NouLAB Looking to Help Solve Problems in Province

The Daily Gleaner (Fredericton) 
Tue Dec 27 2016
Page: A5
Section: Main
Byline: Emma Davie

Amanda Hachey knows two points of view are better than one.

Hachey is the director of NouLAB, a social innovation lab created at the University of New Brunswick that looks to engage stakeholders from all points of view in order to address the province's most pressing challenges.

"This is actually getting community, business, non-profits at the table while we're still trying to solve the problem together. So then there's ownership of the problem and better understanding of what the problem actually is," Hachey said.

Last year, NouLAB brought together 35 people across seven teams to discuss issues affecting the province.

"Social housing, food security, rural revitalization, newcomer employment, wellness. The teams had representation from government, community, private sector and users, and so they went through a process of defining a problem from all of those different perspectives, because often people are looking at the problem from different angles," Hachey said.

This year, NouLAB has two teams made up of members from government, the non-profit sector, the private sector and the public to look at two problems.

"One team is working on the negative impacts of ageism towards seniors, and they'll be prototyping an inter-generational education program," Hachey said.

"The other team is working on gender equality in the tech sector. So they'll be working with tech companies to create a prototype for how we bring more gender parity into the tech sector. Those teams have already started their problem framing and user centre design methodology work and in the new year, they'll be doing their prototypes and testing those into the community."

NouLAB was created at UNB in 2015 by the New Brunswick Social Policy Research Network and the Pond-Deshpande Centre with a mission to create the "nouveau" New Brunswick.

Pond-Deshpande Centre executive director Karina LeBlanc said in a media release that the small size of New Brunswick is actually an advantage for dealing with social challenges.

"We are very closely connected to each other. So the difference between a person who has an idea, a person who can make a decision, a person who can change policy and a person who can invest is probably one degree of separation at best," she said.

Hachey said NouLAB uses startup business methodology and interactions with stakeholders to map out the system they're examining, get a sense of how it works for someone using the system, and start testing prototypes for possible improvements.

"So what is the actual problem we're trying to solve and who's impacted by that and what is that user experience. And then how can we better understand how the system works in order to find the best leverage point. So the minimum viable prototype for the highest impact," she said.

"For example, the newcomer employment team was working on how to get youth into employment sooner. The value of getting all these stakeholder groups together gave them the opportunity to better understand how the players all work in the system, and now they're working on a prototype around that."

Hachey said the collaboration and "breaking down silos" is what makes the program attractive to stakeholders, in particular the provincial government.

"Often if it's government, they're trying to solve problems and they go out and engage community after something is already past date," she said.

"It's actually getting out and testing things. So not developing a pilot program after two or three years of studies and then several hundred thousand dollars out there to implement it and find out what doesn't work at that point. It's what's the minimum viable thing that we can start right now and who is our user group to test it with, get feedback from that user group and bring it back in."

Hachey said continuing to build bridges through various groups will help make problem-solving easier for the province.

"I've seen over and over again the value of getting multiple voices at the table when trying to solve problems or get through sticky issues," she said.

"NouLAB has provided is a platform to continuously do that."

Amanda Hachey