Leading innovation in a digital + data-driven charity sector

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I’m a speaking on a panel at NPC Ignites and wanted to put a few thoughts down in advance.

If the social sector harnessed practical approaches to innovation (such as what we’ve attempted at Bromford Lab) where could it get to in the next 10 years?

What are the challenges of open innovation in a competitive funding environment?

Are charities cut out for this kind of iterative innovation? Is their governance and funding too rigid & inflexible, rather than agile?

The main question I want to consider is what does innovation maturity look like across the charity and wider social sector?

And can we persist to continue with random uncoordinated efforts?

So many of us , right around the world , are working on solving exactly the same problems. Huge amounts of global talent seeking to address climate change, income and health inequality, lack of affordable housing, unemployment, ageing, digital exclusion and loneliness. Mostly uncoordinated and fragmented.

Many of these challenging issues, fall into the category of Wicked Problems. And these aren’t amenable to the single organisation, top down instinct to define, analyse, dissect and process. The challenge for us today is how we better connect the players and close the gaps.

I want us to discuss how open innovation could accellerate the closing of gaps.

By open innovation I mean moving to a more distributed, more participatory, decentralised approach to innovation.

Given the nature of our challenges I contend that no company, no matter how capable or how big, could innovate effectively on its own.

However , my experience of running a lab over the past few years has taught me that there are significant obstacles to operating in this way — and it’s time the social sector began surfacing and addressing these.

In an ideal world what would do?

Use rapid experiments — aiming for learning in days rather than weeks or months.

Share everything we can — with easily accessible dashboards so people can see what we’re thinking and doing

Act on existing report recommendations before writing more of our own

Ditch ideas when we can seen people are already working on them

Encourage partnerships that challenge our practice — and pool funding around shared problems

Be social — respond to comments, welcome ideas and challenge

Yeah, like I said — ideal world!

One of the other big challenges is sharing the successes and learning from failure. I’m lucky in that I established an allowable failure rate of 70%. It means we don’t have any vested interests in spinning you a story if something didn’t work.

Imagine if all across the social sector we shared the failures as well as the successes?

The big charity sector innovation challenge is clear. Whilst the need for innovation and change is at an all time high — the capacity for innovation and change is arguably at an all time low.

Today we can begin the conversation on how we turn that problem into opportunity.

Digital technology means we can share and learn in ways unimaginable even 10 years ago . Whilst we have this opportunity to connect and boost our capacity for change — we need to be mindful that our legacy business models could derail it.

Written by

Innovation Coach and Co-Founder of @BromfordLab. Follow for social innovation and customer experience.

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