Community Innovation

“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”
- Albert Einstein

At Tamarack, we see Community Innovation as a particular form of social innovation that is place-based, within the specific geography of a community. Canada has been a pioneer in the field of social innovation, which has been defined as “both a destination – the resolution of complex social and environmental challenges – and also a journey – devising new approaches that engage all stakeholders, leveraging their competencies and creativity to design novel solutions.”

As dynamic ‘living labs’, communities offer the perfect container for innovation. Our experience with community change has taught us to appreciate that to be effective, Community Innovation requires an appreciation of both the issue one is hoping to address, as well as a deep understanding of the unique characteristics of the community – the place and the people within it – where the innovation will be implemented. Successful Community Innovation is context specific. Solutions that have been proven effective in one community can, at best, serve as a source of inspiration for another community. These innovations, however, must be adapted and modified to reflect the unique strengths, challenges and leadership of the community where they are being replicated.

Innovation creates a solution that is distinct from – and more ambitious and uncertain – than continuous improvement.  It is also important to note that innovation exists in a number of different forms. These include: program; product and/or service innovation; funding innovation or, system innovation. Karen Pittman, founder of the Forum for Youth Investment, illustrates this distinction well: “Programmatic interventions help people to beat the odds but systemic interventions seek to change the odds.” System innovation moves beyond the better alignment of programs and services within an existing system to challenge the system’s conventional norms and look beyond proven or accepted practices to create new, never-before considered solutions that are usually based on a fundamentally different set of assumptions.


Featured Resources

Getting Started

Asset Based Mapping

Human Centered Design Toolkit, 2nd Edition


The Human Centered Design Toolkit is an essential resource that provides new frameworks and ways to hear your constituents, create new solutions, and deliver on long-term goals. 

This free resource was produced by IDEO, a global design company comitted to creative positive impact.

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The F*ckup Book, 1st Edition

By The Failure Institute

This empowering book is a collection of solutions and approaches to 24 key stigmas around failure, and includes stories from 12 succesful social entrepreneurs. You can find a variety of application materials related to each of the 24 key stigmas. 

This free resource was produced by the Failure Institute, and is designed to remove the stigma around failures in the pursuit of innovation. 

Taking It Further

Brenda Zimmerman SpeakingPreventing Snapback: The Challenge of Resilient Systems

By Brenda Zimmerman

In this video, taken at Tamarack's 2014 Collective Impact Summit, Brenda Zimmerman discussed the concept of snapback in relation to community innovation, and the difficulty involved in creating resiliency in change.


Becoming a Leader Who Fosters Innovation

By D Magellan Horth & J. Vehar, Center for Creative Leadership

This free resource was developed by the Center for Creative Leadership, and outlines the difficulty of pursuing innovation in the face of day-to-day duties. It empahsizes the need for organizational support, focus, and a culture that nurtures creativity. 

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Adaptive Leadership Masterclass | May 23 - 29 | VAN, CGY, EDM, TOR, OTT

Does your work involve complex cross sector or community collaborations? Are you looking to learn practical and effective skills that will help you and your teams collaborate better – deal with conflict, challenge old ways of working, respond to diverse views, create shared meaning, and plan for the future – all while working together to make a collective impact?

This intensive Masterclass will equip you with the tools, processes and most importantly the leadership practice to make a real and meaningful change, through your own collaborative initiative.

Learn more about this workshop