Posts Tagged ‘innovation’


wouldn’t it be better if?…

May 18, 2009

so today sees the announcement of a new Innovation Council under the auspices of Liam Byrne in the Cabinet Office. The Council will act as jury on the range of ideas that everyone is being encouraged to submit about how things could be better. You can have your say here.

I like this idea a lot – and it’s a nice site (as we’ve come to expect from the good people at mysociety). I am still really interested in how the Cabinet Office and others are going to succeed in taking the many hundreds of little ideas that hopefully this site will generate, and incubate them enough to let them grow into truly radical, system-changing innovations. I don’t think we know a great deal what this process looks like, and particularly given the current political climate, the pressure will be on to pick out the quick wins and the ones that are easy to implement without major change.

That said, good luck to the Council (see who’s on it here), and watch this space to see what emerges after their first meeting at the end of June…


lessons for networked innovation

January 10, 2009

I’ve just noticed that NESTA has published the report E and I did on the RSA‘s journey to becoming a ‘network for civic innovation’. Read it here; I’ve pasted our summary of the lessons below (also at the front of our report), and you can  comment over on NESTA Connect’s blog. There are some great videos to accompany the text which have been loaded up here. The technology is still making it hard to find a way of splicing the right clips with the relevant text but hopefully we’ll get there…

I’d be lying if I said that the early stages of the RSA’s transformation were easy, but it is exciting and inspiring to see the energy and progress that’s been made recently. Go RSA!

1. Start with relationships, not transactions
If the goal is to encourage people to work together on issues about which they feel passionate, organisations need to provide platforms for people to meet, build relationships and earn one another’s trust. This approach, centred on building relationships, will be more fruitful in the long run than thinking in terms of new products and services.

2. Be clear about the invitation

Even when the focus is on building relationships, there needs to be a clearly stated invitation that explains to people what is on offer, how they can get involved, what is being asked of them, and what they stand to gain from becoming a participant. This can take time to develop, but it is well worth the effort: an unclear invitation creates anxiety and frustration, which in turns leads to disengagement and disillusionment.

3. People need to be seen and heard

When people do decide to get involved and give freely of their time and energy, this effort needs to be recognised. In the culture of networks, such recognition can come in the form of a thank you as much as a paycheque, a new set of connections as much as a job title. Generosity and mutuality lie at the heart of networks and failure to ‘see and hear’ people will result in the failure of any network-based initiative.

4. Follow exciting leads

The best ideas can be found in surprising places, and networked innovation is not a linear process. There should always be space in the plan to follow unexpected leads, and it should be made as easy as possible for people to bring in their own connections and networks to increase the chances of a new idea emerging.

5. Understand an online presence as integral to the mission
Online spaces for networking don’t work unless they are clearly connected to a wider set of activities that mix face-to-face meetings with virtual discussions. Once created, sites need to be easy to amend as people’s requirements change. If they are for a large and diverse audience, the needs of both the intensive and the occasional user must be catered for in equal measure.

6. Understand patterns of participation
Any organisation that sets out to get everyone participating all of the time is doomed to fail.Participation needs to be understood in terms of when and how, rather than as an either/or question. This is an important principle and must be reflected in every aspect of the change project’s design, including its success criteria.

7. Not every networked idea is a good idea, or appropriate
Networks are not the same as a free-for-all where anyone’s idea carries. There is still ample room for judgement in networks: the difference is that the criteria for judging are shared, transparent, and consistently used. Networks centred on innovation need to allow for the fact that ideas arrive at different states of development, and therefore there should be a number of ‘ways in’, depending on how developed the idea is.

8. Revel in reflected glory
The most successful networked approaches to change think about their mission, not their organisation – and this in turn requires a degree of humility and a willingness to share in success rather than claim it all to the organisation. Commitment is what drives people on to achieve social change – and people are more excited by missions than by organisational goals.

9. Let networked innovation models change the hierarchy
The true potential of new networks will not be realised unless they can be integrated with the hierarchy, rather than be grafted on to it. The goal is not necessarily to eliminate the hierarchy altogether – but it does need to change if it is to successfully and meaningfully support the action being carried by new networks. This can be challenging work.

10. Don’t lose the human touch when going to scale
Networks are based on relationships and trust, both of which still require a ‘human touch’. Scale can only be achieved organically, and from the ground up: a decree from head office will not create a sustainable model. Networks need to be imagined as a series of connections or nodes, rather than one central hub around which everything else revolves, and this must drive the growth strategy.


more presentations

December 22, 2008

I’ve been a bit slow on the blog writing recently – I’m bursting with stuff I need to write down but the last couple of weeks have been quite a blur one way or another. At least one reason for this is a round of presentations that have dominated the last few days… so here are some slides about ethnography and policy that Robin-the-anthropologist and I used at the annual Social Research Association conference:

And here are some that I used to speak to the National Foundation for Education Research about our work on ‘just coping’ families in Kent.

And finally (phew!) here are some ones I used at an Innovation Catalyst event about how to communicate and influence local councils when you’ve got an innovative project on your hands…


a good day…

November 27, 2008

Well, today has been a good day… we found out that Engine and the Social Innovation Lab for Kent have been shortlisted for the Brit Design Awards of the year. Even if we don’t win, that means that we get a place in the exhibition at the Design Museum in the new year… hurrah to that! We’ve been shortlisted for a great piece of work that the guys at Engine did with Caroline and Vicky exploring how dads could be better supported by the children’s centre down in Sheerness. It that emerged out of the Just Coping project I’ve blogged about here. Hurrah all round! As soon as SILKweb is live, I’ll be posting more about this… in the meantime, here’s a short video the team made with John Fowler, the director of Seashells children’s centre:

And while we’re on films, I’ve also been sent a little taster clip of Us Now, a film I participated in. You can watch it here. As the producer of the film says:

“Us Now is a ground-breaking documentary project about the power of mass collaboration, the internet and its potential impact on society. Directed by Ivo Gormley, the film explores how the web is changing the ways we can organize ourselves. From a democratic football club where the fans pick the team to a lending service where everyone can be a bank manager, Us Now tells the story of new technology through human eyes, and for the first time brings together the leading thinkers in the field of participation and web culture to describe how mass collaboration could change society.”

