Our Story

OUR STORY

THE INNOVATION HUB LAUNCHED IN 2016

The Innovation Hub was launched in 2016 by the Division of Student Life at U of T to explore two questions using design thinking: Who are our students? and how is the world changing for them?  We wondered how the answers to these questions might shape how future programs, services, and resources are designed to better support students.  

At our launch event at Chestnut Residence, we brought together over 240 students, staff, and faculty to explore using design thinking in our planning processes. After hearing the Who are our Students presentation, we asked attendees to brainstorm on a question: What do students need to live a successful life? The answers to these questions generated thousands of post-it notes that eventually informed the five domains of innovation that give scope to our work.  

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THE STORY OF OUR WORK TO DATE

In the years since our beginnings in 2016, our work has continuously evolved to generate student participation, encourage co-creation, and drive change to transform campus experiences. The Innovation Hub is driven by students, for students.  

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2016-2017
EARLY INNOVATION HUB

From the beginning, we co-created with student including s and the U of T community to build the Innovation Hub. Everything we do, our team structure, our mission, vision, values, processes, and projects is decided in community with our team.

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2018-2019
CREATING SCALABLE IMPACT

After a successful 2-year pilot, we expanded our capacity by implementing a consultant model, taking on projects on a cost-recovery basis. We also explored the “Big Ideas” generated in the first few years of the Innovation Hub.

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2020-2022
COLLABORATING IN A PANDEMIC

While the pandemic brought many challenges, the Innovation Hub continued to grow. During this period, we really began to understand how student needs change and evolve, and challenges pushed us to consider new perspectives and creative solutions.

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2023-PRESENT
MOVING TOWARDS THE FUTURE

Since opening our space at the UTSU Student Commons, we’ve continued to strive to understand student experiences and take on meaningful projects. Building community with and listening to students is resulting in meaningful change on campus.

EARLY INNOVATION HUB (2016-2017)

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INSIGHTS & IDEAS

Our work culminated in January 2017 with our team Insights & Ideas unveiling 25 ideas for sustaining and disruptive innovation from our five domains team, bringing together senior leaders from across the University of Toronto.  

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A SUCCESSFUL 2 YEAR PILOT

After two years at the Innovation Hub, we completed our Pilot Project Review, where we shared our co-created domains of innovation, Innovation Hour monthly events, design research methodologies, and outlined a future vision for the iHub. 

HIGHLIGHTS

Co-Creating 5 Domains of Innovation

Thousands of post-it notes from hundreds of community members helped answer the question: what do students need in order to have a good life? Their responses informed our final domains of innovation. 

Our First Team

We began with just 5 work-study students – one for each of the domains of innovation. Our first Research Lead, Ali Rodney and Communications Lead, Margaryta Ignatenko were the first student leaders to lead our first team meeting and begin to shape our work.

Innovation Hours

We hosted Innovation Hours - coffee meetings for students, staff, and faculty to share ideas about what the iHub could be from their diverse perspectives. These conversations helped create the domains of innovation, build our team model, and connected ambassadors to our work. 

Share Back Days

We hosted Share Back Days to get input on our ideas from the community. Our blog began to build traction across U of T during these days. Feedback and iteration allowed us to refine our processes, learning from our community in the spirit of co-creation.

CREATING SCALABLE IMPACT (2018-2022)

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5 BIG IDEAS

The 5 Big Ideas emerged from extensive consultation, ideation, and prototyping from our original Insights & Ideas. Cross-disciplinary teams consulted with the community to explore what would have to be true for this idea to come to life at U of T and actually meet the need it was intended to meet?  

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MOVING TO A CONSULTING MODEL

We moved to a consulting model by partnering with U of T divisions to deeply understand experiences within their communities. We constructed formal project plans, and build project teams, applying our design research methods to support partners in their planning.  

HIGHLIGHTS

Design Thinking Experience Program

For the first time, we invited participants outside the Innovation Hub to participate in our Design Thinking Experience Program (DTEP) — a multi-week experiential learning course teaching design thinking to students, staff and faculty. 

Building Capacity

To promote further involvement in design thinking, we scaled up training and offered a training weekend. This event encouraged team members and volunteers to connect with others, foster meaningful connections and learn our design thinking method. 

Mental Health Task Force

In a key partnership with the Presidential & Provostial Student Mental Health Task Force, we completed the student research for the action plan on student mental health and wellness. 

Chill Spots

The Chill Spots project emerged from a simple idea: what if we could transform existing, underused spaces at a minimal cost to better meet student needs? With the help of the Provost’s Student Space Enhancement Fund, several “Chill Spots” were launched around campus. 

COLLABORATING IN A PANDEMIC (2020-2022)

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MOVING OUR WORK ONLINE

During the pandemic, we moved all our work online. Although we experienced many changes and challenges, we also discovered new ways of fostering connectedness during uncertain times.

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STORIES FROM A DISTANCE

In March 2020, we launched Stories from a Distance — an initiative that ran weekly sessions to combat the isolation and loneliness of the pandemic. Through this project, we built an online community for students to engage in conversation and foster connections. 

HIGHLIGHTS

What Matters to U of T Students

As a student-led initiative that grounds its findings in student stories, we continue to be inspired by and respond to the students who share their feedback. We foster that trust by making our reports public. Today, our website contains all of our data since 2016.

Stories Through Research

In 2021, we launched a “Stories Through Research” series to virtually present our work to the community. This week-long event highlighted 5 of our design research projects from the 2020-2021 academic year, demonstrating how student consultation and research can impact higher education communities. 

Preparing to Return to Campus

In the latter half of 2021, we thought intentionally about what it meant to return to campus and the direction the Innovation Hub would take. We welcomed new perspectives to find what students would truly need, expect and want from their university experience going forward. 

MOVING TOWARDS THE FUTURE (2023-PRESENT)

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INNOVATION HUB: A PHYSICAL PLACE

In Fall 2021, we were back in person. While the two years we spent working virtually demonstrated that collaboration does not have to be confined to a physical place, our new space at the UTSU Student Commons Building adds to the network of positive student spaces on campus.

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EXCELLENCE THROUGH INNOVATION

In 2024, the Innovation Hub was awarded the Excellence for Innovation Award (ETIA), which celebrates ‘above-and-beyond' contributions to the University of Toronto community. Our collaborative approach to designing university spaces, services and programs on campus makes us a leader of innovation at U of T.

HIGHLIGHTS

Robarts 4th Floor

Partnering with Robarts Library, the Innovation Hub developed an in-depth report for the 4th floor redesign in 2020. In 2022, the revitalized space opened to students, staff and researchers. Informed by the student feedback collected by the Innovation Hub, this new space marked a new milestone for collaboration. 

Increasing Equity at Sport and Rec

Our partnership with Sport and Rec aimed to understand the experiences of students not currently engaged with movement offerings, with a focus on students from equity-deserving groups. Our findings from this project will help to inform the accessibility of Sport and Rec programs for years to come.  

A Growing Team

Since the beginning, the Innovation Hub has maintained a commitment to providing meaningful student employment. Year after year, we strive to provide this opportunity to as many students as possible — our 2023-24 Team had over 100 student employees!