I-Teams: Government innovation around the world

June 30, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Social Brain 

You know iTunes, and you’ve heard of the the A-Team, but I’m guessing you have never heard of an ‘I-team’; at least not by name.

 

Definitely not an iTeam…

 I’m just back from attending the launch of a major new report by Nesta called I-Teams: The Teams and Funds Making Innovation happen in Government around the world, supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies.

I-Teams (short for innovation teams) are a new institutional form that views ‘policy’ from a radically different perspective to the traditional hierarchical ‘command and control’ approach. They are government units, teams (often small) and funds working on various forms of government innovation, and doing ‘policy’ very differently.

 

That’s more like it: one of the UK’s finest iTeams: (Some of) The Behavioural Insights Team (image from May 2013)

I-Teams are not yet legion, but there are enough of them for us to know they vary considerably and work at national, regional and city levels. The report helpfully breaks their work down into four main categories (often overlapping in practice).

1) Solutions to specific challenges

2) Citizen, business and charity engagement to find new ideas.

3) Transforming government skills, culture and processes

4) Achieving wider policy and systems change

Examples and Reflections:

The Nesta report examines 20 of these iTeams in depth, four of which are highlighted by one of the authors of the report, Ruth Puttick, and copied below (with my hyperlinks, which may not be optimal matches).

  • The Behavioural Insights Team designs trials to test policy ideas, and achieved government savings of around 22 times the cost of the team in the first two years of operation.
  • MindLab is a Danish unit using human centred design as a way to identify problems and develop policy recommendations. One project helped businesses to find the right industry code for registrations and demonstrated a 21:1 return on investment in savings to government and businesses.
  • New Orleans Innovation Delivery Team is based in city hall and is tasked with solving mayoral challenges. Their public safety efforts led to a 20% reduction in the number of murders in 2013 compared to the previous year.
  • PS21 encourages staff to find better ways of improving Singaporean public services. An evaluation of PS21 estimated that over a year it generated 520,000 suggestions from staff, of which approximately 60 per cent were implemented, leading to savings of around £55 million. – See more at: http://www.nesta.org.uk/blog/launch-i-teams#sthash.7C1NB2YO.dpuf

Many believe these iTeams are a critical institutional form to promote government innovation, and the Nesta report and today’s event are a way of trying to map their emergence across the world, and learn from early indicators of when they work well, and when they don’t.

I haven’t yet read the whole report, but here are my initial impressions:

First, I wonder whether the fourth manifestation of these iTeams – major systems change across government with commensurate impact in the real world- is really part of the story at this point, or whether that is merely part of the aspiration.

There are huge forces of inertia in Government machines, and iTeams currently tend to go round that inertia rather than going through it. The iTeam I know best, The Behavioural Insights Team, has been hugely successful with 1,2 and to some extent 3 on the list above, but much less so with 4 – wider policy and systems chance- and personally I find it hard to imagine how they ever could be with their current methodologies. If I’m right about that, I wonder if this is a fundamental feature of iTeams, or merely a function of them being relatively nascent and small in number at this moment in time.

Secondly, in today’s discussions, I was struck by the prevalence of relatively emotional, even spiritual language in the context of what might have been assumed to be a relatively technocratic discussion.

Nesta’s Helen Goulden spoke of the need for ‘non-attachment’ and being ‘Buddhist-like’ with respect to ideas, given that many of the ideas we love and want to work don’t work in practice. MindLab’s Christian Bason spoke of the core capabilities of people in iTeams in terms of the  ‘higher meaning’ they are motivated by, and also the need for people who have ambition not just for their own ends, but ‘ambition on behalf of the systems they are working with’. Douglas McGowen from Memphis spoke of the need for ‘passion’ for the work and sounded like he meant it, and Geoff Mulgan, the chair of the event, spoke of the role of iTeams in putting ‘human experience’ back at the heart of the policy-making process, contrasting it with the bygone days of experts writing long policy analysis reports that would somehow, magically, trickle down to the betterment of human experience. 

