Innovation In Giving

Open Innovation Programme

Innovation in Giving

The Open Innovation Programme, journey so far

Nicole Wilkinson

I recently had the pleasure of meeting staff from the 10 charities that are being supported through the Open Innovation Programme as part of the Cabinet Office’s Innovation in Giving Fund to officially launch phase two of the programme.

Whilst the focus of the phase two event was firmly upon looking forward and ensuring effective delivery of the exciting and ambitious innovations that have been developed, the launch of phase two also provided an opportunity to pause and reflect on some of the learning from the development phase (phase one.)

During the course of phase one, all charities kept individual learning logs to capture key developments and reflections. Whilst these are only simple tools, they have yielded some interesting insights that, in the spirit of the programme and Nesta’s commitment to legibility, it felt valuable to share. This is by no means an exhaustive list but covers off some of the main themes that came back:

1.Open innovation is a relatively new process for many in the charity sector: Open innovation is relatively established in the commercial sector, with companies such as Kraft Foods Collaboration Kitchen being regularly cited as leading examples. However, whilst the 28 charities selected onto phase one of the programme demonstrated a genuine appetite for open innovation, this was a new methodology and way of working for nearly all of them – 64% of charities participating in the programme defined themselves as having little or no organisational experience of open innovation at the start of phase one.

This meant that for many charities, significant time investment was required to build internal buy-in, commitment and overcome (understandable) reticence about discussing giving challenges with external organisations and developing collaborative solutions to these challenges that share the risk and reward.

Encouragingly, by the end of phase one, 68% of charities defined themselves as having significant skills in open innovation, with 5% defining themselves as expert with the role of programme support identified as central in developing this (see point 2.)

2. The value of having the space, legitimacy and agency to innovate: 86% of charities defined the phase one process as very valuable for them. Within this, what emerges strongly from the qualitative insight is the value charities gained through the phase one process providing them with the legitimacy and agency needed to justify spending time working on longer term innovation. In particular, the feedback centered upon the support of a dedicated coach and Nesta enabling:

  • staff members to have new types of conversation internally – sometimes quite challenging ones – to address internal barriers
  • bring together sometimes quite disparate teams to collaborate around shared organisational giving challenges
  • the space to look outside of their organisation and engage new partners

3.     The open innovation journey is rarely linear: It’s a cliché but one that certainly appears to be borne out in phase one. We asked charities to record their confidence in achieving their phase one objectives on a monthly basis over the course of phase one. At the aggregate level across the charities in the portfolio, 95% of charities self-defined as having mostly or completely achieved the phase one objectives they had set and we see a steady increase in open innovation skills and confidence over the course of phase – which is clearly in line with what we would expect.

However, when delving into the detail of individual charity journey’s, it’s obvious that aggregate trends mask significant differences. For some, there is steady upward trend in confidence. However for others, a graphical representation of their levels of confidence over the course of phase one shows a more challenging journey with notable peaks and troughs as charities really unpacked their giving challenges and began to develop collaborative solutions to them, often through several very different iterations.

In addition, we observed that charities were often running several components of the open innovation process concurrently, rather than in linear progression. Both of these points reflect key learning from open innovation case studies in the commercial sector and that the phase two portfolio contains charities with varied innovation journey’s feels very valuable to the next stage of the programme.

4.     A flexible approach is vital: This applies both to Nesta’s model of delivery support and to the behaviour needed from charities. In particular, over the course of phase one, we saw charities explore a number of giving challenges and a number of emerging partnerships / consortiums develop to address these.

Some of these consortia grew legs and formed the basis of developing collaborative solutions. Others came together to explore challenges and ideas, before deciding to go their separate ways – often because organisation’s didn’t feel they had the right skills and experience to add value to where conversations were heading.

This birth, re-birth and sometimes death of risk/reward-sharing partnerships is inherent in the open innovation process and can be where a significant proportion of the value is derived from. Charities fed back that even if partnerships didn’t gain traction, the process of sharing ideas with a range of partners was often useful in broadening horizons and adding fresh perspectives. However, this requires flexibility to ‘ride out’ the journey which can present challenges in keeping stakeholders and internal decision makers engaged with the progress of the programme.

5.     Time can be a challenge and a motivating factor: The phase one process ran from early July through to mid-October, presenting a relatively short timeframe in which to cover significant ground, which we acknowledged from the outset may be challenging. The feedback from charities on this has been interesting – several charities have stated that a relatively ambitious, time-bound project proved useful in generating and sustaining momentum for innovation and reducing barriers such as extended internal sign-off periods, accelerating review processes and necessitating disparate team coming together.

So what does this mean for phase two?

So, as we set our eyes firmly on phase two, we have tried to incorporate this learning into the design and structure of programme support. This includes:

  • Running more flexible support workshops
  • Ramping up the support and coaching provision for charities in phase two
  • Continuing to run networking events bringing together a range of charities, social businesses, start-ups and social enterprise to provide space for collaboration
  • Supporting continued learning and sharing within the cohort and with the wider sector

I look forward to updating you on progress…..

Leave a reply