Blending Youth Wellbeing, Codesign and Social/Systems Entrepreneurship
My top 15 resources from four years of creating positive ripples with a social lab
In 2013 we were given a rare chance to work on the pressing challenge of youth mental health in Aotearoa New Zealand, through the Prime Minister’s Social Media Innovation Fund. This post covers some of the key resources we created, to keep the positive ripples moving.
Our approach was to create a platform which reached out across sectors and disciplines to enable new evidence-based interventions to emerge, and existing ones to improve.
It was called Lifehack. (no, not the website “Lifehacks” or “Lifehacker”)
Eventually the Lifehack team recognised that we were operating in an area which can best be termed a 'systems level initiative’ (a niche of these types of initiatives are sometimes called Social Labs — which I may refer to later).
Briefly, this means that instead of working on the challenge at the level where it is most evident — such as trying to improve mental health service provision — we were working on the systems which enable / inhibit youth mental health over time — such as the codesign capacity of Government, or the understanding of latest wellbeing research in Schools.
If one strand of a spider web breaks off, the spider can’t just reattach that single strand, it needs to re-work many parts of the web to make it strong again, build a new web somewhere else, or perhaps change the way it builds webs entirely.
Systems level initiatives take this principle, seeking to understand whether aspects of a system need to be re-worked, new interventions need to be developed, or internal change needs to take place.
Systems initiatives focus on the interconnectivity of the parts of a system, rather than developing things in isolation.
This kind of systems level initiative is notoriously hard to fund. We were lucky in that our funder, the Ministry of Social Development recognised the work we were doing was much needed. In my 2 years of coordinating the Social Labs global community of practice (now wound up, but originally at social-labs.org), funding was the constant challenge which people expressed frustration with.
At Lifehack we took the public money we accepted seriously, deciding to colour in the picture of what systems interventions actually do, and how they work. Instead of internalising all our learning so only we had ‘the magic recipe’, we realised our impact would be much greater if we generated resources and shared them openly. I’m seeing a trend toward this way of working around the world now, which is promising.
One reason we aimed to do this, was to increase trust in the work we were doing, as well as creating space for other systems initiatives to thrive around the world.
With the review of mental health sector currently happening in Aotearoa New Zealand, I feel it is important to recognise the value and importance of building on the legacy of the number of systems level initiatives that have (and still are) working in NZ, and to fund more of them.
Recently I’ve been looking back on Lifehack’s impact over the 4 years it operated. I’m so proud of the work our team did, so I wanted to share a few of the stand out pieces we wrote and resources we created and shared, so others can find them easily.
Building the Relational Field
The relationships between people we worked with and the new capabilities we supported those people to build, are the vital long tail of the work we did at Lifehack.
This article I wrote on The Relational Field goes some way to detailing my thoughts about the value of this work. But it’s enough to say here that of all the energy we created, new interventions, new capabilities we supported people to build — the relationships are what will continue to create impact into the future.
Musings on the importance of the quality of relationships in the context of social labs and social innovation programsmedium.com
I feel this video goes a little way to showing a microcosm of that work:
Indeed Lifehack’s YouTube channel is full of these interesting insights.
In addition to the work we did on building social and human capital in the sector, we created a number of resources and guides to help others around the country and the world to do this work.
Radical governance transparency
Open source program design
Resources for codesign, social entrepreneurship and youth wellbeing
I am always on the look out for great resources created by other initiatives around the world, which support effective social and environmental change. Please do reply to this article, with some of your own favourite resources.
In 2018, I intend to start building all this knowledge into my current area of passion: environmental conservation and restoration.
We’ll be looking for opportunities, partners and collaborators to build a Lab in Australia and/or Aotearoa New Zealand, to develop strategies to tackle the environmental challenges we face.
Please get in touch if you’re interested:
Sam Rye | Connecting with People with Purpose. Changemaker, Doer, Thinker, Social Enterprise & Social Good.samrye.co
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