Contributed by: Janey Roh, InWithForward

Here we are! We are in the Fifth Space. It’s orientation day and we have a room of 28 Fifth Space Fellows. There is a mixture of excitement, anticipation, and confusion peppered with occasional nervous laughter. I can relate. That was me at the start of the Burnaby Starter Project back in April. No matter what anyone tells you about how it’s going to be, it’s never quite the same as experiencing it yourself. I remember my first week as an Apprentice with InWithForward and how overwhelming it was. It was so rapid that there was little time to process what was happening and to understand how I was going to apply all the things I was learning. That’s the same feedback I heard from my colleagues at the end of orientation day. That the day went by quickly, but that it was jam packed. Between the gallery walk about the history of the welfare state, the break dance crew performance, and going out to interview & observe strangers, there were so many new concepts introduced: outcomes, segmentation, projective methods, interactions. Concepts core to ‘prototyping’ and which will be applied to all projects that emerge within the Fifth Space.

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That’s the big idea of the Fifth Space: embedding a different way of working with the disability sector, starting with posAbilities, the Burnaby Association for Community Inclusion and Simon Fraser Society for Community Living. A way of working that starts from the bottom-up, rather than in boardrooms or meeting rooms, and is all about making, testing, and revising ideas for new services and systems. Over the next six months, Fellows will spend 20% of their work time learning the methods in teams. All so we can figure out how to make permanent time and space for innovation.

‘Teams’ was the theme of this past Tuesday’s Fifth Space module. Our goal was to help the fellows form great inter-agency teams around a series of problem statements that mattered to them. Each fellow brought 3 problem statements with them. We organized the problem statements according to user group: who is feeling the pain? and what is the pain? Fellows then spent the afternoon discovering their complementary strengths, and awarding each other badges: maker, gap-filler, go-er, analytic thinker, generative thinker, organizer, initiator. By the end of the day, 7 teams had formed: each with 3-5 Fellows and a blend of frontline and management staff.

It was towards the end of the day that it struck me. We had been talking about 20% time at Google and 3M and how to apply the concept to the social sector for the last six months. And here we were, actually doing it. Not just talking about it. We have 28 Fellows from 3 agencies coming together every week to work on what are some incredibly real and painful problems. We don’t know what will emerge. That’s part of the process. But having gone through the Starter Project, I know there is no turning back. That these methods and approaches will make an impact, and have implications on the service system that we cannot yet even imagine.


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