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The Story

We gathered as international public sector innovation (PSI) practitioners in a community of practice (CoP) where we explored the transformative boundaries and edges of practice together. The public sector is being called to work more ambitiously, systemically, and respectfully on the most urgent and complex social and ecological challenges of our time.  As a group, CoPs tend to generate insights that are useful in different contexts, apply them in practice, share them with the broader field, and mobilize and inspire impact. So we asked what might public sector innovators need to cultivate within ourselves, and what might we need to nurture amongst us, to become better catalysts, enablers, and advocates of this transformation? 

 

We asked PSI practitioners who work in an innovation unit or lab, intrapreneur nested in a team that is innovating in some way, who are holding big questions about why it is time to be more ambitious in the transformational intent of their work, how they are doing that, and what this all might mean for the larger movement of public sector innovation at this moment.

 

This CoP included:

  • Live Virtual sessions each month(ish) started in October 2023 and ended in July 2024. Sessions were recorded and shared on our YouTube channel.

  • Asynchronous writing, reading, and reflecting space in Medium. Co-hosts seeded the space and we hope that as we write up and make sense of CoP in sessions, you’ll join us as readers and writers. If you want to be part of this writing and sense-making experience, please join our Medium blog.

  • These dialogues were amongst international PSI practitioners who came together to share and learn with one another.

  • Thanks to the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada New Frontiers in Research Fund, this process was free for participants.

  • An action- and applied research project was co-hosted by the University of British Columbia, States of Change, Bloomberg Center for Public Innovation, La 27e Region, The Lab in Auckland, and the City of Vancouver Solutions Lab.

The Invitation

If you are interested to learn about our journey and and curious about possible future projects, please contact us via email: Lindsay.cole@ubc.ca

Sections
CTA

Call to Action + Accountability

Public sector organizations are facing increasing pressures to address complex challenges like climate change, growing inequities, reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples, and many others at the scale and rate that these challenges demand. Innovation in the public sector is quite urgently needed, and public institutions must begin to adapt the paradigms, processes, systems, structures, and tools of our trade. In order to transform the root causes of these kinds of complex challenges, we must look beyond the dominant paradigms, systems, and structures that created them (e.g. New Public Management, colonialism, capitalism). Many so-called ‘innovations’ may be inadvertently working to uphold these problematic systems and structures of the dominant system and distract from, or even prevent, more radical transformation from occurring. 

 

Some questions that we are holding as we begin:

  • What does it mean to push the boundaries of public sector innovation at this time?

  • How might we (re)imagine and strengthen the theories of transformation we are using to support higher impact, ecologically responsible, and socially just public sector innovation work?

  • How are personal/inner and systems/outer work shaping the ways that we think about and practice transformative public sector innovation, and how can we clarify and deepen these entanglements?

Community of Practice Overview

Communities of practice (CoP) are groups of people who share a concern or passion for something, and learn how to do it better by interacting and supporting each other. As a result of working together in this way, members of CoPs tend to learn more quickly than if they were working on their own. As a group, CoPs tend to generate insights that are useful in different contexts, apply them in practice, share them with the broader field, and mobilize and inspire impact.

The Pushing the Boundaries of PSI CoP will begin by setting some shared foundations for our work together through two live and recorded dialogues and blog posts by different authors. We will then have three focused cycles of inquiry on the following questions: (1) What are helpful and strong theories of change for transformation? (2) How might we connect the inner- and outer work of transformation? And (3) TBC based on what emerges from the CoP. Each of these three cycles will have two ways to be involved during the live virtual sessions - as a more involved Core member, or a more observational Constellation member (more on this distinction in the FAQ section). Recordings of the sessions will be made available, and written blogs will keep us connected asynchronously. We will close the experience with a virtual learning festival of some kind (tbc) that will invite other PSI practitioners in to learn and be inspired by the work of our CoP, and to see what might come next in this field of theory, strategy, and practice.

