Prototyping at the Charlotte Street Arts Centre

Samantha Slade (L) and Paul Messer, both with Percolab, assisted in facilitating the session. | Samantha Slade, à gauche, et Paul Messer, qui travaillent tous deux chez Percolab, ont aidé à animer la séance.

Samantha Slade (L) and Paul Messer, both with Percolab, assisted in facilitating the session. | Samantha Slade, à gauche, et Paul Messer, qui travaillent tous deux chez Percolab, ont aidé à animer la séance.

On February 16th and 17th the NouLAB Academy teams came together at the Charlotte Street Arts Centre in Fredericton, NB for the much anticipated prototyping workshop.  Both teams started the Academy program last October and have been working on problem framing, system mapping, user centred design, scenario planning, and determining metrics – all to inform what they wanted to prototype by highlighting their assumptions and hypotheses in relation to their respective problems.

The purpose of the workshop was threefold, aiming to help the teams:

  • Develop the prototype mindset

  • Generate strategic ideas for prototyping

  • Create work plans for testing their prototypes over the next month

We kicked off the session with the teams diving into the work they’ve completed to date, and then quickly worked on unleashing their creativity for what would be an intensive two days.  We shared stories of how we use prototyping in our daily lives, for example: you might test a given layout of furniture in your home, and request feedback from your family/roommates (the users) to decide whether it is the right setup or not. As you get feedback you make adjustments until you are all happy with the end result. 

Paul Messer, Associate with Percolab, leads a prototyping exercise using waste management as an example.


Prototyping is simply identifying a need, choosing a possible solution, trying it out, gathering feedback, and refining your prototype based on that feedback – it’s an iterative and adaptive process. One of the key learnings was to ensure that the testing method for a given prototype evaluates the prototype itself, and not the user/s.  It’s also important to make negative feedback useful by learning from it, rather than getting discouraged by it.  If the users give negative feedback, don’t challenge them by defending the prototype.  Instead, ask the question: how could this better respond to the user’s needs?

Graphic recording of the prototyping process by Paul Messer.

Graphic recording of the prototyping process by Paul Messer.

In the afternoon on the first day of the workshop, students from the PDC Student Ambassadors and UNB’s Renaissance College joined the teams to help them tap into additional creativity, adding a fresh perspective by brainstorming ideas to develop in potential prototypes.

The Aging Team brainstorms with students from UNB’s Renaissance College, as well as NouLAB Facilitator Nick Scott’s daughter Chloe. A group representing a diverse range of ages (as young as 9!)

The teams were encouraged to make use of the space as they branched out to various areas of the Charlotte St. Arts Centre throughout the afternoon.  Using improv and Lego to prototype, the teams played out scenarios with the personas they had developed for the exercise.  They then debriefed what they were learning from the feedback they got from developing the prototypes.

Bethany Deshpande and Nic Clement role play a prototype for resolving a conflict of interest.

Finally we finished off the day with an ideation exercise to help the teams identify potential prototype ideas to work on the next day.  Each person was given a blank sheet of paper to fold into eight sections, and asked to sketch an idea in each section – with only 60 seconds per idea. At the end of the 8 minutes they reviewed all of their ideas, picked the best three, and wrote them on index cards. All of these index cards were then posted on the wall for the entire group, and each participant selected their favourite three ideas overall.


How do we work together to change the workplace culture so more women are leaders* (*change agents/systems thinkers) in New Brunswick.


As the demographic landscape changes, the need for collaboration and integration between generations becomes more important.  However, negative stereotypes of seniors as well as of youth often hinder this process and the consequences can lead to abuse, exclusion, depression, suicide and ill health.

A major obstacle to the development of realistic perceptions of both groups within the age spectrum is the degree to which key social groups do not have, as they had in the past, the level of intensive, personal familiarity that came from sustained contact and interaction with one another.

It is in the interest of everyone: policymakers, educators, academics, caregivers, professionals, youth, the media, as well as, seniors to acknowledge that ageism calls for a change in attitude. 

