I still need you in my life.

Last year, I wrote about how I was breaking up with a company that I started… it was difficult and rewarding all at the same time. I knew that I wasn’t giving up on what I had built, but rather looking at all I had learned and gained and striving for a new level of appreciation.

At the heart of the matter, I could put what used to be Exhibit Change in a box marked “Life MBA, in progress” on a shelf and pull out the box at shift through old mementos and notes and remind myself of an old version of Exhibit Change. It has been over 6 months since I wrote that initial blog and I am ready to open up the box and take out what still works and put back what doesn’t.

I can still agree that I don’t need to do this all on my own. The hardest part about being a solo entrepreneur is doing it all on your own. No matter how hard I tried to bring others into the fold, I was still left making a lot of the decisions on my own and I didn’t like that weight on my shoulders.

I can also agree that it feels amazing to be able to put what I was teaching into practice. Over the last few months I have been able to do design thinking and foresight in ways that I had only imagined before.

And one last thing, I’m not done teaching yet. Last year, I was feeling burnt out from doing a lot of teaching, but not a lot of doing and felt limited in my capacity to make impact. Now that I am getting to do more, I am seeing the value of teaching again. How I have been approaching my work for nearly 10 years now is unique and it would be unfair and counter to my principles to keep those methods proprietary.

All this to say that I am ready to bring Exhibit Change back into my life and keep using this platform as a way to share a way of doing work, learning and sharing.

I am breaking up with you.

Can you break up with a company you started? What if you still want to be friends? Exhibit Change and I have a complicated relationship.

It all started in 2009. I thought I needed Exhibit Change. It was a relationship created out of dependancy. We have had our struggles. Our relationship status didn’t always make sense to the outside world. People would ask if we were together, and sometimes it was a firm yes and other times, it was like we were seeing other people.

People would ask, “Is this an Exhibit Change project or a Jenn project?”

I wanted the two to be the same, but the problem was Exhibit Change had to be something other people could get on board with. It had to be scalable. It had to have a business model. It had to be focused. It had to be something that was bigger than me.

This is why I started referring to Exhibit Change as “we”. Even though the majority of the time it was just me. It was like having a multiple personality disorder. I was told not to let Exhibit Change look too much like one person at the helm and instead act like there was a big company behind the logo.

This summer I realized something. Exhibit Change isn’t a company anymore. To be honest, it never really was. I was trying to force it to be something it wasn’t and in turn, it was trying to change me. That isn’t a good foundation for any relationship.

Here’s what I have come to realize. I don’t need Exhibit Change the way I did when this all started. I don’t want to be a founder anymore. I don’t need to be the boss. I don’t need to make all the decisions. I don’t need to worry about growing my company. I just want to do the work. 

Looking back, I thought starting a business was the only way I could make a commitment to the type of work I wanted to be doing. I wanted to use my design facilitation and experience in community engagement to give voice to stakeholders, especially the ones that don’t usually get invited to participate. So I had to look for organizations that wanted to do that too, but didn’t know how or have the time to do it. This was a HUGE challenge. It wasn’t that there wasn’t a desire or need for this work, but to find the right clients, work with them to shape a project and then find budget, this meant I spent a lot of time doing client management, business development, sales, administration and accounting. This usually wasn’t a good use of my skills.

It also meant that I didn’t share everything I was working on through Exhibit Change. This was always hard for me. And made me feel like I was cheating on Exhibit Change. I was out having relationships, learning and growing from them and obviously bringing back that learning and yet I couldn’t share the way I wanted to. It made me feel dishonest. I didn’t like that. It always felt like I had to hide a part of myself from you.

One thing that I have always loved about Exhibit Change, is the people. The people who I have gotten to work with, to collaborate with, to learn from, to fight with, to ask for help, to share with – that’s YOU! You are what has kept me from leaving.

Over the last year, I have had numerous conversations with social entrepreneurs, with service and design thinkers, with systems change practitioners and mentors and this is what I want. I want to be a systems change facilitator. I want to continue to share with the Exhibit Change community all that I am learning and I want to feel like I can be my whole self here.

I am finally at a place where I am doing the work I want to be doing and while I couldn’t have done it without everything Exhibit Change has given me, I am not longer doing the work as Exhibit Change in the same way I was before.

So instead of holding back from sharing all that is happening because it isn’t happening under the Exhibit Change umbrella, I am going to be opening up my boundaries and sharing all the systems change work I am participating in moving forward. It only makes sense as my work keeps shifting and I continue to grow in this work.

In the weeks to come, I will start sharing more of what I am working on, ideas I have on the go and just generally projects I think are awesome. There’s a lot going on and it is pretty freaking exciting!


