On Monday, I spent the afternoon with a number of large charities who are participating in the Open Innovation Programme; part of the Cabinet Office’s Innovation in Giving Fund.
We talked a lot about trends in giving and explored some questions about what would enable us to differentiate between a long-term trend from a passing fad. The stakes are high for many charities; and while there seems to be an acknowledged need to innovate, translating that need into being comfortable spending time on testing things that might not work is not as straightforward…
Understanding the hype cycle felt relevant to explore with our participating charities. A lot of innovation is happening within the charitable sector but there is a fantastic amount going on outside it; that will affect charities one way or the other. And for those charities without the internal resources to dedicate to innovation and experimentation, looking round at a plethora of new ideas can create some complex dilemmas about how to act.
The hype cycle is one way of articulating that over the course of a lifetime of a particular idea, innovation or breakthrough, there will be a period of time where the inflated expectations about what it can achieve masks the reality of what it may be able to ultimately achieve. And having been in the beating heart of a digital media agency during the dot com boom and bust, it’s easy to reflect on the web’s giant hype cycle. I saw plenty of emperors wandering around in new clothes at that time (not a pretty sight) and if I’m honest, I see a little of it now in the collaborative consumption space. But just as all great aviation engineers stand on the shoulders of those who took to the air in W Heath Robinson deathtraps made of bicycles and organza, much of what happens in an innovation’s early days fuels the collective learning and insight, that in turn fuels evolution and adaptation; taking us to a point where we can make a fairly good judgment about the value of the idea, in what context it best works and how we can exploit it. So. Lean back and learn from what happens to others or steal the march on the idea in the hope you’ve made a good bet that the idea is a winner?
In 2005, when Alex Tew from Wiltshire set up the million dollar home page, with a mission to sell the one million pixels on his home page for a dollar each. He managed it, raising over a million dollars and spawned a whole load of copy-cat sites, which of course never realised the same success as he had. Most people saw that this for what it was – a one-off, a gimmick. But the principles that underpinned it were age old and pretty sound; that you can, given an engaging enough idea, get lots and lots of people to give you relatively small amounts of money. The rise of tech enabled crowd-funding embodies these exact principles, and while I would expect crowd-funding to evolve quite a bit over the next few years – I suspect the principles that underpin it will broadly persist. So when we’re looking at ideas like crowd-funding, sharing platforms, NFC, reward cards for giving etc, it makes sense to look under the bonnet and explore the underlying principles. Do the principles (as distinct from the thing itself) stack up for you? And are there more and better ways they might be applied to suit your organisation and aims?
We’re supporting 28 charities through the Open Innovation Programme, all of whom have bought into the idea that sharing the risks and rewards of backing an early stage innovation is a good way of navigating these dilemmas. We’ll be supporting about ten of the twenty-eight charities developing the most promising ideas more intensively in 2013 and from what I saw yesterday, we’ll be making some very tough choices about who to back.