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RECODE’s Year in Review

January 30, 2018

by Chad Lubelsky

Program Director, RECODE, J.W. McConnell Family Foundation

RECODE’s goal is to increase solutions-centred 21st century post-secondary education that enhances community well-being. Our strategy is to amplify and cluster breakthrough innovations.  As a funder, capacity builder and convener, RECODE works with partners to weave social innovation tools and practices into the very fabric of campus and community culture. You can read more about our strategies, activities and aspirations here.

So how are we doing?

In our 2016 end of year blog post we concluded that while we weren’t sure, we did have confidence that we were asking the right questions and were on the right track. We then set out to create the conditions for social infrastructure to be tangible and actionable on campuses in 2017.

Looking back over the last year, we experienced significant momentum and interest in the theory of the work, but when it came to the practice, (how an individual institution, department, or role is implementing social infrastructure type activities) we have had a harder time. It is challenging to work across institutions in order to make constructive, comprehensive and coordinated progress. Thinking and acting like an organization, is easier than thinking and acting like a movement.

We did however learn a lot about what is needed to advance our work in a more systematic and systemic manner.  As we look to move from theory to practice in 2018, we are drawing inspiration from a Stanford Social Innovation Review article on Systems Leadership. In it, three capacities for advancing collective leadership are identified:

1. Seeing the larger system

2. Fostering reflection and more generative conversations

3. Shifting the collective focus from reactive problem solving to co-creating the future

We see these capacities as key building blocks in effecting change. These capacities motivated us,  together with partners such as Ashoka Canada, Universities Canada, and Colleges and Institutes Canada, as well as multiple post-secondary institutions, we held multiple convenings in 2017 (see our Ashoka Exchange and Wasan Retreat reports) and produced materials (see our Building Social Infrastructure paper, Lessons Learned and Blogs) intended to help all of us better see the larger system. The goal of much of this work is to use this new vantage point to foster reflection and more generative conversations.

In 2018, we are looking to sharpen our skills in the third capacity: co-creating the future. This work is harder, slower, and riskier. Disruption invariably ruffles feathers and we don’t yet know what we don’t know. We expect some discomfort ahead, but as we said last year, we see this as both good and necessary.

Fortunately, we are more thrilled than daunted by the road ahead. It’s helpful that at McConnell, we have the great privilege, and arguably the responsibility, to take a multi-generational perspective on social change.

It is with this in mind that we are excited to share some of what’s ahead for RECODE in 2018:

– A joint collaboration with Simon Fraser University, the British Columbia Institute of Technology, the University of Northern BC and Vancouver Island University to co-develop and share strategies and best practices for integrating social infrastructure within and across institutions. Our intention is to pilot scaling deep at multiple institutions that all operate within the same regulatory framework.

– A national initiative with Universities Canada to inventory social infrastructure services and programs at Canadian universities; develop a public digital platform to collect data on university programs and services; develop shared metrics related to social infrastructure; and provide more robust mechanisms for cooperation between the community and philanthropic sector and higher education. In short, to create the conditions for scaling out social infrastructure across Canada.

– A partnership with Colleges and Institutes Canada to develop a framework to holistically and intentionally embed building social infrastructure into College and Institutes strategies and functions, and leverages the considerable collective capabilities of the system to increase its impact.

– Ongoing work with the Skoll Centre at Oxford to host the Map the System Challenge here in Canada and create toolkits for social impact educators, as well as a new partnership with UpSocial to identify and scale promising PSE social infrastructure initiatives. More information about this initiative is forthcoming.

A few years ago we received feedback that if we want to build the most community-engaged post-secondary sector in the world, RECODE needed to learn how to walk before it could run. Like all good feedback it revealed an important truth lying just below the surface – we had more work to do to get on a firm footing; we needed more of a track record before we could scale or credibly talk about transformation.

This feedback proved invaluable. It helped us learn how to  “show up” with more humility in order to have the kind of strong working relationships that can support collaborations that span organizations, institutions, disciplines and worldviews.

Since then, together with our partners, we think that we’ve made significant progress – we may have found that firm-footing.

Firm footing is a tricky thing though – we hope and think we’re on it, but there is no way to really know until we start taking those first big steps. Do we have the right tools and resources to get us where we want to go? Do we know which step to take first? Do we have the trust and confidence of our partners to move forward together into an uncertain future?

Ultimately, we’re only going to find out by trying, and by continuing to integrate your thoughtful and insightful feedback. As we shared in our field notes, we are dependent on the learnings from the faculty, students and administrators who are working to reconfigure our education system to create the even more beautiful world we all seek. This is why we have boundless optimism about the work that all of us are accomplishing, and why we hope that you are as excited as we are to be on this journey together.

2018-02-01T15:31:06+00:00 January 30th, 2018|Tags: |