The New Brunswick Social Innovation Lab


In New Brunswick the economy is shrinking, the population is dwindling, rural communities are disappearing, literacy rates are dismal, obesity rates are above the national average, and our social housing stock needs to be revitalized. We know that we need to do things differently, to think differently about these problems, and to innovate, but how?

The Pond-Deshpande Centre and the NB Social Policy Research Network have partneredwith the MaRS Solutions Lab, GovLab, The Province of New Brunswick, the McConnel Foundation and NB Non-Profit Housing to create a provincial Social Innovation Lab to address New Brunswick’s toughest challenges.

Multi-sector lab teams focusing on a variety of challenge areas are being supported through aprocess of problem framing, system mapping, user-centred research, design and prototyping. The series of workshops started November 10th and will be running through to April 2016. The inaugural workshop, led by Alan Kantrow, SENIOR ADVISOR TO The Governance Lab @NYU, focused on the issue of problem framing. This session was meant to get participants thinking differently about their problem statements so as to define them in an actionable way. With an elegant balance between professorial lecture and story telling, the session exceeded expectations AND got the participants thinking differently about the problems they wish to address.

The most common—and most easily remedial -- point of failure in innovation efforts lies at the stage of problem definition. From the pre-work done by participant teams, it rapidly became clear that efforts to frame problems often go wrong because:

  1.  What Is Presented As A Problem Is Really A Solution
  2. What Is Presented As A Problem Is Really A Symptom
  3. What Is Presented As A Single, Actionable Problem Is Really A Collection Of Problems Lumped Together
  4. What Is Presented As A Problem Is Located Too Far Downstream Toward Solutions And Not Sufficiently Upstream Toward Causes
  5. What Teams Have In Mind When They Think About Solving Problems Involves Not Really “Solving” Them But, Rather, Moving Them Onto Someone Else’s Plate And/Or Changing Their Shape

Jerry Koh, Manager @ Toronto’s MaRS Solutions Lab, led lab teams through a series of system mapping exercises in workshop two. Building on the tightly-framed challenge statements developed on day one, lab teams were asked to “get visual” and map out what their problem looked like. Teams were asked to identify the individuals and organizations that 1) influence the outcome of the challenge, 2) are influenced by the outcome, and 3) the relationships between these parties and the challenges.

By creating visual representations of their respective challenge landscapes, lab teams were able to begin identifying the most promising places to intervene. Throughout the program, teams will build on this preliminary work, refining their understanding of the challenge, identifying optimal intervention points, and building prototypes to test their innovative ideas.

“Some costs are sunk. Don't let loyalty to those prevent choice moving forward.”

You can learn more about these teams of innovators, the challenges they are taking on, and the process they are participating in at the GovMaker Conference November 23-24 at the Delta Fredericton. You can also follow on twitter: #NBLabs.


Who are the partners?

The Pond-Deshpande Centre

The Pond-Deshpande Centre (PDC) was launched at the University of New Brunswick (UNB) in 2011 as the result of a generous donation from two serial entrepreneurs, Boston based Desh and his wife Jaishree Deshpande and Saint John based Gerry Pond. The mandate of the PDC was to play the role of catalyst in stimulating more entrepreneurial activity at UNB. @ponddeshpande

The NB Social Policy Research Network

The NB Social Policy Research Network (NBSPRN) is a partnership between the Government of New Brunswick and the four publicly-funded universities in the province. The Network’s mission is to advance citizen engagement and an evidence-based approach to policy development through cross-sectoral collaboration. Recently the Network launched the GovMaker Conference to explore the benefits of open data and open government for New Brunswick. @rrpsnbsprn

MaRS Solutions Lab

As a public and social innovation lab, the MaRS Solutions Lab brings together governments,foundations, corporations, non-governmental organizations, academia and the greater community to help unravel complex problems from the citizen’s perspective. We collaborate with users and stakeholders to develop, prototype and scale new solutions, and create opportunities to learn how to change the systems that help us thrive in the 21st century. For more on labs, read the MaRS report Labs: Designing the Future @solutions_lab


The GovLab’s mission is « to improve people’s lives by changing the way we govern ». Funded by The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, The GovLab Academy is a free, online community for those interested in teaching and learning how to open their institutions and work more collaboratively to solve public problems that improve people’s lives.

The J. W. McConnell Family Foundation

Established in 1937, the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation engages Canadians in building a more innovative, inclusive, sustainable, and resilient society. The Foundation’s purpose is to enhance Canada’s ability to address complex social, environmental and economic challenges by developing, testing, and applying innovative approaches and solutions; by strengthening the community sector; and by collaborating with partners in the community, private, and public sectors.

NB Non-Profit Housing Association

The New Brunswick Non Profit Housing Association Inc. (NBNPHA) provides expertise and support for the nonprofit and affordable housing sector in New Brunswick. The NBNPHA Launched the NB Housing Lab on May 7th 2015 in Edmundson, NB and is a participant in the GovLab Academy.

Philip LeBlancComment