Social Innovation: social change solutions

Social Innovation: social change solutions

By Mark MacLeod,
President and CEO, ISM Canada





Society as we know it is undergoing rapid, and monumental change on virtually every front. How we address this change will play a role in shaping our world for many years into the future.

Because of many factors – ever-increasing delivery costs, our aging population, and more – our family of social programs is under significant stress. Our ability to manage and fund these programs to the level we all expect, is becoming a significant challenge.

As discussed in past columns, our previous “supply based” approach to program delivery is no longer working. This is not the fault of individuals or organizations – it is the result of the structures we have put into place to maintain our society. We have all in fact had a role in bringing our society to this point.

Social Innovation (i.e. the movement from a “supply based” model where resources are invested in the supply of services in response to a demand, to a “demand based” model, where resources are invested in reducing the demand) has become a popular academic solution, but while it is rapidly becoming accepted in concept, Social Innovation is in fact still immature and challenged in practice.

In past columns I’ve talked about the role government and businesses are, and need to be, playing in relation to the evolution of these programs. However most critical in all of this is the role community agencies and organizations need to/are beginning to, play in relation to Social Innovation.

In the past we have largely abdicated responsibility for running and maintaining our social programs to our governments. The nature of the way in which government services are organized, meant our “social” service delivery system was siloed. This worked for some services at one time, but in recent years it has resulted in less effective, sometimes problematic, unsustainable services and service delivery.

Government has been working very hard to change its delivery approach, but the nature of how government is structured has made moving to a new model very difficult.

Increasingly community-based, grass-roots-grown solutions are moving in to fill the void. In fact this void has led to the birth of innovative new organizations which are bridging the gap between the corporate, government and community worlds. Because these organizations don’t live specifically in any of the three worlds, they aren’t tied to pre-existing structures. As a result, they are more nimble and able to take calculated risks. As well, because they are more connected to the individuals in need, they are better able to bring together resources from across the public and private sector to more effectively address these needs.

The Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre in Calgary was initiated by Sheldon Kennedy in 2013. The centre, a non-profit organization, uses a unique hybrid model of service delivery, bringing together the Calgary Police Service, Calgary Region Children’s Services, Alberta Health Services, Alberta Justice, Calgary Crown Prosecutors’ Office, the RCMP, Alberta Education, The University of Calgary, and Treaty 7, to enable the delivery of integrated services from a single location.

The Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre in Calgary

Today the Centre houses 120 people including: the Calgary Child Abuse Unit, RCMP members, the Crown Prosecutor’s Office, 25 Alberta Health psychologists, four pediatricians, 30 social workers, Victims Service workers, play therapists, mental health workers, and more. The results have been nothing short of miraculous. The centre assesses approximately 150 cases per month. In 54 months 6,500 cases have been investigated through the center.

According to Sheldon Kennedy, the magic comes from the integration of services. Each morning, the multi-disciplinary service team meets in a room to triage new youth/system contact from the day and night before. Every case is examined to identify those that could most benefit from an integrated response.

The team works together, each member bringing its agency-specific expertise to the development of a solution from a whole-child perspective, rather than from a single sector-specific perspective (i.e. health, social services, justice etc.). The ability for the team to work collaboratively, and share data across agencies, provides a new level of insight into understanding the youth involved, rather than just the current incident.

“We’re looking at the whole picture now. It’s very difficult to make the best decision possible when we are only seeing a sliver of the X-ray,” said Sheldon Kennedy, board member, Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre.

The learnings from this collaborative approach have enabled the team to also initiate some preventative services. The Prenatal Outreach Support Team, for example, was launched to assist at-risk mothers in stabilizing their lives so they are able to care for their infants.

According to Kennedy just four years into the program, the number of infants being taken into the care of social services has dropped from 32 per cent to 17 per cent, and interestingly, the waiting list for pediatric services has seen a similar drop.

While Kennedy is pleased with the outcomes to date, he thinks there’s more the team can achieve. He speculates that leveraging the wealth of data sets available, integrating this data and then analyzing it for trends, could take this work to the next level, providing the team with the insights required to predict when, where, and how potential issues may arise, enabling them to take prevention measures.

Eden Care Communities in Regina

Eden Care Communities, based out of Regina is another example of a unique community-led initiative that is inspiring change in the way society looks at social programs. Eden Care is a charitable non-profit, intergenerational housing and healthcare organization delivering programs and services to seniors, adults and children, and which is revolutionizing how we deliver services to our aging population.

The organization currently runs eight housing companies, offering assisted living, personal care, affordable housing, long-term care, early childhood programming, and is in the early stages of expanding, and developing a major intergenerational housing and community centre complex.

