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Ideation should be grounded in a strong understanding of the problem’s systemic context.

Ideation should be grounded in a strong understanding of the problem’s systemic context.

Most social labs involve an initial stage of “systems sensing”: conducting research, interviewing key stakeholders, and mapping the system as a whole to identify the nature of the problem and potential leverage points for change. WellAhead spent two years systems sensing at a national level to frame the issue of integrating wellbeing in schools. This process identified everyday practices and participatory change processes as possible leverage points for change. Though there was an initial “building the foundation” stage at the pilot district level that was meant to enable each community to further frame the issue in relation to their local context, in reality, there was little time to do so. As a result, there was a heavy reliance on insights gathered at the national level and an assumption that these would apply equally to the pilot districts. 

Taking the time necessary for local stakeholders to develop a collective, big picture understanding of the challenge and identify a shared inquiry question would have been a valuable step for school districts. This may have enabled even those districts that were successful in moving forward, in two ways:

  • Generating more locally relevant solutions: Understanding the local challenges may have resulted in everyday practice ideas that targeted these systemic issues.
  • Greater buy-in into a deeper change process: Taking the time to analyze issues around student wellbeing in the community may have encouraged participants to take a more comprehensive approach, using everyday practices as a catalyst towards more systemic change.

In most of the pilot districts, there was a strong impetus to push ahead, which often meant forsaking the deeper thinking that should be done at the “Building the Foundation” stage. Our approach in working with SD 92 Nisga’a was less stringent. In particular, we recognized that as an Indigenous community, it was important that our approach be culturally appropriate. On the advice of a Nisga’a government staff member, we were careful to “identify ways to build on a Nisga’a approach” rather than “adapt a WellAhead process to Nisga’a”. The process of building relationships and creating buy-in from all four villages, supported by discussions between McConnell Foundation and Nisga’a Lisims Government leaders, ensured a strong grounding in local issues and priorities.