Reflecting on Innovation Hub’s Evolution

Photo of JuliaBy Julia Smeed, Innovation Hub Project Leader

It’s hard to believe that in a few months the Innovation Hub will be approaching it’s two year anniversary since our launch event in May, 2016.  So much has happened in the past two years that I felt this would be a good time to reflect on this important work and what it’s meant to me and so many of the students, staff, faculty, alumni and other members of our community that have been involved.

The most delightful part of this work has been the sheer number of students and staff who have been part of it.  There have been over 250 students and staff involved as members of a team who come from almost every area of the university.  Adding on the events and ideation sessions, innovation hours and feedback opportunities, thousands of folks from our community have been involved in this work.  It is humbling to see this  community grow within such a large university.  What’s more, we now get to see students that we’ve worked with, graduate, and go on to have a successful start to their careers.

When this project started, I thought a lot about the word innovation.  It’s a complicated word.  I’ll admit that my perspective on innovation has changed over the past two years.  At first, I really thought the Innovation Hub was a place where new things– both disruptive and sustaining innovations,  would be created and that change would happen quickly.  What I now know is that innovation and the change that comes with it, takes a tremendous amount of time and collaboration if it’s to be done well. Furthermore, the learning that we, as a team, have had along the way, has been invaluable.  We’ve seen projects inspired by the Hub’s ideas – such as the UTSU’s help desk , inspired in part by the UofT Concierge idea, and the Hart House Lunch Box talks inspired in part by the Student Faculty Exploration Café idea.  These are just a few examples of the many ways that folks in our community are picking up the Hub’s learning and using it to inform ways to create a better experience for our students that better meets their needs.

Innovation is sometimes presented as something that is unique to our generation. But it isn’t all that new.  Innovation is in the history and the nature of Canada’s indigenous people, and has continued to be seen throughout history.  As new teams of students and staff work through the viability assessments for the five Big Ideas that came out of the original Innovation Hub research, we recognize and appreciate that people seeking to create better experiences is an age-old practice.  Students come to the Innovation Hub because they want to create a better experience for themselves and the students who will be here after them.  Staff and faculty also feel a passion for creating better experiences for students, and they join in the conversation.  All of this creates a vibrant community of diverse people who are working together and sharing their unique gifts and strengths to think through complex problems and examine possibilities.  To me, this is innovation redefined.

It has also been interesting to see the way that the work has evolved from the first to the second year.  In the first year we took a broad, university-wide approach to answering our core questions; Who are our students?  How is the world changing for them? What does this mean for the way we design support programs and services for students?  As we shared back the data from the first year, we realized that people from around the campus were challenged, inspired, troubled and activated by the stories of our students and there was a clear sense that the methodology we had employed to generate these stories could be transferred and employed differently.  So we started working on several new and important research projects.  Research is currently underway for these projects. We’re looking forward to the ideation processes that will be inspired by the stories of our students.

There’s much to be excited about as we enter into this next year of this work.  The ideas that will move forward, the new students and staff members who will become involved, and the unique stories that we’ll hear from students who we’ll encounter along the way.  I have a constant sense of gratitude and appreciation for our great institution and for the people who are part of this community, working together to better understand student experiences at U of T and explore possibilities for the future.

ideation session
Innovation Hub team members ideating at our Kick-Off Event

The Innovation Hub always has opportunities for students, faculty and staff to become involved in this work. We encourage you to get in touch with us if you’re interested in contributing!

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