Friday, March 18, 2011

The Social Side of Co-Creation

Today's columnist is Stephen Huddart from the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation. Stephen writes:

“Everyone a changemaker”
-Ashoka Changemakers

As articles in this issue of OSBR attest, co-creation is how a lot of business innovation is getting done these days. This is significant in its own right, but what happens when co-creation involves collaboration across whole sectors?
Recently in Ottawa, I took part in a roundtable convened by the Public Policy Forum to explore social innovation and aboriginal youth. Speaking under the Chatham House Rule, representatives of aboriginal organizations, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, Health Canada, and the corporate and philanthropic sectors reviewed the dimensions of a social tsunami that will influence Canada for better or worse for decades to come: aboriginal youth are the fastest-growing demographic in the country, with the potential to make a valuable contribution to economy and community or to place heavy demands on our social welfare and penal systems. Currently only 50% complete high school, so education is key.
It was evident from our discussion that no one sector can address this complex challenge alone. There is a clear need for the continuous co-creation of new approaches, requiring aboriginal leadership, involvement of young people themselves, responsive government policy and funding for education and training, private sector ingenuity and jobs, and engagement of the community sector at every level.
Co-creation at this scale requires platforms that enable cross-sectoral collaboration. A number of philanthropic foundations and aboriginal partners have recently banded together to create The Circle on Philanthropy and Aboriginal Peoples in Canada, which meets about once a year, holds teleconferences every six weeks or so, and uses a Google site to collect and share information. Organizing a sector this way enables us to collaborate first among ourselves, and then with other sectors. This September, several members of The Circle (as it is commonly referred to), along with Ashoka Canada and private sector partners, will launch a national Changemakers competition in First Nations, Métis, and Inuit education. In effect, this is open sourcing the search for innovative programs and change strategies. In order to address system-level dynamics, Changemakers uses a “discovery framework” – a grid that plots common barriers against a typology of solutions. The competition launches with this framework already populated with prototypical innovations, to orient submissions and focus attention on thematic areas. Changemakers also encourages proponents to amend their proposals in response to public comment while the competition unfolds.
This is just the beginning. Broad, open platforms like this enable wide sharing of information and ideas, but the next step is to create high-functioning ecologies of change. To borrow from the paper by Hyötyläinen and colleagues in this issue of the OSBR, such an ecology should comprise an open innovation component, strategic networks, strategic alliances, as well as hub-spoke relationships. It should also include “change labs” where parties can come together for facilitated exploration of new models and mindsets. And where promising practices are identified, funding and policy should follow.

[A note to regular readers: At this week’s Nonprofit Technology Conference in Washington DC, founders Peter Deitz and Christine Egger announced that GuideStar will be the new home for their open source database Social Actions, which I profiled in my September 2010 column, and which they wrote about in the July 2009 issue of OSBR. Congratulations to all involved.]

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