Part Two - Bridges
In part two of 'Notes of a Newcomer' blog series, Clara Bird meets with community members that are building bridges for social innovation to flourish in the Waterloo Region.
Author: Clara Bird
Originally written on October 2, 2008
It is now undeniably fall and utterly unlike the sunny morning when I started writing this account. I am out at my parents’ house in Haysville. Again, I am out on the porch, only this time I am covered in blankets, sipping hot tea and watching the rain and the trees swaying in the wind.
I have reached a natural pause in the story. My first interview with Lynn set the context and gave me some clues to understanding this region: its unique capacities and its challenges. To paint a complete picture of this region would be a lifelong project. For the purpose of understanding the capacity for social innovation here, I will now focus in on the community characteristics that seem to either enable or inhibit social innovations as they emerge and struggle for viability in the Waterloo Region. First, though, I take a stab at linking what I have heard so far with what I am absorbing of social innovation models, from Frances Westley and others.
Beginning with Lynn and through Sunshine’s story, i am beginning to see that this region may be a place where renewal and reorganization thrive. In terms of social innovation models, this directly relates to what is called “the back loop of an adaptive cycle”: the natural periods of time when elements of the old are left behind and new possibilities get lots of attention. The entrepreneurial, creative, bottom up, self reliant and maverick spirit of Waterloo Region means that new ideas abound, are usually welcome and appear to be supported.
These qualities are affirmed in Isabel’s story. However, as I conjectured initially after talking to Lynn, some of the capacities essential for the periods of renewal and reorganization may perversely be limiting a capacity for the growth and conservation, or what is called “the front loop” of the adaptive cycle. It is in this phase of innovation that ideas become institutionalized. They are scaled up, spread out and become part of the fabric of every day life.
I wonder if initiatives and organizations in this Region may at times unintentionally block social innovations by not making place for outsiders in central roles. In an environment that lacks relevant diversity, or that fails to include all voices connected to the place or the objectives, ideas will be born, but then may struggle to be brought to fruition. Ironically perhaps, having a strong grassroots stakeholder model in which most ideas must be collaboratively imagined, may mean that some potentially important innovations are not widely enough supported, do not get approved up, and therefore, never see the light of day.
I shall now turn my attention to the remaining interviews with the hope of deepening my understanding of these capacities and their roots, as well as these challenges and their origins.
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About ‘Notes of a Newcomer’: The ‘Notes of a Newcomer’ project began in late 2008 and is both an investigation into social innovation at the local level and an exploration of Waterloo Region specifically. Told through the experiences of Clara Bird, a young person newly arrived in the region, it was also an opportunity for SiG@Waterloo to build, and build upon, its relationships in the local community. As a result of the exploration, a book was published consisting of a series of interviews with community members. Through the ‘Notes of a Newcomer’ Blog Series, we hope to share these stories with you.