The educational field can provide a space whereby perceptions can be modified.  Intergenerational projects, within an educational framework can contribute to mutual understanding, empathy and eventual collaboration between the senior community, students and the community at large.


Gender team set out to test a gender assessment for businesses helping them to identify a baseline and engage employees around gender roles within their workplace culture.


The Healthy Aging Team is working on a prototype on intergenerational learning with the public school system.

Stay tuned to hear what the teams have learned from their prototypes and how they will integrate that feedback!

NouLAB looking to help solve problems in province

The Daily Gleaner (Fredericton) 
Tue Dec 27 2016
Page: A5
Section: Main
Byline: Emma Davie

Amanda Hachey knows two points of view are better than one.

Hachey is the director of NouLAB, a social innovation lab created at the University of New Brunswick that looks to engage stakeholders from all points of view in order to address the province's most pressing challenges.

"This is actually getting community, business, non-profits at the table while we're still trying to solve the problem together. So then there's ownership of the problem and better understanding of what the problem actually is," Hachey said.

Last year, NouLAB brought together 35 people across seven teams to discuss issues affecting the province.

"Social housing, food security, rural revitalization, newcomer employment, wellness. The teams had representation from government, community, private sector and users, and so they went through a process of defining a problem from all of those different perspectives, because often people are looking at the problem from different angles," Hachey said.

This year, NouLAB has two teams made up of members from government, the non-profit sector, the private sector and the public to look at two problems.

"One team is working on the negative impacts of ageism towards seniors, and they'll be prototyping an inter-generational education program," Hachey said.

"The other team is working on gender equality in the tech sector. So they'll be working with tech companies to create a prototype for how we bring more gender parity into the tech sector. Those teams have already started their problem framing and user centre design methodology work and in the new year, they'll be doing their prototypes and testing those into the community."

NouLAB was created at UNB in 2015 by the New Brunswick Social Policy Research Network and the Pond-Deshpande Centre with a mission to create the "nouveau" New Brunswick.

Pond-Deshpande Centre executive director Karina LeBlanc said in a media release that the small size of New Brunswick is actually an advantage for dealing with social challenges.

"We are very closely connected to each other. So the difference between a person who has an idea, a person who can make a decision, a person who can change policy and a person who can invest is probably one degree of separation at best," she said.

Hachey said NouLAB uses startup business methodology and interactions with stakeholders to map out the system they're examining, get a sense of how it works for someone using the system, and start testing prototypes for possible improvements.

"So what is the actual problem we're trying to solve and who's impacted by that and what is that user experience. And then how can we better understand how the system works in order to find the best leverage point. So the minimum viable prototype for the highest impact," she said.

"For example, the newcomer employment team was working on how to get youth into employment sooner. The value of getting all these stakeholder groups together gave them the opportunity to better understand how the players all work in the system, and now they're working on a prototype around that."

Hachey said the collaboration and "breaking down silos" is what makes the program attractive to stakeholders, in particular the provincial government.

"Often if it's government, they're trying to solve problems and they go out and engage community after something is already past date," she said.

"It's actually getting out and testing things. So not developing a pilot program after two or three years of studies and then several hundred thousand dollars out there to implement it and find out what doesn't work at that point. It's what's the minimum viable thing that we can start right now and who is our user group to test it with, get feedback from that user group and bring it back in."

Hachey said continuing to build bridges through various groups will help make problem-solving easier for the province.

"I've seen over and over again the value of getting multiple voices at the table when trying to solve problems or get through sticky issues," she said.

"NouLAB has provided is a platform to continuously do that."

Exploring the System Together


One element that makes social innovation labs like NouLAB so important is collaboration. Social innovation labs make it possible for people to come together and work on big, challenging problems in new ways. This year’s NouLAB Academy has two teams working on the issues to gender inequality and the negative impacts of ageism on seniors. The lab teams are made up of members that come from government, non-profit, private sector, and community. At NouLAB, we believe that bringing multi-stakeholder groups together to solve complex problems helps bring down silos and better understand issues from multiple prospectives.

