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OCAD sLAB and Waterloo Region hosts DesignJam to tackle homelessness

In a joint effort to tackle homelessness, Communitech’s Accelerating Social Cause Entrepreneurs (ASCEnt) and St. Paul’s GreenHouse partnered with and the Ontario College of Art and Design’s sLab (Strategic Innovation Lab) to bringing together 90 students and 30 community leaders for DesignJam.

This day-long event, held in February, shed light on the pressing local problem with designing solutions for food security and appropriate housing at the forefront. “We picked hunger and homelessness was because we wanted to focus on a local pressing problem and the Region of Waterloo (local government)had identified it as a strategic priority. There are over 30000 people in Waterloo Region that access emergency food programs” said Tania Del Matto, director of St. Paul’s GreenHouse. 

DesignJam offers design thinking and creative business skills for young people and aspiring entrepreneurs.
Solving problems by design 
Solving big problems requires a great attention to detail in the design of the design process itself. DesignJam brought together students from a wide variety of backgrounds, motivations, and post-secondary institutions including Ryerson University, Laurier University and Conestoga College. 

“The diversity was something that was important to us,” said Greg Van Alstyne, associate design professor at OCAD, director of sLab and co-founder of DesignJam.

An exercise centred around the sLab model of design from Patrick Robinson, student at OCAD University's Strategic Foresight and Innovation Masters program allowed students to see and understand the problem with different perspectives, biases, and frames to help them to consider multiple scenarios and potential solutions free from assumptions and preconceived notions. 
“Part of our role is to help people begin to access the mindset,” said Van Alstyne, who works on adaptable learning. “Strategic Innovation Lab (sLab) at OCAD University looks forward to bringing the DesignJam mindset, skill set and toolset to communities and situations where wicked problems and unprecedented social and cultural innovation opportunities co-exist.”   

Considering first-hand experiences with homelessness 
Those who would be directly impacted by solutions coming out of the DesignJam centred around homelessness were also involved in this day-long jam.
Colin Plant of Step Home Participant Advisory Group delivered one of the talks to participants on his first hand experience with “revolving door homelessness”. He shared the complexity of issues around housing, food and health and overcoming his own belief system of what was and wasn’t possible which provided the participants with some insights into the problems that needed solving along with inspiration to innovate and create without self imposed constraints.

“Students left with a greater sense of empathy and also built skills using design thinking tools. Municipal staff got exposure to thinking differently about the issue” Del Matto said. “We're in the process of evaluating the outcomes which will inform the next event. Some students are continuing to work on the ideas that were uncovered at the event." 
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