Intentional Innovation


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From the Ontario Trillium Foundation 2009 Professional Development Conference

According to a recent Kellogg Foundation report, if an organization builds a culture that systematically supports innovation, the ideas will come. The key is to be deliberate, open to ideas from anywhere, comfortable with unpredictability, and generous in sharing learnings – all great approaches to building a social infrastructure for youth organizing and engagement in Ontario. Young people are already making significant contributions to their communities, and now is the time to sustain and increase that activity.

In March 2009, OTF partnered with the Laidlaw Foundation and Tides Canada to create the conditions that would allow youth-led and youth-serving organizations to connect with each other, share resources and develop new knowledge and practices. 50 young people from diverse sectors and groups agreed on the need for a coordinated provincial model, but where they go from there is deliberately unplanned. No required changes have been identified up front, and no expected outcomes have been proposed. The only certainty is that a strong foundation is being built for future generations. Work through a fascinating case study on this unique process to find out more about:

- the five stages of intentional innovation;
- thinking big and trusting to “wisdom of crowds”;
- the definition of a social infrastructure; and
- the kind of supports needed by youth to strengthen their work


Abe Drennan, Program Director, The Switch Yard Centre

Arti Freeman, OTF Program Manager, Province-Wide,

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  • Our session is two fold. One is to talk about how foundations can engage in intentional innovation and we will demonstrate that using Youth Social Infrastructure project as a case study and secondly to talk about the Youth Social Infrastructure project iteslf.
  • Innovation is everywhere. We see it on TV advertisements, new technologies and in the social services delivered on the streets of Toronto, people and organizations are always creating new ideas, services, and products and adapting old ones to fit their changing circumstances. This is especially true in the social sector, where there is a need to innovate in order to provide new solutions to address pressing local problems. We see this in the emergence of social enterprises, micro finance and the like. However, innovation remains largely episodic in the social sector. Every day, individuals, social entrepreneurs, and organizations create ingenious solutions to local issues, yet many of the innovations are never realized and fail to achieve their transformative potential. The impact of innovations sometimes are hindered through piecemeal funding, under-resourced organizations, lack of technology, and structures that are set up for services and advocacy rather than for discovery. Innovation can be a rational management process with its own distinct set of processes, practices, and tools. In fact, research shows that this type of systematic innovation in an organization typically yields much more productive and sustainable ideas over time It is important for funders to have a clear sense of what innovation really means, or how to intentionally and consistently make it happen.
  • The Kellogg Foundation recently released a paper called Intentional Innovation which aims to to understand how being more deliberate about innovation could help foundations find new and better ways to imporove philanthropy and increase social impact. We didn’t realize it at the time but the the process by which we engaged in the deliberate exploration of building youth social infrastructure in Ontario is reflective of intentional innovation. As a foundation, we are typically a reactive funder and in the instances we are proactive, is to seek out applications to that will concretely address a certain issue. So launching into something like this where we know the issue but we don’t know how it is going to be addressed and what will be achieved from it is somewhat unprecedented but at the same time needed. We live in a time where the roles of the sectors are shifting, new technologies are emerging by the minute, and the number of uncertainties is growing, there is a concern that foundations could become less relevant and less effective if we don’t work even harder to examine old assumptions and refresh our approaches. As the social sector chagnes, there is a danger that by just continuing to fund the way we do it today, our efforts may no longer match the emerging realities of tomorrow. There is a need to identify and pioneer innovations in practice that will fit the challenges and opportunities of the future.
  • In March 2009, OTF partnered with the Laidlaw Foundation and Tides Canada Initiatives to create the conditions that would allow youth-led and youth-serving organizations to connect with each other, share resources and develop new knowledge and practices. 50 young people from diverse sectors and groups converged around the issue of how to best to support and transform youth organizing in Ontario. The group sensed the timing was right and agreed on the need for a coordinated provincial model. There were no pre conceived outcomes on our part and the next steps were deliberately unplanned in order to allow the emergence of a movement that is innovative, authentic and sustainable.
