Re-designing for Social Innovation

November 22, 2012

This week we had the pleasure of hosting Bryan Boyer from the Finish strategic design studio Helsinki Design Lab at Sitra. The Helsinki Design Lab focuses on dissecting complex social challenges and allowing decision makers to see the varying perspectives of such problems as well as the potential for opportunities that can stem from those varying perspectives. We were intrigued by the use of design for social innovation and the immense power that this tool has, and most of all we are excited about the collaborative and sharing nature that this process has at heart. This week in Ideas for Impact, we explore some of the promising examples of design used for social innovation.

Seeing the ‘Architecture of Problems’

Helsinki Design Lab (HDL) helps government leaders to see the "architecture of problems." In particular guiding decision-makers (government to be precise) through processes to allow them to view challenges from a ‘big-picture perspective, and provide guidance toward more complete solutions that consider all aspects of a problem.’ HDL calls this strategic design.

Strategic design is about applying some of the principles of traditional design to ‘big picture’ systemic challenges like health care, education, and climate change. It redefines how problems are approached, identifies opportunities for action, and helps deliver more complete and resilient solutions.” - HDL

As a society we are trying to operationalize shared value vs. many years spent optimizing financial value. HDL, through all its projects and programs, tries to work with multiple forms of value while weaving them all together, and providing design as the glue between these values and the multiple processes that exist between them.

What HDL focuses on is how this or any other decision gets made, coming to terms with the fact that the existing decision making infrastructure, which has been inherited by current generations, is starting to get bottle necks and is starting to crack (or break completely in some cases).

So what does this process really look like? The first step involves looking at cases of success to understand factors that contribute to success and failure, and then convening groups to help see new ways to address particular problems (often from unassuming perspectives). The next step focuses on gathering information and data around framing the particular problem, and then redirecting activity to focus on how to affect social change within the context of the particular problem that is being addressed. And doing all of it with the mindset that what has worked in the past (or somewhere else) may not work in the future (or in your location).

One example of an ongoing project for HDL is the Low2No.org project. The main goal of the project is to deliver a low carbon block of shops, homes, and offices in central Helsinki. Through the ‘strategic design’ process HDL is working with the real estate sector, the construction sector, and government to dissect and reconstruct the context of the built environment in Finland, and alter it (organically) for a more sustainable and community-driven built environment future.

As Bryan Boyer mentioned in his talk, we cannot assume that innovation is simply a matter of tweaking or improving the current system. There is value in questioning the basic assumptions of the problems and the systems that they exist within, and then actively working with all aspects of that system to drive change and innovation. It can never be a one-way innovation.

If you want to read more about how HDLs’ approaches social challenge issues, and what their ‘Recipes for Systemic Change’ have been is check out their downloadable book ‘Recipes for Systematic Change’ (available for free).

SILK (Social Innovation Lab for Kent)

Starting with People” – SILK

SILK, set up four years ago to ‘do policy differently’ in Kent. The underlying goal was to have a space that is creative and community focused, which would bring a wide range of people together, to work on some of the biggest challenges facing the communities. The methods and tools that SILK uses draw heavily from business, design, and social innovation. The most important aspect of their methodology and mission is to always place the citizen, and the individual, at the centre of everything they do (especially the process that address the problems that these individuals face).

SILK focuses on several different types of projects, including service re-design projects and sustainable community projects.  Some of these projects have SILK working alongside communities to create new pathways and services, while in other projects the focus is on bringing the citizen experience to government and decision makers.

What does this look like? The Parkwood Bulk Buying Project is one such an example. The project focuses on a simple concept of bulk buying, and bringing access to bulk items and decrease cost by purchasing items in larger quantities. The project is truly about creating sustainable services in the community, and with that in mind SILK invited the community to figure out together what a reasonable solution to this challenge could be. The results of the project (which is still on going) is the R Shop, currently a conceptual organization that is selling items and taking orders for bulk items (out of the local primary school). Check out the participatory documentary film that was made as part of the innovation process and read the report about the process and learnings.

Through these projects SILK has developed a unique methodology and process to tackle some of these complex challenges facing their community. Make sure to check out the SILK Method Deck a collective project planner.

In With For - “We Work In, With & For”

Solving social problems & improving problem-solving

In With For is an Australian design lab started by Sarah Schulman and Chris Vanstone. The founders had worked on many social innovative projects but never felt that they were really creating social impact that was sustainable.  Their focus is on creating sustainable social impact through the work they do, and have developed their entire methodology around problem solving. Really, it is about creating problem solving tools that are applicable and are actually the right tools to solve, or even be able to dissect, the complexity of the challenges that we are faced with (even small ones). Read how they got here in their approach ‘Getting it wrong & going backwards’. Their current approach to problem solving is called the ‘6’ , representing the 6 principles that are key to the InWithFor problem solving system.

In their own words what this actually means is “Now we work with people, with practitioners, and with policymakers, building from problems to outcomes, from outcomes to practice, and from practice to policy.”

Family by Family, is a result of a InWithFor problem solving process. The project was focused on determining how to tackle the issues of family stress, and the lack of support that exists for families that are stressed and in crisis.  The solution is a simple peer-mentoring model, which has had phenomenal feedback and results. Family by Family, is a new network of families helping families, where families who have been through hard times (and have survived) are connected with families who need and want change in their lives.

“One of the most inspiring approaches to assisting very vulnerable families…that I’ve come across in four decades.” - Jay Weatherill, Premier of South Australia

It allows families to grow together, and learn from each other. In the first year of operations the program was able to connect 66 families and has had very positive results in this initial review stage. You can read more about the program and its learnings here.

But what this shows is that InWithFor’s problem solving formula is a unique and powerful tool. It instigates a more intricate evaluation of the problems that we are faced with, which allows us to innovate and create solutions that are centered on the needs of the individual (and in turn become more sustainable).

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Ideas4Impact by ISIS, Sauder School of Business, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 Canada License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license is available at ideas4impact@sauder.ubc.ca