Training the Archer: Accelerating Changemaking through Testing Assumptions Report

Training the Archer:  Accelerating Changemaking through Testing Assumptions Report

“But it is important to remember that building a toolkit is more than just putting arrows in your quiver. It is about learning, over time, through disciplined practice, how to become an archer.”- The Dawn of System Leadership, by Peter Senge, Hal Hamilton, & John Kania

Written by Alexandra Daignault, Mount Royal University (MRU) Graduate and Founder of Sarjesa Inc. , with Dan Overall, Executive Director of Trico Charitable Foundation and James Stauch, Director of the Institute for Community Prosperity at Mount Royal University (MRU) helping as advisors, this report sets out to understand if, and how, Canadian post-secondary students might be using tests, experimentation and effective learning to advance a social or environmental cause they are passionate about. As the report states:

“The field of changemaking is still emerging and there is much still to learn. Like the discipline of archery, it is not about collecting or committing knowledge to memory and then moving out into the world – instead it is about learning through discipline and practice within the complexities of the real world.”

Alexandra Daignault reflects:

“I think this report is unique in the sense that it provides a brief glimpse into a rapidly growing and ever emerging field of study. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to work alongside James and Dan on its creation, and it was a joy to speak to all of the participants.”

Alexandra Daignault Photo credit: Logee Photography

James Stauch comments on his insights from this report:

“In Canada, we need to do a better job of bridging the rigour of ‘scientific’ inquiry with the development of student changemakers.   We also need to work with and listen – REALLY listen – to the people who are to benefit, in theory, from a given social innovation.  It’s as if there’s two parallel universes in post-secondary – one where everything is questioned, and where we are hyper-sensitive to the agency and involvement of the end users, and one that avoids testing assumptions, critical reflection and community engagement like the plague.  We need fewer people with answers and more people with questions, at every level of the post-secondary journey.”

Dan Overall states:

“I think there are two very important takeaways in this report. One, changemaking seems to have realized that we need to engage in a dialogue with those we seek to help and co-create solutions with them. But, this report suggests more work needs to be done to equip changemakers with tools to keep their assumptions and cognitive biases in check so they can truly hear what people and experiences ‘in the field’ are trying to tell them. Secondly, in his new book The Purpose of Capital: Elements of Impact, Financial Flows, and Natural Being by Jed Emerson says “The silo allows us to focus and attain expertise yet then becomes the well shaft that traps us below the surface of the earth.” Alexandra’s report is silo-busting at its best, making a compelling argument that social innovation, social entrepreneurship, science, and lean thinking have much to offer each other in the quest to solve our planet’s problems. She is to be commended for making these crucial contributions to the field of changemaking.

Sample Chapters with Key Highlights:

Different Quivers for Different Arrows: Social Innovation v. Social Enterprise:

Key Highlight:

“The way in which the world understands changemaking, both in practice and as a field of intellectual inquiry, is still rapidly emerging, and it will take many voices and perspectives to drive it forward. Continually, scholars, practitioners, changemakers, and teachers grapple with questions like: how can movements, ventures, and other ‘solutions’ create sustainable impact? What are the key resources needed for a changemaking solution to thrive? How are changemakers to work through challenges and assumptions integral to their solution? These questions provide fertile soil for the development of theory, discourse and practice around social changemaking.”

Placing the Target: Lessons from Lean Impact:

Key Highlight:

“Just like the practice of learning to be an archer, entrepreneurship becomes a continual process of theorizing, testing, learning, and integrating/iterating – allowing solutions, movements, and ideas to accelerate their growth and deepen their impacts in a highly logical and methodical way. These processes and tools can be just as effective within the realm of social changemaking, where testing, measuring and iterating structures for impact become imperative to creating lasting positive impact. To this point, Nogah Kornberg, Associate Director of I-Think, writes: “Success is a student’s ability to test their models, understand their limits and modify their understanding as appropriate.” As the world of changemaking and social innovation continues to grow, small experiments and tests could go a long way toward developing social solutions and interventions that truly meet the needs of the communities they serve.”

