Hannah Rich caught up with Stella Kalac from the Social Innovation Lab in Croatia, about SIC’s experimentation work.
How do you feel the process has gone so far?
Participating in this process has been an eye-opening experience. It was interesting for SIL to do experimentation along with CIPA and the City of Zagreb; both can be considered unusual suspects. This opportunity allowed us to examine and compare how the SI experimentation process works depending on different environments and the level of SI capacity of the host centres involved.
What are the key things you’ve learned?
Every day of the process I gained new insights. By taking on a facilitator role I’ve learned that being flexible, adaptable, and empathic are the key traits for engaging people and keeping them motivated. You really need to listen what others are saying, watch how they are reacting and adapt to new situations and versatile mindsets. Social innovation can be considered a risky process so, when working with public institutions, it is essential to create a safe, friendly environment, give clear instructions and have a sense of other people’s expectations, concerns and behaviour. On the other hand, supporting CIPA allowed more flexibility in work. CIPA gathers creative independent professionals, freelancers from cultural and creative sectors and therefore our mission was to develop and lead teams consisted of individuals used to working independently.
What would you do differently if you were doing the process again?
The experimentation process demands a lot of energy. It involves not only facilitating workshops but also set of activities to keep participants engaged and inspired, as well as creating a sense of responsibility and ownership of the innovation they’ve been developing. Working in an environment where ecosystem for social innovation is basically nonexistent demands investing a lot of time, resources and energy into educating, connecting people, creating partnerships and developing mutual trust. We wouldn’t do anything differently, but maybe consider activities I’ve mentioned when planning the process.
What has been the best moment of the process so far?
Personally, the best part of the process happened during the three-day co-creation workshop when we mixed up independent professionals and city officials. We decided to do rapid prototyping – creative activities such as acting, singing, creating 3D models. We didn’t know what to expect and were prepared for the worst case scenario to happen. However, creating teams with completely different personalities, experiences and mindsets proved to be super efficient. Participants adapted easily and all of us had so much fun! Another great moment of the process was creating a space for the city officials coming from different departments to connect, talk and exchange project ideas and experience, which they didn’t have before.
What has been the most difficult moment?
The most challenging part of the process has been managing everyday communication with the teams and dedicating energy and time to each team equally. Also, the bureaucratic procedures of the city have also affected the flexibility of the process, but we are trying to adapt and work within the existing city procedures and rules.
How useful have you found the Learning Exchange sessions?
The Learning Exchange sessions allowed innovation centres to connect, share experiences and help others with best practice examples. The added value was definitely realising how the same process works completely differently depending on the context, target groups and local challenges. For example, SoCentral helped us a lot with providing best practice examples regarding the solution we are trying to develop – creating a multidisciplinary working group on a city level in charge of establishing systematic learning of the Croatian language for asylum seekers in the city of Zagreb.
Have you found the language/cultural barrier to be an issue?
The language barrier was not an issue at all. However, cultural differences definitely play a big role in people’s mindset, openness to innovation and ability to take risks. Here in Croatia, we still need to learn that failure and learning from failure is something useful and, above all, completely normal. Changing the mindset will be crucial in embracing social innovation and developing a system of support, funding and practising new solutions.
If you had to sum the process up in 3 words, what 3 words would you use?
Explorative, collaborative, engaging.