How can we design and facilitate NouLAB workshops so that they are maximally valuable for all members of the team? What does it take for these participants to work together in new ways?

On November 14th and 15th (2016), we came together for the second of five workshops within the NouLAB Academy. Samantha Slade of Percolab (Montreal, Canada) worked with us to develop to design the 2-day workshop. These days were centred around helping the teams understand elements of working in complexity, to better understand relationships and stakeholders within the system in which they are working, and developing a work plan to fill the gaps in their knowledge and test assumptions about their issue.

Gaining different perspectives from throughout a complex system can help a lab team to move several steps ahead on an issue. This is because it can help them to hear others’ interactions within the system, identify different issues or problems, perceive where we fit into this system, and more. NouLAB, and social innovation labs in general, borrow techniques from entrepreneurial ecosystems and apply them to large, social problems. In entrepreneurial activities, we are constantly encouraged to get outside and speak to customers. “Validate your product-market fit!” we are told. “Who have you spoken to about this?” is often one of the first questions posed. It’s no different for change-makers in the social space. Exploring the system helps everyone to gain perspective, and to connect with others who also care about the same issues.

This sounds simple, but in practice requires careful and thoughtful planning, patience with ourselves and with others, openness and willingness to try new things, and flexibility to change activities or intentions on the fly. We did three activities that helped the 2016-17 NouLAB cohort understand the most of their system.

Co-création de cartes d’image

La création d’images est une activité commune de la pensée créatrice (ou du design) et du démarrage d’entreprises. Les équipes NouLAB devaient créer ces images en collaboration avec leur équipe, ce qui a donné un nouveau souffle à une activité normale. Les équipes ont reçu une série de questions pour créer une image d’un « utilisateur » dans leur système. Ces images aideront les équipes à garder l’utilisateur en tête lorsqu’elles travaillent à la création de prototypes.

Co-creation of persona maps

Persona creation is a common activity in design thinking and business start-ups, the NouLAB teams were asked to create these in collaboration with their team which put a new spin on a standard activity. Teams were given a series of questions to develop a persona of a ‘user’ within their system.  These will help keep the user in mind as they work through the creation of prototypes.

Le jeu des questions

Cette activité a permis aux équipes de vérifier leurs hypothèses. Des groupes de trois personnes ont été formés, en vue de poser des questions à une personne qui ne pouvait répondre que par des questions. Il s’agit d’un jeu improvisé qui peut être utilisé pour mettre en lumière les hypothèses que nous avons. Ce n’est pas facile du tout! Ne poser que des questions fait réfléchir de façon différente.

The Question Game

This helped the teams to check their assumptions. In groups of three, they were asked questions to one individual, and that person can respond only with questions. This is an improv game that can be used to highlight assumptions that we all carry. It’s also hard! Asking only questions put me in a whole new frame of mind.

Entrevues et questions

En après-midi, NouLAB s’est rendu à l’extérieur pour poser des questions que les équipes avaient préparées sur les hypothèses relatives aux images créées concernant l’enjeu sur lequel elles travaillent. Poser des questions à des personnes qui ne font pas partie de votre groupe permet de mettre en lumière un vaste éventail de nouvelles données au sujet de questions problématiques et révèle la portée des problèmes complexes.

Les participants ont collaboré tout au long de la journée. NouLAB rassemble les personnes selon de nouvelles méthodes pour résoudre des problèmes complexes, mais établis. Ensemble, les équipes et l’équipe d’animation en ont appris davantage sur les problèmes complexes auxquels nous sommes confrontés et ont acquis des connaissances importantes pour mettre en oeuvre le changement. Trois rencontres supplémentaires seront organisées avec l’Académie au cours de la nouvelle année pour déterminer une vision du succès, bâtir et mettre à l’essai des prototypes et élaborer un plan à l’échelle. Consultez ce blogue pour obtenir des informations récentes.

Interviews and questioning

In the afternoon, NouLAB went outside to ask questions they had prepared relating to the assumptions that had made on the personas they created in relation to the issue they are working on. Asking people outside your group reveals a ton of new information about problem areas and the scope of complex problems.

