Transdisciplinary Systemic Innovation Lab @ WISIR

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Welcome to the Waterloo Institute for Social Innovation and Resilience (WISIR) Transdisciplinary Systemic Innovation Lab, a Winter 2023 term participatory learning Lab made possible by the University of Waterloo Centre for Teaching Excellence (CTE)'s Learning Innovation and Teaching Enhancement grant. This lab will allow the university community to focus our top-talent onto local issues to find solutions with global impact.

The lab is a research study investigating innovative approaches to enhancing teaching and learning and how to foster deep student learning at the University of Waterloo. The lab is designed as a miniature social innovation lab based on the ground-breaking approaches created by WISIR as outlined in the 2016 Social Innovation Lab Guide.

A social innovation lab is a curated participatory design experience in which participants focus on a ‘wicked problem’ – a tricky, complex challenge persists despite the best efforts of companies, governments, charities, and academics to solve them. Climate change, mental health and wellness, social inclusion, and chronic poverty are amongst the wicked problems that have global impact and local manifestations. This social innovation lab brings together researchers, community stakeholders, and students from a variety of relevant disciplines and organizations to build deep, shared understandings the problem at hand, providing a platform for students to design and test early-stage solutions.

The 2023 Transdisciplinary Systemic Innovation Lab

The 2023 Transdisciplinary Systemic Innovation Lab will tackle affordable housing, a pervasive 21st century challenge with immediate consequences for Waterloo Region. Guided by a team of facilitators at WISIR, students, instructors, researchers, and community leaders from across Waterloo Region will attend multiple in-person or remote design sessions to better understand affordable housing, design innovative solutions, and test these prototype solutions locally.

2023 Transdisciplinary Systemic Innovation Lab Timeline

  1. 2022
    1. Oct
      1. Registration opens

    2. Dec
      1. Registration closes

  2. 2023
    1. Jan
      1. Instructor convening

        Instructors will get a chance to examine the learning principles of the lab and get clarity on what they can expect their participating students to experience and submit as a final report.

      2. Instructor convening (make-up)

        Make-up convening scheduled for instructors who could not make the earlier convening. Instructors will get a chance to examine the learning principles of the lab and get clarity on what they can expect their participating students to experience and submit as a final report.

    2. Feb
      1. Lab Kick-off Social (Tentative)

        All participants, facilitators, researchers, and interested stakeholders will be invited to a social event on campus to meet one another and begin building the social connections that create such a positive learning and development experience in social innovation labs.

      2. Lab officially opens

        Design sessions will run once a week for the duration of October. Specific times and dates are to be determined based on participants' schedules.

    3. Mar
      1. Reflection and analysis

        In the months of November and December, the research team will run the reflective session and conduct research interviews with study participants. 

    4. Apr
      1. Final report publication

        This is the latest date by which a final report on the research conducted will be distributed to participants and the academic community. 

Who can participate?

  • University of Waterloo course instructors
    Any and all University of Waterloo instructors teaching a course in the 2023 Winter Semester can choose to participate in this study. Learn more and register as a UW course instructor here.
  • University of Waterloo students
    University of Waterloo students enrolled in a participating course can apply to participate in this study. This registration page will open at the beginning of the Winter 2023 term.
  • Researchers and academics from any institution investigating affordable housing. Learn more and register as a community member here.
  • Waterloo Region and surrounding area community leaders, stakeholders, and people with lived experience of affordable housing. Learn more and register as a community member here.

Lab Design

The lab consists of four design sessions and one post-lab reflective session. WISIR Lab Designer Tara Campbell is drawing much her designs from the recently published book Design Journeys through Complex Systems.

1] Framing the system

This session will set the context for the lab, the topic of affordable housing in the region, and begin to delineate the boundaries that participants hope to stay within as they work through the design process.

2] Understanding the system

Understanding explores the forces that create system behaviours. Well-defined systems methods are translated to design tools for finding and mapping variables and identifying feedback loops, and locating leverage points with high potential for system change. In this session we will pull together analysis of the current system from insights from the Framing workshop and Listening homework into visual maps. 

3] Envisioning desired futures

Here we will move the journey toward desired future systems, with several tools for collaborative foresight and defining total system value. Possible futures desired by system stakeholders are articulated and the envisioned value created by the vision is mapped. 

4] Exploring the possibility space

The possibility space explores the most effective design interventions with potential for system change. Systemic design tools help define scenarios, leverage points for change, and identify the places and times for influential intervention. 

5] Reflection

This short reflection session examines:

  • what was learned, what was missing
  • what partiipcants felt they were able to contribute and where they want to go deeper
  • positionality and “should we?”
  • tools and opportunities for further learning