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Better Together: Urban Matters Hosts Fort St. John Innovation Lab

Urban Matters recently hosted Fort St. John’s first Social Innovation Lab on October 16th at the Lido Theatre.

The intent of this unique gathering was for Urban Matters to start a conversation with social agencies, industries, and local government about how to address some of Fort St. John’s pressing social issues.

“Social returns on investment are important,” says Urban Systems principal Edward Stanford, who organized and moderated the event. “No one group is going to fix this stuff in isolation. Everybody needs to be pulling in the same direction, and business want to see real results from their investments, including taxation, and are willing to throw their expertise behind the fix. North East BC is booming, and so having an innovation lab in the heart of the Energetic City just made sense.”

Edward Stanford speaking at the Fort St. John Innovation Lab
Edward Stanford (standing) alongside the Fort St. John Innovation Lab panel
Fort St. John has some unique challenges, which this and future gatherings hope to define and address.

Edward explains that in boom-town oil and gas cities like Fort St. John, the seemingly good pay is a result of very long work hours, which hour-for-hour does not actually equate so favourably. This attracts a young, energetic and aggressive workforce—the average age in Fort St. John is 29. The domino effect is a series of social issues associated with substance abuse, family stability, and cumulative health effects. Employers are very aware of these pressures because they see first-hand the results of effects on their staff.

A robust line up of speakers made this half-day gathering an inspiring event for the audience of over fifty invited individuals. In addition to the Honourable Don McRae, speakers included Mayor Lori Ackerman, North Peace Savings and Credit Union, NEAT and many more. In total there were nine fifteen-minute presentations and then half an hour of questions to wrap the morning up.

Arts Council Board member Sue Popesku who was in the audience said that the event was one of the best meetings she’d attended in years.

“I thought that the morning presentation was one of the finest gatherings of accomplishments in Fort St John that I have seen in one place in a long while. If the general public could learn about some of the amazing initiatives and programs in the community, it would instill such pride. I hope that this conversation can continue and spread to a wider audience.”

One of the big takeaways from the day was that industries in the area are getting more focused and want to see stronger results with the agencies they are partnering with. They are willing to be partners at the table and want very much to be part of determining the solution. As such, the next Social Innovation Lab, tentatively scheduled for February 2015 (and thereafter, quarterly), will have an industry focus and touch on corporate social responsibility, social license and partnering.

In preparation for the next meeting, Edward put a question out to the audience and speakers. He says it’s now about finding something small but common between all groups at the table, such as housing, work hours, safe travel methods, health, or education, and acting on it with the understanding that its success will lead logically to a second stage of issue to tackle.

“I would like one challenge to rise above the others and for all of us—corporations, social agencies and government—to agree to take that one thing and say collectively we can slay this dragon. Then we can move on to the next challenge, and we can do it together. Social licence to operate in a region by an industry comes with responsibilities. ”

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