19 November 2015

Fail, Adapt, Innovate: Institutions for a Changing Society 

The 12th Annual Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation Conference, Ottawa, 12-14 November 2015


The energy was palpable from the get-go at Fail, Adapt, Innovate, the 2015 Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation conference in Ottawa this 12-14 November.

Vivid images of social change were on display—illustrations of the research of Trudeau scholars—coupled with a welcome address and honour dance by Algonquin Anishinaabe leader Caitlin Tolley, welcoming conference participants onto indigenous territory.

The Challenge of Massive Change


Indy Johar sparked the debate with his opening keynote "The Challenge of Massive Change: From Silos to Systems." Prompting a shift to to systems thinking, Johar advocated the “need to fundamentally re-imagine our institutions if we hope to create any change." To this end, he indicated great hope in Canada: "Conversations change. Conversations shift. That's why Canada is the great hope of the West right now."

Wide-ranging discussion & debate


In-person and online discussion spread quickly thanks to the #PETFconference hashtag, fuelled by the diverse panels, notably plenary sessions on democratic reform and local/global innovation.

What’s more, nine thematic dinners at Ottawa-area restaurants and community institutions brought more than 170 participants, speakers and experts together in conversation. Topics ranged from innovations in the Canadian judicial system to the science and ethics of health journalism.  

In a new initiative for the Foundation, panel sessions were punctuated by Indigenous rapporteurs’ perspectives. Jesse Flowers, Zoe Todd, Caitlin Tolley and Aaron Mills drew on their experience and research to comment on and dialogue with the ongoing discussions from the point of view of an Inuk, an Ottawa-area Algonquin, a Métis, and the member of a First Nation in Ontario. Aaron Mills’ speech received a standing ovation. The video he showed, « Echo my Soul » by Indigenous N'we Jinan Artists, was a particularly moving moment in the conference, with attendees visibly moved.

On Sunday, energy continued to run high until closing remarks thanks to a panel on the public service reform that featured a Brit, a Dane, and a Canadian. The final panel saw representatives from the World Bank and the Canadian Red Cross dialoguing with an award-winning global health journalist on innovation in the World Health Organization and other global institutions in the wake of the Ebola crisis.

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