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Prototyping Government & Civil Society Innovation Exchange

Prototyping Government & Civil Society Innovation Exchange

Three case studies in New York City and Seoul

Executive Summary / Introduction

In a rapidly changing world, agencies must adapt in order to address increasingly complex challenges. Innovation exchanges create a space for collaborations which bridge continents, disciplines, and experience levels. Governments and intergovernmental agencies are often risk averse and slow to adapt new technologies despite changing needs. Innovation exchanges create a scaffolding to support change by introducing change agents to a network of experienced innovators from around the world.

Our innovation exchange prototype was held over three workshops, the first in New York City and the second and third held in Seoul.  Each workshop addressed one or more of the following objectives: 1.) identifying goals; 2.) sharing barriers to innovation; and 3.) sharing knowledge, experience or tools. Participants were provided with strategies to meet each objective and then invited to discuss the process.

Several participants described the goal identification work as helpful in the way that it forced them to define the root causes of problems more clearly and to visualize the outcomes they would like to see. Others reported experiencing a sense of universality when they realized they were not alone as they tackled problems shared by other agencies around the world. During the sharing barriers and sharing knowledge portions of the workshops, participants discussed learning problem solving approaches from unlikely sources. Participants noted the advantages of networking and collaborating with agents using a different lens to approach a different set of problems.

Desire: How to create an innovation exchange

What is meant by Innovation Exchange or IX?

An innovation exchange is a physical or virtual meeting space for the exchange of knowledge relating to solving problems in experimental ways. It is a space for global innovators arriving from different backgrounds, fields of expertise and experience levels to come together for mentorship, shared knowledge and support.

Why create an innovation exchange?

An innovation exchange provides a space for innovators from across the globe, from disparate backgrounds and diverse disciplines to pool their experiences. It starts a conversation which helps project planners identify potential partners and helps fledgling innovators identify mentors. It introduces innovators in the private sector (who have been incentivized to innovate) to government and intergovernmental agencies that have not traditionally valued innovation. It also provides an opportunity to level the playing-field between nations with a budget for innovation and those without.

The word that [we] came up with is “incentives”. Incentives are really the hardest part.  How do we change the motivations of the government and the individual employee? —Philo L. Alto  Asia Value Advisors, Hong Kong

Government and intergovernmental innovation teams tackle problems such as reducing murder rates, boosting economic growth, reducing carbon emissions, increasing safety for women and reducing poverty. Complex global problems often call for creative solutions, however, government and intergovernmental agencies can be risk averse and tend to avoid change. The experimental nature of innovation means that innovation teams are often “building the plane while flying it.” In other words, funding and support may rely on evidence of an experiment’s success in the short-term, before the long-term benefits can be measured. Partnerships with teams who have already shown evidence of long-term benefits may bolster funder confidence in projects lacking an obvious short-term pay-off. For instance, People Powered Health, a government program focused on long-term health solutions was challenged to co-create health solutions with consumers while simultaneously building business cases for financial support. The intervention demonstrated the potential to save England’s health system £4.4 billion. The People Powered Health program ended in 2012 but the innovation lab has continued to provide guidance for policymakers and health organizations on a national scale.

When viewed as outsiders or disruptors, agency innovators face resistance, lack of support and loss of direction. Isolated from other innovation workers, they struggle to find mentors with whom to exchange ideas and garner support. Creating an innovation meeting space allows agents to develop cohorts among other teams facing similar challenges. Thus, an innovation exchange helps counter the strain associated with challenging norms in isolation.

Precedents: Other Innovation Exchanges

Impact Hub - A global network of 11,000 innovators in 73 locations, Impact Hub was founded in 2005. It seeks to connect innovators who would not otherwise cross paths, which results in cross-pollination across varied disciplines and backgrounds. Project themes include wildlife preservation and positively affecting climate change.

Social Innovation Network (SIX) - Founded in 2008, this community seeks to promote social innovation around the world by improving innovators’ access to a community of peers. It was founded on the principle that today’s challenges can only be solved by experimentation, enterprise and innovation. Project themes include improving cities and neighborhoods, improving the lives of aging populations and digital social innovation.

Nesta’s Innovation Growth Lab (IGL) - Established in 2015, IGL conducts randomized clinical trials (RCTs) to research small-scale innovation strategies. Nesta believes innovation labs are important for two reasons: 1. It is fiscally prudent to conduct small-scale experiments before rolling out large scale projects. 2.  As the environment changes, old tools cannot be relied upon to solve new problems. Experimentation and exchange of new learning are necessary to keep pace with a rapidly changing world. Projects include testing how incentives impact employee creativity and researching interventions to support high-growth entrepreneurs.

