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Creating environments for social innovation to flourish

Published Date: 19 June 2012

On the 23rd April 2012, participants from London, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Amsterdam, Lagos, Abu Dhabu, Seoul, Adelaide, Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne came together to join a virtual workshop to develop practical proposals to increase the impact of social innovation on new ways to improve opportunities for young people, skills and employment.

Background: an unusual conversation

In October 2011, a group of people met to discuss ways to help social innovation to flourish in an urban environment.  The focus was the city of Malmo, in southern Sweden.  This was part of a series of discussions over previous months.

The October conversation brainstormed a number of ideas about different ways to draw on social innovation tools and methods to improve the connection between citizens, policy makers and services.  A particular concern outlined by Malmo was a cluster of issues for younger people, especially from some of the more socially deprived areas of the city, and their ability to gain skills and find jobs in a difficult social and economic environment. 

Like the earlier discussions, the October workshop was an unusual conversation.

It brought together about 30 people from eight cities around the world including Malmo, Copenhagen, London, Lagos, Amsterdam, a cluster of cities in Australia (Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, Canberra ).

The conversation, which turned into a very lively brainstorm of some great ideas, was facilitated by the Social Innovation Exchange (SIX) via Cisco telepresence. 

Great discussion: but what next?

Two things emerged from that first conversation. 

The first was an initial list of ideas and initiatives from around the world that might make a difference to the specific challenges and context in Malmo.  And the second was a combination of great excitement and energy on the one hand and, on the other, a certain amount of frustration. 

Although everyone enjoyed the discussion and the lively exchange of ideas, the big question at the end was “what happens next?”  And underlying that question was an equally important assumption. 

This kind of collaboration, whether virtual or physical, is a powerful way to get conversations started.  But the real test is whether the conversation leads to action.

Can a widely distributed network of contributors, who want to make common cause around a particular innovation objective, work together in both a physical and virtual environment and turn their first ideas and shared experiences into something more concrete?  In this case, can we find a way to turn the ideas into action not just for the city of Malmo but for other participants too? 

And there is another challenge.  Is it possible, in the process of this kind of networked collaboration for innovation, to learn more about innovation itself? Can we turn the practical search for answers to a particular challenge in a particular place into a larger opportunity to lift knowledge and expertise and to boost capability for innovation leadership?  In other words, is it possible to come up with an innovation process that allows us to think, do and learn at the same time?

The workshop in April 2012 took those conversations further and, in the process, tested some new models and tools that enable cities, communities and whole countries to be more successful in this kind of large scale innovation which links up networks of people, new thinking and collaborative planning and implementation.

As well as a range of digital tools and techniques to help facilitate the discussions themselves, participants was also invited to use a range of online shared workspaces and platforms that allow content, ideas and comments to be shared and worked on across the wider team.

John Kao drew on his work as a leading innovation thinker and practitioner, as well as his extensive teaching experience at Harvard Business School, to focus on three themes:

  • Definitions and core propositions – innovation and social innovation
  • Models and methods – thinking and practice about the way innovation is done and how it impacts change etc
  • Skills and leadership – thinking and practice about new skills and leadership capabilities for effective innovation at organisational and systemic levels.

A bit about Innovation Cloud LLC

Innovation Cloud is a project, convened by John Kao and involving a range of partners including Cisco, IDEO, Google, Collabforge and independent consultants Sam Rose and Rod Glover.

The project is bringing together a number of elements – people, content, learning and skills, collaboration tools, digital platforms and facilitation – into a coherent large-scale innovation platform. 

As well as building tools, methods and innovation assets, the Cloud project is orchestrating a global community of innovation leaders and practitioners who share a passion to improve the way governments, business and civil society engage some of the world’s ‘grand challenges’ that impact growth, sustainability and inclusion.