Small ideas that scale

[Summary: Could the Innovation Exchange be about a festival of small ideas that scale…]

Photo Credit: David WilcoxOne of the bits of blogging I struggle with most is getting the opening paragraph right. So let me instead quote David Wilcox (and borrow his photo of the event in question):

Earlier this week John Craig and colleagues, who are developing the Third Sector Innovation Exchange, invited a bunch of us along to share ideas over wine and pizza on what it takes to make collaborations work…. The Innovation Exchange is being funded by the UK Government to “find new ways to connect innovators in the third sector with public service commissioners and other investors and help them to work together to develop their work”.

I was part of that bunch, and given David and John have both shared their reflections on the evening already, I thought I should catch up and do the same.

One of the big questions that seems to face the Innovation Exchange, in light of the massive potential for innovation in the third sector and public sector, is where to focus. Cliff Prior of UnLtd shared a number of powerful stories about innovative 'movements' that have succeeded in creating dramatic changes, such as the re-invention of the House Association sector, and the shift to safe and soft playgroupd surfaces massively reducing childhood injuries. Primarily these succeeded, Cliff suggested, because of the passion and drive of their leaders and supporters. But it is not in incubating and supporting these forms of 'mass innovation' that I think the Exchange has most to offer. Rather, as David Wilcox captures in the idea of innovation 'thingies', it is in supporting the 'small ideas' that the most work needs to be done. And as John has blogged, it's growing and scaling these sorts of particular innovations (rather than 'growing innovation in general') that the Innovation Exchange will have a focus on.

So what are these small ideas that scale? What are the 'thingies' and 'widgets' the third sector and public sector need?

They might be processes. They might be technologies. They might be ways of getting people togther, or better ways of measuring impact. They might be tools for sharing knowledge, or practical gadgets that just make life on the front line that bit easier. They could be anything. The key is that they unblock the blockages, and make bigger things happen. I'm rather excited by the potential for such sorts of innovation to make a real difference for the most excluded young people.

So here are a few of the 'small ideas that scale' that occured to me during the discussions on Tuesday:

  • Developing skills for designing consultation games– games can make complex decision making processes more accessible to excluded young people. Using a 'game' or scenario to consult with a group of young people can ensure that everyone is involved, regarless of literacy and numeracy issues – and it makes sure participation is not just about hearing the voices of those who can fit into standard models of meetings and presentations.
  • Getting youth workers blogging – and building the ideas of keeping a shared reflective journal into training.
  • Knowledge management for youth participation projects – knowledge is power – and far too often we don't support young people moving on from participation projects to share the knowledge and experience they've aquired with their peers. Challening the 'boom and bust' cycle of participation projects could happen through introducing techniques for better knowledge management.

    That could be a technology driven process using video and blogging, or it could be, as Cliff Prior suggested, promoting the idea of youth forum chairs having a 'pre-chair' year to shadow the current chair, and a 'post-chair' year to mentor their successors.

  • A financial/organisational 'container' for youth led projects – anyone who has run a student society probably knows about the six-month period of trying to transfer the bank account mandate that occurs every year. And if you're under 18 and trying to run a bank account for a group, well, it can be near on impossible.

    But if young people are to be setting up and leading their own local projects and enterprises, making them sustainable, and handing them on to a new group, then there could be a role for a youth-friendly financial system that makes handling the organisational sides of running a youth project just work – freeing up time for actually running the project.

What small ideas would you love to see the Innovation Exchange explore? (You're welcome to use the comments below, or you can, of course, blog them direct to the Innovation Exchange…)

P.S. David handed me the Camera to interview John Craig after the conversations. Here's what John had to say.

P.P.S. Sorry about the close up John. I was trying to avoid the background noise, but, erm, should have probably been standing a little futher back.

2 thoughts on “Small ideas that scale”

  1. very interesting & I’ve made a note to look into Innovation Exchange in the very near future!

    There are 3 things that enforced on me the decision not to ‘scale’….

    1. The sector – I organised a meeting of other relevant national orgs a few years ago to discuss a couple of ideas – one being passing on our learning & programme so that others could replicate it, and the second being the idea of developing a shared ‘accreditation’ or ‘standard’ to recognise young peoples community contributions – the reaction shocked me. In the main all the people were interested in was promoting their own work – there was no effort made at finding shared ground so that we could develop something that could benefit young people & communities with the exception of two – one who was representing the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (except she was at that moment leaving so not much use!), and the Citizenship Foundation with who we’ve done lots of work since albeit none of it developmental
    2. My own (previous organisation) – of which a Director made it very clear that their only interest was in developing work that had direct (monetary) benefits for them. To a degree I understand this but my feeling was always that if you develop something genuinely beneficial it will have knock on benefits anyway. She disagreed with this and the attitude was very much protectionist – which in part led to my ultimate decision to move on.

    The third is slightly ironic – having moved on to be free to make the decisions about how we develop I now find we’re limited by capacity and by network! And having had the experience of number 1. I’m less enthusiastic about putting energy into building projects up beyond what we can manage ourselves.

    Thats not to say I don’t want to – I very much want to but this leads me to a fourth reason which is how hard it is to find people that genuinely share the same vision. So many of the people responsible for running programmes are employed after a programme bid is submitted – so they don’t tend to share the same level of ownership and feelings that they are in control of what that programme is about. And at the other extreme people ‘at the top’ are often a bit too detached to want to talk about the level of practicalities that I like to!

  2. There is an interesting story today on the BBC about finance training for young people

    It involves charities using SMS, podcasts and the web

    This is a new-ish departure and might be a good one for I-E to follow, as perhaps the target audience is excluded.

    However, it also seems to play to what David Wilcox has been blogging about recently in the role of institutions like the BBC. As a public service broadcaster, perhaps in this new world, they have a service to play promoting content, ideas and sharing stories that enable scale.

    See David’s post here

    Perhaps the I-E and the BBC ought to be speaking to one another, and we could have a few TV programmes about the Third Sector ?? It would beat some of their other output…..

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