viernes, 2 de mayo de 2014

Big #innovation challenges for communities

There is some probability that you have landed in this post due to its title. "Big innovations" is couple of words that appeal immediately, without few doubts because we do not pay attention to the fact that how big is something depends on its environment and surroundings. Same happens with innovation projects, how big an innovation project  is depends on the size of the community which is the target of the project.

Nevertheless, for one reason or other, every community should face at one moment of its lifespan a big innovation project in order to progress or even only to maintain its status. It doesn´t matter if this community is an small NGO, a country or a supranational organisation. For instance, big innovations are the rationale behind initiatives such as the EIP in the European Union or the Catapult Network in UK. All these catalysers of big innovation projects look for a quantum leap in some topic.

Is there any common strategy and principles to tackle with big innovation projects? This is a question I started to think about after reading "Outriders of European competitiveness", a review of the EU EIPs. Beyond this concrete report, it is my believe that it is possible to establish a common strategy and shared set of principles for big innovation initiatives, whatever the size of the target community.

Begining with the strategy, first of all, a big innovation project requires a thorough analysis of its objectives from two different point of views: Need and feasibility. On one hand, big innovation projects should be based on the needs of the community and be oriented to solve a complex issue that the community has to faced and could not be solved without the collaboration of an important part of its members or its representatives. On the other hand, should be solvable within the limits of the community, because otherwise the big innovation project should be tackle by a higher-level community. 

Secondly, the project need a strategy, a clear roadmap on how we have to move from the current state in order to achieve the final state. Obviously, this roadmap should allow room for flexibility, because due to its nature, an innovation project is always a journey to wild lands, where anything can happens and should be faced. 

Any roadmap requires for its completion operational and strategic responsibles. Therefore, without an strong leadership in both levels the project would be a failure. This condition it is not equivalent an exclusive ownership of the project of the operational and strategic responsibles. The big innovation project requires a multistakeholder governance, and although the number of different stakeholders would depend on the size of the community, it should require a complex structure of governance for the size of the community (otherwise it would not be a big innovation project). This governance should be based in a balanced governance structure, with a level playing field for all the stakeholders in order to avoid the risk of a change of the objectives of the project or the capture of its benefits only by a reduced elite of the community.

Last but not least, the big innovation project requires a measuring system. There is a conituous need to assess how far we are from the final objective of the project, and this requires a mix of short, medium and long term indicators.

But besides the strategy, that have many points in common with any project development methodology, you need principles. The main principle is transparency, which should underpin the communication of the evolution of the project and the relationship between the stakeholders. A real-time knowledge of the  status of the project and how every one contributes to its success is the main motivation for the community, it also spurs collaboration to overcome what could look as unsormountable obstacles and pave the way for the inmediate recognition of the efforts of each member of the community who actively work in the project.

Besides the transparency, this it is needed room for experimentation and failure. Innovation is about taking risks and looking for the best solution to each problem that turns up. This will lead to errors and also to discover the need to change the initial roadmap to take the optimum path in any stage of the project. So jointly with the room for experimentation and failure, the autonomy of the team shall be respected as long as the critical milestones of the project are reached.

As a fourth and final principle, innovation projects should have a "bridging culture" at their base. The complexity of big innovation projects demand to close the gap between all the stakeholders (final users, solution providers, solution developers and project management, to name a few). Communication is key, as well to have a clear and smooth path between all the actors that have a role in the project.

The strategy and principles are what matter in order to tackle the for big innovation projects that mean something to your community. It doesn´t matter which of the multiple communities which  you are involved in you think as "your" community at a concrete moment. The challenge is going to be big, and the strategy and principles that you have to apply are going to be the same.

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