Research rooted in the generosity of learners: process reflections

In late November, as I was seeing the end of the tunnel of my Masters coming closer, I decided it was time to start my next research project. One outside of academia. One driven by sheer curiosity. I had a new found respect for research that I didn’t before.

I wanted to commit to this research process with a few goals in mind:

  1. To continue practicing doing design-based research
  2. To document the learnings from the research while it is in progress
  3. To be open to letting the research be guided by the participants

I put a question out to the world, via twitter:

What are you doing at the intersection of innovation and design-based education?

So, here are some of my process reflections.

The value of a super vague question

Often times when research begins, there is a question that leads the process. Sometimes that question is designed to try and validate an assumption and other times it is a leading question trying to figure out where to head next. At least that is how I look at the utility of a research question. For this process, I started with the latter. I have no specific research journey in mind. I have no idea who the intended participants are, what the learning outcomes might be, or how long the research will take. And typically that is not the best way to start a research process. It certainly would not be the best way to get funding or to meet a deadline. Luckily for me and for this research, I am bound by neither money or time. Instead I am bound by social accountability and researcher curiosity. It does mean that if you are following this research process, that there will not be regular updates or reports to come out of this. I am hoping I will be able to share reflections from time to time and who knows what will come out of this in the end.

The generosity of learners

Ask and you shall receive. I naively threw a super vague question out into the twitter world and was expecting a few responses from people I already knew. Instead, I got a a lot of retweets and connections to folks I didn’t know. It was truly amazing and generous and reminded me that people doing innovative work – especially those who would respond to a super vague question about it from a perfect stranger – are really excited to talk to people about it. I ended up connecting with a bunch of folks doing really cool stuff. To be honest, so many people ended up wanting to chat that I actually had to take a break. It was the end of the year and my whole family got sick. And now, I am feeling guilty for leaving some of that generosity on the table.

The push and pull of research 

Now that some time has passed, I feel like I owe it to the research to get back at it. I am pick up where I left off with a new lens and new questions. The initial question I asked was vague and open. That served its purpose to get off the ground, but now I know that I need to push a little deeper. In another post, I will talk about some of my initial research findings including: how innovative work begins within an institution, who is likely to champion that work and the value of slowly growing a movement.

What’s next?

In the next few months, I am going to share back what I learned with the initial interview participants, seek new participants, and start investigating these new questions a bit more. These are no easier to digest or dissect, but they feel especially relevant to a lot of conversations I am having.

  1. How do you build ownership of innovative work across a system or institution?
  2. How do you address the tensions in the work of change management or systems change?
  3. How do we use competition to support collaboration when working in wicked problems?

None of this is going to be solvable in a short time frame or by me alone, obviously. So I am relying on the vagueness of the questions, the generosity of learners and the push and pull of the research to get me through.


Bringing a design lens to re-designing an entrepreneurship program

Here’s the problem: entrepreneurs need support to think through their business while simultaneously launching their business
Here’s the solution: a program that fits the needs of where entrepreneurs are at and is as adaptable as they are
Here’s the impact: a community of entrepreneurs that can support each other through the ups and downs of being an entrepreneur
Currently working on re-designing an entrepreneurship program for pre-launch ventures. The program is built around developing entrepreneur mindset and helping the entrepreneur work ON their business while working IN their business. Trying to offer a 30,000 foot view and strategic advice in a choose your own adventure model.
This came after evaluating and recognizing that a curriculum-based program gave the false sense that all ventures (no matter what stage) could benefit from getting content on a week by week basis and that at the end of 12 weeks ventures would be launch-able.
So instead we are prototyping a program:
  1. That is supportive of each entrepreneur with a weekly cluster coaching session where entrepreneurs support one another with feedback and share experience and knowledge about starting their own ventures; 
  2. Offering Open Studio space for entrepreneurs to have a focused time and place to work on their ventures with access to advisors, strategy support, creative energy and basically to not feel isolated;
  3. Testing out a mentorship model experiment to figure out model that works for both mentors and ventures in an adaptable way. One model, dubbed the “holistic health model” where 2-3 mentors work with one venture for a group mentoring approach. The second model is a one-on-one model where ventures and mentors will connect through speed-dating and then carry forward a conversation;
  4. Supplemented by design strategy workshops every two months. The workshop content will be adaptable to the current needs of the participants, but will likely focus on talking to customers, prototyping ideas, and bringing your whole self to work; and
  5. Lastly, participants can get custom facilitated workshops if they have proven a business case for one. This could be for brainstorming with advisors, pivoting their initial target markets or analyzing data to sort through insights. Primarily, these workshops are additional supports to help an entrepreneur get unstuck when they have spent too much time going at it alone.
While prototyping this new program, we are still trying to work on some larger than us social design challenges:
1. How might we recruit more current students and alumni who want to start ventures or support other ventures?
2. How might we build supports and networks for female entrepreneurs?
3. How might we share resources that match the ongoing learning nature of being an entrepreneur?
Please feel free to share any ideas that come to mind on getting started with tackling these larger than us social design challenges, we cannot do this work alone.

