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.


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.

Evolving Exhibit Change

I am proud to announce that Exhibit Change is going on a evolution journey.

With a lot of excitement and a good mixture of freaked-out-ness, Exhibit Change is embarking on a refining process. It is time to put the mess out on the table and to see what comes out of it.


To capture this process, I have started a new website called Evolving Exhibit Change, you can go there to read more closely about the process. 

HMW question

There are 2 reasons for a new website rather than posting here.

1. Having a clean space that doesn’t come with all the baggage, assumptions, history and existing goals is the best way to really say I don’t know where this is going and I am ok with that.

2. At some point, I think that a new website will likely happen and I want to be able to continue capturing what is happening while that transformation is ongoing.

GS workshop

Hopefully you are now asking yourself, how can I help?

There are a ton of ways! 

1. Check out the ENGAGE page on the Evolving Exhibit Change site – over there I will be sharing current questions through polls and surveys to get a sense of where the EC community is at.

2. Do the collaborator/supporter/friend survey – don’t worry there are no right or wrong answers.

3. Volunteer for a longer interview – if you’d like to see yourself as a future client of Exhibit Change give me a holler at designthinking [at] exhibit-change.com and we can set up a call or coffee.

4. And of course, following along and stay tuned to the evolving process, through Facebook, Twitter and the Evolving EC website. 



Why we love Mount Vernon Institute for Innovation

We arrived home from a few days in Atlanta last week working with the amazing team at Mount Vernon Presbyterian school, in particular the team behind the Mount Vernon Institute for Innovation. The Mount Vernon Institute for Innovation (MVIFI) is headed up by the spectacular Bo Adams and is built on a culture of 3 pillars, design thinking, global competitiveness and citizen leadership. Obviously, we are especially drawn to a school that has design thinking as one of its core values and we love learning with MVIFI as they are growing in this area.

Here are the top 3 reasons we love MVIFI:


1. The People

I have had the pleasure of working with and getting to know several of the MVP folks and can without a doubt say they are some of my favourite people to collaborate with. They have truly taken on design thinking as a way of life at Mount Vernon. It is hard not to be drawn into the southern hospitality and accents of the MVP crew, they have welcomed us into their homes, hearts and minds throughout the 2 years that we have been working together. Ultimately my favourite part about working with MVP is the fact that they are always creating ideas to take into action and learn from. It is part of their “Ship It” philosophy to put ideas out into the world early rather than letting them percolate behind closed doors. This nature and culture creates a team of people who know how to value the generation of ideas and have a getting it done attitude that can’t be beat. I have especially enjoyed jamming with Mary Cantwell, Trey Boden, Chris Andres, TJ Edwards, James Campbell, Emily Breite, Chip Houston and of course Bo Adams. It is the dedication that these folks have to ongoing learning about design thinking and a never-ending perseverance to keep striving the change education.


2. The MVP Norms

Start with Questions, Share the Well, Assume the Best, Fail Up & Have Fun

These norms are posted up around the school, celebrated and embedded. Certainly aligned with design thinking mindsets and with the uncertainty of learning in the 21st century. Rooted in assuming the best and starting with questions, these norms honour the fact that when we just to preconceived assumptions without discovering facts and uncovering the unknown we are setting ourselves and others up for upset. Share the well and have fun celebrate success from big to small and demonstrate a playful nature to facing the challenges ahead. My personal favourite is Fail Up, one that we have taken on as part of our repertoire and most certainly resonate with the most. MVP has a tradition of celebrating Fail Up moments and even have an official ceremony each year for a teacher or student who has demonstrated getting up from a failure and showing their grit and resilience from learning from their mistakes. This is something that we need to see more.


 3. The Collaborations

Well obviously, our collaboration with MVP has been most valuable for our learning and theirs, but the collaborations don’t stop there. While we were at Fuse we learned of so many more collaborations that are underway and in development. MVIFI actively seeks non-traditional collaboration opportunities to deliver real-world opportunities for their students and teachers to learn from. This year MVP partnered with The Museum of Design in Atlanta (MODA) for students to design and building an exhibit on design thinking featuring a giant David Kelley inspired moustache and glasses, in development a partnership with Thrive LLC a local design firm in Atlanta for students to see where the design thinking skills they are learning could take them in a corporate setting and of course the many collaborations that brought Fuse to life. We had so much fun working alongside MVP, Greg Bamford from Leadership & Design and the many coaches from the #dtk12chat community. The best part about collaborations is that they are not one-sided. Everyone learns from what they put in.

An Experiment: Learning About Design Thinkers

In April, we put out a quick survey called “Learning About Design Thinkers”. The goal was simple: ask questions, get answers and then see what to do next. So the task of putting a survey out and getting folks to offer input was fairly simple.