Setup: Prototyping the IX

While innovation exchanges often occur across virtual spaces, physical interaction can have significant benefits. In the case of the events in New York and Seoul, the face-to-face interaction allowed for more rapid-fire exchange, more in-depth conversation and deeper connections between participants. In three innovation workshops (the first in New York City and the next two in Seoul, South Korea), we led participants through exercises designed to help them meet at least one of the following objectives:  1) to identify common goals; 2) to communicate barriers to innovation; 3) to share knowledge, resources and experiences.

1) Identifying Goals

Solutions and activities are often easier to talk about than goals. However, starting with goals, rather than solutions, is integral to keeping a new initiative on track. In our innovation exchange, sharing goals was also a way to identify peers who have had experience meeting similar objectives.

Using a goals-focused orientation when starting a new initiative, insures that: 1) strategies address a specific area of need;  2) ideas can be communicated precisely when it is time to gather support for the plan; and 3) priorities are clear when it is time to establish a budget and timeline.

In an exchange setting, identifying goals helps innovators from dissimilar backgrounds to identify common ground. This is valuable in that it helps isolated practitioners find supportive peer groups. It also means that innovation teams can build on the successes and learn from the mistakes of more experienced teams who have faced similar challenges.

Set up

Participants used the Ripple Effect exercise from Frog Design’s Collective Action Toolkit to visualize their desired organizational impact at increasing levels of scale (individual, community, region, etc). Each area of desired impact was framed as a “How might we” challenge statement.

Groups were divided into teams of three to five people. Each team was given a dedicated table, a wall space, and tools were given: one Post-it Easel Pad, Markers, and a masking tape.

Directions were given as follow:

  1. Each team has, at least, one person who is working in an innovation capacity within government or intergovernmental agencies. Focusing on their specific organization, choose a top challenge the represented organization is working to address.

  2. Using the large Post-it pad, write a challenge they’re trying to work through at the top.

  3. Drew a circle in the center of the page that contains the names of the group members.

  4. Have each team write around the first circle the effect they’d like to have on specific individuals within the communities the organization is serving.

  5. Draw a larger circle around these names and label it ‘individuals’. Write the effects the team would like to have on their community around the ‘individual's’ circle.

  6. Draw a larger circle around these newly added effects and label it ‘community.’ Continue the exercise for the effects the team wants to have on their country, nation, and the world.

  7. Post the Ripple Effects on the wall and talk about the similarities and differences between the teams.

2) Sharing barriers to innovation

In the same way, that goal identification can create connections, identifying barriers to innovation can also be uniting. The objective was to find overlapping challenges, learn from other's cases and identify an opportunity to collaborate.

Set up

Using a modified version of the “Knowledge Hunt” from Frog Design’s Collective Action Toolkit, participants were encouraged to think through barriers to innovation, then to create questions related to those barriers.

Groups were divided into teams of three to five people. Each team was given a dedicated table, wall space, and tools were given: one Post-it Easel Pad, Markers, A4 papers, A5 papers, Post-its notes, and a masking tape.

Directions were given as follow:

  1. Individually, write down on the piece of A4, the biggest barrier to innovating within your own organization

  2. As a group, Introduce yourselves, your work, and talk about your barrier you wrote to the group.

3) Sharing Knowledge

Innovation exchange is about sharing support, tools, resources and experiences. The objective was to create ways for people to connect through how they can help each other to eliminate the barriers for innovation.

Set up

After identifying barriers to their work, participants were encouraged to create questions about their barriers and write them on the wall to be shared with the group. Other participants then communicated, in writing, about similar barriers and solutions. The comments include: Ideas, solutions, similar experience, relevant case studies, how people think and feel, needs and wants, a technology that could enhance the situation, restraints of challenges holding people back, etc.

Directions were given as follow:

  1. Individually, generate specific actionable questions for your group, and write one question on each A5 paper.

  2. Place your barrier (A4) and your questions (A5) at the top of large post-it pad.
    Write your name and your organization, and place your post-it pad to your dedicated wall space.

  3. As a group, walk around the room read others’ question.

  4. On Post-It Notes write down any answers or thoughts about the questions.
    List one item per note and add your name below.

  5. Go back into your original group and each member will take turns sharing their question, and corresponding answers, to the group.