Letting the fog settle in…reflection to Weekend 1 of the Designership

I started writing a reflection the weekend following the first weekend of the retreat to try and capture my thoughts about the weekend. That was nearly 3 months ago now…oops.

I really did need time to let the fog settle in. I started saying this about the design process soon after I started my Masters. I heard it from one of our professors when my team was working on a particularly wicked challenge about the foster care systems and helping children in the system build agency for themselves in an emergency situation. This is an area I had no personal experience in and our limit timeframe made that much more complex.

She said, “it’s ok to let the fog settle in.”

This has always stuck with me. That’s exactly what we do as design thinkers. We take on a ton of information and then we need time to process, to digest, to gather insights to mull ideas around.

And while I encouraged the participants of the Designership to reflect right away, and 1 did, but the others didn’t. I obviously can’t fault them since I am in the same boat.

It is a luxury to walk away from the murky fog and to let life settle back in. To pause from the thinking you have started and know it will be there to pick up right where you left off. This only works when you are learning or practicing design thinking for yourself.

It doesn’t work when you need to respond immediately to a wicked problem that is changing even as you start working on it. This is a huge tension in doing design thinking.

And now, stepping forward into our next session. I decided that we needed to actually take a step further back and do some foundational learning before we lunge into our work further.

This inaugural cohort of the Designership is meant to be a community of learners. And I am just as much a learner as they are.

Our second Designership weekend is January 28/29 – check back for a reflection. I promise it won’t take me 3 months to write one.

2016, is SO last week!

2016 has come and gone.

Obviously 2016 will be remembered for a lot of things…good and bad. But we don’t have to go into that rabbit hole right now.

Instead, let’s focus on the learning that happened over here. The biggest of all, the launch of the Designership!

For many years, I had been percolating on the idea of starting a learning opportunity for people who actually want to take design thinking and foresight into action in education. There are 5 brave souls who decided to join me on this journey. In 2016, we met for the first time and dug in to getting to know each other and lay a foundation for what would come next.

Admittedly, we jumped in head first and I think we got a little lost. Or at least I did. It was super exciting to follow the momentum that we had been creating offline when we finally met in person, but I felt like we missed out on some fundamental teachings.

In 2017, we are going to take a step back to do that learning.

If you want an inside glimpse as to what’s going on behind the scenes – check out Bryson’s awesome reflection of the opening weekend.

“With that being said, there is no clear direction for where this project will go. And I love that. I am revelling in the ambiguity of it all because the passion and the intelligence of the people working on the Designership leads me to believe that we will have no trouble at all producing something tangible and meaningful in the next year. What will that product be? I have no idea. But rest assured, it will begin to take shape quite soon. At this point, our tasks are ambiguous but our topics of focus are crystallizing quite elegantly.” – Bryson, @obiebryce

Resolution for 2017

  • Go back to basics
  • Reflect, reflect, reflect
  • Share the ups and downs of the practice

What to look forward to in 2017

  1. Launching Policy Fluxx. Last year, I prototyped a game as a final solution to my Masters Research. Policy Fluxx is an analog facilitation tool to promote and support stakeholders building rapport while co-designing future-oriented policy recommendations. In 2017, I am seeking partners and funding to actually launch Policy Fluxx and bring it out of the academic world it has been living in.
  2. More from the Department of Imaginary Affairs. We took a bit of a break in 2016 to do some brainstorming and foundation building. In 2017, you can expect to see some cool new projects emerging. We have been noodling on a story-telling game, a community builder mission-based mystery and a citizen-building exhibit.
  3. I started a research project. There isn’t a real name for it yet. But I sent out a tweet and got a windfall of responses. I have been talking to people about their takes on innovation, design-based thinking and education. Right now, I am just floating in the fog and enjoying the generosity of strangers. Next steps are to start defining the problem and keep investigating.

As I prepare for 2017 I am eager to go back to the basics. Start at the beginning. So to speak.

