Check-In With Our National Gathering Design Team

Before we dive into our National Social R&D Gathering at the end of the month, we wanted to check-in with a few members of the design team to find out what they’re looking forward to and get some insight into the design process!

We sat downvirtuallywith Jerome, Hayley, and Annelies to hear what they had to say!

But first – what exactly is Social R&D and who is this Gathering for?

When we talk about Social R&D we’re refering to the use of Research & Development (R&D) to better understand and address social issues in their communities. 

Using techniques such as prototyping, human-centered design, social labs, data measurement, and ethnography, Social R&D pracitioners test new ideas, create evidence of what’s working and what isn’t, and share these approaches with each other so that they can develop together and scale.

If you’re already doing this kind of work on the regular or if you’re curious about how you can intergrate these approaches into your work, the Gathering is for you. As you’ll read below, sharing resources across the national Social R&D network is a huge piece of this year’s event.

Okay, now that we’re all on the same page… this year’s two day Gathering is all about exploring how Social R&D can help us create an inclusive economy – how did you choose this focus? 

Jerome: The original proposed theme, which focused on how Social R&D can help foster a next economy, felt tone deaf to how people are currently living. Right now people are just trying to survive. Thinking about the killing of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Black Lives Matter, systemic racism, anti-Black racism, Indigenous racism, anti-Asian hate, loss jobs of everyday Canadians through the pandemic, people of colour at greater risk of Covid-19 because of the precarious employment they’re overwhelmingly employed in… it’s a long list. BIPOC communities, low income, youth, rural folks and seniors are just trying to survive. 

We can’t just focus on the new economy – we must bring attention to the current system. We can use Social R&D to listen to diverse communities and learn their history of exclusion and marginalization to help transform systems and create a better reality. We need to move people from surviving to thriving.

"Right now people are just trying to survive."

What can attendees expect from their two days with you?

Jerome: We’re going to explore what Social R&D looks like in different corners of Canada. Participants will have the opportunity to learn new tools, have honest conversations around changemaking and how we can cultivate a more inclusive way forward. I hope attendees leave with seeds of new knowledge that they can plant and water in their communities. For me, questions are better than answers and I want attendees to leave with bigger questions to help move the sector forward.

Hayley: People can expect to meet incredible storytellers who are working to shift power, to connect with others to share insights into each other’s work, and to walk away with a new favourite musical artist.

Can you talk a bit more about building equity into the national Social R&D ecosystem?

Jerome: Yes! We learned from the data collected from last year’s national gathering that more diversity was needed. I think it was important to hire people of colour and pay them for their contributions, ways of knowing, experience and knowledge to help with the co-design from the beginning of the project.

We also wanted to have an emphasis on Black, Indigenous, people of colour storytellers and speakers to share their work in social innovation, social research and development. Traditionally, the majority of workshops around Social R&D are centered around white voices and white individuals leading the work. They’re considered experts and are creating solutions for marginalized communities. We tried to shift this by focusing on people of colour and Indigenous voices, centering them as the experts they are and building with communities around change. It’s not perfect, but it’s a good start on the journey to naming and shifting power in Social R&D.

Annelies: We’re on a quest to build equity into the national Social R&D ecosystem, and challenge who’s at the table, at the mic, and writing the knowledge products. This has been a core focus of our work, but we’re definitely taking it to the next level with this year’s gathering. We received feedback last year that it was great having BIPOC presenters but that the core team was too white. I’m very proud that we have made changes on this for 2021, and I’m very excited to co-host with Jerome who I am learning so much from! We are so grateful for the insights he’s bringing forward, the network he’s connecting us to, and how he is challenging our perspectives and framing.

Jerome: On the network point – we really wanted to dive deeper into the idea of “corner office innovation” and “street corner innovation”. The corner office innovation is usually lead by the traditional players, experts, speakers, labs, etc.  – those with the most resources and power in the ecosystem. We wanted to look at street corner innovation to see how people are innovating for survival and getting significant despite results doing it from their apartment, on their reserve, on main street, in their small organization, and with limited funding. We wanted to spotlight these positive deviants and players that weren’t approaching community changemaking in the conventional way.

What’s it like planning a national gathering for the second time? How has COVID changed your experience? Any tips and tricks to share?

Annelies: It’s really exciting planning for a second national gathering. We learned an immense amount in our last Gathering and have built new online convening skills over the past year – especially at our recent Booster Pack Series. It’s been a great way to test how we can create engaging and connected online spaces. We’ll be using techniques like breakout rooms balanced with personal reflection and journaling to tap into different learning styles and preferences. We’ll also be focusing a lot more this year on helping people build connections that will serve them in their work – look out for coffee dates, a mixer, and a common platform to engage on!

Jerome: This is my first time so I am still getting my sea legs under me and I’m learning as I go. The focus has always been to create a great end user experience online, through having multiple points of connection, learning, music, movement, art, breaks, and storytelling. 

Hayley: A year in, I think we’re all getting better at programming for busy, Zoom fatigued audiences by focusing on time “face-to-face” engagement and breaking up all the listening with music and movement.

What are you most looking forward to?

Jerome: Three things: first, being challenged with the big and deep questions. Second, being vulnerable through the stories and learnings, and third, learning more ways to centre empathy and cultivate a more inclusive economy so more people can participate and create change for their communities. 

Annelies: I can’t wait to hear some amazing stories of Social R&D in action. 

I wish I could clone myself to be in five breakout rooms at once! I am also really looking forward to co-hosting with Jerome, and to continue working with the whole design team – we have a lot of fun working together.

Hayley: Hearing stories and reflecting on them with the community.

Last question! How can participants get the most out of the Gathering?

Jerome: Come with an open mind, a cup of tea/coffee, something to write on, and a positive attitude to meet new people across this country trying to foster change making. 

Hayley: Two 4.5 hour programming blocks over two days is a lot to ask of your schedule! Try to make the time and space on your calendar to join for as much as you can – it’ll be worth it.

Annelies: Soak it all in! There are such amazing people to learn from, so as much as you can, carve out your schedule to really be present. Also, give us feedback along the way and keep us in the loop using the chat to share what you’re learning and how the experience is for you. We’re really keen to do our own Social R&D to keep evolving and improving our offering to you!

We’re looking forward to seeing you on March 30 and 31. If you haven’t registered for the National Gathering already, it’s not too late! 



JEROME MORGAN | Lead Strategist and Innovation Consultant, Wood Buffalo Strategy Group

Jerome Morgan specializes in strategy, human-centred design, organizational development and facilitation. He helps leaders get to better solutions using design thinking and community innovation that is centered on empathy. Selected as a 2018 social innovator and changemaker, Jerome is a champion for equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) and leads work around BIPOC, low income and rural communities.

ANNELIES TJEBBES | Social Innovation Consultant, Roots and Rivers

Annelies Tjebbes is a systems change leader with a background in social innovation, community development, and social enterprise. She provides comprehensive strategic planning, evaluation and facilitation services through her consultancy Roots & Rivers. Annelies is an Innoweave Evaluation & Impact Coach and brings evidence-based decision-making and reflective practices to all of her work.

Hayley Rutherford has built a career in service of helping people understand complex problems. A social innovator and science communicator, she has extensive experience creating events, programs and publications that are built on evidence and supported by collaboration. Hayley brings curiosity and commitment to all her work

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