Collaboration was present throughout the day. NouLAB brings people together in news ways to solve complex but established problems. Together, the teams and facilitation team learned more about our complex problems and gained important insight for change. The Academy will be meet 3 more times in the new year to identify a vision for success, build and test prototypes, and develop a plan for scale.  Stay tuned via this blog for updates.

2015-2016 Cohort shares the value of NouLAB

In 2015-2016, seven teams joined NouLAB. This was an adventurous undertaking with lots of learning both by facilitators and participants. It has now been one year since this first cohort began their design and innovation journey. Watch this short video to hear from the 2015-2016 cohort and the value gained from the NouLAB process.

(video available in English only)

Defining Healthy Aging in New Brunswick

Defining Healthy Aging in New Brunswick

Noulab, New Brunswick’s public and social innovation lab, spearheaded by New Brunswick Social Policy Research Network (NBSPRN) and UNB’s Pond-Deshpande Centre (PDC), asked the Collaborative for Healthy Aging and Care to join the multi-sector lab team in exploring the ways in which provincial stakeholders can address NB’s challenges in a different way.

Six members of the Collaborative representing the province’s senior information centres, the not-for-profit sector, government and academia, came together to take advantage of the opportunity and formed the healthy aging lab.

Much like peeling the layers of an onion, the sessions pushed lab members to move beyond the symptoms of the challenge they were grappling with to rediscover the problem underneath. Once rediscovered and better understood, each lab explored how to intervene and address the problem in an actionable way that will eventually lead to better outputs and outcomes. This will result in true systemic and cultural change that will positively impact the way we experience aging in New Brunswick. 

The Lab process wrapped up during NB’s Innovation Week, and the healthy aging lab was one of four labs invited to pitch their problem and solution to Members of Cabinet. Read the pitch transcript in its entirety below.

Baby boomers. They’re not babies anymore. And we hear in the news, as far reaching as MacLean’s Magazine that New Brunswick is going to fall off of the fiscal cliff, as baby boomers begin to retire. Our expenses are going to go up, as our revenues go down.

Many have bought into this storyline, because if it’s in MacLean’s Magazine, then it must be true. But it’s not just a financial problem of checks and balances. It’s much more complex than that.

The healthy aging lab, also members of the Collaborative for Healthy Aging and Care and the newly appointed Council on Aging, has been grappling with this problem for 4 years now.  And through the social lab process, we were able to dig deeper, and really tunnel in – because aging and aging well is a complex issue.

Just look at the social determinants of health that have the greatest impact on healthy aging. After income, the five determinants having the greatest impact on how a person ages are food security, adequate housing, transportation and access to primary health and long term care.

Look around the room today. The social labs present are dealing with the majority of these – either directly or indirectly. We can’t isolate this stuff because they all impact the other and are intricately connected.

And to make things even more complex, each NB community is different. They each have a different mix of challenges based on unique socioeconomic, cultural and historical factors. Because of this, it’s next to impossible to create a top-down policy approach that is going to succeed in the transition we are facing as a province. We won’t solve the problem through policy alone.

Communities are a key foundation of society, and they are part of the solution in solving the challenges we face as a province. The approach is to arm communities in meeting government halfway.

Some communities are doing some of this type of work already. The Village of Gagetown’s Transportation Project is but one example where the community took a proactive approach in meeting the needs of its aging population using the assets they have – an available bus and a handful of volunteer drivers.  When there is a will there is a way.

The Healthy Aging Lab will be creating a readiness tool kit that assists communities in understanding where they are – not what their needs are, because this leads to a discussion of wanting more, but in rediscovering their assets. What do they bring to the table that can help solve problems with more autonomy? How can they leverage their assets for the betterment of the community as a whole?

We plan to do something cheap and simple by prototyping a community readiness tool kit, and do limited trials in a number of communities to iron out the kinks before wide dissemination. We believe that with a few successes using this approach, communities will begin learning and copying each other. This will then create systemic and cultural change in how we perceive our communities, and how we define and manage aging for the citizens of NB.