Innovation Exchange Prototype: three workshops

New York Workshop:  Identifying Goals

The first Innovation Exchange was hosted in New York City on October 22nd, 2015 at Parsons DESIS (Design for Social Innovation and Sustainability) Lab at The New School.  

The event was organized by UN OICT and facilitated by Brent Dixon. 19 innovation practitioners from premier global public organizations—including city government, the UK’s Behavioral Insights Team, Reboot, Denmark’s Mindlab and UN—were invited to this workshop.

During this session participants exchanged their thoughts and experiences to find the answer to a question: In a constellation of government and intergovernmental innovation labs—often described and organized by funding model and activities, rather than goals—what does a goals-based "true North" look like for a government or intergovernmental agency developing a new innovation capacity? The participants considered the following:

  • What are the current major challenges facing governments and organizations in their quest to keep pace with—and ideally take advantage of—rapid change?

  • Where is this movement headed? And what role can we all play in supporting the movement?

  • What have you learned that can be replicated in other governments and organizations that are in the very early stages of courting innovation within their institutional walls?

What was shared:

One team identified their barrier to innovation as the perceived in-cohesiveness between policy and action as it relates to ending gender violence in India. Because it is difficult to see the system which perpetuates trickledown gender violence, it is difficult to uncover the core issues sustaining it.  Their diagram revealed that greater collaboration, communication and cross-pollination between various non-profit and community stakeholders would lead to a greater impact on safety for women and remodeled mindsets for men.

Another group identified the challenge of playing matchmaker between solution creators and people with challenges within the government. By exploring the larger systemic impact of changing procurement policy, they were able to see how these changes would increase the supply and efficiency with which organizations would have access to all forms of available solutions.

Another team explored the challenge of finding quality recruits for the police department.  They identified their application process as a possible barrier to innovation and looked at ways in which an inefficient and frustrating application process may recruit the very people who are willing to endure inefficiency while resisting innovation. They considered how they might use the application process to recruit people with personalities more geared toward innovation.

One group explored ways to build capacity for legacy purposes. They looked at their impact with civil servants who feel empowered to take risks and try new things. They discussed how at an organizational level, the culture should evolve where individuals become open to change. The infrastructure should support the new culture.

Seoul Workshop 1:  Identifying Goals

The second Innovation Exchange was held in Seoul, South Korea on November 17th, 2015 at Seoul Innovation Park, in conjunction with Social Innovation Conference 2015. Innovation Development Exchange was hosted by Seoul Metropolitan Government; and organized by Seoul Innovation Center; and facilitated by Brent Dixon from United Nations OICT and Jiwon Park from The University of Texas at Austin. 24 innovators from global organizations working to produce innovation in the public sector—including Nesta, UNDP, Asia Value Advisors, Seoul Metropolitan Government, Korea Social Enterprise Promotion Agency, and BMW Guggenheim Lab—consult together about creating support systems for new government innovation initiatives.

During this 3-hour conversation, participants discussed the potential for creating a set of impact-focused goals for developing innovation in government institutions. The participants considered the following:

  • What are the current major challenges facing governments and organizations in their quest to keep pace with—and ideally take advantage of—rapid change?

  • Where is this movement headed? And what role can the UN play in supporting the movement on a global level?

  • What have you learned that can be replicated in other governments and organizations that are in the very early stages of courting innovation within their institutional walls?

  • Would this community benefit from the support of an ongoing, global, public sector innovation exchange? What are the roles of the intermediary organization, such as Seoul Innovation Park, might play in supporting this?

What was shared:

Even though the makeup of each team was diverse, the shared goals were resonant. One team identified improving the current evaluation system as a principal goal. Since the current system only acknowledges tangible outcomes, as opposed to learning or longer-term strategic gains, employees are reluctant to initiate innovation which may not be rewarded with positive performance reviews or achievement related bonuses. They discussed the impact of improving the government evaluation system to take innovation elements into account. The potential impact on the individual level: if the government initiates an evaluation system with grounded in innovation and long-term thinking, government officials adopt new success metrics and, in time, take on more adaptable mindsets. The group imagined a future with more  opportunity to start new things in different ways instead of following the inherited traditions, and agreed that this could lead to a higher-level of comfort and discipline around proposing new ideas.

