Social Innovation NI Update Building Our Platform Workshop

Social Innovation NI Update Building Our Platform Workshop

25 April 2016

Since launching the Social Innovation NI co-design process in December the Trust and its expert facilitators in The Melting Pot have engaged widely with stakeholders across NI.

This has produced a huge array of ideas, challenges and insights as well as a diverse group of social innovation enablers from across government, the VCSE sector and private sector intermediary bodies who are committed to collaborating under the Social Innovation NI umbrella.

Back in December the Trust gave itself a six month window to bring together a group of collaborators and develop some ambitious but concrete actions that could benefit practitioners of social innovation. We’re on target to meet that goal and have our sights set on the end of May to wrap up the co-design process and get the wheels of Social Innovation NI in motion.

With this in mind the Trust brought the prospective collaborators back together on Monday 18th April for a ‘Building Our Platform’ workshop. The venue choice was significant – Clifton House, home of Belfast Charitable Society and some of Belfast’s first social innovators who built the city’s first poor house in the 18th century and many of the other first building blocks of what became our social welfare and public service system.

The purpose of the workshop was twofold - to further the group’s shared outcomes and actions for Social Innovation NI and to get some international inspiration to drive us forward.

The latter was expertly delivered by Tim Draimin, Executive Director of Canadian initiative Social Innovation Generation who attended Monday’s workshop at the Trust’s invitation. Tim set the scene by telling the story of SiG which was set up in 2007 at the instigation of the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation and has transformed the landscape for social innovation in Canada through the combined work of the Foundation with the University of Waterloo, the Plan Institute and Toronoto’s MaRS Discovery District.

Over its 8 years of operation to date the SiG partners have created some transformational supports for social innovation, such as the MaRS Centre for Impact Investing, a whole series innovation labs, the SiG Knowledge Hub, tailored grants programmes as well as some field-specific innovations that have impacted at national and international levels, such as the Registered Disability Savings Plan.

But it hasn’t all been plain sailing and Tim also cautioned on the challenges of bringing together such a diverse range of collaborators with widely differing organisational cultures and missions. He emphasised the need for effective coordination, a shared sense of purpose and the development of genuinely collaborative actions.

“Adversity is the mother of invention, care is the other parent”

Ultimately, in Tim’s view, for Social Innovation NI to achieve its maximum potential the focus needs to be on more than supporting individual innovative solutions, the big picture is about systems change:

“We can’t impose our will on a system. We can listen to what the system tells us, and discover how its properties and our values can work together to bring forth something much better than could ever be produced by our will alone.”

– Donella H. Meadows, Dancing With Systems 

The focus on systems change was welcome and chimes with the overall aim the Social Innovation NI collaborators have set for themselves – achieving a cultural shift in the way solutions are found and delivered for complex social problems in NI.

With Tim’s encouraging input in mind the remainder of the workshop focused on the nuts and bolts – refining the theory of change, thinking about what form of collaboration Social Innovation NI should be and clustering the vast array of proposed actions into a few key themes. The following themes emerged:

  • Learning, knowledge generation and capacity building
  • Social innovation support resources
  • Funders and funding for social innovation
  • Social innovation procurement and commissioning
  • Social finance
  • Evidence and impact
  • Infrastructure – how will Social Innovation NI be structure and operate

By the end of the workshop participants had set up working groups around these key themes which will meet in the coming weeks to devise specific actions and milestones to be delivered in the first 6 months of Social Innovation NI. The working groups will report back by the end of May and their proposals will be brought together as the first Social Innovation NI action plan.

Social Innovation NI partners will then get busy developing these actions further over the summer months with a view to publicly launching the platform in October as part of a major social innovation festival. Watch this space for more information on that soon!

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