21 Hunches

A hunch is a feeling or a guess based on experience & intuition.

We’ve got at least 21 hunches about how to prompt change. About how to turn our social safety nets into trampolines. So that people like Barbara, Mama Mae, Ingrid, and Mo can bounce forwards. Towards great living. Because we don’t think scrapping by should be good enough.

Our Working In & Between Approach is one hunch. It sets out the type and sequence of activities that we believe will get us closer to great lives, and great social supports.

But experience tells us that that there’s a lot more to change than following a set of steps and performing a set of activities. Change is very much a product of how we build relationships, finance work, and conceptualize success. The details matter. Our hunch book sets out our assumptions about how to move beyond a groovy design process to sustained social change. These are the hunches we will be testing this year. In Toronto, Vancouver, Amsterdam, and Sydney.

 Hunch #1

We will try framing our projects in terms of the people left out, on the margins, or experiencing lousy outcomes. That means, we will move away from framing projects in terms of a broad social challenge (like chronic disease) or in terms of an under-performing institution (like failing schools). Instead, we’ll focus on people in a particular place.

Practically, this looks like….

Naming a group of people, rather than an institution or issue. So rather than look to improve our schools, we’d look to improve outcomes of young people not showing up to particular school. We’d relocate ourselves to that place. And spend a lot of time with young people to understand the rub between them, their families, services, and systems. By framing projects like this, we don’t assume that the solution is the school. We leave open the possibility that some of the solutions lie outside of the school.

  Hunch #2

We won’t wait for fully funded projects. We’ll start small, and invest our own resources in collecting stories of people living tough as well as those living surprisingly well (the positive deviants). Because we think stories can surface gaps, be a source of practical ideas, and build the momentum for making those ideas real.

Practically, this looks like….

Us investing in ethnographic field work in the places and with the people we find interesting. And publishing these stories, and our annotated notes. With different lenses of interpretation. We will monetize these sets of stories, and the learning experiences around stories. The people behind the stories will get at least 10%. By getting the stories out there, we hope to find enough partners to move into full prototyping projects.

  Hunch #3

We won’t stop with stories of people on-the-ground. We’ll also try collecting stories of the people inside services and systems. Using the same deep ethnographic methods. Not just interviews or workshops. So we can really contextualize what professionals & policymakers do. Not just what they say. We think this requires structuring our team around different ‘user’ groups.

Practically, this looks like….

Identifying the range of actors that people on-the-ground interact with – and spending time with those actors in their contexts. We’ll look at these different actors as potential users of whatever solutions we create. And differentiate roles on our team by user group. So we might have team members with a focus on young people as the user group. And those with a focus on social workers and managers as the user group.

 Hunch #4

We think a good story doesn’t just describe what is happening now, but imagines what could be. The challenge is people don’t always know what could be. They can’t ask for things they don’t know exist. Or that they don’t have words for. So during our field work, we’re not just going to observe. We’re also going to try creating experiences that expose people to new reference points & alternatives.

Practically, this looks like….

Blending observation, conversation, and experience design. In the past, during field work, we’d just observe people and talk to them. We’d go away to analyze the data, and generate ideas. Then we’d prototype. Now we want to prototype experiences with people much earlier. Using stories, film, improvisation, and role play techniques to help them see alternatives, and be able to ask for different things.

 Hunch #5

Our ethnographic field work and story writing is predicated on spending loads of time with people in their homes, neighborhoods, and workplaces. But spending loads of time with people is darn expensive. Particularly if you use a consultancy business model – where you bill by the hour or by the day. We’re going to try a different business model. Where we sell the stories and tools from the fieldwork to multiple organizations. Along with apprenticeships to participate in the process.

Practically, this looks like….

Changing how organizations and agencies pay for this kind of work. Rather them paying for the process, they will pay to use what comes from the process. And rather than report to a single funder, we will try to have multiple buyers. We think this ensures that processes aren’t one-time events, but are made tangible enough to be replicated.

 Hunch #6

To answer the question: what’s a good outcome, for whom? we need to reach out and engage the folks who don’t come to us. Who don’t show up to our workshops and who don’t answer our flyers. We want to try using more grassroots community mobilization techniques, and spending more time in one place building relationships and banking-up trust.

Practically, this looks like….

Standing on street corners, in front of supermarkets, getting to know hairdressers and local folks-in-the-know. We’d like to hire more locals to introduce us to people, and do the field work alongside us. In the past, we’ve created roles for local folks during prototyping. Now we want to do so much earlier in the process.

 Hunch #7

We’re not always going to agree on what’s a good outcome. So we want to try incorporating more debating methods into our process – as fodder for generating ideas. We believe that a lot of the design methods gloss over differences, and aren’t able to get underneath the philosophical issues at stake.

Practically, this looks like….

Hosting debates, inviting philosophers to spend time on-the-ground with us, and making both the differences and similarities of people’s points of views visible. What’s compatible? What’s not?

 Hunch #8

We want to try engaging politicians in our ethnographic process, and understanding how their political values manifest. Because debates about individual versus collective goods are inherently political. And where we think political decisions are at odds with enabling good outcomes, we want to invest in advocacy & campaigning.

Practically, this looks like….

Meeting politicians – not just bureaucrats – during our fieldwork, and understanding how they see their role and define the interests of their constituents. And depending on what emerges from our fieldwork, some of the interventions we prototype may include advocacy & campaigning efforts.

 Hunch #9

In order to figure out whether we’re doing any good, we want to track who is benefiting and who is harmed from both the process and the solutions. Unless we look for social inequalities, we risk exacerbating them. We don’t want to naively assume that there is always a trickle down effect – from the better-off early adopters to those really at the bottom.

Practically, this looks like….