  • Youth have been a major beneficiary of OTF granting practices. Over one third of OTF grants benefit youth In order to better understand the current needs of youth in Ontario and identify opportunities to strengthen the impact of our granting in this area, OTF engaged the Centre of Excellence for Youth Engagement in 2006 in a research project which identified three main strenghts of the foundation in funding youth Youth engagement is a process that enables young people to be meaningfully engaged in the decisions that affect their lives and communities. Youth Engagement recognizes the significant contribution that youth can and do make in their communities. 4. OTF recognizes that youth engagement is a best practice to meet the needs of youth, including those considered at risk . OTF is also committed to supporting adult- led organizations to encourage youth leadership and engagement in the decision making of their programs and organizations as well as support the capacity of youth-led organizations to strengthen their programs, governance and operating systems. 5. In this light OTF collaborated with the Laidlaw Foundation and Tides Canada Initaitive to enhance the capacity of NFP and community sector to support youth engagement by collectively discovering how to best to transform and support youth organizing and engagement in Ontario.
  • Abe: Before we begin the case study its important to clarify what exactly is Youth Social Infrastructure: Youth Social Infrastructure is both concrete and cultural. Its not about just engineering the bridge but its about a cultural shift that needs to take place so that people cross the bridge. Moving from traditional client based youth work to youth organizing and youth engagement is a culture shift. Shared spaces is not a new concept but there is an opportunity in the youth sector for shared space to become more than just bricks and mortar infrastructure. It’s about youth led groups coming together and working together, sharing ideas and knowledge, that will help collectively sustain their work. In rural and urban communities across the province shared spaces are emerging that are distinct and dynamic. Shared spaces enable groups to be more efficient administratively, but also allow groups to reflect and collaborate in innovative ways in order to sustain their organizing work for future youth. We have heard that youth need concrete infrastructure to support people to organize themselves but Infrastructure means nothing unless there is a culture of change.
  • Abe: As mentioned before, Infrastructure means nothing unless there is a culture of change. In order for us to take the first step to cross the bridge, we must be prepared to challenge established ways of thinking. This work is seeking to shift institutional power dynamics that have tended to focus on underlying negative perceptions of youth. It is striving to build resiliency without reliance on traditional sociopolitical, institutionalized approaches. It includes a variety of initiatives, such as community-based projects and grassroots organizations that are engaging with youth in creative and meaningful ways. YSI has defined the difference between the Established approach and Emerging approach. What isn’t working? Why isn’t it working and how do we need to change in order for it to work better? It is really exciting to have the opportunity to create emergence.
  • Abe: Social infrastructure is not always visible. It’s found in the grey areas between people, between organizations, between missions, between websites, between skills, and between knowledge. It is the springboard which enables people to take action in unison. That’s why our vision of a social infrastructure to support youth-led and youth-centric work focuses on the journey rather than the results and why our mission is to simply harness the knowledge, skills and attitudes of a community that already exists and evolve into a community of practice This is a model that we came up with that identifies how a community of practice can operate. There are six elements of our vision: 1. Regular central gatherings bringing together all stakeholders from the most diverse physical, philosophical and methodological places 2. Autonomous satellite hubs made up of like-people and like-organizations, addressing like-issues – could be joined by geography, mission, age, etc. 3. Resources, including money, space, technology, research and expertise, ensuring that all stakeholders have equitable access and are able to participate by both giving to and receiving from the community of practice 4. One or many online communities networked to support communication, networking and knowledge-sharing between gatherings 5. A variety of people who are dedicated to various levels of knowledge-sharing and communication between gatherings on a voluntary basis 6. A variety of technological tools available between gatherings which support knowledge-sharing and communication Together these elements work in synergy to create social infrastructure, to build a community of practice and evolve in response to youth-led and youth-centric work.