Focused around its vision of creating communities of people who are connected, fulfilled and secure, Eden Care targets its services to the whole person rather than to specific aspects or incidents in relation to the individual. Like the Child Advocacy Centre, Eden Care has seen impressive successes since implementing its intergenerational, inclusive whole-person approach four years ago.

“We’re helping people graduate out of supportive housing into more independent living arrangements, enabling them to become more contributing members of society. We’re moving folks who should never have been in long term care back into their homes, or into a supported independent living environment. We’re working to help people who want to stay in their homes, to do so,” said Eden Care CEO, Alan Stephen.

Stephen argues that the future of social programming will be tailored to the individual, and will offer enhanced integrated social programming to make better use of health care resources. Key to these emerging strategies he says is the informed use of data and technology.

Like Eden Care and the Sheldon Kennedy Centre, the Orange Tree Village in Regina is a unique organization that has based its vision and service delivery model around improving outcomes for individuals through an enhanced integration of services, and service providers. Just into its first year of operations, Orange Tree is already seeing exciting outcomes largely because its approach works to eliminate silos in the delivery of services to individuals.

Orange Tree Village is an unusual but intriguing initiative. While it has been recognized for its care home, housed on the second floor of the development, the care home is in fact, just one aspect of the development. The “Village” offers services to all generations and community members. It brings together the care home with specialized memory care service, independent living suites, a licenced child care facility, short-term housing targeted at individuals such as students and single parents, luxurious rental suites for individuals and couples looking for a home environment without the hassles of home ownership, and short stay executive suites. Similar, to a fashionable hotel, it also offers a chic hair salon, an elegant dining room and bar, and a trendy coffee shop, complete with pastries prepared by the development’s own pastry chef. The Village brings together cross sectoral teams to address the needs of its residents, ensuring service delivery is focused on the whole person rather than on one aspect of the individual.

Orange Tree Village in Regina

“Being at the grassroots level allows us to be more responsive – less, one size fits all. We’re more adaptable to what’s working for particular individuals and families. Our health care teams work with individuals and their families, and help them to achieve their personal goals,” said Crystal Spooner, CEO/President, Orange Tree Living.

Spooner says even though it’s new, the Village has already seen numerous successes.

“Josh, who’s in his 20’s, had a brain injury as a young child and wasn’t able to live on his own. He came to the Village and now he lives on his own. He brings friends over he’s working here and we’ve got a tailored program for him so he is receiving services in-house with people he knows and trusts. As a result, he is an important, contributing member of this community.”

As well, Orange Tree has implemented integrated and intergenerational programming from infant to senior which is available to residents, community members and the general public.

“Sunday afternoon is the best here because that’s brunch, and you see some of the people living here coming together. Some of our student residents are sitting with our care home residents – the elderly resident giving grandfatherly advice to the student. They care about each other – and both benefit from that interaction,” says Spooner.

Similar to the Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre, Orange Tree brings together government-funded health care and social services for its residents, but is an entirely independent organization which receives no funding itself from government. In fact, Orange Tree is backed by funding provided by an independent corporation, PFM Capital Inc., a model which is starting to take shape in the area of community-developed services. I will discuss this in more detail in my next column.

The potential for these programs, and others like them, to play a role in revolutionizing how we care for all of our citizens, is significant.

As Kennedy has identified, critical to revolutionizing these programs and restructuring our society, is the organizations’ ability to bring together data sets from a variety of sources for integration, analysis and insight. The greatest opportunity and potentially the greatest challenge for these agencies is tapping into the wealth of data available to them.

Merging these innovative programs with “big data” and data analytics expertise offers the potential for the development of a new social delivery model that, similar to Kennedy’s experience with at-risk new parents, is able to predict when an incident will occur, and enable services to be built accordingly, resulting in better outcomes for the individuals involved and reducing more critical and expensive contacts with the social system later on.

The use of insights and intelligence gained from the integration and analysis of key data sets then is critical to powering the revolution that is taking place within our social sector.

Governments and corporate agencies need to work with, assist and support community agencies in leveraging the wealth of data sets available, enabling them to look at our social programming through a new lens, thus encouraging them to take the lead in driving Social Innovation. Bringing corporations, community and government agencies together, as has been done with the Kennedy Foundation, Orange Tree Village, and Eden Care to support this community led Social Innovation will enable us to create both a new social program delivery model and an economic engine which will benefit us all well into the future.



Mark MacLeod is a veteran of the technology industry, having built, sold, led, and resurrected more than half a dozen organizations. Under Mark’s leadership, ISM Canada has been named one of Canada’s Top 100 Employers, one of Saskatchewan’s Top 100 Companies, and one of Canada’s Top Family-Friendly Employers every year since taking over as ISM’s CEO.


January 17, 2018 | Originally posted in SaskBusiness