How we might reimagine and transform how the non-profit sector co-creates thriving and resilient communities?
Calgary Foundation, in partnership with MRU’s Trico Changemakers Studio, is embarking on a multi-year social innovation lab to explore this question.
Calgary’s nonprofit sector is navigating increasingly complex and intersecting challenges while trying to meet rising demand for services. The fiscal challenges of decreasing donations, declining corporate sponsorships, and restricted use of funds make it difficult for nonprofits to maintain adequate staffing and deliver on programs while meeting increasing needs in the community. Many of these factors challenge the sector’s ability to innovate and respond creatively to changing contexts and circumstances.
Nonprofit Resilience Lab Breakdown
The nonprofit sector as a whole is grappling with issues of diversity, equity and inclusion as well as leadership and succession as the boomer generation retires and a new generation with different values, priorities, approaches and perspectives on philanthropy steps to the fore.
Calgary Foundation and the Trico Changemakers Studio began working together in 2018 to bring a systems perspective to the Foundation’s reconciliation journey. Since that time, the two organizations have worked together on numerous projects to expand and deepen learning and application of systems thinking, social innovation tools and practices to address various social issues.
Building on our strong foundation of collaboration and our shared commitment to systems change, Calgary Foundation and the Trico Changemakers Studio decided to combine resources and expertise to create a supportive space for diving deep and examining the complex challenges facing the nonprofit sector. The Nonprofit Resilience Lab was launched in January 2021.
Social innovation labs are an approach to addressing complex social, environmental, political and economic challenges. Complex challenges are multidimensional, constantly changing, interconnected, nonlinear and… messy. In a social innovation lab, we bring together diverse stakeholders from across traditional boundaries who bring different perspectives on an issue. Together, we dive into the patterns, structures, and mindsets that are keeping a particular challenge entrenched in order to uncover root causes and take action. In the lab process we are purposefully experimenting and learning throughout to test, adapt and iterate on our ideas. This approach allows us to invest in our highest potential solutions with a greater degree of confidence. Through this guided process, we are increasing trust and collaboration, building capacities, knowledge and skills, and co-creating solutions.
In essence, social labs are three things: Systemic, Social and Experimental:
As we launched the lab, we established a Guide Group consisting of 12 nonprofit leaders and stakeholders with different perspectives
on the sector. The purpose of the Guide Group is to bring knowledge, experience and wisdom to the process, and to keep us aligned
with our purpose, values and needs of the community. With regular sessions throughout the year, the Guide Group supports
decision-making at various milestones along the way.
The lab process is iterative and emergent. Although the overall trajectory of the process takes us from understanding the challenges
within the system to implementing solutions, we are constantly moving through a process of listening, observing, responding and
The first year of the lab focused on Systems & Story Mapping – a process that included workshops, interviews, extensive document
reviews and data visualization resulting in a challenge map that identified key issues and challenges within Calgary’s nonprofit
sector. This map was vetted and validated through a community insights process which led to the identification of high potential
areas for change.
The map on the following page is a visualization of the themes that emerged through the interviews, workshops and document review
processes. We approached the creation of the map using the Impact Gaps Canvas developed by Daniela Papi Thorton in order to
understand both the challenge and solutions landscape relative to our overall question.
It is important to remember that complex systems are dynamic, nonlinear and constantly changing. A system map is never complete;
however, the stories and experiences shared with us through the interview process and workshops along with in-depth document
reviews from local, provincial, national and international sources give us a deeper understanding of some of the challenges, dynamics
and patterns within the system.
A social innovation lab goes beyond simply understanding and mapping a challenge. The Nonprofit Resilience Lab is about creating
meaningful change within the sector. The second year of the lab will involve diving into co-design, ideation, prototyping, experimentation
and testing new ideas. In order to do this, we need to identify high potential areas for change within the system.
The Lab team examined the patterns, relationships and connections within the system to identify points where intervention or change
could potentially have transformative impact. In addition, we looked at key areas in the map and asked the following questions with the
The next year of the lab will focus on co-design in the area of Data + Storytelling. Co-design is an approach to designing with, not for,
people. We will bring together a team of 10-12 people with different perspectives, lived experiences and voices around the topic.
Co-design uses creative and participatory methods with a focus on shared power and equity. The co-design phase of the lab will run
from September 2022 to September 2023.
Interested in learning more, or getting involved? Send us an email!