Post-Event Check-In With Our National Gathering Design Team

Following the Social R&D: A National Gathering in March we checked in the event design team for their reflections on the event. If you want to read a bit more about the design process going into the event, check out our pre-event blog post!

The Gathering focused on how Social R&D can help us create an inclusive economy – was there a moment from the event that reinforced that idea? Contradicted that idea?

Hayley: The engagement of the audience, particularly those who challenged what was and wasn’t on the program, reinforced how essential it is to expect that we haven’t got it completely right and to create an environment that is accepting of and responsive to feedback and to build in time and space to respond to those needs. If we can do that within the practice of social R&D, it will be a stronger tool to create an inclusive economy. 

Jerome: The moments that reinforced inclusive economy were from the keynote from George Aye, questions around power and design, the BIPOC caucus, and seeing more diverse change makers in attendance. I still think we have a long way to go but we first must acknowledge where we are at and the inclusive future we want to be a part of. I felt there was some tension around the work that needed to be done and that practitioners know it isn’t going to be easy. 

Devon: What I heard in a lot of the discussions on both days was that there is a lot of work to be done to help create an inclusive economy and that we are further away from achieving that than some may think. I was glad to hear many voices speak up about this and am looking forward to the challenging work that needs to be done to move closer to this goal.

Annelies: It was so energizing to see everyone leaning into this theme and challenging the whole field of social innovation to do more and do better at championing equity and working towards a more inclusive economy. This came through in bold places like the keynote and storyteller presentations, but also in the dialogue that permeated the Gathering through the every engaged chat contributed to by participants. It is so energizing to launch from this event into SI Canada’s strategic planning to continue to explore what contribution SI Canada can make towards bringing about a more inclusive economy.

The design team was made up of people from different geographies, disciplines and experiences. What’s something you learned from working on this team?

Hayley: Last fall, my event-focused job with a non-profit ended when the organization shut down. For seven years I’d been working on the same team where we had all the processes and shorthand that comes with working so closely together for so long. Coming on to the design team for the Gathering was a refreshing new challenge – I’m very grateful to have learned from you all about how you approach event design, the communities you come from and the energy you bring to this work.

Jerome: The things I learned from working on this team was how important this work was to everyone representing their respective provinces and communities. I learned to show up with trust and the recognition that we must all do our part to execute on designing and facilitating a great experience for attendees. I really valued how our areas of expertise complimented one another and how it all came together leading up to and during the gathering.

Devon: I loved working on this team and learned a lot from everyone. The biggest skill I honed during the design process was comfort relying on my teammates. For a lot of the team it was our first time working together and we had to “form, storm, and norm” really quickly, and virtually! I think we all recognized that challenge and it was clear from the start that we would need to be a great support to each other. It was that support that allowed me to keep my cool during all the stress that event planning brings with it. 

Annelies: I learned so much from the courage and openness of the design team. We dug into some tough topics and sought to change the dynamic, invitees, and speakers at this gathering from “the usual suspects” and this took trust, thoughtfulness, creativity, and a deep connection to the “street corner”. I learned so much from listening, respecting, and trying to bring out the best in each of my teammates. 

On each day of the Gathering storytellers from across the country shared their work. What is something you took away from the storytelling sessions?

Hayley: The storytelling sessions I supported were hosted by Soni Dasmohapatra and Austin Lui. While their work has different focus areas in different communities – Soni’s experience working with Edmonton Shift Lab on the Diversity Certification Program for landlords to address racism in housing access and Austin in Vancouver working with EMBERS Eastside Works to support people facing barriers to access employment services – both are challenging exclusionary policies, programs and attitudes by thoughtfully and thoroughly engaging their communities in developing solutions. Each of them have added to my understanding of responsibility and accountability to community and the relationship between risk taking and privilege.

Jerome: As one of the co-hosts I didn’t host a storytelling session, but I popped into a few sessions and what I took away was the diversity of the storytellers, the way they approached sharing their change making process. I remember Dusty saying I am not going to be formal; I am going to share from my heart, the way I would share in my community. It was a powerful way to start the session. I really appreciated this approach to storytelling.

Artists Xhalida September, Ravyn Wngz and Kristina Lao played an important role in the Gathering this year. How did their contributions affect you?

Hayley: Each of the incredible artists reinforced for me is the need to do social R&D, social innovation work with our whole selves. Sometimes our bodies are ahead of our brains, sometimes the other way around, music and movement help them sync up. 

Jerome: The artistry was amazing. It highlighted for me how important artists are in systems change. Healing through art for the designer, the end user and those in-between. It reminded me of the weight and the stress of systems and the importance of self-care. It provided the power of shifting energy and moving mind, body and soul. Art is such an amazing tool and the artists provided all the attendees with a gift of their authentic truth. Xhalida September, Ravyn Wingz and Kristina Lao helped provoke a tension that art and culture should be at the centre of the change making experience. They reminded me of how much healing is needed in our work.

Devon: I agree with Hayley! Xhalida, Kristina, and Ravyn’s contributions all helped to ground me through each day. For me, Ravyn’s portion was particularly impactful and I think greatly contributed to my calm focus as we navigated the important discussions of day two. All three helped me show up authentically.

Annelies: Xhalida, Kristina, and Ravyn helped me breathe. With so much going on my head was spinning at times, but being able to sit, relax, connect, and just be fully present to their beautiful gifts was phenomenal. I want to hire them for all of my events, or heck, even just to help me start my days in a great way! 

During the event, a BIPOC caucus was requested to create space for BIPOC attendees to connect and share experiences within the social R&D and innovation sector. Can you share what the caucus meant to you and how the group that assembled their plans to work together moving forward?

Jerome: The BIPOC caucus meant a lot to me. It was about celebrating Black, Indigenous and People of Colour in their story, their truth and their journey in the social innovation and social r&d space. BIPOC folks can walk a lonely journey as professionals in their respective sectors and there might be miles travelled before you see a familiar face. The act of BIPOC individuals coming together is a powerful one. I look forward to new relationships and fostering deeper connections with those in the caucus.

What will you do next with the learnings and connections you’re taking away from the Gathering?

Hayley: George Aye’s question of “what right do I have to do this work?” will be a guiding one for me moving forward as I examine where I am adding value and where I am taking up space and resources. I’m grateful to have been connected to so many incredible people through the Gathering, the design team and the attendees, looking forward to supporting your work moving forward. 

Jerome: I will share the learnings with the diverse  communities I work with in Alberta and Toronto. I will continue to reflect on power in social innovation. The importance of diversity in the Canadian landscape. I will aim to support the work of diverse innovators. I will continue to champion more work around equity, diversity and inclusion that pushes the sector forward.

Devon: I plan to learn even more! I’m continuing my journey of researching how I can contribute to championing issues of equity, diversity, and inclusion in all aspects of my life. I also hope to bring the spirit of our team to future projects. I saw my team members show up as their whole selves, exercising a great degree of vulnerability. This was inspiring and something I hope to continue to bring to my work. I’ll jump at the chance to work with anyone on our team again!

Annelies: I’ve already had a number of follow-up meetings with participants and am so excited to keep supporting the expansion and the deepening of the social innovation and social R&D fields. I love the work we did on broadening the tent, and I’m even more excited about the upcoming work of dismantling the tent and truly making social innovation a place that celebrates, engages and supports equity, diversity and inclusion.

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


Devon BondDEVON BOND | SI Canada 
Devon has had a dynamic career across industries of social innovation, film festivals, academia, outdoor education, and events. Through her work, Devon strives to increase efficiency, build the capacity of her team, and brighten people’s days. Devon thrives on human connection and new learning opportunities.

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