Tracking who is participating in our process and in our solutions, and who is not. We don’t expect to come up with solutions that work for everyone on the first go. But we do expect to have far more conversations about inequality all the way through the process.  

  Hunch #10

We’d like to try prototyping multiple solutions, connected by a common theory about how change happens. These solutions will focus on different levels, and target different user groups. Some solutions might be about adding brand new supports to a context. Some solutions might be about reshaping existing services. And some solutions might be about getting rid of regulations. To do this much prototyping, we’ll need to be able to support multiple teams. And we’ll need multiple funders.

Practically, this looks like….

Taking all the ideas that emerge from field work, and looking for organizations and government agencies who want to see those ideas happen. In the past, we’ve fundraised after a prototype. Now, we’re planning a fundraising hiatus between the end of field work and the beginning of prototyping. We see the prototyping process as part of what creates the change – and so will try leveraging the process as “training” and “professional development.”

 Hunch #11

For us, prototyping means testing out what attracts, engages, and prompts change. We’d like to more rigorously test different prompts (aka mechanisms) for change. This means setting-up prototypes more like an experiment – and explicitly testing different mechanisms alongside each other to learn what works better, for whom.

Practically, this looks like….

Trying out a much broader range of practice over the course of a single prototype. One week we might try peer-to-peer modeling. Another week we might try behavioral incentives. Another week we might try introspection and reflection. Once we start to gain a sense of which mechanisms have traction, for whom, we’d look to build the infrastructure, roles, and protocols to take forward.

  Hunch #12

Prototyping and measurement go hand-in-hand. Without measurement, we don’t know what needs iterating. And yet measurement is the interaction that typically requires the most iteration. We’d like to try doing ethnographic fieldwork over the course of a prototype to capture changes that might not be so perceptible.

Practically, this looks like….

Using more observational techniques during the prototype, and playing back these observations to people to get their feedback. Just like subjects of a medical study might have their vital statistics regularly measured, we’d like to create a new set of ‘social statistics’ to more rigorously track over the prototype. So we can figure out what people find the most helpful to track. What facilitates their own change?  

   Hunch #13

Rather than put our attention to scaling a solution to more and more communities, we want to focus on embedding multiple solutions in one community. To do this, we’re going to try opening up the process, inviting more and more people to take part, and forming some sort of backbone infrastructure. An infrastructure that can support new solutions, help existing organizations reshape their practices, and make the case for policy changes.

Practically, this looks like….

Setting-up a membership organization where local services pay a small fee for access to coaching, professional development, and common metrics. This membership organization might also advocate for policy changes. And create research, oversight and governance roles for everyday folks. We think making sure that this organization is accountable to everyday people – and isn’t more bureaucratic machinery – is critical.

  Hunch #14

We want to avoid becoming another vested interest in a community. We’d like to find ways for our team to gradually transition out, whilst somehow still supporting the local team and backbone infrastructure.

Practically, this looks like….

We’re not quite sure yet. We imagine offering some sort of ongoing guidance package, and linkages to other communities around the world. We’d like to think our international network has some value for learning and sharing ‘positive deviant’ practices. 

 Hunch #15

We’d like to operate as a flat, interdisciplinary team. So we’re not going to have a chief executive, a management structure, or a corporate governance board. Instead, we’re trying a partnership structure and an informal ‘kitchen cabinet’ that includes people living in the communities we’re working. This is because we don’t think hierarchies enable enough creativity or ownership over results.

Practically, this looks like….

Right now, we’ve gone with what’s known as a VOF Partnership structure. That means the company isn’t it’s own legal entity. Accountability still flows to us as individuals. Each individual has signed-up to agreement about our collective values, and how we make decisions, and split income. Over time, we hope to have teams in multiple cities. And right now, we envision each team forming their own partnership. To use the InWithForward identity, partnerships will sign-up to common principles, routines, and quality reference points.

 Hunch #16

We think good teams blend the creative with the analytic, the philosophical with the practical, and shared values with a very good dose of self-reflection. But like any relationship, good teams need a solid foundation and continual work. So we’re going to try build a basis of friendship within our teams. We don’t think this kind of work can be treated just as a 9-5 job with a lot of overtime.

Practically, this looks like….

Really getting to know each other – and learning each other’s anchor points. What’s a good day? What’s frustrating? What’s rewarding? And making a lot of space to talk about how we’re feeling – not just what we’re doing. That way we can help each other be slightly better versions of ourselves – including making sure we’re balancing work with all the other stuff we care a lot about.

 Hunch #17

Size matters. We think teams that are bigger than 5 people are really cumbersome.. And yet we want to bring as many people into our teams to experience the process. So we’re going to try creating multiple teams with distinct remits, but common routines.

Practically, this looks like….

Having our core team of 4 each leading up separate teams around different user groups, and us regularly coming together to share, develop routines, and quality reference points.

  Hunch #18

We see this kind of work as a craft. Requiring critical thinking and intentional doing. We don’t think you can learn a craft in the abstract. Or with generic toolkits. Instead, we think you learn by watching, doing, and debriefing. So we’re going to try creating apprenticeships so people can experience the process alongside us. We’ll also document & package up the process in order to connect methods and context.

Practically, this looks like….

Developing ‘learning roles’ alongside our core team. And using film, audio, and photographs to capture our own decision-making and process. Our business model is predicated on these apprenticeships and products having value.

 Hunch #19

We recognize for all of our values and beliefs, some amount of pragmatics are involved too. Particularly when partnering with bigger, more traditional organizations and government agencies. We’d like to see each point of contact as a possible intervention – an opportunity to build awareness about alternative approaches.

Practically, this looks like….

For instance, when developing contracts, we’d like to always develop a less legalistic one. That specifies joint learning goals and reasons for engaging. And we’ll turn this into a poster to put on our walls.