Collective Impact

Chrysalis - A Social Innovation Incubator

Creating meaningful solutions starts with gaining a deep understanding of the individual’s need…

On November 19th, I had the opportunity to visit Chrysalis. To gain a grasp on Chrysalis, its history is important. In 1968, Chrysalis emerged as a Centennial project guided by the University of Alberta. It was created by community members and parents who envisioned adults with disabilities having equal opportunities to be involved in community. Historically, Chrysalis trained adults with developmental disabilities to produce manufactured goods using automated machinery. It was the first of its kind in the world. 

Over time, Chrysalis has evolved and now also provides personalized services to help adults with disabilities receive training, develop life and vocational skills, find employment, discover volunteer opportunities and realize a better quality of life. 

      A catalyst for Innovation: 

When designing programs for clients, there are always many questions to ask and answer to understand whether or not programming supports a person’s needs. Above all, Chrysalis asks: How do organizations connect more deeply with the individual's life to understand how programming can support them? 

Staff at Chrysalis recognized that the traditional system of setting up highly structured, top-down programming was inherently chaotic. There were deep barriers around scheduling and pressures on staff to have every detail defined to the exact second. When one thing in the system broke down within the original model, everything fell apart. On top of this rigid and vulnerable approach to services, staff were not even sure if clients enjoyed the programming being offered. Chrysalis staff began to explore other models for supporting individuals in the community. They landed on ‘Leaders as Designers'

  Leaders as Designers:  

Leaders as designers inherently have to see things differently. Meeting with the leaders at Chrysalis, I learned about programs being co-creatively developed through a human-centred design approach and collective impact model. In discovering how this way of working became a reality, I began to notice that the leadership at Chrysalis understands themselves as those with the ability to think critically and use design to create processes for change.

I think this is happening because the leadership fosters a space for innovation through what John Kotter calls a dual or a secondary operating system. One side of the leadership spectrum is management working with reporting, budgets, and strategic planning in the space of caution, along traditional business lines. Simultaneously, the other side is building relationships and planning by design with the permission to be creative. This is supported through an environment that offers training for staff to think, learn and work in ways that add value by reimagining how programming can be designed. In fact, Kotter suggests the duality should not be in competition, but a confluence of the formal and the informal, if successful transformation is to be achieved.

The duality of this operating system enables Chrysalis to lead as an incubator for social innovation that is creating new ways to develop, design and implement services for the individuals they serve. 

What is Human-Centred Design?

Human-centred design (HCD) is a creative approach to problem solving that starts with the person and ends with an innovative solution to meet that person’s specific needs. It supports service delivery by better understanding what the individual and his/her/their family or community want. HCD does not claim to solve the root cause of a problem rather it is a process that gives designers and clients the opportunity to try together!

In learning about and understanding HCD, the Fostering Innovation Group emerged at Chrysalis and is what I call the creative nebulous for innovative programming that starts with the person! 

Becoming a Baker: A client of Chrysalis wanted to work in a bakery. Having a disability created barriers to access whereby the individual was unable to secure employment in a bakery. Staff turned to HCD. Through the process of listening, observing and being open to the unexpected, a new idea was tested and designed for the individual to have the opportunity to bake. This individual was able to bake her own goods and sell them at Community Fairs across Edmonton

Using a creative yet structured problem solving process (HCD) develops trusting relationships and builds a strong sense of resiliency among staff and individuals. This culture is supported by strong leaders who preserve the culture of trust, allowing participants in the design process to try things out and fail at first, because they know it takes time, inquiry and iteration to provide meaningful opportunities for people to engage in designing their own solutions.

                       What is Collective Impact?

Collaboration is nothing new. The social sector is filled with examples of partnerships, networks, and other types of joint efforts. But collective impact initiatives are distinct. John Kania & Mark Kramer describe collective impact “as the commitment of a group of important actors from different sectors to a common agenda for solving a specific social problem. Unlike most collaborations, collective impact initiatives involve a centralized infrastructure, a dedicated staff, and a structured process that leads to a common agenda, shared measurement, continuous communication, and mutually reinforcing activities among all participants.”

Chrysalis is in the process of using the Collective Impact model to provide improved services to the individuals they serve. In doing the day to day work at Chrysalis, by interacting with employers and other service agencies the Chrysalis staff had realized that everyone was operating in silos, while expecting global or broader outcomes. This acknowledged that the expected overall impact was not being met. Unemployment for persons with disabilities has remained at around 80% for many years. So the idea of collective impact was proposed. Chrysalis has managed to garner buy-in with service agencies, employers, and funders for a generative look at the real systemic issues that people face. The outcomes are unknown, yet the vision is strong. As the process continues to unfold, I will keep you updated on how it unravels. 

 What is the Impact?

Creating new ways for developing new things is not easy, especially within historically strong and influential organizations. Yet, as the nucleus of innovation works in parallel with the traditional operating system at Chrysalis, the positive results speak for themselves and make the case to for continuing to support HCD approaches and processes internally.

Embedded HCD as a change process within Chrysalis has led to the discovery of hidden talents among staff, a shift away from resistance to change towards an embrace of HCD among individuals’’ parents, and a renewed sense of positivity, knowing individuals participating in outcomes they want to see for themselves and being included in a process that supports their own vision of a good life.  

As social innovation continues to grow in the province of Alberta, how do we begin to create a culture among organizations where it is “cool” to do things differently and place people and innovation at the heart of the how we design social change? Perhaps in the spirit of Chrysalis, this is our project for 2017 and Canada’s sesquicentennial.

By Aleeya Velji

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