  • Arti: The collaboration between OTF, Laidlaw Foundation and Tides Canada Initiatives emerged as a result of voices from the sector around the need for a youth social infrastructure as highlights of the foundations and pipelines report. While we sensed this was an important issue and that there was a transformation that needed to take place if we want to sustainably support youth engagement and organizing, we had many unanswered questions: What can we do together that is not possible on our own? What are the areas in youth organizing and engagement that are ripe for change across the province? How can we amplify what is already working, for positive impact, for all those who are leading in youth work in the province of Ontario? How can we build resilient community leaders and encourage our youth sector ‘change agents’? In order to explore these questions, we created a ‘container’, an environment instead of a product. The container allows for a network of individuals and organizations, led by youth or serving youth, to connect with each other and create the relationships needed to share resources and develop new knowledge and practices. We created the space for innovation to take place and specifically tapped into the end users of the innovation, the youth themselves. Abe: On March 31st and April 1 st 2009, 50 young people came together from across the province who were thinking about or already building youth social infrastructure in Ontario. It was an exciting and dynamic two days. We identified key non-negotiables, stakeholders (who they are and what they are doing) and agreed there was support within the sector to drive the process forward to a coordinated provincial model. A series of steps were identified: Emergence of a support system (core team) that decided to take the next step not knowing what that would be yet Identified everyone involved: circle of supporters, cheering from the sidelines, participants… they basically gave the core team the signal to go ahead Through the help of Justine at OTF we were able to continue the momentum through the use of new technology… Community Zero site… Doodling, mapping excercices, creating viral e-mails etc. The core team has now met several times both face to face, via the web and teleconferencing. A larger stakeholder gathering is being planned for the Spring 2010 in order to allow for the emergence of a group of connectors from the grassroots that will continue to build a community of practice in the sector. In this way, we are building social infrastructure while exploring the process moving forward. Arti: As a funder engaged in this process, we need to embrace failure. As funders we are holding the space and creating conditions for something to emerge but are not sure yet what that is. Will transformation take place, will a sustained community of practice emerge? As we engage in the process we are documenting our learning both successes and failures. Abe: The initial collaborative of Tides, Laidlaw and OTF is now a funder participant collaborative which includes: Young Social Entrepreneurs of Canada The New Mentality (youth engagement project) Youth Action Network Motivate Canada For Youth Initaitive Sketch Celebrate Youth Movement London Youth Council The group continues to meet and reflect. Part of this process is to make adjustments if necessary should something fail.
  • Arti: We have mentioned the word emerge a few times during this presentation. The work we are engaged in to build youth social infrastructure in Ontario is rooted in the principle of emergence. Emergence is a powerful phenomenon. The rise of globalization, the collapse of the soviet union and other large movements are the result of emergence. As a funder we ask ourselves how we can create the conditions for this type of work to flourish? In nature, change never happens as a result of top-down, pre-conceived plans, or from the mandate of any single individual or boss. Change begins as local actions spring up simultaneously in many different areas. It is the quality of relationships that allows people to go deeper and deeper – it becomes a way of operating built on trust. It is these connections that will sustain the work and keep the momentum
  • Abe: The Root of emergence is the diversity of stakeholders present; the multiplicity of perspectives represented. Blind men and elephant story: There were 4 blind men and they were brought to an elephant and asked to describe it. Each went out and felt a different part of the elephant. The first blind men touched the elephant’s leg and reported that it felt like a pillar. The second blind man touched the elephant’s tummy and described it as a wall. The third blind man touched the elephant’s ear and said that it was a piece of cloth. The fourth blind man held on to the tail and described the elephant as a piece of rope. And all of them ran into a hot argument about the "appearance" of an elephant. It was the same elephant but they had different perspectives. There is no right and wrong but it is the collective knowledge, the multiple perspectives that create the bigger picture.