Beth Arsenault, is the Program Coordinator of the Collaborative for Healthy Aging and Care. The New Brunswick Collaborative for Healthy Aging and Care is a growing coalition representing 50+ stakeholder organizations whose programs support New Brunswick's senior population. It focuses its efforts in collaborating with organizations and individual citizens interested in healthy aging and care. Specifically, the Collaborative meets to determine the ways in which NB stakeholders can work together to shape aging in our communities by developing unique partnerships to build system capacity, impact culture and affect needed policy.

If you would like to learn more, get involved, join the conversation, or receive Neighbours in Aging, our quarterly newsletter, please contact us by visiting our website, facebook CHAC / CVSS, twitter @CHACCVSSNB or by email

Beth Arsenault, BSc, BA, est la Coordonatrice de programme du Collectif pour le santé et soins.

« Le Collectif pour le vieillissement en santé et soins », une coalition grandissante qui représente plus de 50 intervenants dont les programmes soutiennent la population âgée, concentre ses efforts sur la collaboration avec les organisations et les citoyens individus qui s'intéressent au vieillissement en santé et aux soins. Spécifiquement, le Collectif se réunit régulièrement pour déterminer comment les intervenants du N.-B. peuvent travailler ensemble pour refaçonner l'expérience de vieillissement dans nos communautés en développant des partenariats uniques pour renforcer les capacités du système, changer la culture et mener aux changements politiques nécessaires.

Veuillez nous contacter si vous voulez en savoir plus, participer à la conversation, ou recevoir notre bulletin trimestriel «Viellir ensemble », en visitant notre site de web, facebook CHAC / CVSS, twitter @CHACCVSSNB ou par courriel


Exploring Social Innovation Labs

Exploring Social Innovation Labs

I recently had the good fortune to take training on social innovation labs (social labs) with Zaid Hassan, co-founder of Reos Partners and Roller Strategies and author of Social Labs Revolution - A new approach to solving our most complex challenges (2014). Congrats to the people at NouLab for organizing the training!

In particular, I want to share this approach with people working on Acadian development. What I find especially relevant is the very important place experimentation has in it.

Social innovation labs are based on a methodology for committing to resolving complex social problems, which are not only those more traditionally defined as social ones such as poverty and gender equality, but also economic, environmental and other problems.

Very briefly, here are the three main characteristics of social labs according to Hassan:

1. Diversified teams (including diversity and representatives from various sectors such as government, the private sector and non-profit organizations);

2. An iterative process facilitating experimentation in which solutions-prototypes are tested;

3. Spaces promoting systemic action.

Because it standardizes trial and error, experimentation is an intelligent way of avoiding the fear of error and failure that is an enormous obstacle to development.

Numerous times during my years in the associative sector, I had to deal with the frustration of seeing some of my colleagues' and my more experimental ideas rejected because they had not yet been proven. That rejecting attitude is a good means of protection in an organization but, unfortunately, also a way of making sure there is no innovation.  The social labs approach has the advantage of legitimizing experimentation for people who could have some doubts or be afraid of taking a risk.

Instead of being based on "best practices" and "not re-inventing the wheel" (how many times have we heard these expressions, which seem to be irrefutable?), the social labs approach is based on the real commitment of concerned people and stakeholders to a collaborative and systemic creative process.

Happy exploring!


Sarah LeBlanc  

Social and Organizational Change Strategist

Guest Blogger






Prototyping or Piloting?

Prototyping or Piloting?


“You can only understand a complex problem once you start to solve it” -Jan Rotmans

For the 6th workshop in our effort to address complex challenges, we were joined again by Jerry Koh of the MaRS Solutions Lab to learn about Prototyping.

You might ask: Isn’t that just another word for piloting?

Good question!  No it is not.

One of the biggest take aways from this session was the key differences between prototyping and piloting.  Prototyping is all about achieving targeted learning around how to realize outcomes, testing at a small scale and iterating to scale interventions and change systems.

