A multi-‐disciplinary seminar and lab on social innovation
Specific course title will vary to reflect disciplinary focus
Faculty may adapt or append this outline
Course number : The supervising faculty member determines the course number in consultation with the student. It is a 0.5FCE specialized or directed readings course targeting senior undergraduate or graduate students.
Class meetings : Fridays 8:45am to 11:30am (alternate weeks could be Friday or
Location : SILC Fridays will be held in the Bartley Residence, Conference Room A. The
alternate Fridays (or Wednesdays) location TBD
Mirella Stroink, Psychology, email@example.com
Connie Nelson, Social Work, firstname.lastname@example.org
Course Overview : Students will participate in the Social Innovation and Leadership in
Complexity (SILC) course being offered to senior management and board members from social service and health organizations through Continuing Education on alternate Fridays beginning in September (outline for this course is attached). The SILC course offers a set of capacities and a mindset that embraces complexity, helping leaders mobilize engagement, nurture an ecology of innovation, adapt quickly to change and discover the simple solutions that often lie on the other side of complex problems. In addition to attending these classes alongside community leaders, students will meet with the faculty advisors in a lab specifically for the student participants on the alternate Fridays (or Wednesdays). The lab will involve deeper discussion of the principles raised in class and the development of student case studies and social innovation or social enterprise projects.
Case study 20%
Case study presentation 5%
Proposal of a social innovation or social enterprise 30%
Proposal presentation 20%
Case Study : Students will work with a community leader from the SILC class or a team of leaders to write a 3-‐5-‐page summary of a complex challenge (wicked problem) occurring within an organization or sector. Rather than focus on solutions, the case study should carefully outline the multiple contributing and controlling variables in the ecosystem of the challenge and include variables at multiple levels in the panarchy. The challenge should be described with the perspective of complex adaptive systems theory. A 10 minute (plus discussion) presentation of the case study will be given to the SILC class.
Proposal of a social innovation or social enterprise : The major project for the course is a detailed proposal for the development of a social enterprise or social finance initiative, or a social innovation that will address a complex organizational or community issue. Proposals will be grounded in the theory and research of complexity science and other relevant fields and will include a literature review, a description of proposed activities that are justifiable based on theory and research, and a suggested approach to evaluation.
Proposal presentation : Students will present their proposed initiatives near the end of the
course on a lab day. Students in the SILC course will be invited to attend. Presentations will be 15-‐30 minutes in length plus discussion. A brief presentation, perhaps in Pecha Kucha style may also be given during the celebratory lunch of the final SILC class (presentation format depends on the number of students doing the lab).
Exam : An in-‐class exam testing students’ knowledge of key concepts from complexity and social innovation will be held on a lab day.
Learning Objectives :
Upon completion of this course you will gain:
An understanding of the dynamics of organizations and communities as complex systems.
An understanding of how communities and organizations can show resilience while undergoing transformation, responding adaptively and proactively to internal and external change.
Practical tools for nurturing an ecology of innovation and an understanding of the dynamics that affect innovation across levels.
Hands’ on experience developing and evaluating a potential social innovation or social enterprise initiative in collaboration with the community leaders in the course.
Hurst, D.K. (2012). The new ecology of leadership: Business mastery in a chaotic world. New York, NY: Columbia University Press. Required
Goldstein, J., Hazy, J.K., & Lichtenstein, B.B. (2011). Complexity and the nexus of leadership: Leveraging nonlinear science to create ecologies of innovation. Required
Meadows, D.H. (2008). Thinking in systems: A primer. London, UK: Earthscan.
Walker, B. & Salt, D. (2008). Resilience Thinking: Sustaining Ecosystems in a
Changing World. Island Press. Suggested
Sept 10 or 12
Sept 19 SILC
Sept 24 or 26
Oct 8 or
Oct 22 or
Nov 5 or
Nov 14 SILC
Nov 19 or 21
Nov 28 SILC
Dec 3 or
Dec 12 SILC
Introduction to course and theory
Simple, complicated and complex problems
Wicked problems and case study planning
Overview of key concepts
Complexity science and innovation
Social Innovation and complexity
Case study discussion
Case study presentations
Complexity science and organizational or community change
Social enterprise and social innovation
Proposal discussion, development of projects
Review of key concepts
Transformation and change
Proposal presentations and discussion
Ecology of innovation
Brief proposal presentations during celebratory lunch(TBD)
Class meetings : 8:45 to 11:30 for 7 alternating Friday mornings beginning September 19 and
ending December 12, 2014
Location : Conference Room A and Fireside Lounge, Bartley Residence, Lakehead University
Course Description :
The executive leadership of today’s social-‐benefit organization is faced with an increasingly complex environment. In order to make people’s lives better and to address community issues, more of the same-‐old solutions are no longer adequate. Leaders are being called upon to mobilize engagement through all levels of their organizations, identify and grow innovation, adapt quickly to change, and collaborate across sectors to enhance the resilience of their organization and the community as a whole. These requirements demand a unique set of capacities and a mindset that embraces complexity. In this course, community leaders and university faculty with expertise in complexity science will work together to build understanding of the complex dynamics of organizations and communities. Through conversational learning techniques and practical exercises we will develop the capacities to perceive, reason, and manage within complexity, to nurture an ecology of innovation, and to discover the simple
solutions that often lie on the other side of complex problems.
Learning Objectives :
Upon completion of this course, you will gain:
• An understanding of the dynamics of organizations and communities as complex systems.
• An understanding of how communities and organizations can show resilience while undergoing transformation, responding adaptively and proactively to internal and external change.
