Our Social Innovation Lab Approach

For the last two years, Leadership Waterloo Region has partnered with the Waterloo Institute for Social Innovation and Resilience (WISIR) at the University of Waterloo, and Wellbeing Waterloo Region (WWR) to raise the level of learning and broader community, and economic development impact of the group project work through a pilot solutions lab project focusing on affordable housing.

We owe a heartfelt thanks to our Class of 2021 WISIR collaborator and facilitator: Kirsten Wright - PhD student, University of Waterloo. 

Project Partners

Waterloo Institue for Social Innovation and Resilience

Waterloo Institute for Social Innovation and Resilience (WISIR), is committed to generating trans- and inter-disciplinary knowledge about social innovations and the social innovation process (the dynamics of learning, adaptation, and resilience).

Our approach is to pursue collaborative research and projects that bridge University of Waterloo departments, involve researchers from around the world, and engage those beyond academia.

WISIR seeks to mobilize this knowledge through a range of new curriculum offerings and training opportunities - both within and outside of a university setting.

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Wellbeing Waterloo

Community wellbeing is shaped by a wide variety of conditions and systems in which individuals and communities are born, grow, work, live, and age. Wellbeing Waterloo Region is a community collaborative to improve the wellbeing of residents in Waterloo Region.


Working together, the community identified three big ideas — areas to focus our collaborative efforts to make meaningful and transformational change. Affordable Housing, Social Inclusion and Healthy Children & Youth. 


The Affordable Housing Lab was created to enable the Leadership Waterloo Region Core Program particpants to use their collective knoweldge and experience to tackle a complex issue facing Waterloo Region. The Lab is a collaborative effort between LWR the Waterloo Institute for Social Innovation and Resilience and Wellbeing Waterloo Region.

The problem we are trying to solve is systemic. The Profile of Wellbeing (2018) tells us that one in 8 households are living with low incomes and that one-quarter of households are spending 30% or more on housing. According to the Region of Waterloo, for a single person to get into a community housing unit, the wait is currently 7.9 years. Shelters are seeing increased numbers and stay duration, primarily due to the lack of access to affordable housing. The affordable housing crisis is real.


Through the labs' innovation methodology, we scrutinized housing solutions that affect social inclusion and vulnerable populations, finding a housing solution for those in greatest need, and improve sustainability of social housing and build capacity in the sector. We did not expect to find a silver bullet, but a silver-buckshot, a way to identify multiple opportunities to recommend systemic changes to some of the many systems that surround affordable housing.

Phase 1: Establish Scope and Reframe

• Systems design and mapping to inform prototyping in later phase/collect stakeholder inputs

• Contextualize program to participants for engagement

• Identify leverage, intervention, ideation

Phase 2 & 3: Development

• Learning objectives around business model canvas/lens thinking and output from Phase 1 will contextualize and inform process with stakeholders

• Prototype presentation to community of stakeholders

• Handoff of prototypes to partner and community stakeholders, as well as researchers

Phase 4: Implementation and Evaluation

• Prototype test/delivery, including developmental evaluation

• Revisitation of leverage points

• Participatory budgeting processes mobilized

Phase 5: Reporting and Roadmap

• Evaluation of impact

• Key learnings

• Proposal for ongoing Collective Impact framework

• Scaling and replication strategies (Scaling Out and Scaling Up)

Miss out on last year's report?

Our Class of 2020 developed four amazing solutions to some of the biggest challenges impacting affordable housing in Waterloo Region. Click the button below to check them out!