Open innovation is for many a new scary but hopefully exciting paradigm within the weird and wonderful world of innovation, data, insight, brainstorming and co-creation. It comes with a sack full of newly defined buzzwords. It embraces and converges often with other connected and similarly fascinating new approaches to working, such as collaboration and social. But does it work?
The simple answer to this very pertinent and important question is yes, it does work. The more important context is how, why and where it has worked. Throughout this series on innovation in the public sector we have explored some of the key high-level factors that are driving the need, willingness and availability of open innovation tools and technologies. It seems fitting to therefore dig in to the what, whys and wherefores of where these have worked.
Allow me first to pose my own question and give you something to think about: What is the definition of success for your open innovation programme? I would like for you to think about this a little. We live in an age of numbers, Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), and an insatiable demand for Return on Investment (ROI) measures and metrics. What is success within the world of social? Is open innovation a social KPI? At the most basic level it is important to consider both the engagement and the outcomes from any given process. In order to judge the success of what open innovation can provide, you have to define what success means for your organisation. More sales? A more engaged work force? More positive customer relations? Once you define what success means, you can understand how it works.
Considering this across a range of sectors will give a sense of what can be achieved within the world of open innovation:
For governments, consultation processes have been successfully only in some ways. If we consider what the initial purpose is of government, it’s to function effectively for its constituency and represent their opinions and intentions. It makes sense that creating policy isn’t just a process for experts, but also for the wider community. But holding consultations remains difficult. One of the reasons our democracy is representative is that the time it takes for all individuals to become involved in the process of policy making often negates the effectiveness of any policy.
Open Innovation revolutionises the policy process. It creates an environment where individuals can actively get involved in the creation of solutions for their communities. When you have the ability to discuss and pitch ideas directly to your government leaders, you have essentially the power that a vote holds. With Open Innovation, policy making can become a truly democratic process. And in that way, you lessen the risk that you may only hear from specialised interests in creating a policy and you have tangible evidence of your engagement with your constituents and how you reflect their needs.
A new buzz word for a concept that’s essentially timeless and makes the foundation of how democracy works. But even before the times when we’ve been connected effectively with computer networks, the process of debating and discussing policy and new ideas has always been difficult and long. Some governments may be apprehensive about crowdsourcing for opinions, thinking it might create more noise and difficulty in making effective choices in how to rule on policy decisions.
But effective crowdsourcing is not just about gathering ideas, it’s also about managing them. We discussed previously in the series how we’re living in an age of increased connectivity and how that brings with it not only potential difficulties in interaction, but also reveals more possibility for managing that action. That’s why “crowdsourcing” isn’t just a new word for an old concept. It doesn’t just involve gathering a crowd, but effectively sourcing from it. Eshaan Akbar, policy officer at Merton Council, told The Guardian that governments should embrace what is effectively crowdsourcing as a real opportunity for policy development: “We should take a leaf out of the various consumer forums that bring together hundreds and thousands of people asking questions or promoting certain ideas”.
How Open Innovation works and whether or not it does depends on your definition of success. We can at least say that we’ve found with our work for example with The Social Innovation Partnership and the Commission on Mental Health and Policing (available to read in our case study), that governments measure success by their ability to gauge public opinion to inform on policy and approaches, which is difficult to condense into a number or a percentage. Fundamentally, we know that engaging the constituents of governments works. We believe open innovation is how you do it. And when it comes to why, we believe that the results you receive and the policies you create are part of how you measure that success.