The outcome of this experiment? We had 62 responses from across Canada and the United States and a few international guest appearances from China and Australia. Undoubtedly, if we had pushed this harder through our networks we might have received different answers and therefore different results. At this point, we are satisfied with the data set we have acquired and of course we are still hungry for more – this was just as much a test of the character our network as it was an experiment to learn more about design thinkers.


Before I dive into the first overview of the collected responses, I just want to share a story about this very iterative process. I had been sharing the survey for about 3 weeks when one of my online colleagues messaged me privately and said that he really wanted to help but that the questions felt a little daunting. We had a discussion and through the back and forth came to the conclusion that it would be helpful to add a disclaimer in to the survey to articulate that the results were not there to be judged and in fact I wouldn’t even be looking at them in connection to anyone’s name. Additionally, adding some subtext to each question to further frame the type of conversation we were hoping to spark. As a facilitator, I like to leave questions to interpretation, especially since there is no right or wrong answer, but in this case if more context helped people participate than that was a greater goal. So, I want to thank Dan Ryder for our feedback session!


The intent with this survey is to use this information to learn more about the people who are working around us. So that we may gain empathy for people practicing, learning and teaching design thinking alongside us; to articulate challenges that our clients might be facing; and to explore challenges and insights without a central context. As a tool, a survey comes with its own set of baggage. We understood this going into this discovery experiment, we are thankful to everyone that took the time to sit down and respond. We recognize that we have all participated in our fair share of surveys, whether it be for evaluation, for testing, or for entering a contest.


Initially when we launched this survey, I thought the easiest way to share the responses would be to simply post them, raw and undigested. Having reviewed the many responses and being able to see the great depth, the level of vulnerability and the honesty that was shared, I don’t feel like that would be an appropriate use of the trust shared between the responders and us. Plus, there are many overarching themes from the results that seem to be tying this community of practitioners together; it would be a missed opportunity to draw out these insights to help us move towards better incorporating design thinking into our every day.

In the weeks ahead, I will be sharing our reflections from each question and will ultimately use this information to craft tools to try and respond the best we can to some of the overlapping challenges.


The questions in the survey focused on our favourite areas of Task, Team, Self. We believe that this tool is a great entry point for reflection and learning in the journey of leveraging the design thinking process. Looking into the results, I am intrigued by the tensions I am noticing in responses and how that creates opportunities to start understanding gaps that we have in the design thinking process.

Road Trip: EdCamp Island

There is something about getting in your car, loading up on junk food and braving the traffic that is so rewarding. We ended up in a totally different place and it was only a few hours away.

Colin and I took a road trip to Manitoulin Island to visit our friend Julie Balen and for EdCamp Island. 


Apparently there is a quintessential first trip to the island and that includes running on to the ferry with moments to spare. And our first trip was not unlike the rest. We made it and were grateful for the 2 hour ride from Tobermory to Manitoulin. It gave us time to decompress from the Art of Social Innovation training and to get ready for the weekend.


The planning for this trip started probably last summer, when I first met Julie on twitter. And we had a few really great conversations and Julie along with her colleague Sue came down to Toronto last August for EdCamp BootCamp and for DT4i. At EdCamp BootCamp I delivered a training on unconference principles and the lessons I have learned from convening and planning EdCamps, Julie and Sue were among a group of educators looking to start their own EdCamp or other unconferences. In October, Julie came back to Toronto again to participate in EdCamp Design Thinking.


At this point, Julie had started the wheels going for an EdCamp on Manitoulin and was joined by a few other educators to start the planning for EdCamp Island. Not unlike most EdCamps that run the first time, most of the team had never experienced an EdCamp before. They did a splendid job of picking a location that offered a cozy place for conversations and wasn’t a school (which I personally always think is good for getting out of the traditional headspace) and they kept us so well fed with lasagna and a huge plate of desserts!


In the weeks leading up to going to Manitoulin, Julie and I spoke a few times about us doing the facilitation at EdCamp. It was our pleasure to step in and take on that role. Fitting in with our road trip theme, we were able to start the day with World Cafe and ask 2 framing questions to get conversations going.

1. Where are we on the journey?

2. What inspires you to take the next steps into unchartered territory?

I always find that starting with these open mind and open heart questions leads the Open Space conversations to intuitively go deeper.


For fun, I brought Hello Kitty with us for the road trip as a way to capture the adventure and she ended up being the perfect companion. In the afternoon, during Open Space, one session talked about “Be More Dog”, a funny video about a cat realizing that dogs have more fun. And so Kitty in a Dog costume was iconic.