Introducing the 2016 Designership Cohort

Announcing this year’s undeniable group of shift disturbers! Called to the opportunity and uncertainty of being the inaugural cohort of the Exhibit Change Designership, this group is without a doubt taking a leap of faith and embarking on an adventure of a lifetime.

This group has courage, heart, passion and creative enough to imagine their role in a program that has never happened before.

They will be the captains of this journey. They are Shippers! We are headed off without a map, just a guiding star and our intuition to guide us.

Check out their bios here. 


Getting Community Voices


One of the key goals of The Designership is working with shift disturbers from inside and outside the norms of education. So what does that mean? What is inside? What is outside? What is the norm? What is education????

Holy smokes! Those are some seriously loaded questions!

These are questions and definitions that we will try to define and create boundaries for throughout The Designership but for now here is what we are looking at.

Teachers = inside

Parents = outside/inside

School Administrator = inside

Community Developer = outside

This is one of the biggest thorns in my side when it comes to being a part of the education conversation. I have participated in several community projects from concept to implementation, many of them with youth who spend a good amount of their time in a community organization or look to a community organization to help them in some way. Whether it be for a summer camp, after school program, job training program or anything in between. These community organizations could be well established like the Boys and Girls club or could be a start-up group filling in a unique niche in the community, either way their goal is to serve the community youth and help them thrive. Not unlike a school. And yet there is often a huge gap between these two stakeholders.

One story in particular sticks out for me. I was at a school who was hosting an open house on a new community plan they had spent a few months developing. They were pretty proud of themselves for inviting parents, community organizations and others to a breakfast meeting to show off their new plan for connecting with the community. It was obvious that it was well intentioned but what came next was a testament to how community organizations feel about these kinds of events. After the principal had kicked off the event and breakfast was served, the community plan was shared and distributed. Some chit chat started to fill the room and then this comment happened.

“Why is this the first time we are hearing about this?”

The comment came from a community development worker from a neighbouring community centre.

She went on to explain that the youth from this school spent after school hours at the community centre and some even skipped school to come to the community centre during the day. It was their safe haven. It was a place they chose to go to.

These sharp comments have always stood out to me as a clear divide between community and education. One that I think decreases the impact that both could be making together. Imagine if community and education were working together to tackle some of the most wicked challenges that face our young people today and tomorrow.

The inaugural Designership will look at addressing the gap between community and education. And to do that, we need a variety of community voices and their intersection to education. In my work I have met so many talented community-based educators and this is a specific call to extend the application process. For applicants who can demonstrate community-based education experience with youth, for example organizing a camp, organizing a conference, developing a program or running a drop-in centre the deadline for applications is September 10. There are 3 FULL scholarships available. 

Here is the application form. 



Co-designing the designership


This week we started conducting “interviews” with successful applicants for the designership. The reason there are quotations around interview is because it isn’t really an interview at all. To me an interview implies that there are specific answers I am looking for to decide whether or not an applicant is right for this designership and really what I would rather do is start a conversation with applicants to co-design this designership. It is important that this designership understands the needs and goals of the applicants as well as delivers an impactful resource to the community.

Co-designing is key to the kind of work Exhibit Change has been doing since day one. Motivated by the desire to bring stakeholders into the solution process often and early as a way to ensure authentic solutions are delivered. In the beginning, it was about building ownership and addressing the paradox of receiving funding to implement a program/service/solution before checking with stakeholders if that is what is actually needed. As this work continues, co-designing has become a part of Exhibit Change’s DNA and it is a mindset that we advocate for with every client and every project from the get-go. It takes continuous reflection and iteration to figure out how to balance what is integral to a project and what is malleable.

This seems to be the biggest challenge to explain/ get people on board with. Time and time again, I hear “So we are going to get people together but we aren’t sure what they are going to do?” The answer to that is partly yes and partly no. We always encourage clients to think about the big questions they would like their stakeholders to answer. Often these questions start out as assumptions about what a stakeholder wants or needs. Even assumptions that are rooted in the best intentions can easily send you down the wrong path if you don’t stop to ask is this really want they want or need.

There is a methodology and art to co-designing, it is not a willy-nilly process that leads you on a wild goose hunt. There need to be established boundaries of what can be offered, obviously resources needed to be considered – time, human and monetary. It helps to think of the boundaries as spectrums of comfort, what are stakeholders asking for and what is the organizations willing to do. Then the boundaries need to be examined, how flexible are they, how negotiable and how do-able. Then these boundaries can start to establish some order to the uncertainty that lays ahead.

Ultimately, the first step in co-designing the designership is figuring out working styles, timelines, commitment levels, and initial goals. So that when we do meet face-to-face we have boundaries to examine.