Graduate Program in Social Innovation

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About the project Edit

Collaborations for Transformational Education

If you are seeking creative solutions to big problems, open to exploring and utilizing multiple and cross-cutting perspectives, and eager to develop the habits of thought and strategic skills necessary to make transformative change possible, this program was designed with you in mind.

As society becomes increasingly complex and interconnected, we must develop more sophisticated responses to pressing problems.

Organizations and individuals committed to finding effective solutions know that it is impossible to create this kind of transformation alone: new forms of engagement are required between organizations and across sectors; new knowledge must be created; and new roadmaps for action are needed.
The Graduate Diploma in Social Innovation, a partnership between leading academics at the University of Waterloo, expert practitioners from across the country, and the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation, will very intentionally engage professionals from different sectors.

Together they will learn about the concepts and theories that frame ideas related to social innovation and collaborate to apply new ideas to design strategies that address challenges.

Professional learning and process support, expert advisors, and access to some of the world’s leading educators and consultants are just a few of the unique features of this collaboration for social innovation education.

Program Themes 2012

Innovating Our Way to a Resilient and Sustainable Future
In the last 300 years human activity has upset the delicate balance of our planet. Despite the fact that we have resources and technical know how to positively affect mounting environmental challenges, real change in these domains remains frustratingly slow. What are the barriers? Do we need political and economic reform to slow down both the consumption of energy and the release of carbon? Can new technologies and clean energy change the equation? What about innovations in agriculture, food distribution and even food consumption? Can means be found to build local markets in our increasingly global society? How can urban sustainability efforts be moved from the margins to be more central to how our cities and towns are run?

The next offering of the Graduate Diploma in Social Innovation, with support from the J. W. McConnell Family Foundation, will be grounded in the domains of food systems, green technologies and urban sustainability. The challenges related to these groups are complex and can feel intractable even to those most passionate about finding solutions.

The problems are too complex for any one sector – government, business, or community organizations – to solve on their own. Creating shared value in these domains involves working to reimagine how all three sectors can interact to create both social and economic value in pursuit of new, more creative and more promising opportunities for change.

Theme Areas for the 2012 Session:

Food Systems, Green Technologies, Urban Sustainability.
Human industrialization and related activity has not been kind to our planet. According to the IPPC, present CO2 concentrations are 35% higher than at any time in the last 650,000 years. These growing concentrations threaten biodiversity and with it the very source of our sustenance: sustainable food production for a rapidly expanding global population.

Confronted with over-harvesting, widespread land degradation and the toll of increased urbanization, we face a future in which food supplies in many parts of the world will not be secure and all life-sustaining environmental systems struggle under increased stress and strain. Unless carbon concentrations are better managed, unless renewable energy gains a much-increased foothold, and unless the human footprint on our planet is lightened, global warming seems sure to affect our capacity to feed ourselves and sustain our economies. These issues are all tightly interrelated in overlapping complex systems. To get traction on such intractable problems, new approaches and new thinking is clearly required – and transformative solutions will demand engagement from all corners and all sectors, with people and organizations acting in their own interests and in the interests of the communities that sustain them.

Those interested in finding breakthrough innovations and exploring how those can be scaled to create real changes in our approach to the linked challenges of carbon management, rising urbanization and food security are encouraged to apply to this program. Through research and applying cutting edge frameworks and design thinking, participants will work to map the interconnections that create these negative cycles, identify the most promising innovations, and develop strategies to broaden and deepen their impact.

In what ways is this project unique and creative? Edit

Unique Program Features

1. Custom designed for tri-sector collaboration and to mobilize cutting edge knowledge for high impact

2. External, tri-sector expert panels will frame issues, offer insights, pose challenges, and review the final project presentations

3. Participants will work in small tri-sector teams to design and develop a social innovation strategy that will focus on a specific problem domain and integrate the team’s multiple perspectives

4. Each team will be supported by a professional coach with proven expertise and competency in organizational leadership, diverse team development and system change

5. Participants will have the opportunity to experience the problem domains first hand through specially designed learning journeys into real world environments

6. In addition to the program faculty, guest lecturers will include some of the world’s leading consultants as well as some of its most recognized social innovators

What is the social value of this project? Edit

Program Content

Social Innovation in Complex Systems

• Introduction to complexity theory and its application to social systems
• Introduction to resilience theory as a framework for designing change
• Exploration of emerging theories of social innovation to explain how change happens
• Cases and exercises to demonstrate the practical applications of theory
• Consideration of the role of leadership and entrepreneurship in successful innovation

Design Thinking for System Change

• An overview of the history of design thinking as a tool for supporting system change
• Examples from designers like Bruce Mau and what he calls “massive change”, to complexity thinkers like Brian Arthur, exploring the nature of technological innovation
• Practical frameworks for taking a design approach
• Exercises to practice design thinking in small teams
• Implications of design thinking on strategy development and implementation plans

Team Dynamics and Conflict Management

• Learn and practice specific strategies for acting effectively in complex social systems and institutions
• Managing conflict
• Negotiation
• Collaboration among diverse partners
• Decision-making

Scaling Social Innovation for Greater Impact

• Challenges of scaling up social innovations from limited, local impact to broader, durable impact within a system
• The role of the institutional entrepreneur
• Influencing changes resources flows, the cultural understandings of the problem, and shifts in the laws and policies that govern the problem domain
• New approaches to generating revenue for social good, developing policy for change, and creating narratives to shift values
• Real world examples from Canadian and international contexts

Social Innovation Project

• Opportunity for applied, action-learning
• Collaborative research and the design of a strategy for social innovation
• Strategies focus on specific problem domains and integrate cross-sectoral perspectives (private, public, not-for-profit)
• Expert panels frame issues, offer insights, pose challenges, and review presentations

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