Innovation In Giving

Guest Post from Roland Harwood – 100% Open

Open Innovation: A U-Shaped Process


The Open Innovation in Giving Programme aims to enable charities to use successful approaches to open innovation (that are increasingly common in commercial organisations such as LEGO, Procter and Gamble and Orange) to accelerate innovations in giving time, money and resource.

As Paul Vanags at Oxfam has said previously that “Open Innovation is a U-Shaped Process.” by which he means it’s fun at the beginning when you are having ideas and meeting new people, and fun at the end when you are delivering new value, but it’s generally difficult in the middle when you have two or more organisations pulling in different directions, operating at different speeds, with only a partial proposition in place.

We are now at the half way point of this programme, which is arguably the most difficult point, and so we were keen to share some of the challenges and learnings to date including:


  1. Don’t underestimate the capacity required – open innovation doesn’t happen in a vacuum. The majority of charities have found it hard to add this project to business as usual and this has could result in conflicting priorities and slippage of milestones.
  2. Complement any lack of skills and experience - whilst open innovation skills can be learnt, with tight timescales and a new project it creates challenges for effective project delivery, which is why we have allocated experienced open innovation coaches to each project.
  3. Momentum is mandatory - The charities have at times struggled with the short time scales, however it has also helped to focus and galvanise the partnerships.
  4. Not invented here – Getting internal buy in for open innovation early is so important else you run the risk of the organisation rejecting ideas which come from outside. Whilst the majority of charities now have the support of their senior teams and stakeholders, it has required time and effort for charities, coaches and Nesta to ensure the right stakeholders support the project.
  5. Lack of data and benchmarks – Some of the charities lacking data about their supporters, and/or the skills to interrogate the data to draw robust conclusions.
  6. Developing authentic partnerships - several charities have struggled to truly develop open innovation – the nature of several partnerships is transactional rather than ‘open’ – and have at time needed reminding of the aspirations they set themselves so as not to allow operational constraints dilute the initial project ideas.


All of the charities have gained new skills and learnt a considerable amount during the programme to date. The key areas of learning are listed below.


  • The importance of the strategic direction of the project and being really clear on the outcomes required before getting into the detail of the idea.
  • Open innovation takes time – you have to take time to develop networks before you need them.
  • The importance of flexibility to respond to new insights and changing audience needs.
  • To be realistic about risk at each stage of the project planning.
  • The value and importance of not making assumptions but gaining real insight and listening to audiences.


Conclusion and next steps


Notwithstanding all of the challenges we are not aware of many other examples of large charities embracing open innovation in the same way, so to some extent there are no benchmarks and these charities are breaking new ground.

Open Innovation is hard and it does not necessarily come quickly, cheaply or easily. All of the charities have found it challenging and yet are learning a new way of working and developing a new culture and style to deliver this project.

As with all innovation, across this portfolio of projects we are confident there will be both some fantastic achievements but also further struggles, and will continue to share and learn from both their successes and failures, and collectively aim to maximize the unique opportunities that the Open Innovation in Giving Programme provides.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>