12. Foster Sideways Learning Opportunities


It’s easy to get stuck in a rut.  Whether it’s typical daily routines or doing things the way they’ve always been done.  The problem is, in the work place and in cities, that often doesn’t always lead to innovative solutions.  In pyramid systems, that is when experts (bosses or consultants) tell people what to do, the learning leaves with them when the project is over.

Exchange models or Sideways Learning promotes mechanism for spreading innovation.  According to What Works, this type of learning, “stays within communities because the vehicle is people, who are rooted in their local process and who do not go away.”

The Social Innovation Toolkit outlines the model:

Sideways learning involves networking, community exchange and the creation of participatory cultures, where many different stakeholders across typical roles and responsibilities form learning communities to better understand problems and define possible solutions.

Five ways South Bend can further promote sideways learning:

  1. Find groups with similar problems to create more cohesive solutions for the various stakeholders.
  2. Embrace the various networking groups (West Side Wednesdays, Green Drinks, Science Cafe, 3 Degrees, etc.) both for the diversity of thought represented and for the opportunity for new collaboration
  3. Utilize innovation techniques like Design Thinking to generate more ideas (Discovery – Interpretation – Ideation – Experimentation – Evolution)
  4. Do not type-fit solutions to existing problems.
  5. Identify root issues (question – interview – survey – reflect – analyze) “You’ve only identified the relative genre of a problem if you can’t do anything about it”

Sideways Learning for Municipalities and Designers.

A few days ago, I was talking to another someone about raising the design IQ of other built environment design consultants (landscape architects, engineers, planners, and architects) in the community.  Often, designers do not attend the public meetings of other consultants, to the detriment of both the project and the community, and interestingly, to the designer as well.  This is because, when it comes to design (as with everything else) it’s important to learn from experience and exposure to new ideas.

The notion that your competition could be your best collaborators isn’t new.  Silicon Valley has been promoting that model for a couple of decades already. One particularly interesting sideways learning opportunity that engages both municipalities and designers is the Mayor’s Institute on City Design.  It’s an organization that promotes collaboration between several city officials and designers, bringing them all together to talk about ways to address the most pressing civic problems.  The organization handles marketplace competition effectively by keeping the mayor’s participation confidential and the designers aren’t allowed to bid for the projects discussed for several years.  An interesting opportunity that could be explored locally with the Accelerate Indiana Municipalities, INASLA, AIA-IN, and APA-IN organizations.

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