  • Arti and Abe: Our learning resonates with the research of the Kellogg Foundation who identified these five stages. If we want to find new ways of addressing problems we need to by systematic and deliberate about innovation. Demonstrate leadership and intentionality; Democratize innovation, experiment and learn, run the risk; Collaborate and network, measure and be accountable; Abe: Describe how the gathering supported innovation: what was your sense as to how OTF handled the gathering? OTF, Laidlaw and Tides created a space at the initial gathering that really set the conditions for bringing out the best in all of us. It allowed for creative thinking and exciting contributions. Nothing was in the way. No hierarchy or governance. It was explosive and dynamic. We felt like pioneers who were really pushing established boundaries.. We had a great facilitator who kept the momentum going. 2. Developing new ideas about what will it take to solve problem you hope to address: How do we combine social innovation with building structures and systems? What are the opportunities that present themselves to us: for example focusing on convening over grantmaking or funding next level thinking rather than having them group come in with thinking before receiving funding? Abe describe how the opportunity provided by OTF to convene to move ideas forward; to decide as a core team, etc. How that has helped? OTF has been instrumental is allowing the process to move forward. Convening over the past 9 months has allowed us to dive deeper into the process and develop stronger relationships. It has been vital in allowing emergence to happen. Face to face meetings, teleconferencing and e-mailing back and forth have sustained the momentum. Without the opportunity to come together in various ways, driving the process forward would be incredibly difficult if not impossible. 3. Use internal group of experts – small group brainstorming Connect with key pockets of expertise outside org Open up innovation process to anyone who might be able to contribute – tap into wisdom of crowds with test-market feedback, innovation competitions, wikis. Involving a wide range of stakeholders Abe explain how the entire room collectively decided to move forward and sanctioned the core team. How the core team has worked collectively together to move forward, let in new people who are interested, etc. In order to take the process to the next step, we were asked by the facilitator Tim Merry, to decide upon our level of commitment by stepping into a series of rings that identified our level of commitment. Essentially the core team volunteered themselves by stepping into the middle. It has been a very open and organic process whereby everyone’s opinions are equally valued and heard. The online community has allowed for a variety of input from various organizations and individuals who are doing youth led work. Resources and knowledge sharing is happening all the time and people are welcomed to provide input in the process. 4. Rapid prototyping = quickly testing rough versions and using test data to make improvements saves time, can prevent costly errors of trying to build perfect prototype over long period don’t just judge facts of success or failure: focus on active learning and adaptation assemble resources – have financial, technological and human resources ready to test idea scan externally to see how new idea will complement others IN our case we aren’t testing a product but a process. The ability to create the right environment to emerge a community of practice. We tested our thoughts on other funders and youth networks prior to the first gathering. The first gathering was also a test for us to see if movement will take place and it did. At the time we werent sure and although we hope we have the right container it is hard to say if a community of practice will emerge from the next gathering or not. 5. Don’t assume brilliant idea will spread automatically Recognize inter-related stakeholders needed to break status quo and create new system. Abe: The upcoming gathering being planned will bring in a variety of stakeholders representing multiple sectors, cultures and demographics. We recognize that if a culture shift is to take place everyone needs to be involved in some capacity not just the youth. The network of youth will enable a community of practice to share knowledge, ideas, resources that will sustain youth work in the future.
  • Intentional Innovation

    1. 1. Intentional Innovation: Building a Youth Social Infrastructure in Ontario Arti Freeman: Program Manager The Ontario Trillium Foundation Abe Drennan: Program Director The Switch Yard Youth Centre The Celebrate Youth Movement OTF 2009 Conference November 5, 2009 Intentional Innovation: Building a Youth Social Infrastructure in Ontario
