With the creation of the Future Services Institute, I have found myself engaging a wide array of projects with inspiring leaders who want to make Minnesota's health and human services system more human-centered. I've been able to launch a new graduate certificate to help others get good grounding in Design Thinking, and I'm engaged in learning partnership with leaders at the state and local level that allow me to witness up close and personal innovation in action.
But I also feel the need to talk about the "theory of change" that underlies the Future Service Institute work. I'm working against the grain of both positivist- or interpretivist-oriented social science because they are typically just focused on either predicting desired outcomes or describing what is. As I look around at the state of the world, I see that public research universities must be engaged in helping make conditions better, particularly conditions that involve public institutions. As a result, I find myself spending a lot of time learning about design and design science, trying to figure out what lessons it offers for improving public policy implementation and supporting innovation.
What I can now articulate is that, across the number of policy fields where Future Services Institute works, we create and apply a range of resources to support managers’ abilities to create innovative solutions within their particular context. We explicitly use processes that try to alter the 'strategic action field' dynamics of each setting to more directly increase public value (this theoretical framework Moulton and I talk about in our book and 2017 article). We do so in a number of methods:
- Facilitation of large and small group engagement, between professionals or to enable more authentic learning between public and nonprofit organizations and citizens.
- Building specific training programs and workshops in which leaders to engage with the ideas of racial equity, complex system analysis, and reflective analysis of experiences.
- Create and deploy tangible tools that operate as boundary objects which cross professional and personal divisions that exist in social systems. These run the gamut from apps to frontline assessment tools, videos summarizing a project to research reports of state-wide surveys.
I'm not sure that anyone else but me cares that my actions are aligned with and grounded with theory. But I have always found that theory helps me to filter all of the potential ideas that come into my brain and allows me to be more purposive in how I act.