On the Grid: Mapping Levers of Change

What’s better than Graeme’s banana chocolate cake? (inside joke with those who attended!) Savoury ideas and engaging dialogue at the last Hub event! After hosting a series of 8 Waterlution Toronto Hub events, our Learning Lab season has come to a close. Not an end, just a close.

This year’s highly engaging and interactive Learning Lab focused on water & energy.  Stats indicate that only about 30% of Canadians make the connection between water & energy. Yet in light of most recent events: June flooding in Toronto and Alberta (and the blackouts) and the oil spill in Lac-Megantic in Quebec, we witnessed a shift in collective consciousness with more Canadians making the connection between water and energy.

At every Hub event, we explored our theme from a different lens. From a focus on behavioural and cultural change, to identifying common goals and working towards a national water & energy strategy, to creating ideal “futures” and designing new models to doing business, to navigating complexity and exploring what constitutes innovative leadership… (and launching H2O Theatre: An evening of storytelling)… then breaking out into the outdoors to physically explore water and energy in Toronto’s Landscape… wow- what a season!

For our Hub finale, we partnered with Commons 11 (technology for social good), in an effort to focus on scoping where systemic change can be leveraged for an alternative system to emerge. The idea was: how can we strengthen what already exists out there vs. adding more to it? The Two Loops of Change Model (introduced by the Berkana Institute) coupled with an Appreciative Inquiry process anchored our dialogue.

… “strengthening what is already out there. Building communities to connect catalysts of change with emergent projects in water and energy, pushing for a new system towards a sustainable future. The goal is to accelerate the transition to this new system, while giving hospice to the old system.”

So we began by mapping change: plotting all initiatives we are aware of that focus on water & energy and are working towards accelerating the emergence of a new system. For a list on existing institutes and local clean tech startups see this and this.

At our Beachside Chat with Provocatrices Melanie Gorka, co-founder of Commons 11 and Satsuko VanAntwerp, Manager of SiG@MaRS, we discussed how labs & hackathons are emerging social technologies that can accelerate momentum towards an “alternative system” and can be used in the water and energy sector.


Both Provocations focused on a shared philosophy of field building and community strengthening, via two different vehicles.

    • Melanie with a focus on Tech:
      Hackathons are gatherings of subject experts with tech experts around a social cause, extrapolating data and producing an MVP (minimum viable product). They offer disruption via coding for the social good space, innovation implementation, and connecting community of pioneers.
    • Satsuko with a focus on Labs:
      Labs are a series of gatherings of multi-stakeholders and subject experts around a problem statement. The problem gets revisited and moved forward at a series of gatherings. It is a process of field building in the social innovation space, and offers communities of practice an opportunity to exchange “best practices”.
  • How are pioneers delivering in the old system?
  • How are emergent systems affecting the way the old system is changing?
  • Have you ever felt that a project you are leading is too newage/radical to fit into existing policies, laws, thinking systems? Did you think to yourself that it feels like it doesn’t belong? Can’t be slotted into an existing category? Runs into many hurdles that obstruct its implementation?



Out of our Appreciative Inquiry process (Discover, Design, Dream, Deliver) emerged some designs to help support and strengthen the champions and innovators working towards an alternative and emergent system:

  • Creating databases for physical spaces that can be accessible (and/or free) for communities of innovators to gather in- as access to a physical space can be the toughest part of building community (connections were made to existing ones like Breather and Popplet).
  • Hosting events whereby stories can be illuminated; where pioneers can showcase their work and others can experience it physically – see it, touch it and tie it to a space; and where games, competitions etc. can be planned.
  • Creating a tool that helps trailblazers focus on benefits of change, figure out how to make the system desire to see the problem and solve it, and keeping approaches dynamic.
  • Creating a Champion Award & Credit system that offers incentives for these pioneers to continue doing the great work that they are, giving them further credibility.
  • Using convening tools to connect and build collaborative approaches that allow us to meet and feed each other and to share models/prototypes and build experiences.

We ended our gathering by looking at the shape that change makes through a visualization exercise. The Veterans (dominant system), Trailblazers (pioneers), and Transformers (those who facilitate the connections between a dominant system and an emerging one) all actively constructed the shape that systemic change can look like.


Final words:

Waterlution gatherings focus on bringing together leaders who are passionate about water. We are interested in the human-water relationship and our events are less focused on providing technical information on water, and more focused on new ways of learning. We break down silos by inviting people outside of their comfort zones- be it their labs, desks, computer screens, datasets and we create an environment where their expertise and experience can be shared, and where ideas can cross-pollinate.

The Hub community has grown so much that we are certain pop-up Hub events will emerge organically and self-organize when there is a need and a call for them. We have created the space, and now it is up to you to nurture it and keep its momentum going. Thank you all for your energy and support for the past 2 years of our Waterlution Toronto Hub.

See you at the Water Innovation Lab in Alberta!


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