What’s this?

Social services can be lonely.

In April 2014, a team of six moved into a social housing complex in Burnaby, British Columbia to capture the everyday realities of folks living there. Most folks were interfacing with a range of social services – from community living to mental health to adult education – but despite their connections, were lonely and stuck. The same was true for many of the staff we met. Just like the folks they supported, staff were a bit lonely, stuck, and lacking a source of continuous feedback and ideas. It’s so easy to get into delivery mode – there’s so much need, and so much to do – that every day ends up being a bit like Groundhog day.

We wanted to find a way to disrupt the same-old, same-old. And give staff the time, the space, and the resources to make & test fresh ideas with folks from the ground-up.

The inspiration

Innovative companies, like Google and 3M, recognize that great ideas don’t just come out of thin air. They come out of having dedicated time, space, resources, and yes, methods.

In social organizations, it can be pretty hard to find time, spaces, and resources. And we tend to confuse meetings and committees for methods. Not anymore! We won’t be producing recommendations. We’ll be producing prototypes: small-scale versions of new roles, routines, services, back-end systems, etc. Maybe it’s a process to hire & orient casual staff; maybe it’s re-configuring a group home; maybe it’s a new videographer role to highlight great practice.

Our big goal is to test how to integrate The Fifth Space permanently into social services. So that ‘social research and development’ is just part of the DNA.

Introducing the Fifth Space

After spending 6-weeks on a RV meeting staff at all levels of the Burnaby Association for Community Inclusion, Simon Fraser Society for Community Living and posAbilities, we selected 29 Fellows.  Here’s the role description for a Fellow:

  • Be part of a small, multi-disciplinary team
  • Take on a project your team chooses
  • 20% of your work time dedicated to the project
  • Learn a new way of researching, visualizing, making, and testing bottom-up ideas
  • Make decisions on-the-spot rather than pushing ideas up-the-line
  • Swap insights and get feedback from colleagues across 3 agencies

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