Embracing Change – How our Process of Innovation Has Empowered New Areas of our Work

Kaitlyn Corlett smiling at the camera
Kaitlyn Corlett, Senior Project Assistant

In times of uncertainty, navigating an unfamiliar space can feel like an impossible task to achieve. Last March, we were in this very spot where we didn’t know what our work at the Innovation Hub would look like. But what we did know is that whatever it may beit would be immensely valuable in these times. By embracing change we’ve been exploring new ways to support the UofT community and ensuring we continue to drive our work by students for students through our design research projects. We’re so excited to share that by embracing change, new channels of our work have been inspired to connect individuals and build community in dynamic ways.

Learning from Our Process  

At the Innovation Hub we work with a variety of methods that guide our process of innovation. This often begins with UofT partner presenting a design idea/challenge to explore. We then begin the process of collecting and analyzing data through empathy-based methods, and our findings are presented to our partners to inspire next steps. You can learn more about this process here. 

The following graphic shows the steps of our process of innovation at the Innovation Hub, starting from a UofT partner presenting a design idea to ending on an iteration. Click the image to explore the report this is from.
Image sourced from the ‘What is The Innovation Hub?’ report

As this first area of process continues to thriveit has also been our foundation to explore the second half of our process: prototyping and testingThis space is where we bring our ideas to life and is inspired by our years of work with students. If you’re interested in seeing how we do this – here is our recent blog post on how we used four years of data to understand ‘What Matters to UofT Students?.  

In making sure our work is adapting to the evolving needs of students, we continually reflect on what is working, what isn’t, and what needs to be changed. 

Some solutions that have come from our projects:

We learn a lot about student needs in our projects. These translate into insights and themes to support the university community. Most of the time, these next steps are brought to our partners who generate solutions and new possibilities in their spaces on campus. We’ve also generated some of our own solutions including:

Stories from a Distance – Being Together While Apart

We have a deep understanding of the power of storytelling and holding space for student experiences, which has been highlighted in many of our projects such as:

Speech bubble with three coloured dots.This is why we began Stories from a Distance as a drop-in program over Zoom for students to connect, share stories, and feel less isolated in these uncertain times. If you’re a student at the University of Toronto, feel free to visit our Stories From a Distance website or join our Facebook group to tune in! Whether it’s mindful drawing, self-care chats, board game nights and more – we would love to have you!

Redefining Traditional – Making Higher Education Family Friendly

Redefining Traditional is a virtual community of student parents and supporters from across the globe and has been imagined by a scope of partners at UofT. This solution emerged from a multi-year partnership with the Family Care Office where we explored the needs of student parents and supporters, and ultimately has highlighted a need to bring together communities to explore how we can redefine traditional. Our previous projects can be found here:

Redefining Traditional: Making Higher Education Family FriendlyWhile our original plan was an in-person symposium, this new reality pushed us to ‘embrace change’ while still connecting to student parent needs. This is how a virtual community was imagined, and aims to connect individuals through:

We are looking forward to continually asking questions, reimagining higher education, and voicing student parent needs in these uncertain times. We welcome all student parents and supporters to join this community

Digital Connections Toolkit - Empowering Virtual Connections

An illustration of a laptop opening up with conversation bubbles emerging.Our most recent addition is our Digital Connections Toolkit, which was co-designed by the Innovation Hub and UofT community members over the Summer. This toolkit is aimed at empowering students to facilitate connections and engage with their own communities online1. From understanding students needing to navigate resources effectively & the importance of virtual connections, we also incorporated current community feedback to develop a solution that is supportive to individuals in these times. Some of our many projects that catalyzed this include:

Have an idea for a platform, feedback, or general comments? There’s a space for that too! Visit our Digital Connections Toolkit website for more info. 

What’s Next? 

What we’re learning is that work like this continues to evolve, shiftand requires ongoing feedback and reflection. While change can be difficult to navigate and embrace, it drives us to understand the ‘why’ of what we do – at UofT and beyondIt can inspire creativity, bring in new perspectives, and push us to redesign spaces to empower others and open new possibilities  

We welcome the UofT community into these spaces and look forward to hearing about how embracing change might be empowering for you.  

1Digital Connections Toolkit. (2020). Digital Connections Toolkit. http://blogs.studentlife.utoronto.ca/digitalconnections/ 

Links to Resources Mentioned  

Reports Linked:

Stories from a Distance:

Redefining Traditional:

Digital Connections Toolkit:

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