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SIX’s hosts a great conversation, but then what?

Author: Kine Nordstokka
Published Date: 16 May 2012

Underlying that question is 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 it’s possible to go further. Louise Pulford (Head of SIX) captures some of the learning from the last SIX Global Dialogue with Cisco and the Innovation Cloud.

One of the things that SIX does really well is host great, sometimes unusual, global conversations. In the last years, through the power of Cisco’s TelePresence, and in collaboration with Dialogue Cafe, SIX has hosted and facilitated approximately 20 global conversations, involving 30 cities, with more than 300 people, from government, not for profit, and business, alongside a core group of social innovation practitioners.

These conversations varied from financial innovation, with a focussed series on social impact bonds, to how to better engage young people in society, approaches to creating employment opportunities, to ways of engaging communities in decision making and public sector innovation strategies. During each facilitated two hour session, participants got to know each other, learned about specific projects in detail and shared cased studies. Which is great. But what happens next?

Last month’s TelePresence discussion was different! We practiced what we preach and tested a process ourselves. It was the beginning of an experiment in how these conversations can (where appropriate) continue, to become great projects and great collaborations, not just great conversations. The 2.5 hour session was exhausting, but through experimenting, we have learnt.

The impetus came last October, when a group met over a SIX TelePresence to discuss ways to help social innovation to flourish in an urban environment. The focus was the city of Malmo, in southern Sweden. The participants brainstormed different techniques and strategies to draw on social innovation tools and methods to connect 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 skills and job prospects in a difficult social and economic environment.

Two things emerged from that first conversation. First was an initial list of terrific ideas and initiatives from around the world that might make a difference to the specific challenges and context in Malmo. Second was a combination of great excitement and energy on the one hand and, on the other, a certain amount of frustration.

Unlike other SIX TelePresence conversations, the focus was on a specific and real case. SIX had been approached specifically to crowdsource possible solutions from the global network. Although everyone enjoyed the discussion and the lively exchange of ideas, the big question at the end was - “what happens next?”

Can a widely distributed network of contributors work together in a real-time, virtual environment and turn their ideas and shared experiences into something concrete? In this case, can we find a way to turn ideas into action, not just for Malmo but for others too?

Another challenge. Is it possible, in this kind of networked collaboration, to learn more about innovation itself and to lift knowledge and expertise and boost capability for innovation leadership? In other words, is it possible to devise an innovation process that allows us to think, do and learn at the same time?

This challenge is something John Kao, leading innovation thinker, has been working on, through the Innovation Cloud project, (which is convened by John and includes Cisco, IDEO, Google, Collabforge and independent consultants Sam Rose and Rod Glover).

What if the participants, who came together to discuss the issues Malmo were facing, met with John and his colleagues to test whether the Innovation Cloud could help? Could we use the conversations we had with Malmo and others to see if we can turn a great conversation into a great project? In the spirit of innovation and collaboration we tried. So last month, we reconvened the group who came together last October, from Australia, Abu Dhabi, Seoul, Lagos, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Stockholm and London, to run the first of two workshops via TelePresence to pick up the conversation and explore what next.

John offered an innovation framework consisting of 4 questions:

  • What is it?/ What is innovation?
  • How do you talk about it?
  • How do you do it?
  • How do you do it over and over again?
  • With facilitation from Martin Stewart- Weeks (Cisco and ASIX) and a later input from John, which introduced the Cloud platform at its current state of development, a lively dialogue began, covering 14 examples and case studies of projects from around the world. Time was also spent on the issues we have communicating social innovation to our governments and key stakeholders – how can we solve these challenges if we don’t have their buy in?

    Whilst all participants had time for input, the 2.5 hours session flew by. We concluded by reflecting on the process. There was some frustration around this virtual table as to what we were actually doing together and how this was different to a normal SIX discussion. We all agreed to some ‘homework’, and to use the tools offered to us by the Innovation Cloud team, to keep the discussion going and to rank the ideas offered in the session.

    In this short time we have already learned a lot!

    • The technology element was the first challenge – whilst all 35 of us were engaged in face to face dialogue via TelePresence, we were also communicating via webex, and with the help of Collabforge organisation in Melbourne, we were developing our own mindmap, accessible to everyone on screens, via Popplet.
    • The focus – the aim of the first session was to be free flowing and encouraging a large number of ideas. It was designed to be a global brainstorm. However, some felt that the process was too open. The need for regeneration of tower blocks in Malmo, which is one of the causes of unengaged youth, was floated as an idea on which we should focus.
    • Communication and participants – this kind of process needs more advance communication. The participants ranged from experienced social innovation thinkers, to senior civil servants and people working on specific challenges in their everyday work. This mix is what makes the dialogue so rich and engaging, but these groups will therefore have different roles in the experiment and they need to know what these are. Some participants were expecting more input from the Innovation Cloud at this stage.
    • The experimental element and process – this need to be more thoroughly explained so participants are willing to try each element. If it doesn’t work, we will change it. Or, like anyone with an innovation mindset, we will be open, admit it didn’t work and move on.

    Did we really feel like we had started, as a global team, to develop new strategies and projects for Malmo? What is the value added of the Innovation Cloud methodology?

    Without sounding too dramatic, like all innovation processes, this is going to take a certain amount of bravery and ’just do it’ attitude to get to the end to see if it works.

    My question for John and his team, with all their experience and expertise, is - if this works, what happens when you go? Are the processes and tools powerful enough, and easy enough to use, to help every great conversation to turn into something more. I’ll wait till the end to answer that question…

    SIX connects and inspires really well. This experiment is an attempt to get to grips with a new means of support (and by SIX supporting, we mean facilitating a process so that SIX members can support each other). Let’s see what happens…