Case Study

Advancing the "Future of Canada" Through Research Innovation & Collaboration

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Higher education institutions drive change within their communities, countries, and the world. Not only do they stay abreast of shifting industry standards and global realities, they sit at the cutting edge of innovation to prepare incoming generations for a future not yet known.

October 2021

McMaster University's Future of Canada Project convenes academic and cross-industry trailblazers to fund projects that position the university—and Canada—as a leader in interdisciplinary research, and in turn, can transform Canada’s future for the better.

Coeuraj designed and facilitated an innovative process to establish the Future of Canada Project’s priorities over the next three years.

We hosted a virtual dinner party that brought together some of Canada’s brightest minds and engaged them in a series of highly participatory exercises and evidence-driven dialogue. This work culminated in a set of five tangible themes used to evaluate project submissions, and a clear articulation of the core components that underpin the Project’s vision for the future, now publicly available on the Project’s website.

How did we do it? By designing a series of “the most interesting” online dinner parties for guests including an Inuit human rights leader, a Grammy winning artist, a former Canadian Minister, McMaster’s President, and a Federal Youth Council member.

To make our dinner parties powerful, purposeful experiences, we mobilized around the following three principles.

A great dinner party provides a memorable experience.

At a time when coming together to plan towards the future seemed inconceivable given COVID-19’s grip, our dinner party served as a meeting place for people, ideas, and possibilities. To create a meaningful virtual dinner party experience, we came up with a number of creative and personal ways to engage participants. Each dinner guest was mailed a deck of cards that illustrated a variety of relevant drivers of change to prompt their reflections, alongside a dinner placemat that doubled as a tactile activity sheet. And, even though we could not gather in-person, we arranged for each guest to have a meal of their choice personally delivered to them, so that we could still share a meal together even if we were physically apart.

A great dinner party requires thoughtful preparation.

In the lead up to our dinner party, Coeuraj guided a group representing different areas from across McMaster University through a collaborative design process to align on the priorities for the event.

Key insights that emerged from this planning included the need to actively break down silos between academic and industry participants, and the decision to host our dinner party across two 3-hour sessions to create the necessary space for guests to cultivate trust amongst one another. From these insights, we supported McMaster to curate a diverse party guestlist that represented different perspectives, areas of knowledge, and lived experiences.

A great dinner party gets everyone talking.

Traditional approaches to future planning often exist in siloes and draw on the insights of a small number of experts. These approaches miss out on the opportunity to establish a fuller understanding of problems and their solutions that would have emerged had they engaged a greater diversity of voices.

To break this pattern, we used participatory strategic foresight to invite our guests to critically explore the past and the present, and engage in highly-collaborative exercises to unpack their assumptions about the future and envision different possibilities of what could emerge.

We collected a range of inputs to understand the voices of McMaster, from University mandate documents to curated “signals of change,” which are present-day indicators of change that might impact the future in unexpected ways. From there, we asked our guests to co-create three different future scenarios that could emerge given the wide inputs gathered. Then, they examined each of these scenarios to understand what underlying patterns were coming to the surface—and how budding research themes could either disrupt or enable these futures.

At the end of our time together, members of the Future of Canada Project not only walked away with a set of bold, timely themes, they gained a greater capacity for collaboration, creativity, and curiosity, alongside an innovative approach to drawing patterns across ideas new and old.

“Coeuraj helped turn a vision of an engaging, fun, virtual process – we mentioned we wanted it to be like a dinner party – into reality. It was a tall order. Through our planning and design process, the Coeuraj team was thoughtful, innovative, and collaborative and helped execute the design down to the smallest detail.”

–Ann Elisabeth Samson, Strategic Advisor, Future of Canada Project