Thirdly, the event got me thinking about what cultural theory would say about iTeams, which tend to be data-driven and nimble, but also appear to be predisposed to being ‘clumsy’ rather than ‘elegant’ in their approach, in a good way.

In the way they work, iTeams typically include aspects of hierarchy(e.g. support from national government), solidarity(work closely with communities involved) and individualism(often working with profit-motive) and are interested in what works in a given instance, measured empirically, rather than ideological loyalty to any given theory of change.

I may feel differently after reading the report, but the analysis of iTeams feels like an important development for anybody who cares about making government more effective.

@Jonathan_Rowson

 

 

How do we innovate for purpose on the south coast?

June 3, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Fellowship 

I didn’t know what to expect when I signed up to attend the RSA’s Innovating for Culture and Communities event: “How do we innovate for purpose on the south coast?” Only recently have I become a Fellow of the RSA, and having spent the past 20+ years working in private sector innovation, non-profit innovation was new to me.

Photo credit: Irene Campbell (@ireneukey)

Photo credit: Irene Campbell (@ireneukey)

To set the scene, we were approximately 25 people gathered to hear 5 speakers talk about their projects, why they got involved, and how they’re creatively addressing challenges. Projects included ‘hiSbe’ the new socially conscious supermarket in Brighton, the Brighton Science Festival, Hastings Pier, the Beacon Hub Project, and the Saltdean Lido project. No PowerPoint slides – this was an open and honest conversation, fuelled by each speaker’s passion for their projects.

Read more

Massimo Vignelli: farewell to a master of everyday life

May 30, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Design and Society 

“I was always seeking to affect the lives of millions of people – not through politics or entertainment but through design. I strive to raise the bar, taking the common place and improving it”.

These words express the lifelong zeal and commitment to design by Massimo Vignelli, one of the worlds’ most talented and prolific designers who died this week aged 83. Read more

2014 RSA Student Design Award Winners

Today is a big day.

Nine months ago on September 1st 2013, we launched our eight RSA Student Design Award briefs for the year and thousands of students across the UK, Europe and Asia began applying their design skills to a range of social, economic and environmental issues such as improving hygiene in low-income areas, managing water in urban areas, addressing changing work patterns, and many more. Over 600 students sent their work into the RSA and our judges began the arduous task of reviewing and scrutinising the work, looking for key insights and clever design thinking. Those 600+ entries became a short-list of around 80 and today, after interviews with all short-listed entrants, I am pleased to present the 18 winning projects and the designers behind them.

Today’s impressive list of emerging designers and innovators – some working in collaborative teams and some working individually – represent the best of what happens when good ideas meet good design (and good briefs too, I think!).

This year’s winners include proposals for new packaging made from beeswax, an alarm clock app to improve well-being amongst 18-25 year olds, an affordable sanitary towel for schoolgirls in low-income areas, and a frugally-designed hygiene pack for use in refugee camps. Read more

The Hidden Value of SMEs

May 21, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Enterprise 

By Sean Taggart, Owner and Chief Executive of The Albatross Group 

You can’t run your business without them.  They can take up all your time. They incur huge costs on your bottom line but you don’t know how much value they add to your company.  And every single business in the UK has them.

What are we talking about? You guessed, it, it’s your employees.  Your staff.  Your workforce.  Those people who make everything happen in your business.

For an SME, managing your people can be both easy and incredibly difficult. On one hand it’s likely that you know everyone who works for you.  You tend to work as a tightly-knit team and you instinctively know the contribution that each person adds to the business as a whole.

On the other hand, your HR practices are not likely to be that sophisticated because you probably haven’t needed them to be.  HR activity can tend to be reactive rather than proactive, managing the here and now rather than planning ahead.

All of this is manageable, in fact, it has to be, as there are often too many other calls on your time! The problem comes when your company grows to a point when manageable becomes distinctly unmanageable. For many this is when you hit a tipping point such as where the number of employees grows beyond the point where everyone knows everyone’s name.