One of the most succinct ways understanding prototyping is as a learning device.

So, in designing a prototype, our teams were ask themselves: what am I trying to learn? Then: is my solution desirable, feasible, viable and impactful?  Our teams began the day sharing their visions for New Brunswick and are now going through a process of experimenting to get there.

What experiments would you run to help you realize your vision for New Brunswick?  

People Inspire Others To Action

People Inspire Others To Action


“Mere facts are not enough to inspire others to action.” – Alan Kantrow

People inspire others to action. More specifically, the right people inspire others to action, and identifying, understanding, and collaborating with the right people is crucial to the success of all social change.

In the case of our labs, the right people are the individuals of influence who can either support or prevent each labs’ work in any number of ways as it moves forward. In order to optimize the impact these individuals can have, it’s important to have a deepened understanding of who they are and why they care about the things they do.

On January 25, our lab teams gathered at the Venn Centre in Moncton for NouLAB’s sixth workshop, Constituency Mapping. With the guidance of Alan Kantrow, the teams identified some of these individuals of influence and set out to learn more about them.

Teams were asked to answer the following questions:

·      What constituents have a stake in the outcome of your work?

·      What is it that you seek from them?

·      What values do they hold?

·      How might you reach them?

·      What are the risks in reaching out?

As the teams responded to these questions, the complexity and scale of their challenges became apparent, but it also became clear just how many people are invested in the outcome of these seven problems. Understanding how to work with these people is an essential element of the lab process.

Finding common ground with those who impact your work plays a major role in how successful your work will be, how quick you’ll get it done, and how much effort will be required to achieve your goals.

Sometimes facts alone won’t drive people to act. There are cultures, beliefs, and vested interests that influence the behaviour of others. In order to inspire others to work with us, we need to understand more than the facts. We need to understand them.




The Usefulness of User Research

The Usefulness of User Research



It’s the new year! Resolutions are abundant and the energy for change is thriving in communities. NouLAB is of no exception – we are ready for the exciting and eventful year to come.

2015 was a big year for us; we designed and launched the lab, brought together innovative and diverse stakeholder teams around some six of New Brunswick’s most pressing challenges, and held our first three workshops on Problem Framing, Systems Mapping, and Prototyping.

We couldn’t be more pleased with the work our lab teams started last year and we think 2016 is going to be even bigger.    

On January 11, we held our first workshop of the year, and the first in a series of semi-monthly lab workshops to run from January until April. Led by MaRS Solutions Lab Associate, Vanessa Toye, the workshop on January 11 was designed to introduce lab teams to User Research – a way of gaining insight into a given system by intimately understanding people’s experiences in it.

After a short introduction to User Research methodology, lab participants were provided the opportunity to practice a variety of research tools, including:

Surveys – Used to collect information about how people think and act through question-based assessment.

Participant Observation – Used in qualitative research settings to gain an intimate acquaintance with a given group of people.

Empathy Maps – Used to understand emotional responses to interactions with people, organizations, and services within a system.

Journey Maps – Used to determine the true desires and needs of their people at different stages of an experience.

Persona Types – Used to represent the different and common personality types in a space.

Interviews – Used in a conversational setting to draw out facts or statements from an interviewee.

The objective of the workshop was to help lab participants understand how to employ certain tools depending on the type of information being sought. Ultimately, its purpose is to help the lab teams dig deeper.

Statistics often tell us what is happening in a system. User research data tells us more about the who. In order to understand the what statistics, we need to understand the personal stories behind them.

Teams finished off the day by identifying questions about their challenges they’d like to know more about. By combining the aforementioned tools, teams were able to more effectively visualize their respective steps moving forward into the early months of the new year.

What began as a question of how tackle New Brunswick’s most pressing social issues led to the creation of New Brunswick’s first social innovation lab in 2015. Last year saw us take our first few steps to building a smarter change process, and this year we plan to continue in that direction.  

2016 will be the year our teams leap to action. We hope you’ll stay tuned as NouLAB turns one!

