The Innovation Hub: Our Vision for 2019–20

Julia Smeed, Innovation Hub Project Leader

At the Innovation Hub, we are what we do. We commit ourselves to community growth through prototyping and iteration, not only in the design projects we take on, but also in designing our own work processes. By being responsive to the changing needs of the community—both internally, within our own team, and externally, with our project partners—we continually improve our practices.

Thus, the shape of the Innovation Hub has shifted over the years. We continued that shift this summer, reviewing all the feedback we have received and the experience we have accumulated to re-envision ourselves and redefine our goals and processes. Our refreshed vision (which we share in this guide) directs our approach for the coming year.

Internally, we build our community from students.

Teams at work at the Innovation Hub

By having student staff and volunteers compose our project teams, we reduce power dynamics that might otherwise obscure the stories we collect from other students. Every year, we are privileged to work with a skilled and motivated group, and we want to provide the Innovation Hub team with an opportunity to both contribute to the university and learn about design thinking through hands-on practice.

We emphasized the learning component through our inaugural Design Thinking Experience Program in Spring 2019, which provided students with an eight-week bootcamp where they were trained in design thinking and practised those skills by gathering feedback for the Provost’s Expert Panel on the Undergraduate Student Educational Experience.

Following the success of that program, we are taking that model into the new academic year, giving our teams a concurrent training and practice experience that explicitly entangles learning and work. Through this course-based structure, we hope to align students’ experiences at the Innovation Hub with their experiences in their classes and to better match their expectations and needs.

Externally, we see the university as a community of communities.

Students at UofT

When we launched in 2016, we started by searching for big picture solutions—ideas that would serve all of the university’s nearly 100,000 students at once. But with a population that rivals that of a city, the University of Toronto (UofT) is a complex environment of overlapping divisions, each with its own challenges. Just as a central structure is not the only structure, central solutions are not the only solutions, and we have chosen to embrace the university’s complexity and decentralized structure as it is by working with individual partners on their specific issues.  Reports from these projects are now available on our reports page.

We will continue this work in the coming year, working with groups throughout UofT to better understand the needs of their students. Understanding is our central contribution to our partnerships: we gather student stories to illuminate their experiences and identify the unspoken assumptions that misalign university programs with student desires. By providing our partners with these insights, we hope to surprise and inspire them so they can turn their existing expertise into new innovations.

We are excited for the changes the new year will bring and for the projects, both new and continuing, that our team will be taking on. Check back and subscribe to follow our journey this year.


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