NouLAB Sets Up to Launch Next Academy for Social Change

Last year's academy in action (Image: submitted)

New Brunswickers who are inspired to address the social issues they see around them now have the opportunity to do so through NouLAB, a public and social innovation lab that connects people across sectors and organizes thinking and problem-solving.

NouLAB is now accepting applications for their 2016-2017 academy. They ask people to apply in teams of four to six people and to have multidisciplinary members. NouLAB director Amanda Hachey says an ideal team would have members of government, academia and community and private sectors to participate in the two day monthly workshops.

She says that the first step and the first workshop of the social lab is to define the problem.

“We often come in with a problem defined but … we have to find a solution or it’s a symptom or a cause and it’s not actually a problem,” she said. “So we spend the time getting the team on the same page and really identifying the actionable problem statement. That’s the core of the program they’re going to be beating to death for the remainder of the program.”

The second workshop will allow teams to work on identifying the system in which their problem exists and understanding the influence and complexity of that system. The third workshop is identifying the team’s vision and deciding what success might look like if they’re successful. The fourth and fifth workshops involve prototyping and getting ready to launch into next steps.

Hachey says that the problems the lab tackles come from what the teams who apply bring to the table. She says that people who are truly invested in the issue are their ideal candidates.

“Our ideal scenario is the people that apply and are part of the team, this is actually part of their paid work because that allows them to do more work on the problem than just the two day workshop. There is in between work that needs to happen,” she said. “They also have a deeper sense of the problem and they can influence the system more and so the ideal scenario is these people don’t just have an interest in the problem but a stake in the problem.”

Hachey explains the problem teams come in with is often not exactly the one they end up working on. She says that last year’s academy included a team that shifted their view of the problem of immigrant employment, which they believed could be solved by bringing more newcomers to the province. They realized through the workshops that it made more sense to focus on keeping immigrants in the province by getting them connected with employers so that the employment process happened more smoothly.

Executive director of the New Brunswick Multicultural Council Alex LeBlanc was part of the team working on immigrant retention. He says the council was engaged by the New Brunswick Social Policy Research Network and the Pond Deshpande Centre and teamed up with the New Brunswick Business Council to dig deep into the issue.

“At the beginning stage … we started to look seriously at how we could collaborate to increase population and in particular immigrant population in New Brunswick,” LeBlanc said. “In the weeks that followed we reached out to other stakeholders in government and the municipal level and the community level as well as newcomers themselves to provide input into what those key opportunities are, where the gaps are that we could try to address with the lab.”

LeBlanc says part of the lab process is appreciating that you might not end up where you think you will at the beginning, that teams are continuously learning and adapting their course based on information located or generated. He says their involvement with the lab resulted in an initiative that’s now in the works.

“There’s a significant population of immigrant youth in the three urban centres that were out of high school and did not have diplomas so their options were significantly limited,” LeBlanc said. “So we took a deep dive into that issue and over the months that followed we developed a strategy to support these youth and have applied for resources to implement a three year youth employability project that is informed by lab principles, through collaboration with stakeholders both in government, the community and business sector.”

LeBlanc expects the initiative could lead to 180 immigrant youth across Fredericton, Moncton and Saint John securing full-time employment or returning to complete high school. He explains that with approximately 320 immigrant youth in the three cities who haven’t completed high school, the problem is a very real one.

“It’s not different from the reality across the country,” he said. “This is a problem that is systemic, that is complex and that we need to start tackling by making efforts to put solutions on the table.”

LeBlanc says the foundation developed in social labs can lead to this kind of initiative and that the process the labs take problems through is crucial to finding where the actual problem lies and what issues need to be worked through to solve it.

“It’s evidence-based, evidence-informed interventions and prototypes,” LeBlanc said. “When you develop an idea and you put it into practice, that idea might not be the magic bullet but you don’t throw that in the waste bin when you’re done. You learn from that idea and then develop a second or a third and you continue to iterate solutions along the way because these are complex and persisting challenges.”