The capacity to nurture and grow an ecology of innovation within your organization.
The skills to lead a complex organization in a complex environment.
Each class will include lecture, discussion, reflection, and activities that include case study analysis and experience with several liberating structures (Lipmanowicz & McCandless, 2014).
Liberating structures are fun group learning techniques that can be brought back to your organization in order to enhance innovation, bring a complexity lens to entrenched problems, and support collaboration. A textbook will be included as part of the course, and discussion will incorporate material from the readings. There will also be a list of recommended readings and resources that include on-‐line videos. A course D2L website will be available for easy access to readings and resources, and to continue discussions beyond the class meetings.
Hurst, D.K. (2012). The new ecology of leadership: Business mastery in a chaotic world. New
York, NY.: Columbia University Press.
• Dr. Connie Nelson, School of Social work and the Food Security Research Network
• Dr. Mirella Stroink, Department of Psychology
Outline of topics :
1. September 19, 2014
Simple, complicated, and complex problems . We will introduce the perspective of complexity science by distinguishing among simple, complicated, and complex problems. Drawing on this understanding we will explore and discuss complex or “wicked” problems that arise in participants’ organizations. Through discussion and case examples we will build understanding of the nature of complex systems and identify the various complex systems at work in our own lives. Connection is an important concept in complexity science, and we will build connection within the class by adopting a stance of curiosity as we focus our shared attention on the problems we want to solve in an exercise called Impromptu Networking. Homework assignment: Simple, Complicated, Complex.
2. October 3, 2014
Complexity science and Innovation . We will introduce complexity science and explore emergence and innovation from this perspective. Understanding how patterns of behaviour or outcome emerge through the dynamic interactions of complex systems offers a new perspective on entrenched and complex challenges, and can often reveal the simplicity on the other side of the complexity. Through case studies and discussion we will explore the workings of innovation in a complexity lens. Liberating structure and homework assignment: Wicked
Problem Analysis and Crowdsourcing
3. October 17, 2014
Adaptive cycle : We will study the 4 phases of the adaptive cycle and discuss how individuals, organizations, communities, and societies undergo these 4 phases. Discussion will include case studies and examples from participants’ organizations. Insights may include how to nurture an
“ecology of innovation,” the periodic need to release structure, and tips to avoid common
“traps.” Liberating structure and homework assignment: Ecocycle Planning
4. October 31, 2014
Panarchy : We will work together to identify how the systems we populate are nested within one another at higher and lower scales, and how each of these levels or scales has adaptive cycles of their own, moving at faster and slower paces. In this way, learners will be able to
visualize how challenges and opportunities in their organizations emerge through the dynamics of cycles operating at different scales. The way in which innovation can spread and how interacting systems can co-‐evolve, at times resulting in surprises(!) will be revealed. Liberating structure and homework assignment: Panarchy
5. November 14, 2014
Resilience : Building on our growing understanding of complex systems we will explore the concept of resilience. Discussion and activity will focus on how to prepare oneself and one’s organization to respond quickly to threat and change and to handle uncertainty. This includes a core capacity of actively shaping the complex system of one’s organization, being able to see different futures unfolding and acting in a distributed fashion. One advanced insight may be that when viewed within the panarchy, resilience at different scales or levels can be either healthy or unhealthy for the overall system, and the resilience of each level varies in response to changes happening at other levels. Liberating structure and homework assignment: Critical
6. November 28, 2014
Transformation and Change : Sometimes the most adaptive thing for a system is transformation. We will discuss the distinction between adaptation and transformation and how both are important to the overall resilience of a system. At times an organization, department, program, or even a whole civilization needs to be allowed to collapse so that the new may emerge. We will discuss complexity concepts such as attractors and regime-‐shift and will explore through discussion and activity how to navigate a system through an intentional and creative transformation while steering clear of two critical traps. Through our earlier discussions and case studies we will identify an entrenched system that would benefit from transformation and role-‐play strategies for bringing about positive change. Homework
assignment: Resilience and Transformation
7. December 12, 2014
Ecology of Innovation : In this concluding session we will summarize critical skills and capacities for leadership and innovation in the social benefit sector. An overview of complexity-‐inspired applications such as social entrepreneurship, social finance, and crowd-‐funding will be
provided. Activities allowing for the practice of these critical skills will be conducted, and an ongoing homework assignment that can be a springboard for innovation at your own
organization will be offered.
Goldstein, J., Hazy, J.K., & Lichtenstein, B.B. (2011). Complexity and the nexus of leadership: leveraging nonlinear science to create ecologies of innovation.
Lipmanowicz, H. & McCandless, K. (2014). The surprising power of liberating structures:
Simple rules to unleash a culture of innovation. Liberating Structures Press.
Meadows, D.H. (2008). Thinking in systems: A primer. London, UK: Earthscan
• Walker, B. & Salt, D. (2008). Resilience Thinking: Sustaining Ecosystems in a Changing
World. Island Press.
• Westley, F., Zimmerman, B. & Patton, M. (2007). Getting to maybe: How the world is changed. Toronto, ON: Vintage Canada.
• Resilience Alliance: http://www.resalliance.org/
Social Innovation Generation: http://sigeneration.ca
Plexus Institute: http://www.plexusinstitute.org/
Simplicity in Complexity: http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/eric_berlow_how_complexity_leads_to_simplicity.html
• Social Innovation and Resilience Webinar: http://sigeneration.ca/SocialInnovationandResilience.html
Complexity – Secret Life of Chaos, BBC 2010 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uF7gdlTrCQY