Methodological Craft

How do they think social change happens? 

That's the question I always ask myself when I read about MindLab, Reos Partners, Helsinki Design Lab, or the myriad of other social innovation labs, workshops, and processes out there.

Whilst there are plenty of spiral diagrams and process illustrations, there isn't a whole lot of clarity about the assumptions that underpin all of our different methodologies. Why do we invest in certain activities? What's the implicit logic? Based on what mix of values, intuition, and evidence? What do their results tell us?

I explore these questions in a 2013 article for the Singaporean Journal Social Space, published by the Lien Centre for Social Innovation.

Where the article ends, InWithForward starts. Jonas, Yani, Dan and I started InWithForward to address some of the limitations of our prior methodologies. Including the Working Backwards approach I co-developed. And which was used to arrive at Family by Family.

One of my critiques of Family by Family is that we prototyped only one mechanism of change: peer-to-peer modeling. And that we saw families as our only end user group. During the ethnographic research with families, we saw how families' behaviors were not just impacted by their social networks, but by how they interacted with social workers, courts, schools, and benefits offices. We did not prototype any meaningful interventions to shift this broader system. If anything, the business model used to scale Family by Family runs the risk of perpetuating the system. By accepting government grant monies, and then needing to comply with a lot of existing rules and procedures.

That's why InWithForward's new Working In & Between Approach aims to prototype multiple interventions, with multiple user groups, at once. So that we're not just testing new programs like Family by Family, but also new professional practices and new ways of commissioning. At the same time. To pull this off, we would have needed a different team structure. And a different conceptualization of success.

Rather than scale Family by Family outward, InWithForward would seek to embed those multiple interventions - connected by a common theory of change - within a single community. We would spread the process to develop family-led interventions, and the lessons learned. But not the blueprint for specific interventions. Because we think a lot of the change comes from re-inventing the wheel. In a new context.

Of course, all of this is a hunch. To be tested. This year. What do you think?