Question My Assumptions

On Wednesday, Fiona Wright from HUB Ottawa led our in-class discussions and activities. It was at this point that I finally started to question my own assumptions and get a handle on this mammoth topic known as social innovation.

The critical turning point was learning about systems thinking.

For me, systems thinking is this idea about the “whole being more than the sum of its parts”. It’s about understanding how all the parts fit together, and how they are interconnected. A system therefore has elements, interconnections, and a purpose or function.

More importantly, however, a system is not linear.

This was the most poignant lesson of the day for me personally. A system is not linear.

The learning environment that Omar created for the week was a system. Each student in that classroom and each guest speaker were part of that system. Each reading I had done, all the notes I had taken, and all the new terminology I had learnt impacted me and how I contributed to that system. Each new topic we explored as a class was part of that system. Our assumptions, our questions, and our passions were part of that system.

Each part was distinctly unique and independent, yet somehow intimately connected to the whole. Each part had an integral role to play in making that classroom work.

This knowledge helped me uncover my own assumptions about social innovation, and more surprisingly, my own assumptions about how learning should be conducted and how I learn best. This doesn’t necessarily mean that I suddenly became a huge fan of group work or sharing. It does mean, however, that I came to see value in how each part of the system, our learning environment, helped me understand my own predilections better.

When someone makes a comment, I have always understood that I can either agree or disagree, or sometimes be ambivalent. What I did not understand, however, was that my reaction to someone else’s comment was a clear indication of what my own assumptions were, and how my assumptions interacted with other people’s assumptions.

In addition, I came to value the classroom dynamic more. It was ok that we all had questions. It was ok that we all had more questions than we started the class with. It was also ok that we revisited some of those questions time and time again throughout the week. The system is dynamic; it is ever-changing, and ever-evolving. As the parts in the system change, so too does the system.

The system is not linear.

Part of the purpose of creating a reflective artifact is to uncover how social innovation and the face-to-face sessions have helped me personally and/or professionally. This is a really interesting question to ask myself, because I strongly believe that I am at this unique nexus in my life, where the personal and professional are becoming ever-more intertwined.

The more I think about systems thinking, the more I feel confused and intrigued by what it really means for my personal-professional conundrum. I chose to not only revisit the notes I had made on the readings, but I also started exploring alternative sources of information on the topic. And I finally came across something that really seemed to fit where I am currently in my life.

According to Goldenberg (2010), social innovation is “increasingly being seen as an important and legitimate public policy approach” (p. 208). And I think this video is the perfect illustration of how one part of socially innovation, systems thinking, can really become a powerful tool for public policy. And, more importantly, I can see a role for myself in making this happen. I like systems thinking exactly because it is difficult. It seems to fit well with my problem-solving, analytical head. Like Eli, I too am an “impatient optimist” and I look forward to potentially exploring many of the sub-themes that she has mentioned later on in my research project.


Goldenberg, M. (2010). Reflections on social innovation. The Philanthropist, 23(3), 207-220.

Stefanski, E. (2011, October 21). Making Systems Thinking Sexy. TEDx Talks. Podcast retrieved from


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