If you’ve been following the development of the WellAhead initiative, you’ve probably asked yourself the very reasonable question, “what will this actually look like?” We, too, have struggled at times to bring this concept – using a social innovation lab approach to integrating wellbeing into schools – to fruition. Thanks to a stellar team, some great advice from experts across the country, and incredible passion and interest on the ground, it has finally happened.
In July, we selected six BC communities to take part as pilot districts in the first year of WellAhead (out of a total of 41 applicants, representing 2/3 of all school districts in the province!). Since then, we’ve been working with these six districts – Alberni, Coquitlam, Nisga’a, Okanagan Skaha, Sea to Sky and Greater Victoria – to take them through the first stages of the social innovation lab process. This process begins with “building the foundation” – examining data and hearing from stakeholders to understand the local context. In each district, we are working with a WellAhead Community Liaison and a Local Planning Team who are leading the process with support from the WellAhead team.
In late August, we brought people from these six districts together for two days to orient them to WellAhead and provide training on social innovation labs and developmental evaluation. Later that week, we held out official public launch at the Kelty Summer Institute: Promoting Mental Wellness in BC School Communities. At that event, we were able to take the 250 educators, community partners, parents and students through an ideation workshop, where they collaboratively surfaced ideas for everyday practices that could positively impact student wellbeing.
What we learned
- The concept of everyday practices makes sense: Participants in the Kelty workshops generated dozens of ideas and narrowed them down to 23 they felt were most desirable, impactful, feasible, viable, and integratable into the school setting. It was no trouble at all for groups to envision the probable benefits of daily check-ins, greeting every student who walked through the door, or random acts of kindness.
- Our design principles of multiple perspectives and co-ownership are realistic: It is key to the WellAhead approach that ideas be generated by groups representing multiple perspectives, and that these groups have a sense of shared ownership over the solutions that emerge. We found that our workshop tools supported the rapid achievement of these two objectives. Participants appreciated having structured ways to build off one another’s ideas and to narrow them down together.
- Co-creation and emergence are challenging, for everyone: It is part of our values to not simply provide a solution, but rather to take communities through a process that is tailored to their needs and context. This involves a fine balance around structure – providing enough that the pilot districts know what is available to them, but not so much that they are boxed in. Sometimes this balance is achieved more quickly than others. While working in an emergent way allows for openness to changes in course, it can cause feelings of uncertainty for all those involved, as there is no definite plan. Overall, it still feels like this is the best way, but it’s a new way of working that we are still adjusting to.
Soon, we’ll be moving into the brainstorming ideas stage, where each district will hold their own ideation and idea refinement sessions. We’re looking forward to sharing our learnings with you along the way.
On a personal note, I’ll be taking some time off to have and nurture a child of my own. In future blogs, you’ll be hearing from other members of the WellAhead team – including Elana Ludman, who will be taking over as National Lead – as well as the pilot districts themselves. As always, we welcome your comments and suggestions!