There are two preview screenings coming up. One on the 3rd December at the RSA, and one on the 10th December at the smelly but cheap Prince Charles cinema. The team behind the project have also been kind enough to post all the contributions so that others can make their own version of the film. Hats off to the wonderful thinkpublic for supporting the venture.


notes of notes

November 10, 2008

Last week, I was filmed for a little piece about the Social Innovation Lab for Kent (watch out, Strictly, we’ll knock you off your spot within seconds) – notes against the questions I was asked are here. You can watch the final film that got made below:

Last week also had me speaking on a panel at the Westminster and Whitehall World annual conference on public service transformation and innovation. It was a momentous event for me – if only because I decided, as I was speaking, that it would be the last time I stand up and talk about innovation as an abstract concept. Not sure how momentous my comments were for anyone else but at any rate here they are.


salami slicers: 0, radical innovators: 1

October 28, 2008

As part of the Innovation Catalyst’s remit to support – you guessed it – innovation in local government, we occassionally host dinners for local authority chief execs and leaders. The idea is that they come together, have a workshop on a hot topic, and then settle down to a swanky dinner that Odgers kindly pay for. They’re invariably more intesresting events than they should be, and last week’s was the best yet. The theme was the credit crunch.

I guess if I’m honest I was expecting people to be very focused on the short-term and the small ‘Kerry Katona’ problem (that counts as a joke in local government. seriously). Instead there was a very upbeat mood, with the majority of people there saying that this was a chance for us to do away with an unsustainble growth model, which was creating terrible approaches to regeneration, skills, housing and unemployment.

I was also struck by the fact that most councils claimed, at any rate, to be on board with the view that in times of incredibly tight budgets, dwindling tax income, and rising demand, simply searching out efficiencies in existing services won’t be enough: something bolder is needed. So rather than shaving little bits and pieces off budgets – meeting biscuits here, car allowances there – the strategy has to be to search out much more radical and game-changing innovations.

Of course, there’s a big difference between saying all this and doing something about it, but I do think it’s very interesting to contrast this appetite for recasting what government does amongst local councils, with the dominant mood in Whitehall. In the offices of central government, the recession seems to have led (in my view anyway) to a retrenchment in their position: we’re back to the bad old days of efficiency savings and productivity, with no room to question whether we’re doing the right thing in the first place. Of course I want my money to be well spent, but that for me must include some space for more serious exploration of whether there are fundamentally new ways of organising public services.


innovation schminnovation

October 17, 2008

OK, OK, so I pay my mortgage currently through some bizarre niche work on public service innovation – and even more niche than that, how to support innovation. ie i don’t even do it myself. The more time I spend in these roles, the less I feel good about it. The more I read the word ‘innovation’ in government white papers the more I feel like I’m on some kind of gravy train that’s picking up speed and people and heading off to the destination obscurity…

Anyway, as part of this work I’ve been editing a collection of essays on innovation and local government. This has been really refreshing and thought-provoking for me, given the anxieties I have about whether we are really making any *actual* difference through all these social innovation projects. My next task, which I have chosen to accept, is to produce a short thinkpiece as a taster for the full publication which is due out in the new year. Today I am thinking about what I’ll say in the taster. I think it will cover:

Radical innovation – contrary to what we imagine through using the word ‘radical’ – does not happen overnight – in fact it can take years to bring about wholesale change. Knowsley Council, for example, have taken a decade to transform their educational system – and they’re still not there yet.

Partnerships are uncomfortable – unlike the rather warm and cuddly partnerships of CLG publications, ‘deep’ collaborations that lead to innovation are not always nice places to be. They involve conflict, discomfort and challenge. Sadly that in turn requires a degree of maturity and emotional intelligence – not things that are necessarily encouraged or developed in local government staff.

It’s not enough to innovate in service delivery – really radical innovations require councils to be willing to innovate in terms of whole systems of services (i.e. the range of services that families receive could all be improved individually, but in fact the real innovation might rest with changing how they work together). And indeed councils need to see themselves as ‘constructive disruptors’ to Whitehall regimes, using their insights to challenge policy frameworks too.

Leadership – there are a lot of people at the moment arguing that old-fashioned leadership from the top is not important any more, and that it’s all about empowerment and distributed leadership. I disagree. For local councils, with a democratic mandate (technically) they must build leadership at *all* levels – political and community, but also managerial. People need some inspiration to keep going. Innovations need engagement from the suits at the point at which they try to scale up.

And on this note – innovation work is much easier at the creative and generative end of things. It’s in the implementation phase, and indeed the work around diffusion, scale up and dissemination phases, that things often get tricky. We have a much shallower understanding of these later phases and how to make them work.

Finally, something on risk and value. Things can sometimes feel impossibly risky because we lack any way of articulating the cost of not doing anything, or the cost of continuing to do whatever it is we are doing now. Finding ways of describing value in new ways is really important as part of a pro-innovation approach to dealing with risk. In other words: hunt down all those accountants and lawyers who know the rules, but who are up for breaking them. Weirdly in the commercial world, these professions see themselves as the duckers and divers, finding ways to subvert ‘the system’. Too often in the public sector, they become the law enforcers.