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Community

Co-hosts

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Lindsay Cole

Project Lead

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Penny Hagen

Connecting Inner- and Outer Transformation Cycle Co-Lead

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Francisca Rojas

Cycle Co-Lead

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La 27e Région

Public Transformation Lab

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Lily Raphael

Connecting Inner- and Outer Transformation Cycle Co-Lead

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James Oriel

Community Curation and Storytelling

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Jesper Christiansen

Community Curation

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Maggie Low

Action Research Lead

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Peyvand Forouzandeh

Action Research Assistant

Co-Hosts

Action Research

This project is funded by the New Frontiers Research Fund, a program of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. It is an action research project, meaning that the work we do together is meant to generate insights and resources that are useful for practice. We expect to generate and share resources in the following ways: recordings of the CoP sessions; writing blog posts; generating practitioner-oriented publications, tools, and presentations; and writing academic publications. When you sign up to join the CoP you will be asked to provide your consent to participate in this action research. You will have control over the level of anonymity of your participation when you are initially asked to provide your consent, as well as throughout the CoP. 

 

The research is guided by rigorous ethics approvals from the University of British Columbia Behavioural Ethics Review Board. The collective learning and experiences from Pushing the Boundaries of PSI will be shared so that other public sector innovators and researchers can benefit from our learning. So - you’ll need to be okay with this arrangement! If you have any questions or concerns about the research consent process, you can be directly in touch with maggie.low@ubc.ca.

Actin Research

Frequently Asked Questions, and Answers

Q: Can you tell me more about the difference between joining as a Core or a Constellation member?

 

A: This idea is still taking some shape, and here is what we are currently thinking is the difference between the two. Please note that this distinction only matters for the three focused cycles; the foundation setting at the beginning and the learning festival at the end won’t have this distinction. 

 

Core members: currently working in or directly alongside the public sector, in a role that allows you to practice innovation in some way. Perhaps it’s a bit subversive, or perhaps your job title doesn’t include the word ‘innovation’, but you identify and describe yourself in this way. Core members will be able to attend all of the sessions of at least one of the cycles, and will actively engage in dialogue during the live discussions, as well as stay entangled with questions and experiments in your practice while the cycle is underway. Hopefully you might also be interested in engaging in the written blog space, or in some other sharing work during or after the CoP (this isn’t necessary though). 

 

Constellation members: maybe you are in an innovation role, but can’t/won’t commit to a full cycle so it will be better for you to drop in to discussions when you are able to. Maybe you are newer to the questions that we are exploring in this CoP and would rather have a more observational role in the process. Maybe you are not in an innovation role inside the public sector or maybe you don’t currently have an affiliation with a public sector organization but are interested in listening in on what is being discussed. 

 

Q: I’m not currently working in or directly alongside a public sector organization, can I still join?

 

A: In order to create a strong and focused (enough) container for this work, the public sector orientation needs to hold us together in our shared practice space and experience. That said, if you are not currently in this type of role but have been/may be in the future and are interested in joining us, please do! Joining as a Constellation member will be the best fit.

 

Q: I work in the public sector, but I’m not in an innovation role - can I still join?

 

A: Yes, please do, you are most warmly welcomed! The Constellation option may be better for you if you are not currently entangled with the questions that we are exploring.

 

Q: How long are each of the sessions?

 

A: We don’t know quite yet, and they might vary a little bit, but we are planning for them to be in between 1.5 - 2.5 hours each.

 

Q: What about time zones?

 

A: Isn’t doing international work delightful!? Here is our current plan, which may shift as we try things out. The first two “setting foundations” discussions will be held in two different times that will (hopefully) work reasonably well for everyone to join at least one of them. These two sessions have the same objective - to set the foundations and boundaries around how our co-hosts (and likely a few special guests) are currently thinking about what it means to push boundaries of public sector innovation right now. We’ll record these and plan to accompany the live sessions with some written blog posts as well, so that everyone can follow along and join in to setting the table for our shared work.

 

Each of the three focused cycles will be anchored in one time zone range, and here is what we are currently thinking based on the locations of the co-hosts. The first cycle, focused on theories of change, will be oriented to work for folks in the Central Europe (early evening) to Western Canada (early morning) range. The second cycle, focused on the inner and outer work of transformation, will be oriented to work for folks in New Zealand (mid-day) and Western Canada (early evening) range. We know that this will leave big parts of the world out of the live discussions - however, we will share the recordings, and write in the blog space as we go. The learning festival is still a loose idea at this point, inspired by previous States of Change events, and is envisioned as a multi-day, multi-time zone, and hopefully multilingual event.

 

Q: What about languages?

 

A: We will be using English as the main language for the sessions, and for other communications that come from the hosting team. We are excited to welcome writers into the shared project blog space who wish to write in the language of their choice. And if you have ideas, and also capacity, to support multilingual work in other creative ways we are very excited to hear from you.

FAQ
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