    2. 2. <ul><li>Session Objectives </li></ul><ul><li>Using the Youth Social Infrastructure project as a case study, we will aim to: </li></ul><ul><li>Understand the five stages of intentional innovation; </li></ul><ul><li>Learn the importance of thinking big and trusting to “wisdom of crowds”; </li></ul><ul><li>Explore the definition of a social infrastructure; </li></ul><ul><li>Identify kind of supports needed by youth to strengthen their work </li></ul>
    3. 3. <ul><li>Some Points to Ponder </li></ul><ul><li>Innovation is not new </li></ul><ul><li>Innovation remains largely episodic in the Social sector </li></ul><ul><li>Innovation that is intentional and systematic can have a greater impact in addressing issues that we care about </li></ul>
    4. 4. <ul><li>Why Intentional Innovation? </li></ul><ul><li>Roles of sectors are shifting </li></ul><ul><li>New technologies emerging </li></ul><ul><li>Number of uncertainties are growing </li></ul><ul><li>Foundation could become less relevant and less effective if we don’t work harder to examine old assumptions and refresh our approaches </li></ul><ul><li>W.K. Kellogg Foundation </li></ul>
    5. 5. Case Study The Process of building a Youth Social Infrastructure in Ontario
    6. 6. Background <ul><li>OTF Granting to Youth </li></ul><ul><li>Youth Research Project </li></ul><ul><ul><li>OTF’s flexibility in programming and grantmaking; </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>The “start-up funding” provided by OTF grants; </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>OTF’s spirit of partnership and existing support to youth engagement initiatives </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Youth Engagement </li></ul><ul><li>OTFs role in advancing youth engagement </li></ul>Youth Led Youth Input Youth Engaged
    7. 7. Youth social infrastructure A social infrastructure for youth organizing encompasses a variety of different elements that work collectively to build capacity and sustainable support, placing power in the hands of young people in communities. Networking Tools and Resrouces Policy Advocacy Training Professional Development Shared Administration Shared Spaces Evaluation Learning
    8. 8. <ul><li>Established </li></ul><ul><li>Adult run and controlled </li></ul><ul><li>Defining youth as a problem to be </li></ul><ul><li>fixed </li></ul><ul><li>Limited support (grey area of support) </li></ul><ul><li>Bureaucratic soiled approach </li></ul><ul><li>One way solution </li></ul><ul><li>Needs approach </li></ul><ul><li>Individualistic approach </li></ul><ul><li>Emerging </li></ul><ul><li>Youth led, adult supported </li></ul><ul><li>Youth as skilled, motivated citizens </li></ul><ul><li>Overcoming grey area of support </li></ul><ul><li>Networked holistic approach </li></ul><ul><li>Head, Heart, hands – using cognitive </li></ul><ul><li>approach, knowledge, values </li></ul><ul><li>Rights Approach </li></ul><ul><li>Emerging communities </li></ul><ul><li>of equals </li></ul>Where are we heading? YSI is looking to move from the “Established Approach” to the “Emerging Approach”
    9. 9. Our Journey .
    10. 10. <ul><li>The Process </li></ul><ul><li>Collaboration </li></ul><ul><li>Change agents needed </li></ul><ul><li>Create space for innovation </li></ul><ul><li>Tap into end users </li></ul><ul><li>Create support system </li></ul><ul><li>Get everyone involved </li></ul><ul><li>Use new technology </li></ul><ul><li>Encourage volume/speed/iteration </li></ul><ul><li>Embrace failure </li></ul><ul><li>According to the Kellogg Foundation, all the activities above are indicative of intentional innovation </li></ul>
    11. 11. The Principle of Emergence <ul><li>Multiple local actions connected together create change </li></ul><ul><li>Emergence happens through connections </li></ul><ul><li>YSI aims at connecting youth all over Ontario in order to provide the conditions for a community of practice, that will transform and sustain youth organizing, to emerge </li></ul><ul><li>Berkana Institute </li></ul>
    12. 12. The Wisdom of Crowds <ul><li>Collective Knowledge </li></ul><ul><li>Everyone brings a different perspective </li></ul><ul><li>No right and wrong </li></ul><ul><li>The bigger picture is the result of multiple perspectives </li></ul><ul><li>The spring gathering aims to bring diverse perspectives from different sectors, demographics and cultures </li></ul>
    13. 13. Five Stages of Innovation <ul><li>Set conditions required to support innovation </li></ul><ul><li>Identify problem/opportunity about which you want to innovate </li></ul><ul><li>Generate ideas to solve problem or capture opportunity </li></ul><ul><li>Experiment and pilot ideas to test how they work in practice </li></ul><ul><li>Share innovations with broader set of </li></ul><ul><li>stakeholders </li></ul><ul><li>W.K. Kellogg Foundation </li></ul>
    14. 14. “ A great deal of innovation takes place at the edges and margins, as people and organizations faced with the greatest obstacles (and often the smallest resources) use ingenuity to improvise solutions and find the power to change the world around them. Foundations and donors have the unique positioning to help seed and spur these ideas, and to help them go to scale.” W.K. Kellogg Foundation