Blue light emanates from a light bulb - showing innovation that comes from working together

Honest dialogue fuels collaborative social innovation

Blue light emanates from a light bulb - showing innovation that comes from working together

When I was asked to be part of the Leading Boldly Network’s Collaborative Social Innovation project, I was thrilled to have an opportunity to focus on some of the larger issues that seemed to be getting in the way of social change. I, like many others as I would discover, struggled with putting my finger on exactly what was standing in the way of social change.

‘Articulating the Value of the Sector’ was the working title of our project. For 15-or so months, this became the itch that myself and a handful of other seasoned leaders, just couldn’t quite scratch. I realize now of course, that this was the impetus of the initiative.

I’ll explain.

By definition, the emphasis of collaborative social innovation is to address complex social issues, namely those beyond the purview of any one organization. It is also an acknowledgement that the reason we haven’t tackled these difficult issues already is that the process of doing so is complicated, not well understood, resource and incredibly time intensive.

It takes a very long time to curate the connections and culture supportive of openly exploring our topic. The methodology was simple – maintain curiosity and openness. And along the way, we invited others to join the conversation and unpack our collective and individual perceptions and challenge our mental models.

Space (both physical and metaphysical), conditions (time and yes, food!) and explicit trust fueled our conversations and nurtured relationships that would not otherwise have happened. Together, we walked arm in arm through a grey and unrestricted space that allowed for rich and honest dialogue.

In our quest to capture an elusive hypothesis, I realized the space for conversation was really our project. And, in my opinion, critical to move us beyond what we do to why we do it. Now that’s progress.

Patricia Jones works at Catholic Family Service. She is an active participant in United Way’s Leading Boldly Network.