Another team discussed creating flexible mechanisms to broaden cooperation with civil society and international organizations for innovation. The focus was on inviting cross-sector players—agents who can understand private, public and nonprofit sectors—to work within government. Their experience demonstrated that this enhances cross-disciplinary knowledge, enables multi-party consultation, creates an agency within government departments, increases knowledge of acquisition and, in exchange, creates leadership and open-mindedness in government. This cross-sector partnership and co-creation will create shared responsibility and confidence in government as well as in NGO's and other stakeholders.

One team focused on the goal of connecting citizens more directly to policy makers. They discussed an existing platform that enables citizens to propose ideas to the government, which can then be accepted and implemented at the city or national level. This co-designing process will not only enhance citizen satisfaction with local governance but also satisfy government interests, reducing the burden of independent responsibility. A similar idea emerged from a discussion about leveraging citizens and government expertise to accelerate achievement of national development goals.  To achieve this, other governments would need to provide an environment where citizens are empowered to participate and able to communicate across sectors, possibly using digital platforms or crowdsourcing tools.

Another team described a newly launched social innovation program lead by the Hong Kong government which funds intermediaries that directly support poverty alleviation issues. The biggest challenge is that it is hard to find appropriate intermediaries to support, due to the risk aversion and the lack of suitable candidates that meet the government standard for procurement processing. In this context, the team discussed changing incentives structure to motivate government procurement to consider incorporating smaller, self-declared social enterprises as partners and accelerate proactive funding and support for innovation. They highlighted two positive plays created by philanthropists and CSR of financial institutions:

  1. Instead of donating directly to social issues, some philanthropists choose to collaborate with the government in order to support initiatives to invite other stakeholders.

  2. On the other side, financial institutions donate their capacity and expertise as their CSR, such as providing support for accreditation, so that new social enterprises can be declared as a legitimate organization for the government to procure from.

These gradually developed into appropriate incentive structures that shifted the government's approach and motivation to foster social innovation.

Seoul Workshop 2: Sharing barriers to innovation; and Sharing Knowledge

The third Innovation Exchange was held on November 19th at Seoul Innovation Park. Innovation Development Exchange: Innovating our organizations, Innovating Ourselves was also part of the Social Innovation Conference 2015 hosted by Seoul Metropolitan Government, and was facilitated by Brent Dixon and Jiwon Park. 31 innovation practitioners participated in this event, and some of them overlapped with the 1st workshop’s participants.

This two and half hour workshop was designed to: 1) facilitate the exchange of experience and knowledge; 2) to collaborate to overcome shared barriers; and 3) to use shared barriers to create networks for connection. The purpose was to create a space in which the participants could discuss barriers they are likely to experience and then share ideas about how challenges might be overcome, collectively.

What was shared:

The problem of evaluation in the public sector was once again identified, although this group was unrelated to the previous.  Large organizations within the public sector are often not designed to encourage innovation as a natural mode of operation. Many people working in the public sector work in the same organization for more than 10 years and lack the career and salary growth options, evaluation, and incentive opportunities tied to related levels of responsibility in the private sector. What are the incentives for people in the public sector to work innovatively? One focused on recognition for those who work push beyond business-as-usual and stimulate positive competition and growth between individuals within an organization. A participant responded with an experience in group evaluation. Typical evaluation, they explained,  is structured by a person with one project. If the system evaluated a project instead of individual, members can operate together as a team and this shared responsibility can create a safe environment for the members to be emboldened as individuals and fail, learn, and improve, safely.

One participant leading an organization with team members scattered all around the world admitted that his lack of trust might be limiting innovation within the organization. He asked how to trust team members more so they can experiment, grow, and push themselves into innovative new approaches.

During the knowledge hunt session, participants collaborated to overcome shared barriers. One suggested that the leader should show their trust first, and let the team members try on their own and give them full support. Showing leader’s trust encourage the team members to seek for more resources, add more efforts, and try to get better to correspond to given trust. On the contrary, if the leader doesn’t trust team members they could sense the distrust and this will lead to discouragement and low fidelity. The other idea was to share a goal, but don't say what to do or how to do it to reach the goal. The leader should make sure the members know they can trust the leader and they are fully backed and supported when they are in needs.Other suggestions includes: making sure the members are not over taxed or burnt out, help them keep their work-life balance, simply raising the bars for hiring then trust them.