As a perfect end to the day, we spent time in Julie’s garden and playing fetch with Satchmo and Hawkeye! And we can not forget the hosting and cooking for Chef Norm! We had plenty to keep our minds and bellies full.





Building Ownership and Capacity: Give the Gift of Holding

What is the role of holding?

It is a powerful gift to give someone something that they didn’t ask for and that they didn’t even know they wanted.

Or is it? This is a question that has been running in the back of my head for the past few weeks. 


Primarily this swirling around after we came back from EdCamp Manitoulin and I was thinking about EdCamp Design Thinking that we helped pot on in the fall. Being at EdCamp Manitoulin reminded me how important it is for people to organize the event, to put out the invitation and to help convene the conversation. And the even better part is when they get to participate in the conversations. It is undoubtedly the hardest part of being a facilitator is being the one to hold the conversations and not fully get to participate. It was our pleasure to be able to give that gift to EdCamp Manitoulin. We were happy to step in and carry that weight for the EdCamp Manitoulin team so that they could do what they needed to do, which was be with their guests and host the party. It was a stress that we are used to carrying and gave us a chance to practice our documentation and harvesting techniques.


Last year, I called a group together to host EdCamp Design Thinking and we were able to put on a fabulous event with over 70 people and a beautiful salad club lunch. I think it was what people needed. A place to connect, to be with peers and to have conversations about education.

Just tonight, I was at a powerful lecture about an innovative program that talks about the “professional in the background” and it struck me that there is an intense need for the “expert” to hold the space for practice and process to occur, but to let others take the reigns. The structures supporting the container can stand up on their own and can be filled in with gentle coaching and check-ins. It isn’t as simple as just passing the torch and walking away. But rather a process of building trust, showing how, growing confidence and lending support to make mistakes.


Now, I am wondering how to we build ownership and capacity to have others hold EdCamp Design Thinking? What if no one wants to? If someone does, how do we support them? Does anyone what to take over? We are here to help you hold it!

Linking, Creating & Integrating

Over the past few weeks I have been dipping in and out of learning, education, academic, research, community spaces. These events each brought about a different perspective for me while simultaneously reminding me that nothing is really that different. At the core of each of these conversations, I was critically reminded how important it is for someone to host conversations that matter. These conversations each lead to a new connection, a new resource, a reminder of something you already knew and hopefully fuelling action.


Each of these conversations were convened by different people or organizations and what is interesting is that they happened for me one after another felt like a building of a previous conversation.

Just yesterday, I was listening to a podcast by RadioLab about “What Does Technology Want?” and a story stood out for me about ow inventions all come at the same time, more or less. An invention needs to have a foundation of other ideas and technology before it to lay the ground work and then almost overnight the idea is born in many places at the same time. For example, the lightbulb was invented by Thomas Edison alongside 22 other patents filed around the same time.


This seemed to be a resonating theme with these 3  conversations. Put on by different organizations, probably all catalyzed by something slightly different and yet the conversations all started to feel the same to me. I was drawn to these particular conversations for the knowledge that was going to be shared, the people I would meet and the sparks that would be created.

  • Linking People and Knowledge Symposium (University of Toronto OISE and HEQCO)- connect researchers and practitioners in knowledge mobilization
  • Creating the Future (Sheridan College and University of Toronto OISE) – establish a foundation and value of undergraduate applied research in partnership with industry, academic institution and students
  • Cafe Hub (by Woodgreen Community Services in partnership with SPACE Coalition, City of Toronto, Toronto District School Board, Ontario Public School Board Association and others) – create integrated service delivery that is fluid and effective for communities

IMG_20140502_091104 (1)

These events left me with 3 big “I wonders”:

  1. I wonder how these conversations would be different as they open up to the community and stakeholders who would be most greatly impacted by the conversation
  2. I wonder how these conversations stem from liabilities and risk aversion.
  3. I wonder how these conversations will turn into action


Each of these conversations left me wanting to see what the next would be like when more people were brought into the fold. There was a few too many, “well, I assume…” “what works for us will work for them…” “I don’t think that will matter…” statements being made that made me question the validity of the conversation. Each felt a little one-sided and a bit like it was meant to paint a certain picture.


More than once, I heard people say “if only [insert rule here] didn’t exist, then…” or “we can’t do that for liability reasons”. It left me feeling like while rules give us order, at one point is it needed to revise what has come before and when do those rules, laws and procedures stop serving the people they were intended to protect.


Where are these conversations headed? Is this the first of many? Is there a plan that these conversations are a part of? Are we at the beginning, middle or end? What comes next? What keeps the momentum going? IMG_20140501_140514

Ultimately, I am seeing threads being pulled through each of these conversations and I will continue to try and weave these conversations together and participate as much as I can.