HR

For us, it started when we hit 60 employees. That was the point that HR formally went off my desk elsewhere.

When you’re an SME owner manager you start off as a jack of all trades – covering finance, sales, marketing and HR.  They all fit together when you’re starting out, but once you start to grow, it’s time to focus on your strengths and, more importantly, recognise your weaknesses.  Even as a ‘people person’ I realised that I needed to spend more time on the business strategy for growth and the transactional time spent managing people processes back at base was overtaking that.  In other words I wasn’t being as effective as I needed to be.  I had to let go.

I also realised that the trade off between the costs of investing in HR staff versus the potential benefits of having better individuals and processes managing our growing workforce combined with less reliance on expensive external legal advice was actually stacked in our favour.

The time had arrived to hand the reins to a colleague with more than just a passing responsibility for people in the business.

But with opening up our company to more focused, pro-active and established HR practices, we also opened ourselves up to a very important question. How exactly can we know that we are getting a return on our investment in HR?

Certainly we could look at increases to the bottom line or to our customer base, but they are very immediate short term effects.  An investment is not just about immediate returns, it’s about a long term impact and our people generally represent the biggest investments that we ever make.

SMEs should seriously consider how being able to value their talent will enable them to grow and develop themselves as organisations

The concept of being able to calculate the value of your people has been around for a long time, but without much success.  For many it is seen as something that only large corporates can benefit from, but I believe that SMEs, that section of industry that employs a third of all employees in the UK, should seriously consider how being able to value their talent will enable them to grow and develop themselves as organisations.

This is a key question that is being addressed by the Valuing your Talent initiative, an RSA Premium which is being funded by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) where I am a Commissioner.

 

Sean Taggart is Owner and Chief Executive of The Albatross Group 

Visit Valuing your Talent to join the community of HR practitioners, business owners, finance executives and designers collaborating through open innovation to help SMEs understand and invest in the value of their people.

An “outstanding” week for RSA Academies…..

May 16, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Education Matters 

The sun has been shining on the RSA Family of Academies again this week, both literally and metaphorically!

We’ve had a great response to our call for West Midlands based Fellows to get involved in a new mentoring scheme for students at our Academies. If you’re interested but haven’t yet got in touch it’s not too late to sign up and there’s an initial event in Birmingham on Tuesday 22 May.

This Tuesday Hilary Chittenden was at Ipsley CE RSA Academy, giving the school a welcome distraction from this week’s SATs. She was working with a group of 12 and 13 year olds on their pupil design awards – our new school-age version of the student design awards – demonstrating how youngsters can unleash the power to create.

On Wednesday I joined the Principals of the schools in the RSA Family to work out how to create a really top-notch teacher training offer that supports teachers at every stage of their career, from their initial teacher training right through to headship. There was huge enthusiasm for co-ordinating and developing the great existing practice in our schools, and also for developing the link with the RSA to give teachers in our RSA Academies more opportunities to engage in research and enquiry in the way that today’s British Education Research Association report advocates.

On Thursday Arrow Vale RSA Academy’s Ofsted report was published, awarding the school a judgement of “outstanding” in every category.  The weaknesses of the inspection process have been well documented, and the dominance of Ofsted’s arguably narrow mechanism for describing and assessing education brings with it significant problems. Nevertheless, in this instance the inspection team have got it spot on, understanding Arrow Vale’s many strengths, and also how the transformation of a school that had never previously been rated as better than “requiring improvement” has been achieved in such a short space of time.

The inspectors have appreciated that whilst the role of the Principal, Guy Shears, has been absolutely key, he has not succeeded by working alone. By the time the school became an RSA Academy in September 2012 Guy had been working closely with the RSA and with Whitley Academy, another outstanding school in the RSA Family, for nearly a year, and this three way partnership has been crucial.