Drawing the Bow: Our Collaborative Project:

Key Highlight:

“The discourse and practice of social entrepreneurship is in a constant state of flux, providing fertile ground for intellectual inquiry and practice. Additionally, within the sphere of popular culture, “changemaking” is on the rise – with many people deciding to live intentionally and with a changemaker mindset. Yet, as any emergent field, the work is messy, the definitions are porous, criticisms abound, and we have to be careful not to discard the past while discovering new ways forward. In the same way that changemaking requires input from both the social innovation and social enterprise schools of thought, as well as more established fields of inquiry and endeavour, we decided to undertake this work as a partnership between organizations with different theories of change. The shared goal being to understand if, and how, students might be using tests, experimentation and effective learning to move the needle forward on their chosen social cause.”

Anchoring Our Arrow: Complex Solutions for Complex Findings:

Key Highlight:

“Often, students were working on complex solutions to complex and intricate social or environmental problems. On the surface, student changemakers might appear to be tackling a single issue such as food security, yet often their proposed solutions addressed a range of social or environmental challenges – the silver thread of sustainability indirectly linking them all together. For example, one student was working on a solution to textile waste, while simultaneously working toward a goal of providing gainful employment to homeless citizens of her city.”

Loosening Our Bowstring: What We Found-The Initial Point of Entry: Campus Learning v. the School of Life:

Key Highlight:

“All of the students we engaged with credited their school experience as their initial point of entry into the problem context they were working on. Frequently, students encountered these problems, as well as the initial frameworks for imagining a potential solution, within their classrooms or extracurricular experiences. Organizations such as clubs, student centres, and on-campus hubs were cited as spaces of connection where students were able to explore both problems and solutions further. Two of the ten students alluded to lived experience, of the challenge they were working on, as the spark behind their solution.”

Follow Through: Learning Through Practice and Next Steps:

Key Highlight:

“The problems facing the world today are messy, and the solutions deeply interdisciplinary. They cross borders, demographics, and many other great divides. It stands to reason that our changemaking efforts, born from dialogue between disciplines, must act as bridges between communities, disciplines, and toolsets.”

 

Read the full report here.

History with RECODE and MRU & why this research is important:

This report was produced through a collaborative partnership between the Trico Charitable Foundation, the Institute for Community Prosperity at Mount Royal University and RECODE.

RECODE is a call to social innovation and social entrepreneurship —to redesign public institutions from the inside out; to disrupt business as usual; to found and grow new social enterprises; to create partnerships across institutional and sectoral boundaries – in short, to ‘RECODE’ our culture’s operating systems in order to achieve a more just, sustainable, and beautiful world.  Launched in 2014, RECODE is an initiative of the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation, created in collaboration with thought leaders and partners from the private, public, and not-for-profit sectors.

As part of Mount Royal University’s commitment to providing an extraordinary experience for undergraduate students, the Institute for Community Prosperity connects students with social impact learning through applied, community-partnered research, creative knowledge mobilization and systems-focused education. The Institute designs and hosts learning experiences to help students lead transformative change in their communities.

Trico Charitable Foundation has partnered with MRU on various research and projects including the 2014 Social Enterprise Sector Survey – Alberta, Women in Need Society case study, and the Trico Changemakers Studio.

Trico Charitable Foundation has worked with RECODE for over four years and, most lately and principally by bringing Map the System to Canada. 

This report rose out of a need to better understand the ways that students are effectively learning their way into changemaking and innovation. The Trico Charitable Foundation defines “effective learning” as the process of undergoing two crucial steps:

  1. Breaking down a proposed solution into its key uncertainties or unknowns (i.e. its key assumptions);
  2. Using experiments or otherwise acquiring knowledge that works through and resolves these key assumptions in the most efficient, fastest and effective way possible, thereby confirming the predicted path to the solution, or showing what different actions must be taken to address the challenge.

As the report concludes: “Teaching student changemakers how to adopt effective learning and embrace social impact, as a continual process of experimentation and iteration will enhance the trajectory and deepen the impact of their work.”

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