SI Series 9: Social Innovation and Complex Social Challenges – The Reos Example

One particular example of social innovation strategies being applied to real world issues is the global social enterprise, Reos Partners.  Reos has a global team on five continents, who in essence work on ‘wicked problems’ as described by Tom Ritchey (2011), which are complex social problems involving multi-stakeholders across different sectors. Reos’ projects help to convene people in organisations, companies, and governments who are committed to transforming these challenges in collaboration with others. They employ several methods from events of a few days, platforms that last months, or processes that last years (including social labs, transformative scenarios and learning journeys) to address complex social challenges.  Is child malnutrition in India something that can be solved?  Yes, if the right people work together who are committed and open to systems change.

reospartnersUltimately, complex social problems such as malnutrition are in many ways complex people problems. Decisions that get made, policies that are implemented, products that get sold, all have to do with the dynamic nature of human mental-models (or world views) and social systems and networks.  Reos works with people to unravel human dynamics, implement and test theories of change, set up strategic guidance, increase communication, design prototype projects and evaluate results.

However, change doesn’t happen quickly. You can’t change malnutrition in a single workshop. It often takes a portfolio of work, iteratively implemented and tested over years that affects systemic change. The Sustainable Food Lab, for example, is 12 years old and its efforts have made a significant and direct contribution to the transformation of the global food system. As such Reos works alongside people who are committed to long-term transformation; those with the kind of ‘patient capital’ that understand they are making an investment into a decade’s long portfolio. This can include a multitude of signature approaches to put wheels in motion, because systems change when people change. How are people’s relationships changing?  How does a shared understanding of the challenge evolve?  Do people see themselves as a leader in the system instead of just a bystander?  How do intrapreneurs (people with an entrepreneurial spirit within an organisation) shift conditions?

One project that Reos is working on presently is Flip the Clinic.  It was originally inspired by the “flipped classroom” idea which is an innovative idea to flip the learning experience –students do their learning on-line at home, then come to school to do the homework. School has social component and students can learn from each other when in group interaction.  Flip the Clinic sets to transform the health care experience by creating a set of practices that can improve the medical encounter and to inspire others to invent new ways to get more out of the doctor’s visit,.  For example, a “tactical nurse” at the clinic’s door asks “what brought you here today?” and guides a person to the right area. In one pilot, patient wait times decreased from 40 to 4 minutes. Social media is employed to connect doctor and patient expectations.  Doctors get to know their patients better.  Reos’ brings key tools to make this happen. In a good example of social innovation, like this one, all the stakeholders are the problem owners – they may have no idea how to get unstuck, but they’re committed to finding out.

And that’s what Reos does.  It helps problems get unstuck.  Like all social innovations do.

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– Mike Unrau

This blog was written based on an interview with Reos Partners consultant Brenna Atnikov who is based in Calgary, and out of my own research / experience in taking training sessions with Reos.

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