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Spirit North: Indigenous Community Engagement

Spirit North has been successfully developing and running activity-based health and wellness programs for Indigenous communities in Canada for several years. With rapid growth in 2018-2019, they looked to strengthen their community engagement and cultural understanding to ensure that their program development was sustainable in the long term by local community leadership. In the spring of 2018 they asked Tacit Design Strategy to help them build this initiative through a series of community-led co-creation workshops that reflected local needs. As a result, Jonathan Aitken from Tacit Design Strategy travelled with Spirit North to schools at 11 Indigenous communities in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and British Columbia. Over 600 school staff, students and community members contributed their knowledge to help Spirit North build localized, culturally appropriate programming for their school.

What we did

Our primary focus was applying human-centred design techniques to create a space where a deep understanding of all the stakeholders in this complex problem space could be gained. This approach leveraged open-ended activities to encourage small groups to take an active role in designing and developing local health and wellness programming.


Why we did it this way

As a key technique, we developed custom co-creation activities for different age groups. These activities differ from traditional knowledge gathering techniques in several important ways:

  • They are activity based. Instead of simply asking participants what they might think, they are instead invited to explore a theme through a creative activity. This allows for a much richer exploration of ideas than a traditional question and answer discussion.
  • They are open-ended. Rather than assigning specific questions, we provide a more inclusive space for participants to share their intuition, their context.
  • They are focused towards actionable outcomes. Co-creation is a form of action research and is by definition intended to facilitate change. The activities are therefore created to provide facilitators with specific knowledge that can be applied directly to undertaking such change.
  • They respect the knowledge of the participants and include them in the design process.

How we did it

Accompanying Spirit North, we visited 11 remote community schools. At each school we met with small groups of students, teachers, school staff, and local community members. Separate activities were developed for each group, and a total of over 600 people participated. Results were highly complex—an affinity mapping process was used to make sense of the data. As common themes emerged, Tacit was able to focus results towards identifying several key opportunities for the client.

Developing a “Toolkit”

An important part of this project was in developing a system that Spirit North could take forward on their own, building co-creation into part of their overall workflow. To ensure they would be able to do this, Tacit developed a toolkit that allowed facilitators to create materials and run workshops without relying on an outside contractor. Files for all creative activities were provided as PDFs and uploaded for easy printing locally. A complete guide explained the basics of co-creative engagement and how to run an effective session.


Delivering the results

Making sense of such a large complex project for a client is always difficult. In this case we distilled the results of 66 activities into a series of final reports that summarized the findings in a clear and accessible manner. But we also extended our deliverables into a carefully crafted set of actionable recommendations that Spirit North would be able to apply to its rapidly expanding programs. Additionally, we engaged the full Spirit North staff in two weekend workshops to train them in use of the toolkit, demonstrate what we learned, and probe for their own ideas for change.


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