In 2020, as a means of synthesizing our learnings, and revisiting and revising our assumptions about wellbeing, we asked:
What do we mean by wellness and wellbeing?
What contributes to it?
What does it take to improve it?
These big questions inspired us to work together with our ethnographers, the social design firm InWithForward, to sift through all our research and learnings from previous years and put together a wellbeing framework to guide us in our future work.
The resulting document, The Soulful City, is a deep dive that examines what we really mean by urban wellness and wellbeing. It combines the stories and lived experiences of street-involved Edmontonians, and draws on their wisdom about what wellbeing means through their eyes. It also pulls together cultural and philosophical teachings from around the world, and from local Indigenous people, to provide a deep understanding of how wellbeing is achieved.
This framework represents our current understanding of wellbeing, and is the lens through which we now view all of our work.
Our principal focus for our third year is on Soulful City, our framework for urban wellbeing. We are developing ways to test it and apply it, and we are also evolving our evaluation process to include it. We’re keen to share our experiences, and to help people see how the framework can create positive community change.
2020 has also been about strengthening and building relationships, particularly within Indigenous communities. We are working with the Indigenous consulting firm, Naheyawin, to examine Indigenous traditions and practices that enhance wellbeing, in order to better integrate Western and Indigenous ideas as in Two-Eyed Seeing.
We are also building post-secondary partnerships by matching students, faculty and staff with community efforts, so more people get experience leading urban wellbeing projects. We have pulled together the Catalyst Group, an advisory group made up of Edmontonians from all walks of life. We draw on their advice and insights as we continue to lead and support a variety of prototypes, all the while incorporating the wellbeing framework in everything we do.
Prototypes and Tools
Our work encourages people to look at old problems in new ways. Part of that involves creating unusual partnerships, teams of people who might not otherwise have reasons to connect, and drawing on the collective wisdom and experiences of the group.
Recover looks for opportunities where we can quickly test an idea on a small scale before investing a lot of time and energy in it, and the learnings lead to our future steps.
So, our prototypes are projects in their infancy, experiments we can quickly act on, test, and iterate. They are meant to test the most uncertain element of an idea or intervention. This allows for lots of learning, some trial and error, agility, and an openness to innovations that can quickly take great ideas to the community and make them happen.
Learnings and Reflections
Our wellbeing framework has solidified our understanding of the importance of balancing material and non-material needs in order to be well. Therefore, we’re exploring the ways we can ‘weave’ or ‘zip’ (like a zipper) all of the elements of wellbeing together for healthier people and communities.
In time, our thoughts have evolved to ask this central question:
How do we open up new pathways for healing, and help build reciprocal relationships across differences?
This is how we approach our work now. We don’t necessarily have answers, but we have a willingness to try, to experiment, and to draw on the wisdom and experience of the people with whom we are co-creating.