The RSA’s model of school improvement, whereby support is provided by practicing teachers and head teachers from a school improvement partner school in the Family rather than by a central pool of advisers, is relatively unusual in the world of Academy chains. It requires no small commitment on the part of the partner school. Whitley’s Principal, Lorraine Allen, has dedicated enormous time and energy to providing support and practical advice to Guy and his team. Whitley have also seconded a senior member of staff to work as Vice Principal at Arrow Vale for the last two years, which has provided an excellent professional development opportunity for him as well as benefiting the school. But the partnership extends more deeply than this – staff at all levels, including business manager, heads of English, the SEN co-ordinators and so on have worked together, bringing benefits to staff in both schools.

As well as bringing benefits to both the school providing the support and the receiving school, our model of school improvement has the added advantage of being self-sustaining. With Arrow Vale RSA Academy being judged to be outstanding our capacity to grow as an RSA Family is increased. So, when I was asked by the lead inspector, “what next for the school?” part of my answer was that Arrow Vale will be able to take on the role of school improvement partner for another school joining the RSA Family, just as Whitley has supported Arrow Vale. What I wasn’t able to tell her was where that new school would be.  So, if you work with a school in the West Midlands that might be interested in joining the RSA Family of Academies and working with the RSA and the fabulous schools in our Family, do get in touch…..

8 Technologies that will change your life

May 14, 2014 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Enterprise, Fellowship, Innovation 

In January I wrote a couple of blogs about how drones and 3D printers would soon transform our lives and that policy makers need to think about the implications now rather than playing catch up later.  Since then there have been a steady stream of articles about the two technologies which suggest both are going to be transforming our lives sooner rather than later.

The Dutch and Chinese are both 3D printing houses, while surgery has reconstructed part of a person’s face using 3D printing after a motorbike accident.

Both Facebook and Google  have plans to use solar powered drones to provide internet access to more of the world’s population, a data stealing drone was revealed at a security conference in Singapore and the BBC revealed it has its own Drone journalism team.

Given that I was on the right path with those two bits of technology, I thought I’d draw up a list of 8 technologies that will change the world that policy makers really need to be thinking about now.

Read more

The power to create.. what?

The RSA is, almost fundamentally, a place of debate.  We debate at lectures with speakers; we debate online with the media; but most of all, we debate amongst ourselves.  We debate the morning’s news over breakfast; we debate project and report details at lunch; we debate existentialist dilemmas and the meaning of life over late-night drinks; and the cycle begins anew. Read more

EduKit: Innovating Education

March 14, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Fellowship 

RichardRichard Blissett is Co-founder and CTO of EduKit, an online platform that will help disadvantaged students by matching them with organisations that can provide specialist educational and personal development support. Edukit has recently received RSA Catalyst funding. This is a guest blog from Richard. 

Just days before Christmas we received the amazing news that we’d been offered a £2k Catalyst grant to develop a prototype of our ambitious EduKit application – an online platform that will connect schools in deprived areas with youth programmes being run by social enterprises and charities (aka providers). Our prototype is important as it will help us to demo our planned online tool to teachers and students and to collect vital feedback that we will need before we start system development. In addition to this, we had also selected three schools with whom we decided to pilot our approach manually. We were all set for 2014 to be truly eventful – and momentous.

And we have certainly not been disappointed. In early January we handed our system design to our developer Christian, a bright new graduate, who set about turning our vision into reality. After two months of hard slog we have now almost finished developing a prototype which demos the different log in screens i.e. for teachers, school admin staff, students etc and shows the results and analysis that will be available for users. We have also finished our paper pilot during which we matched 29 students (each with interesting, high quality local programmes that they would otherwise have been unaware of) and are just waiting to hear back from schools as to which programmes they will be enrolled for. The feedback from the schools has been exceptional and each has provided us with a testimonial of the service!