Another participant working within an Asian national government singled out “old, bureaucratic culture” as one of the barriers preventing governmental innovation. Specifically, he focused on challenges related to unnecessary procedures, a conservative and fearful culture, and a general lack of motivation for doing innovative works. During the knowledge hunt session, groups collaborated to shared ideas to overcome these barriers. One government employee described their government's “safe to fail” spaces that promotes experimentation and let people feel comfortable taking risks. Another participant explained that governments who proactively institutionalize recognition and other incentive structures for stand-out innovators and collaborators can create positive pressure for others within the bureaucracy to change their own behavior, and collectively change the organizational appetite for unexpected progress.

Another group agreed silos between departments within the organization limit innovation. One solution to this: departmental hot-desking. “Hot-desk” allows employees to move from desk-to-desk, and even spend time in other departments, as opposed to staying static within their prescribed permanent space. This participants described members from their office working among one team one day, and the other the next. Through this casual context members begin to start sharing ideas, collaborating, and encouraging the creation of new working groups across departments. In some cases, this had even lead to groups pooling and sharing budgets across departments.


Identify Goals

Drawing on information gleaned from a goal sharing session with peers from across the globe, operating in a different government system, Shomi Kim of Global Green Growth Institute shared insight about how to achieve goals within her own system:

“We started with problem statement but instead of given the assignment to talk about the solution, we were asked to talk about the impact that we want to create, which is objective: objectives of projects, objectives of the policy that we want to create, or people that we are working for. We realized is that we want to create shared objective or shared impact.”

Another participant Philo L. Alto from Asia Value Advisors, Hong Kong shared that “Aside from the fact that we all have different institutional, sectoral hats that we wear,” the attendees were aligned in many of the ways they hoped to improve the communities, cities, countries, and regions they were operating in. “That the shared vision is there,” is he said.

Share barriers to innovation

During discussion, participants reported that the reflection process alone was helpful as they identified barriers inhibiting their work. During the salon held at the New School in New York, one attendee spoke to this process when she stated, “I think just the concrete problem identification for me was really interesting and revelatory. I think if there were concrete, simple-language problems, you would create a stronger community of folks across government agencies. [There are people] hiding out and thinking they are by-themselves trying to change things.  Maybe they have even been called in to do so but have not been called the innovation department.”

During the second Seoul workshop, one of the participant, Steve Claire mentioned, “Whatever problem you're having, a hundred thousand other people have that same problem somewhere in the world. A lot of them have very, very good advice. So learn from other people we have the same challenges. Even if you feel like you're alone in a challenge, you're not. And it's just a matter of excavating your peers and friends that can help you work through that.”

Share Knowledge and Innovation Exchange

It was exciting to see so many different stakeholders come to the table today, from organizations from every region of the world. Thinking about solutions from other parts of the world and trying to think about what we can do together. The government innovation community should be talking about how we can create bridges across regions, across cultures, and think about innovation a little bit more broadly than just within one city.

During a post-lab interview, Diana Won MYSC, Korea stated, “Whether you’re a government official, or a shopkeeper, or just a citizen, if you start at the same level, you have the ability to exchange different ideas that you might not know exist.” In other words, by uniting a diverse group of innovators around a shared question, unimagined solutions may arise from people who would not have otherwise been asked. She continued, “It was exciting to see so many different stakeholders come to the table today, from organizations from every region of the world. Thinking about solutions from other parts of the world and trying to think about what we can do together. The government innovation community should be talking about how we can create bridges across regions, across cultures, and think about innovation a little bit more broadly than just within one city.”

Another participant, Tom Symons from NESTA, UK mentioned, “It was really interesting to gather with other people interested in similar related issues of government innovation. To start thinking about how we can solve some of the more challenging and entrenched problems about how you can support and incentivize innovation within government systems. It’s very interesting perspectives from around the world.”

It’s nice to see that many of these challenges are universal. It’s great to have this space to just learn about how things are done in a completely different context. And that’s incredible and I would love it if we could continue do that.

“It's important not to be restrictive,” an attendee shared after the workshop in Seoul, “and to be really open to different ideas. I think really the most important part is just making sure to bring different people to the table, but also making sure that everyone is talking at the same level and that there aren't those kinds of power dynamics that come into play, because once you can actually understand how someone else lives I think you can create more innovations across sectors as well.”

Many participants valued the innovation exchange for its capacity to bring people together to create diverse innovation ecosystems. The shared experience has the power to catalyze the innovation process within each participant’s home organization, while simultaneously promoting international cooperation. Lucia Caistor from Social Life, UK stated, “It's nice to see that many of these challenges are universal. It's great to have this space to just learn about how things are done in a completely different context. And that's incredible and I would love it if we could continue do that.”

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