Innovation to Impact

“Innovation to Impact: Whilst there is a great deal of innovation in the University, it has been difficult to get ideas realised and tested quickly.  It will be necessary to take more managed risks to enable us to innovate rapidly and bring the benefits of innovation to our students.”

L&T Vision and Plan 2025  – Belinda Tynan PVC LT

In my last post Adaptive Capacity I began by setting the scene around the innovation agenda for The Open University, and more widely across UK Higher Education in order to meet the challenges that are currently faced by the sector. I’ll now delve a bit deeper into the Learning Innovation area to cover some of my recent work.

I’ll begin by setting out some of the current organisational barriers in the area of learning innovation as I see them:

  • There is frequently no early dialogue between different units to establish when services could be more widely applied to OU Learning and Teaching.
  • Research systems are not created to be enterprise ready and not designed with operational criteria in mind.
  • There is no organisational resource earmarked to bridge the gap between research funded activity and operational activity.
  • There is no systematic joining of the pedagogical, content and technical expertise across the organisation to enable leveraging of scholarship and research expertise to drive forward enterprise level innovation.

I suspect this is not uncommon in most large organisations that have grown organically and responded to different market forces and funding regimes. At the heart of this is a deep rooted risk aversion that has grown over the past decade. I speak to other people across the organisation and I hear things such as “the project and risk management expected of a mature organisation”. What this brings with it is a culture where experimentation is treated as recklessness and where it is deemed unacceptable to take risks.

So what should we do to address this? – I’ve had a number of workshops with colleagues from the Institute of Educational Technology, Knowledge Media Institute and Learning and Teaching Solutions (in particular the Learning Innovation team) along with a number of academic chums from across the faculties to try to tease this out and we’ve done lots of creative scribbling on boards! …

board

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The objective has been to improve the environment for innovation. The above scribbling represents a ‘maturity model’ where as a project moves from incubation to larger scale there is a process and environment to allow that transition to take place and at each stage a gradually larger amount of ‘transition funding’ is released (and consequently rigour applied) following an evaluation to allow the project to move to the next stage…but before I get into too much detail what framework is needed?

Let’s call it an “action plan” to addresses the four areas:

  • Governance – Directing investment and identifying opportunities for adoption from existing research work
  • Process – Creating a managed innovation process
  • Systems – The structure required to manage innovation projects
  • Culture – Developing a culture which enables innovation and managed risk taking

This is easy to say but difficult to achieve (see my previous post for details on that). I intend to cover all of these areas in future posts but I’ll begin by taking one of these, let’s take process for example, how would we achieve that objective?

Objective: Create an innovation pathway

  1. Identify and track opportunities to leverage research, scholarship and innovation investments etc.
  2. Regularly review the Learning Systems Roadmap and priorities in light of these opportunities.
  3. Ensure a clear and transparent process is in place to support the inclusion of worthwhile opportunities – where colleagues know how to get their work adopted to benefit students and learners and understand the learning systems priorities.
  4. Opportunities are developed by the appropriate teams at the appropriate stages for sustainability, quality, performance and security.
  5. Opportunities are reviewed throughout the development stages and continued or culled as appropriate.
  6. The cost/benefit of all developments is tracked.

The overall investment in learning systems results in an improved experience and outcomes for students and learners.

So on a practical level what can we do to enable this, what concepts can we apply?

Concepts discussed:

  1. “ideas club” – fostering ideas in a friendly informal environment
  2. Create an “ideas bank” and allow mechanisms for worthwhile ideas to get incubated and sponsored. (N.B. this needs to be carefully managed and orchestrated so that it is more than just a popularity contest but addresses mundane but important organisational innovation as well as the “shiny stuff” – Neilsen and Norman have done some good work on this within the usability research field)
  3. Build innovation into work planning and career development processes so that people are encouraged to develop ideas (i.e. building time in to allow everyone to develop scholarly practice across the organisation).
  4. Three stages
    1. “feral” – use anything, built it try it, agile, cull or iteratively improve.
    2. “incubated” – evaluated, developed further, sponsored, fostered.
    3. “mainstreamed” – roadmap ready, enterprise ready, robust, scalable, sustainable.

How do we remove blockers to taming the “feral children”? – That is the cultural challenge. To put this into perspective I often quote Ron Tolido, Chief Technology Officer at Amazon

“At Amazon, you must write a business case to stop an innovation proposal, rather than to start one. Silences 90% of nay-sayers”

This can be achieved if we all treat innovation as something we expect and sponsor. If you haven’t read it the Educause paper Building a Culture of Innovation in Higher Education: Design & Practice for Leaders is a good read with lots of practical advice.

 

I’ll talk more on the cultural aspects in my next post.