Toward Participatory Governance? Launch of a Solutions Lab at MaRS in partnership with the Ontario government

The Ontario government has partnered with MaRS to launch a ‘Solutions Lab’. Assistant Deputy Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Katherine Hewson, at the ONN Conference in September 2012, noted that part of the intention of such an initiative is to put clients at the centre of government services.

This signals a shift toward a more participatory approach to governance. Social Innovation Labs like this have been implemented in other countries to change the way public policy and/or public services are developed; SiG at Waterloo provides a helpful description. It’s about the co-creation of solutions WITH citizens.

Christian Bason, of MindLab in Denmark, presented on MindLab’s innovation work within the Danish government at MaRS in June 2011. It was a compelling story – you can view his presentation here: http://vimeo.com/23657554. Bason noted he was also in Canada to meet with the Ontario government to share his experience with them… apparently they liked what they heard. Bason’s book, Leading Public Sector Innovation: Co-creating for a Better Society is a great source of practical advice on how to apply design principles and work with end-users to develop innovative and impactful solutions to social problems.

Participatory governance and co-creation of solutions have applications for organizations and the way they govern and do their work. In terms of governance, this involves engaging the communities served in the decision-making of your organization. For organizations serving marginalized populations or youth, this may require the provision of support in the form of education, mentorship and changing the way the board engages in and beyond the boardroom. Creating an environment that is comfortable for those who could otherwise be intimidated means ensuring they are not a singular voice, and actively encouraging them to share their perspectives on different issues. Engaging this diversity at a governance level will lead to richer discussions and different decisions.

A number of marginalized groups have adopted the term ‘nothing about us without us’ – and this speaks to their interest in participating more actively in shaping decisions about services. Beyond governance, engaging those you serve in the design and evaluation of your services is another path to greater participation and innovation.

Ruth and Sandi

QUESTIONS FOR LEADERS:

  • Why might your board, staff, community and clients get excited about a more participatory approach to governance and/or program design?
  • How could a more participatory approach lead to greater innovation?
  • What could your board do differently to share decision making more widely?