Well, we’ve made it to prototyping. After 10-weeks of on-the-ground research, and 12-weeks of negotiations, we’re back in British Columbia. Prototyping in a way we never have before. Thanks to our pretty extraordinary service delivery partners: The Burnaby Association for Community Inclusion, Simon Fraser Society for Community Living, and posAbilities.
Ron has gone to the same day program for 30 years. But, what do his days add up to? How many more times can he sit on the couch, sing karaoke, and go bowling - in a group comprised only of other folks with a disability? Ron would have liked to be a chef: Chinese food is a favorite. At 53, he wonders if it's too late.
For 13 years, Jon has been a frontline worker for the same disability day program. He trained as a nurse in China, speaks multiple languages, and is an amateur Chinese chef. BBQ pork is a speciality. He got the job because he wanted to “help” people - but he wonders if bowling is enough?
With Kudoz, Ron would choose from dozens of 1:1 learning experiences each day, hosted by passionate amateurs like Jon and seasoned professionals like Bo, the owner of a local Chinese grocery store. He’d go deep: drilling down into his passions (e.g flavor palettes, knife sharpening, wok techniques). He’d go wide: exploring interests areas he didn’t even know he had (e.g Chinese opera).
Kudoz is one of 10 ideas to emerge from our Burnaby Starter Project. For 10-weeks, we moved into apartment #303 of a social housing complex to develop new ways to address isolation and disconnection, particularly amongst folks with a disability. Whilst folks with a disability now live in community, they are not often thriving as part of community. After spending a lot of time with neighbours like Mark, Fay and Caitlin, we learned lack of connection wasn’t the problem. It was the lack of developmental connections. The kinds of connections that help you to explore new parts of yourself. That interject a bit of novelty. That bridge you to surprising learning experiences - and eventually, meaningful roles in the community.
Interestingly, the same was true for the frontline staff, supervisors, and managers we shadowed. They too lacked a source of novel learning experiences, and chances to draw on all parts of themselves. Many of the frontline staff trained as nurses, doctors, and teachers in their home countries; took on side-gigs as programmers and musicians; and had deep cultural roots. Little of which was tapped into.
For both staff and folks with a disability, the lack of regular learning experiences and the absence of credentials recognizing their know-how was a barrier to moving forwards and finding new forms of decent work.
We conceptualized Kudoz, then, as a content and credentialing platform. Generating splendid learning experiences by drawing on the passions of staff, small business owners, freelancers, and other locals. Plus validating learning with a new kind of informal credential: peer-verified badges.
Introducing The Fifth Space
How will we scale Kudoz?
That’s the big question everyone asks.
We believe to scale a model like Kudoz with fidelity, we have to spread the capacity to make and re-make services from the ground-up. We cannot simply package-up a new model as a toolkit, or blueprint every interaction. Why? Because it’s like spreading a recipe for baking a cake, without also spreading an understanding of the chemistry behind cake baking.
Sure, the recipe might work much of the time. But change the altitude, or the availability of the ingredients, and suddenly the cake doesn’t rise. Without understanding how and why Kudoz was made - and having the ability to prototype new interactions - we risk creating a flat model.
Indeed, much of the stagnation we see within the social sector seems to come from an over-emphasis on service delivery versus discernment. There’s not the time, the space, or the methods to iterate when something doesn’t quite work. That means services and systems are rarely refreshed, revised, or dismantled.
The Fifth Space is an attempt to change that. To create an intentional space for frontline deliverers, managers, and directors to come together, in mixed teams, to do that refreshing, revising, and sometimes, dismantling. The Fifth Space isn’t designed to be one-time training or professional development. It’s designed to be a new way of configuring human resources. Such that staff from all levels get 20% of their time to work in fast-paced project teams, and apply prototyping methods to challenges they name.
Starting in January, we will test The Fifth Space with 24 staff drawn from across our three partner agencies: The Burnaby Association for Community Inclusion, Simon Fraser Society for Community Living, and posAbilities.
Three Differences to Past Prototypes
There’s three things that make this prototype different to anything we at InWithForward have done before.
Sure, we’ve prototyped new services before. And those new services have led to measurable behavior change. But, we’ve never managed to prototype new roles, human resourcing practices, and regulatory frameworks within the existing system. Indeed, we’ve never managed to prompt meaningful systems change concurrently with individual behavior change.
We’d chalk up our shortcomings to three things: the wrong (1) business model, (2) resource base, and (3) growth strategy.
(1) Business model
In past projects, we’ve either served as consultants or entrepreneurs. Meaning that the money for prototyping has either come from “client” organizations who set the deliverables or from our own coffers. We’re convinced that fee-for-service consultancy is incompatible with radical change. The accountabilities are all wrong. We’ve got no skin in longer-term implementation. Even though what separates ideas from innovations is implementation. And yet when we have implemented our ideas as external entrepreneurs, we’ve let the system off the hook. They’ve had no real skin in the longer-term game, and perceived our models as too foreign to adopt and internalize.
In this prototype, we’re equal partners with three brave service delivery organizations. Each service delivery organization has put an equal amount of money in the pot, and InWithForward is putting an equivalent amount of time post-prototype into the pot. We are collective decision-makers. We are joint owners of the intellectual property we create. And each of us has a very real incentive to get the most value from our work together over the next 9-months and beyond.
(2) Resource base
Core to every service we've ever prototyped is a new role. And generally, we find this new role is so different to existing staffing culture that we hire outside the system. Trouble is, staff are the single biggest expense of human services. If we are to create sustainable new service delivery models, we’ve got to find a way to tap into and reconfigure the existing resource base. Otherwise our models become so expensive, and so politically untenable, that we are bound to relegate ourselves to the margins.
That’s why our starting point with Kudoz is current staff. We’re creating a database of all of the passions, talents, skills and interests that staff don’t use at work. And drawing upon this as a source of learning experiences.
(3) Growth strategy
We’ve always just prototyped user-facing services, and developed the business model to grow these services. This time, we’re prototyping both a new user-facing service (Kudoz) and research & development teams (The Fifth Space). That’s because if we're serious about systems change, we've got to embed the underlying capacity to make, test, revise, and measure what prompts change. To borrow a science metaphor, we see The Fifth Space as the substrate upon which innovative models like Kudoz can grow, thrive, and bring about grounded change. One new model, whilst critical as a standard-setting demonstrator, will never be enough to trigger a tipping point. And tipping over a system is the kind of deep impact we're after.
Will we get there? Stay tuned.