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Lean Community Change: Strategies for Learning and Changing by Doing

Posted on January 15, 2019
By Galen MacLusky

In this quick 5-minute video, Jason Roberts of the Better Block Project describes how he and his community revitalized their streetscapes, turning them from unfriendly industrial spaces into vibrant and welcoming neighbourhoods. 


What’s fascinating about the approach that the Better Block Project took is that they didn’t start out seeking funding or trying to influence policy change. They started simply by recognizing a need and using their own resources to create the change that they wanted to see. In this case, that meant painting new bike lanes and crosswalks themselves and bringing trees, planters, and benches onto the street to create gathering places. By demonstrating the change that they wanted to see and demonstrating how quick it was to create this change, they were able to build a groundswell of support from the community and leaders that led to sustained change in their community.

While we might not all feel comfortable breaking laws to create change, this story is a compelling example of how applying a creative, flexible, ‘lean’ approach to community change can lead to the change that we want to see. It also serves as a stark contrast to the idea that change only happens from the top-down, through policy or funding. Instead, we might borrow some ideas from places like Eric Ries’ the Lean Startup or Knapp, Zeratsky, and Kowitz’s Sprint – both outstanding guides to building and testing change.

One of the key enablers of this type of approach is supporting a culture where learning by doing rather than analyzing is the norm. The Better Block Project could have spent years analyzing the issue of streetscape revitalization, identifying best practices, and building a detailed proposal to share with funders and government. Instead they simply created the change they wanted to see, and then shared it.

To help support this type of approach in your community and organization, we’ve prepared a tool to help you think through what you might build and what you hope to learn. We hope the tool, Planning Prototypes and Testing, is a helpful starting point for anyone who is curious to adopt a ‘learn by doing’ approach, but doesn’t know where to start.

Learn More

  • Dive into the Planning Prototypes and Testing Tool, and don’t forget to let us know what you think!
  • Take a look at both the Lean Startup and Sprint for inspiration on components of a lean approach
  • Check out some other examples of “prototyping” (learning by doing) for social change, and some common barriers to this work in an article we published earlier this year.

Community Innovation, Community Change, Galen MacLusky

Galen MacLusky

By Galen MacLusky

While Galen was at Tamarack he led the Community Innovation Idea Area. He is passionate about working with community organizations to help build and scale new ideas that deepen their impact. An experienced design, innovation, and co-creation consultant, at the core of his work are approaches that help organizations engage with those who are impacted by their services and test new programs and services with minimal investment. Over the past five years, Galen has used these approaches to help Fortune 500 companies and non-profit organizations across North America reinvent the services and programs they provide.

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