any case, I appreciated slowing down in this way over the week and am making more of an effort to slow down on a regular basis.

    Take Away 2: Create A Container

    (Image via CCCA)

    Essentially, creating a container is about intentionally creating an environment where desired outcomes can flourish. In the context of ALIA, it referred to empowering people and levelling the playing field to encourage social innovation.

    "Creating the right container - the right heat, light and water - for change will go a lot further than micro-managing the details" - Michael Chender, Founding Chair of the ALIA Institute

    This concept of the container is at the crux of the field termed the Art of Hosting (AoH), a collection of methodologies that invites and enables participation, self-organization and meaningful conversations. Often, communication breaks down due to our tendencies to: 1) not have the right conversations, 2) ask the wrong questions or 3) tip toe around issues. AoH offers a toolkit, which includes CircleOpen Space and World Cafe, where hosts create safety within a figurative 'container' by spending time to carefully craft appropriate inclusive language around contentious or sensitive topics. Having facilitated an unConference and previously participated in other AoH methods, I eagerly joined a group at dinner to continue the conversation about personal success stories and lessons learned. Interestingly, practitioners have found that the amount of time spent crafting the right questions is directly proportionate to the depth of the conversations and overall success of the session. This language around 'creating a container' stood out for me as a holistic and progressive way of thinking about what is needed to ensure a successful meeting of minds.

    (NOTE: I'm in the midst of organizing a 3-day Art of Hosting foundations training session in the fall to be held in either Montreal or Toronto... stay tuned!)

    Can different scales of community co-exist? What are the implications of our new global communities? 

    - Satsuko

    Hungry for more? Below are some excellent books/links on the topics mentioned above. Enjoy! 

    RE. Community

    RE. Art of Hosting

    Related posts: Skating Lessons From an Eternal Optimist (Paul Born's essay on coming back to community), How to Catalyze Innovation In The Ontario Public Service (take-aways from an unConference, an AoH method), and Top 3 Co-Production Aha! Moments (co-creating public service outcomes with citizens/community)
  • Skating Lessons From An Eternal Optimist

    Skating Lessons From An Eternal Optimist

    (Image via Pinterest)

    On my flight back to Toronto today, I read Al Etmanski's (see below for more about Al) collection of essays "Where are you skating to in 2012?" and was completely blown away/inspired. The title comes from Wayne Gretzky's famous hockey quote "I skate to where the puck is going to be, not to where it has been" and the essays are written by thought leaders in social innovation discussing their passions, curiosities and explorations for 2012 and beyond. It is a must read for innovators and change makers navigating the tumultuous future economic/societal landscape.

    For a peak into the collection, below is the essay written by Paul Born, President and co-founder of The Tamarack Institute, which made me want to cheer after reading. Enjoy!

    When the ice is good, it is easier to skate than to walk. Similarly when relationships are positive it is always better to walk with others. I have this growing sense that things are going to gets a lot worse. This comes from a guy whose wife introduces him as the eternal optimist, always seeing the cup overflowing (though she quickly adds this gets annoying some days).

    So why does this optimist think things are going to get a lot worse? The systems we have come to rely on no longer serve us well, they are broken. The environment is a mess, the economy is unstable to the point of being wonky, and people are angry and scared all over the place and rising up against both justice (conservative and fundamentalist movements) and injustice.

    I used to think “these troubles” have always been with us and for sure we will get through them. I still believe we will get through them though I am convinced this is not trouble as normal. Things are going to get worse before they get better and no amount of innovation or brilliance will save us from the pain worse is going to cause.

    So what are the things this optimist feeling pessimistic is going to skate toward in the next year to get ready to absorb the pain?

    One: I am going to look for a neighborhood where people know each other and are doing things together and that engage in acts of caring and co reliance. I am going to help this neighborhood be more than they already are by inspiring a project they can work on together that will help someone other than themselves. I want to experience collective altruism with them. I may even move there.

    Two: I am going to help cities realize that by ending poverty they are promoting security. Less poverty means less reason for jails and hospitals.

    Three: I am going to walk with those who desire new forms of leadership. I want to visit places that embrace leaderfulness. Places where lots of leadership can co exist and where people are learning to walk together and pull in the same direction.

    Four: I am going to party more, laugh harder, reach out to those who are lonely and embrace (hug) the goodness all around me because I believe that when times get bad you practice the good stuff a lot, with gusto.

    and… I am going to slow down so I can see the good ice and then I am going skate there often. I am going to slow down so I can meet good people, build relationships and walk and listen and talk. 

    The full collection is viewable here. Al Eltmanksi is the President and co-founder of Planned Lifetime Advocacy Network (PLAN), which is part of the Social Innovation Generation (SiG) partnership. Also, check out Al's blog here (it's great!).

    - Satsuko