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Exploring the System Together

by NouLAB

NOTE: This article was originally published on NouLAB and has been cross-posted with permission. It is the third post in our series on Social Innovation Labs.

One element that makes social innovation labs like NouLAB so important is collaboration. Social innovation labs make it possible for people to come together and work on big, challenging problems in new ways. This year’s NouLAB Academy has two teams working on the issues to gender inequality and the negative impacts of ageism on seniors. The lab teams are made up of members that come from government, non-profit, private sector, and community. At NouLAB, we believe that bringing multi-stakeholder groups together to solve complex problems helps bring down silos and better understand issues from multiple prospectives.

How can we design and facilitate NouLAB workshops so that they are maximally valuable for all members of the team? What does it take for these participants to work together in new ways?

On November 14th and 15th 2016, we came together for the second of five workshops within the NouLAB Academy. Samantha Slade of Percolab (Montreal, Canada) worked with us to develop to design the 2-day workshop. These days were centred around helping the teams understand elements of working in complexity, to better understand relationships and stakeholders within the system in which they are working, and developing a work plan to fill the gaps in their knowledge and test assumptions about their issue.
Gaining different perspectives from throughout a complex system can help a lab team to move several steps ahead on an issue. This is because it can help them to hear others’ interactions within the system, identify different issues or problems, perceive where we fit into this system, and more. NouLAB, and social innovation labs in general, borrow techniques from entrepreneurial ecosystems and apply them to large, social problems. In entrepreneurial activities, we are constantly encouraged to get outside and speak to customers. “Validate your product-market fit!” we are told. “Who have you spoken to about this?” is often one of the first questions posed. It’s no different for change-makers in the social space. Exploring the system helps everyone to gain perspective, and to connect with others who also care about the same issues.
This sounds simple, but in practice requires careful and thoughtful planning, patience with ourselves and with others, openness and willingness to try new things, and flexibility to change activities or intentions on the fly. We did three activities that helped the 2016-17 NouLAB cohort understand the most of their system.

Co-creation of persona maps

Persona creation is a common activity in design thinking and business start-ups, the NouLAB teams were asked to create these in collaboration with their team which put a new spin on a standard activity. Teams were given a series of questions to develop a persona of a ‘user’ within their system. These will help keep the user in mind as they work through the creation of prototypes.

The Question Game

This helped the teams to check their assumptions. In groups of three, they were asked questions to one individual, and that person can respond only with questions. This is an improv game that can be used to highlight assumptions that we all carry. It’s also hard! Asking only questions put me in a whole new frame of mind.

Interviews and questioning

In the afternoon, NouLAB went outside to ask questions they had prepared relating to the assumptions that had made on the personas they created in relation to the issue they are working on. Asking people outside your group reveals a ton of new information about problem areas and the scope of complex problems.
Collaboration was present throughout the day. NouLAB brings people together in news ways to solve complex but established problems. Together, the teams and facilitation team learned more about our complex problems and gained important insight for change. The Academy will be meet 3 more times in the new year to identify a vision for success, build and test prototypes, and develop a plan for scale. Stay tuned via this blog for updates.

Jan 17, 2017 | Tags: ,