Learning from Social Labs

Learning from Social Labs


What does it take to tackle our most profound social, environmental, and economic challenges?

Zaid Hassan, cofounder of Reos Partners – an international enterprise that helps businesses and communities around the world address complex social challenges - has been asking this question for years, and he posed it to the audience in his keynote speech at GovMaker 2015.

What makes Zaid unique is that when he asks this question it isn’t rhetoric. He really wants to know: what would it actually take?

We at the Pond-Deshpande Centre and Social Policy Research Network have been asking ourselves this for a little over a year. Although we haven’t found a formula, we think we may be onto something. It’s New Brunswick’s first social innovation lab, NouLAB, and we publicly unveiled it at GovMaker on November 24.

NouLAB is a partnership between the Pond-Deshpande Centre and Social Policy Research Network, with support from the J. W. McConnell Family Foundation, MaRS Solutions Lab, and the Govlab. It provides a place and process to envision and create the new, or “nouveau”, New Brunswick. By connecting and guiding diverse teams, committed and creative New Brunswickers aim to tackle our most complex social challenges – ones that are messy but deserve serious attention.

In Zaid’s book, The Social Labs Revolution, he explains that our most complex social challenges possess three common characteristics:

1      Emergence;

2      New and continual information flow; and

3      Actors adjusting behaviours.

These challenges are emergent: they develop in unexpected ways as a result of the interactions between a high number of individuals and organizations. Think throwing a rock versus throwing a live pigeon. One’s behaviour and direction is far less predictable than the other.

These interactions produce new information for individuals and organizations to sort through. As this new information is processed, individuals and organizations react and adapt their behaviours, which begins the cycle again.

In short, complex challenges change in unexpected ways over time, so it’s difficult to determine how to act on them most effectively.

New Brunswick isn’t low on its stock of complex challenges, but we can begin writing a new narrative for the province by finding ways to improve the dismal social metrics that currently define us. However, we can only do this together. We need our talented, committed thought leaders and entrepreneurial spirits to collide and collaborate on these challenges in ways that haven’t yet been done.

When we unveiled NouLAB at GovMaker, we showcased the six challenges that we’re going to be working with through our first NouLAB program:

Food Sovereignty;

Rebuilding Rural New Brunswick;

Newcomer Employment;

Adult Literacy;

Social Housing; and

Policy Approaches to Wellness.

To learn more about the challenges and teams, connect with the team leads here.

The challenges brought forward are all messy, but are pressing issues for our region. Fortunately, there are groups that have formed around them who are dissatisfied with the status quo, who believe in working with uncommon partners, and who don’t have all the answers. But they are ready to ask the necessary, and often uncomfortable, questions.

“What does it take to tackle our most profound social, environmental, and economic challenges?” is the question we started with. We’re still asking ourselves this question, but, hopefully, in a few months, we and our six teams will have a pretty good idea.

If you think you, or someone you know, can support any of our lab teams in their work with NouLAB, please get in touch with us at or with our lab teams directly here

The New Brunswick Social Innovation Lab

The New Brunswick Social Innovation Lab


In New Brunswick the economy is shrinking, the population is dwindling, rural communities are disappearing, literacy rates are dismal, obesity rates are above the national average, and our social housing stock needs to be revitalized. We know that we need to do things differently, to think differently about these problems, and to innovate, but how?

The Pond-Deshpande Centre and the NB Social Policy Research Network have partneredwith the MaRS Solutions Lab, GovLab, The Province of New Brunswick, the McConnel Foundation and NB Non-Profit Housing to create a provincial Social Innovation Lab to address New Brunswick’s toughest challenges.

Multi-sector lab teams focusing on a variety of challenge areas are being supported through aprocess of problem framing, system mapping, user-centred research, design and prototyping. The series of workshops started November 10th and will be running through to April 2016. The inaugural workshop, led by Alan Kantrow, SENIOR ADVISOR TO The Governance Lab @NYU, focused on the issue of problem framing. This session was meant to get participants thinking differently about their problem statements so as to define them in an actionable way. With an elegant balance between professorial lecture and story telling, the session exceeded expectations AND got the participants thinking differently about the problems they wish to address.

