Foresight and innovation team in a meeting, desk full of papers

Foresight and Innovation: 1 Year on

Scope set up a Foresight and Innovation Unit in April 2014. In this blog Ruth Marvel, the Director of the unit, looks back at what went well, what didn’t, and the lessons learned along the way.

Innovation is all the rage at the moment, especially the disruptive kind. So, when the idea of establishing an innovation unit first came up at the end of 2013 it was very tempting to be swept away on a tide of post-it notes, ideation sessions and 3D printed hackathons!

But, I was clear from the outset that I wanted the unit to focus on how we could do things better, not just differently, and ensure our approach was firmly grounded in the real life experiences of disabled people and their families. For me innovation in the social sector has always been about creating greater social value. When it’s really effective it can change a whole system and the behaviours of those in it for the better. This is why for social change organisations like Scope, innovation is a powerful and essential tool.

So, when we created the Foresight and Innovation Unit at Scope just over a year ago we set out to do three things:

  • Support the organisation to innovate by providing the process, tools, facilitation and space for staff to develop new activities or improve existing ones.
  • Stimulate the organisation to think about old problems in new ways by sharing insights, innovations and trends from the wider world.
  • Lead a small number of in-house innovation projects to support our strategic goals.

A year on, I am really pleased with where we have got to. As a team of just three we have led three brand new innovation projects, developed and tested our own innovation process (as well as putting a couple of  external ones through their paces), and started to connect the organisation to new thinking and the latest trends through our disability innovations blog.

That’s not to say it’s been easy, or that it’s all gone swimmingly. With the benefit of hindsight here are some of the key things we’ve learned.

Really understand the problem you are trying to solve – the innovation approach we have chosen is based on the double diamond design methodology. We chose this deliberately because it puts a really strong focus on understanding the needs, content and behaviours of the person or people you are designing solutions for. This approach has really put people out of their comfort zone but the benefits of getting out of the building and really testing our assumptions has been invaluable.

Be focused and time limited – giving people the space and the tools to really understand a problem and test different ways of solving it has worked really well. But, we’ve learned not to give people too much time or they lose momentum and projects can stall or drift.

Align innovation with strategy – it’s much easier to get traction around innovation if you can show how it supports the core priorities of the organisation. Getting buy in from senior colleagues around some key priorities for the innovation team is crucial to ensuring you can secure the time and space you need to try something different. I feel I learned this lesson the hard way, but it’s been one worth learning.

Prepare for landing – it’s important to consider how innovation projects can be main streamed back into the core business. This sounds obvious but some of the most interesting work we have developed this year has no clear place to sit in the wider organisation. We have mitigated this in part by including staff from existing teams to get buy in and help us think through how a new product or service could be integrated into the existing organisational structure. But, there’s a need to do more to prepare the ground for new innovation products over the coming year.

Aversion to risk pops up everywhere! – Risk is often cited as a barrier to innovation and our experience is no exception. No matter how strongly colleagues talk positively about innovation, being bold and taking risks, change is always scary and we need to acknowledge that. Showing how you can mitigate the risk of failure by testing ideas with minimal expenditure of time and money and to create organisational boundaries that separate experimentation from business as usual will be vital to helping the organisation feel more comfortable with risk.

And finally, putting Foresight in the title of your department makes you a hostage to fortune on all things related to the weather forecast!