The holidays are a good time to post about getting together. In a personal, holiday kind of context, it’s about reconnecting with family, friends and colleagues for some holiday cheer. (And we hope you enjoy some this season!) In a professional context within realm of public engagement, getting people together is about collaboration – and ideally social innovation. (More about social innovation at the end.)
Getting people together to collaborate can obviously lead to great things, so why is it often avoided and the source of much consternation for some leaders? Well, no doubt public engagement processes can go sideways, with participants soap-boxing and grandstanding at best, or worse: completely hijacking the process. However, engaging groups with careful process design and facilitation will create clear outcomes that are agreed to and ultimately achieved, with everyone enjoying the process along the way.
And what about getting groups together if they have not collaborated previously? This has the potential to be extremely challenging, but may also provide significant and lasting value and innovations. At the Centre, we have had the pleasure of convening groups of this sort and witnessing the collective light bulb go on as they realize that they are stronger collaborating rather than competing.
This fall in the Town of Creston, BC, we had the opportunity to do more in-depth engagement work with seniors and their service providers to develop an age-friendly action plan. Besides the obvious benefit of creating a community-wide action plan to address ageing in place, the groups were keenly aware at the beginning of the meeting that they had not collaborated previously – ever. They had similar mandates (to assist seniors in some manner), were located in the same community, knew of each other, yet had not gathered to discuss common issues and identify potential solutions. In one meeting, two of the community’s key service providers identified a number of concrete opportunities to work together to address common issues and mutual objectives. They also identified an easy way for them all to get together on an ongoing basis, which will have lasting value to seniors in Creston.
Not rocket science, you say? True. Collaboration isn’t anything new, yet some still shy away from convening community stakeholders – worried about the potential pitfalls and resource requirements. The lack of collaboration is also often caused by inertia and how easy it is to get stuck in silos and traditional ways of doing things. It takes leadership, courage and, as mentioned, careful design and facilitation to convene groups and achieve desired outcome.
So what about this new term, “social innovation”? Is it just a fancy, ‘emperor’s new clothes’ term for collaboration? Apparently not. It’s a concept gaining traction and the attention of researchers and investors. Social innovation is about solving existing societal and environmental problems with new solutions – new relationships, new technologies, new institutions, new products and services.
“The significant problems we have cannot be solved at the same
level of thinking with which we created them.” Albert Einstein
Collaboration is at the heart of social innovation, and so we encourage communities to engage stakeholders and convene groups to address today’s challenges – whether it be with traditional solutions (some of which still work, by the way!) or new innovations. Don’t underestimate the value of getting people together!
Happy Holidays from the Whistler Centre for Sustainability
Social Innovation Resources:
– Helsinki Design Lab (which refers to social innovation as strategic design)
– Social Innovation Generation
– McConnell Foundation Social Innovation Fund webpage and resources
– BC Social Innovation Council
– Centre for Social Innovation
– Mindset Foundation
By Shannon Gordon