The most common—and most easily remedial -- point of failure in innovation efforts lies at the stage of problem definition. From the pre-work done by participant teams, it rapidly became clear that efforts to frame problems often go wrong because:

  1.  What Is Presented As A Problem Is Really A Solution
  2. What Is Presented As A Problem Is Really A Symptom
  3. What Is Presented As A Single, Actionable Problem Is Really A Collection Of Problems Lumped Together
  4. What Is Presented As A Problem Is Located Too Far Downstream Toward Solutions And Not Sufficiently Upstream Toward Causes
  5. What Teams Have In Mind When They Think About Solving Problems Involves Not Really “Solving” Them But, Rather, Moving Them Onto Someone Else’s Plate And/Or Changing Their Shape

Jerry Koh, Manager @ Toronto’s MaRS Solutions Lab, led lab teams through a series of system mapping exercises in workshop two. Building on the tightly-framed challenge statements developed on day one, lab teams were asked to “get visual” and map out what their problem looked like. Teams were asked to identify the individuals and organizations that 1) influence the outcome of the challenge, 2) are influenced by the outcome, and 3) the relationships between these parties and the challenges.

By creating visual representations of their respective challenge landscapes, lab teams were able to begin identifying the most promising places to intervene. Throughout the program, teams will build on this preliminary work, refining their understanding of the challenge, identifying optimal intervention points, and building prototypes to test their innovative ideas.

“Some costs are sunk. Don't let loyalty to those prevent choice moving forward.”

You can learn more about these teams of innovators, the challenges they are taking on, and the process they are participating in at the GovMaker Conference November 23-24 at the Delta Fredericton. You can also follow on twitter: #NBLabs.


Who are the partners?

The Pond-Deshpande Centre

The Pond-Deshpande Centre (PDC) was launched at the University of New Brunswick (UNB) in 2011 as the result of a generous donation from two serial entrepreneurs, Boston based Desh and his wife Jaishree Deshpande and Saint John based Gerry Pond. The mandate of the PDC was to play the role of catalyst in stimulating more entrepreneurial activity at UNB. @ponddeshpande

The NB Social Policy Research Network

The NB Social Policy Research Network (NBSPRN) is a partnership between the Government of New Brunswick and the four publicly-funded universities in the province. The Network’s mission is to advance citizen engagement and an evidence-based approach to policy development through cross-sectoral collaboration. Recently the Network launched the GovMaker Conference to explore the benefits of open data and open government for New Brunswick. @rrpsnbsprn

MaRS Solutions Lab

As a public and social innovation lab, the MaRS Solutions Lab brings together governments,foundations, corporations, non-governmental organizations, academia and the greater community to help unravel complex problems from the citizen’s perspective. We collaborate with users and stakeholders to develop, prototype and scale new solutions, and create opportunities to learn how to change the systems that help us thrive in the 21st century. For more on labs, read the MaRS report Labs: Designing the Future @solutions_lab


The GovLab’s mission is « to improve people’s lives by changing the way we govern ». Funded by The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, The GovLab Academy is a free, online community for those interested in teaching and learning how to open their institutions and work more collaboratively to solve public problems that improve people’s lives.

The J. W. McConnell Family Foundation

Established in 1937, the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation engages Canadians in building a more innovative, inclusive, sustainable, and resilient society. The Foundation’s purpose is to enhance Canada’s ability to address complex social, environmental and economic challenges by developing, testing, and applying innovative approaches and solutions; by strengthening the community sector; and by collaborating with partners in the community, private, and public sectors.

NB Non-Profit Housing Association

The New Brunswick Non Profit Housing Association Inc. (NBNPHA) provides expertise and support for the nonprofit and affordable housing sector in New Brunswick. The NBNPHA Launched the NB Housing Lab on May 7th 2015 in Edmundson, NB and is a participant in the GovLab Academy.