Today’s New Century Blog (you should subscribe if you haven’t) cited a number of references on creating an environment of innovation. I began to think about how very different centers can be from each other in their actual offices and locations, and how the setting emerges from the mission and shapes future innovation.

Over the past 38 years I have visited quite a few Centers. Their locations varied, from the Executive Director’s house to store-front office space to large social spaces for the disability community to gather together and do their work. Here are some things to think about related to your Center’s location.

  • Is your office space part of your image, marketing and branding? How visible are you and does your space reflect your mission? Are your name and signage clear and do they communicate to the larger community? If not, is it time to review your name, logo and location in relation to your mission? Is your space accessible to people of any disability? Or are you mostly invisible, hidden away in a back corner out of sight? (Dare I ask if this is an echo of society putting people with disabilities out of sight for so many years?)
  • Does the arrangement of your space — offices, open cubicles, meeting spaces, break areas — give your staff and consumers a chance to interact for peer support, and also to talk about ideas for reaching the disability community in your area? Innovation often emerges from the natural conversations as you address whatever came up that day. Encourage these conversations both for peer support and for the growth of the Center.
  • Are you able to take good ideas from discussion to action? In her November 30 blog article, Three Strategies for Creating a Culture of Everyday, Everywhere Experimentation Polly LaBarre said,”Take a page from the art of improv, where players act in order to discover what comes next. It’s ready, fire, aim—the small experiments of responding to fellow players’ leads, going out on a limb, recovering from a flub, picking up on an unformed idea, are what create the scene. At Stanford’s Institute of Design, known as the d. school, they call this “do to think.” In other words, get your solution out of the isolation of your head or your team room and into a context where you can start learning from the real world.”
  • If you are emphasizing a community based model, how does your space fit that model? Some Centers are intentionally office spaces where staff can touch base, but much of their work is done in the community, in the homes with people seeking their independent lifestyle.  If you are using this kind of model there are some things to consider. Are your staff able to access homes or are many of them inaccessible? Are conversations with consumers confidential or do they always take place in front of family at home or in front of the community at Starbucks? How does peer support take place? How do you mobilize the disability community, and where can you bring them together?

I am working with two centers, which will remain nameless, that are in the process of moving in opposite directions in this decision about space. One has opted for smaller space and home based services, leaving a larger office setting. The other is adding meeting spaces and bringing staff back into locations and spaces where the disability community can meet with them.  For both, this change in spaces is the next logical step as they implement their mission. Both are thoughtful and intentional about these decisions.

That is the bottom line — to be thoughtful ad intentional about your location, the structure of your offices, the potential for growth or collaborations.

What is your CIL’s Environment?

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