1. From the research we determined that teams would explore how they might design the creation of ‘interactive’ processes that elicit positive behaviour change of covert and overt racist behaviours.
  2. From the research findings we determined that working to shift the “sleepy middle”(those who may exhibit “unconscious” or “indirect” racist ideas and behaviours) is a promising leverage point for systemic change.
  3. We committed to a triple-helix process approach to appropriately integrating indigenous knowledge with systems and design practice.


Shift Lab 1.0 began with a tension around scope. The intersection of racism and poverty is wickedly complex. Within the context of Edmonton, it manifests differently depending on culture, on neighbourhood, on what government happens to be in power, and a hundred other factors. A requirement of an action oriented social innovation lab is to start with a well informed and decently scoped challenge area. However, early community consultations told us that the focus couldn’t be developed by the Stewardship team alone – it had to come from community. When we began with Shift Lab 1.0 we recruited a diverse Core team, and their first task was to pick a focus area where racism and poverty intersected. This diverse cross section of Edmontonians decided to work on racism within housing. Some promising prototypes emerged and some are being piloted currently, however we also recognized we needed to go deeper into root causes of racism in Shift Lab 2.0.

When the Stewardship team began reflecting on what we had learned from 1.0, we returned to this problem of scope either getting too big or being too narrowly focused. This led to a big a-ha! moment for 2.0: we realized that we needed to drop the intersection with poverty and focus on racism.

To get more focused and discover where there was demand for work around racism, we initiated a research phase that lasted about eight months.

What did the discovery phase teach us?

In the discovery phase, we focused on three areas:

RacismIndigenous ways of knowingBehaviour change

We hired research experts in each domain area to gather insights and data to find critical leverage points that would help us design 2.0. Along the way, we actively looked for partnerships with organizations that were interested in making changes around racism, and ways to make deep and meaningful change with this work. From this discovery, we came up with potential guiding questions, which we shared with our mentors for advice and guidance.

While in discovery phase, we simultaneously ran an international speaker series to share expert insights and ideas around racism with Edmontonians. This series was open to community and attracted people working in this space and those curious around the city. The views of these expert authors on practises that were working outside of Canada helped us formulate our direction.

Based on these three factors — what we learned from Shift Lab 1.0, what we learned during the discovery phase, and what we learned from the speaker series — we landed on our scope and direction for 2.0.


The guiding question for Shift Lab 2.0 is this:

How might we create better anti-racism interventions that acknowledge everyone’s humanity and create behaviour change?

This question helps guide the four prototype team challenge questions:

How might we reimagine what it means to be a treaty person?

How might we create an interactive empathy experience that strives to reduce racist behaviour over time?

How might we create encouraging pathways that help potential allies for racial justice overcome white fragility?

How might we design intervention(s) that de-escalate public displays of overt racist behaviour?


The main audience
we were trying to shift

The “sleepy middle” is an archetype that has emerged in the development of Shift Lab 2.0. Imagine a continuum: on one end, there are the tiki torch-carrying racists who care only for people who look like them. On the other, there are passionate anti-racist activists, seeking dignity and respect for all. The sleepy middle is somewhere between these two poles. They may think of themselves as good people who “don’t see colour.” They would be shocked by a racist joke but might also be unaware of how systemic racism is infused in everyday life. They have varying levels of understanding of what racism is, whether it still exists, and why it’s important to work to end it.The Edmonton Shift Lab is based in amiskwaciwâskahikan on Treaty 6 territory, traditional meeting grounds for the Cree, Saulteaux, Blackfoot, Dene, Nakota Sioux, Métis, and Inuit.



When you have a really tricky problem like racism, it requires thinking and doing in creative ways. The design and facilitation of a lab is what supports the learnings, prototypes and people to deeply think about and understand the problem. In Shift Lab 1.0, the process adopted Human Centered Design (HCD), Systems Thinking and Theory U. Along the way, we discovered that Indigenous methodologies have some startling similarities with design and systems thinking. We wondered what would it look like if with the right guidance we could put these three ways of thinking into conversation with one another? As a result, we intentionally brought together a triple helix process to all our workshops and research. The triple helix is a braid of treaty six Indigenous epistemologies, design thinking, and systems thinking.


Learn more the principles underlying Shift Lab 2.0

Read the Report

Learnings from Shift Lab 2.0