The Open Innovation in Public Services seminar at the British Library on 30 November showcased  initiatives in using engagement and collaboration to meet challenges faced in delivering and developing public services.

Vicki Purewal from the Nesta Centre for Challenge Prizes  outlined the benefits of using challenge prizes to seek solutions to well defined problems from a much wider pool of expertise than can be accessed through traditional grant funding. She explained that there was flexibility in the way that prizes can be awarded and that winner-takes-all was not the only model. She also emphasised that winning a prize will generate excitement for the winner, whereas someone awarded grant funding my initially feel daunted by the task they have undertaken..

Carl Reynolds described himself as a ‘doctor and a geek’ and he spoke about NHS Hack Days in which doctors, developers and designers got together for intensive one or two day sessions to develop prototypes to promote health and support healthcare practitioners. His motivation in becoming involved in this was frustration with the poor use of IT in the NHS. He saw this as a low-risk venture as systems could not become much worse and since the first of these was held in May 2012, a number of
products have been developed looking at issues like checklists, bleepers and reporting bugs.

There were two presentations that looked at use of community and staff engagement in local government. Heather Niven spoke about GenIUS York and Jenny Parkin on the Camden Council Innovation and Development Fund. Both of these sought to use the engagement of staff and the wider community to help them to resolve strategic and operational issues they faced. One of the key messages was that there was a need for changes in organisational culture to make this approach work and also some bravery. Heather’s advice to anyone trying this approach was to ‘be brave and proceed until apprehended’ . Heather also provided the powerful image of York City Council having moved from being a ‘big tanker to flotilla of active networked organisations and individuals’. Jenny stressed the process of innovation was as important as the end result.

The final presentation came from David Townson who talked about the Design Council’s Design Leadership Programme. David emphasised the importance of design as a framework for innovation. He introduced the Double Diamond concept in which innovation is separated into 2 distinct stages; the first Diamond being about defining the problem to be solved and the second about solving it.

These key messages about using open innovation techniques were reflected in all the presentations and subsequent panel discussions.

  • It is about active learning and not perfect planning. The process of engagement is about learning from, and whilst, doing and being open about what you have learned.
  • Success is heavily dependant on the culture in an organisation reflecting the engagement activities.
  • It is essential to be clear about the problems you are trying to solve and your end goal, whilst being very open to new ideas when considering the means by which those problems can be solved.
  • No-one spoke about the challenges in technical terms, in fact there was almost no talk about technology at all. Whilst she did admit that their first pilot was hurried Heather Niven said that the first GenIUS York platform too 3 days only to develop.
  • The final over-riding message was that any public service provider can benefit from using these approaches but that in doing so they will have to view their relationship with their user communities in a different way.

The presentations and panel discussion can be viewed on the Open Innovation YouTube Channel   http://www.youtube.com/0peninnovation

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