< Back to all Learnings

Ideas don’t necessarily need to be new: consider how to leverage existing solutions.

Ideas don’t necessarily need to be new: consider how to leverage existing solutions.

Social labs bring multiple and diverse stakeholders together to brainstorm innovative solutions to complex challenges. WellAhead’s hypothesis was that the input from multiple perspectives would result in more innovative, outside-the-box everyday practices, and that communities would welcome these fresh new ideas. This did not end up being the case: the practices that emerged from co-design at the district level were for the most part not “innovations”; they were either established practices in local schools, or drawn from existing evidence-based programs. 

This raised a question for us about the strongest challenge or question for communities to co-design solutions to. From our previous research, we knew that evidence-based approaches meet significant challenges to wider adoption due to their costs, time for training, and complex implementation protocols.1 Given that everyday practices were already happening in schools, it was perhaps not new ideas that were needed, but rather innovation on how to better leverage and scale up adoption of existing practices. 

The tension between supporting existing ideas and developing new ones was strong in SD 43 Coquitlam. This district was already a leader among BC school districts in promoting social and emotional learning before partnership with WellAhead, and local stakeholders were skeptical of the proposed design process from the start. This was indicated by the district’s Community Liaison early in the process:

“People that are more steeped in the language of SEL [social and emotional learning], and the practices of supporting and teaching SEL skills in schools are the most concerned about open brainstorming sessions. Their feelings are that studies already have shown ‘what works’ and ‘what doesn’t work’. The fear is putting an enormous amount of time into a process that ‘might’ generate a(n) everyday practice that they feel won’t create the result hoped for.” 

Conversely, SD 48 Sea to Sky was successful in building upon momentum from an existing practice, Circle, that already was being used by some teachers in the district and had significant backing in research and local Indigenous tradition. Building on an existing idea allowed participants to focus on collective ownership and adaptation of the idea, and on incorporating Circle into school and district-level discussions. 

Embry and Biglan (2008). Evidence-based Kernels: Fundamental Units of Behavioral Influence. Clin Child Fam Psychol Rev. 11(3) 75-113