14th July 2014

i-teams – making innovation happen in governments around the world


i-teams researchOn Monday 30 June 2014 I attended the i-teams – launch event at Nesta. It’s a report aimed at providing inspiration and guidance on the building blocks that a new generation of ministers and mayors can use to solve problems faster and more effectively.

Geoff Mulgan, Chief Executive at Nesta since June 2011, welcomed us to the event. Under his leadership Nesta moved out of the public sector to become a charity in 2012; has launched a range of new initiatives in investment, programmes and research; and has implemented a new strategy involving partnerships with other funders in the UK and internationally.

‘Government have pioneered some of the greatest innovations in modern history. Driven by entrepreneurial and visionary leadership, city and national governments are capable of amazing things’ were Geoff’s opening words.

‘Governments face intense fiscal pressures and demands from citizens who want governments not only to tackle complex problems, but also to be effective at using new technologies as the best business. Much of the world’s public sector innovation is organized haphazardly, with short-term initiatives and odd consultancy reports or conferences rather than focused efforts.’

‘All governments need institutions to catalyst innovation.’

Geoff explained the reason behind the research; how they wanted to study and understand what new practises were being developed across the globe by cities and national governments, to investigate different approaches to see what was successful and the limitations, but most of all they wanted to learn from the practitioners who are shaping a rapidly evolving field of innovation.

Geoff then introduced James Anderson.

James Anderson, Lead, Government Innovation Programmes, Bloomberg Philanthropies leads the government innovation portfolio and develops strategic initiatives for Bloomberg Philanthropies. He oversees initiatives including the mayors challenge, an innovation competition for cities, he also lead the foundations successful efforts to launch the first social impact bond in the United States, in partnership with the City of New York and Goldman Sachs.

James introduced the reasons why they set up their i-team – how big society issues have become a requirement, to be solved by cities and local governments, rather than central government administrations, and this essential work should be accepted by all governments.

He went on to explain how i-team innovation is seen as something special, something different, but should be taken as the norm, that standards should be set, and there should be small steps to the process. James then introduced a short video clip recording by Mayor Bloomberg; there was a short dig abut the World Cup which raised a chuckle from the audience then Mayor Bloomberg told us that i-teams were the final ways to overcome barriers and that we shouldn’t reinvent the wheel but learn from each other, that we should help spin innovation and participation.

Geoff then introduced us to Ruth Puttick, Principal Researcher – Public and Social Innovation, Nesta, the UK’s innovation foundation. Ruth led their evidence work and now leads large-scale international studies in public and social innovation.

Ruth explained how there is a global trend appearing in setting up teams, think tanks and units making innovation happen, from incremental improvements to radical transformations. She went on to explain how they found these teams took different approaches; drawing on design and user engagement, open innovation and cross-sector collaboration and mobilising data and insights in new ways. The research wanted to identify who they are and what differences they make and how they go about it.

The research completed showed i-teams fall into four categories.

  1. Creating solutions to solve specific challenges
  2. Engaging citizens, non-profit organisations and business to find new ideas.
  3. Transforming the processes, skills and cultures of government.
  4. Achieving wider policy and systems change.

The report features many i-teams who work across several of the above categories using different tools and skills.

The greatest concentration of i-teams at the moment is in Europe and North America, with the numbers in Asia rising rapidly.

Ruth mentioned that they are aware that there are many examples of i-teams that they haven’t included in there report, she said it was not to do with their quality of work or the impact they were achieving but reflects the space of the study. Ruth also asked that the report be a starting point for conversations about i-teams in governments around the world.

The report, Ruth told us, highlights six key elements across the research of the i-teams:

Leadership – How the team is led and managed, including director, political and sponsorship buy-in.

Team – The size, skill set, dynamic and culture of the staff, as well as specific recruitment and staff development.

Methods – The tools, techniques and approaches that the team uses.

Resources – How the team is financed leveraging funds from external sources as well as how resources are allocated to spend.

Partnerships – The key relationships with government, and external agencies, groups, and citizens.

Impact measurement – The use of data to inform strategy development as well as evaluation frameworks to measure impact.

Ruth summarised the report by telling us there are ten lessons from the study that should be considered if setting up an i-team:

  1. The type of i-team you create should be driven by your ultimate goal whether that goal is to generate specific solutions, engage the public, grow innovation capacity in the public sector, or encourage system level change.
  2. Forge strong links to executive power inside government, leveraging internal and external partnerships, resources and insights, to achieve goals.
  3. Build a team with a diverse mix of skills and a combination of insiders and outsiders to government.
  4. Develop a lean funding model for the team itself, and attract secure funds from partners for implementation.
  5. Continually demonstrate and communicate the i-team’s unique value.
  6. Employ explicit methods, drawing on cutting edge innovation skills and tools, alongside strong project management to get work done.
  7. Have a bias towards action and aim for rapid experimentation, combining early wins with longer-term plans.
  8. Be clear on handovers early on, tasking implementation and delivery to government.
  9. Relentlessly measure impacts, quantify successes, and be sure to stop what isn’t working.

10. Celebrate success and share credit.

Panel discussion

Following Ruth presentation we had the opportunity to have an i-teams panel discussion with i-team leaders across the globe:

Christian Bason, Director, MindLab – a cross-governmental innovation unit in Denmark. MindLab runs design-led projects to create policies and services that deliver better outcomes for people and society.

Helen Goulden, Executive Director, Innovation Lab, Nesta – oversees the design and delivery of programmes to test new models for supporting and scaling social and environmental innovation with a particular focus on digital and open innovation.

Douglas A. McGowen, Director, Mayor’s Innovation Delivery Team, Memphis – directs development of powerful solutions to major urban challenges, the implementation of plans of action, and then manages those plans for results.

Stepháne Vincent, La 27e Région, France – co-founder and director of ‘La 27e Région’ a French do-tank dedicated to the public sector exploring new ways to improve public policies.

i-teams panel discussion group

Through out the panel discussion it became apparent that the key points all
the i-teams raised were:

All these are integral to being a successful i-team and without ambition and drive to champion the i-teams to influence change and to bring new ideas to life then ultimately it will fail.

In conclusion…

All GeoVation Challenges have focused on building local resilience within communities and real problems that require collaboration and innovative thinking across all sectors of the economy. They are problem focused, using geographical information, technology and good design as ingredients to the solution, itself launched as a venture that can sustain the solution to the identified problem. The research completed by the i-teams proves that Innovation projects such as GeoVation are fast becoming a driving force for local and central governments across the globe to resolve not only big social issues but also to deliver a better more productive society. As long as everyone is prepared to share and work in partnership, cost cutting along with great innovation will soon become the norm for everyday processes within the governing bodies.

Download your copy of the i-teams report here.