The students have been able to access support from programmes that are tailored to their specific needs and we have already connected with local organisations recommended by Edukit, who offer support/services to young people. Some of the students are receiving free, regular mentoring, and for others we are hoping to give them an extensive experience of living and working on a farm for a week. The whole process has been so helpful in finding targetted programmes to ensure the needs of our students are being met.” Debbie Coloumbo, Eltham Hill School

“The matches between providers and our students have been ideal. For a number of our students, having an additional resource to support and engage them has meant that they are no longer at risk and are much more engaged in their education. This is equally true of those in Year 11 as those in Year 8″. Amanda Desmond Assistant Headteacher, Southfields Academy

But what has really surprised us is how much we’ve learnt about how schools work. During just three or so weeks, we’ve been able to find out so much about what their challenges and expectations are and how users will use and value our tool. For example, we’ve learnt that whilst schools are entirely committed to helping their students in whatever way they can, they can usually take far longer than we had hoped to get back to us so it’s best to either organise drop-ins to help them fill in their data or build an very user friendly online system which would allow both teachers and students to easily enter their data. We also learnt about how schools plan their budgets in order to finance external support.

It’s been a great learning experience but we’re not quite done yet, based on the feedback we have received we now plan to build a Beta version of the online service. This will allow us to test the online functionality and onboard many more charity programmes into our database. if you’d like to find out more about our progress so far please contact us at info@edukit.org.uk

Watch this space for further updates!

Richard Blissett
www.edukit.org.uk

RSA and Clore: investing in individuals to create long-lasting change

February 21, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Fellowship 

Many thoughtsAs part of my role at the RSA, I frequently meet and speak to people who have a personal goal to start their own business or social enterprise…at some point.

Starting up on your own is certainly no easy feat – in fact we often discuss the potential obstacles that lie ahead at the RSA’s monthly Social Entrepreneurs breakfast. However, one thing I have noticed is that the first barrier is not (as you might think) imagined lack of capital; it’s simply getting started.

Seemingly, a number of skilled, imaginative people are just unsure how or where to begin.

It wasn’t until I began working at the RSA that I fully appreciated the value of having a support structure. I thought breaking out on your own was something you should do…alone? I soon learnt that successful leaders do quite the opposite: they join a network, get training and tap into all the help that’s available.

A couple of weeks ago, we hosted an evening event at RSA House for thirty individuals currently undertaking the Clore Leadership Programme which focuses on those with experience working in the Arts, and the Clore Social Leadership Programme which is primarily for people with careers in the social sectors. We were privileged to have a mixture of current Clore Fellows join us for some drinks, networking and an historical tour of the building.

For those who don’t know, the Clore programmes are designed to develop strong leaders in the cultural and social sectors so that more individuals are better equipped to engender positive change in their communities, organisations and the world around them.

Given the electic mix of experience and knowledge in the room a number of interesting conversations were initiated – from discussing the trajectory of the Walt Disney corporation, to the role of art in school curriculums –  Clore Leaders are inspiring and inspired company. For more information about the current cohort of Clore Cultural and Social Leaders you can view full profiles on the respective websites.

We were also joined by Asma Shah FRSA who spoke to the room about her social enterprise Ladies Who L-EARN. Asma demonstrates exactly how transformative the Clore programme can be. With a background in the Arts, Asma was a Clore Cultural Fellow though as she pointed out, you wouldn’t know it now as her current work sits firmly within the social sector.

Upon finishing the programme she joined the RSA Fellowship and by applying to RSA Catalyst, Asma was able to get her project off the ground. Since then she has been able to access further funding, attract more volunteers and ultimately, help more women.

Asma was keen to point out the combination of the Clore Fellowship and RSA Fellowship is a powerful one. This cannot be overemphasised. Asma began working with women in her community who had limited access to the kind of training or social capital that she had gained from joining influential, supportive networks like Clore and the RSA.

The RSA has partnered with Clore Leadership for nine years now and we continue to work together because of our mutual belief that investing in individuals is one of the fundamental ways to improve society.

Part of investing in people is offering them a framework to carry their ideas, so that getting started is never an obstacle.

 

Alexandra Barker is a Fellowship Development Coordiantor at the RSA

If you would like more infromation about RSA Fellowship or any of people or projects mentioned above, then contact fellowship@rsa.org.uk

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