Innovation Workshops: what they do and how they do it

“You can never solve a problem on the level on which it was created” Albert Einstein


 A study of



 – what they do and how they do it




















Copyright 2010

The Centre for Leadership in Creativity

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Innovation Workshops

This project – the Royal College of Art working with the Centre for Leadership in Creativity – seeks to explore the increasingly wide but specialised use of ‘innovation workshops’, as short periods during which a number of people are brought together to work on and develop solutions for a particular problem or opportunity. This part of the work (by the Centre for Leadership in Creativity) has sought to identify widely different applications of such workshops, to understand them in terms of what they do and how they do it, and to help practitioners to learn from their similarities and their differences.



While the formalisation of thinking about creativity dates back to Osborn and Parnes in the early years of the Second World War, Scott Isaksen at the State University of New York at Buffalo monopolised the field for some years with emphasis on the whacky (the divergent) aspects of the creative process. Stanford Research Institute’s (‘SRI’) focus has been on the application of creativity –  to innovation, with the emphasis on structure and process, using their approach for their own work a wide variety of organisations. And most recently, IDEO has been the icon of innovation process for new product development; and the Royal Mail’s Creativity Laboratory the model for many similar facilities throughout the UK. While the concept of dedicated periods of intensive work on ideas and their development is coming into more widespread use, its practice still demands a special status, a special location, and specialised ‘facilitation’.


A typology – and some examples might be thus (though most do many things):

a.             Changing cultures – RCA Innovation Workshops/EPSRC’s Sandpits/Theatres

of Thinking, Dundee  University

b.             ‘Future thinking’ – FutureFocus, BIS London//Institutes for the Future,   Copenhagen/Futures Centres, Sweden

c.          Developing ideas into marketable propositions, products, services, processes or businesses – Stanford Research Institute’s Water Holes/Scandia/BBC’s Watering Holes/IDEO/What if/BrainStore, Bienne/CreativityLabs/MBDA/Bombardier/IBM

            Labs/BT Labs/ Seedcamps (venture capital) et al

d.             Problem-solving – Royal Mail Creativity lab/HEIF-funded university creativity

            labs (iLabs)/Copenhagen Design Collaborative/designers, inventers etc

e.             Developing designs – DesignLondon/Design Factory, Helsinki/D-School,

            Stanford/Central St Martins

f.               Developing artistic works – National Theatre’s Studio Workshop (and other

      theatre ‘studios’)/Central St Martins/Arvon Foundation/Faber&Faber

      (creative writing)/WorkCamp, Copenhagen/Media Sandbox, Bristol/Performing

      Arts Lab, Kent/Metal, London

g.             Developing new tools – MoD/Helen Hamlyn Foundation/DSTL/Lego Foundation

h.             Developing public services – BIS’s FutureFocus, London/ThinkPublic

j.             Developing thinking skills in children – Hassenbrooks School/Essex schools/ 

            Futurelab, Bristol/Channel 4

k.         Providing public ‘thinking’ facilities/work spaces – Oasis Network, Finland/

            The Learning Grid, Warwick University/BT’s new offices

l.          Developing Games – Blast Theory, London/Zentropa, Denmark.

m.        Action Research – Living labs

n.         Open Space meetings – Royal Society of Arts et al

Innovation Workshops – some similarities and some differences

Three aspects are common to almost all innovation workshops: they seek to address an issue that is important and that is persistent; they have a very similar methodology, consisting of four or so steps; and they all seek to generate an atmosphere of dedication and intensive application – through team-work, heightened attention, special approaches to the problem, and the use of unique locations. 

They vary in a number of respects. In the first place, they can have widely different purposes. They can be about identifying ‘good questions’ – issues that are ripe for tackling; about changing cultures; about developing new products, services or business models, or artistic concepts/works; about developing tools, techniques, designs, proposals, plans etc. And they can be about different stages of the development process – from originating ideas up to the selling of final products or services. And then there are those that seek to identify likely ‘futures’ (foresighting, scenario planning, road-mapping  etc); and those that are in effect action research projects (that tackle a particular issue by experimenting in situ with different ways forward).

They vary widely in their timing: some can be weeks or months long, their members brought together in phases, with preparation or development work in between sessions; many are a week long; many are one or two days long; others can be shorter, and perhaps the most challenging are those that occur spontaneously in the middle of a meeting. All of these have widely different characteristics.

Innovation workshops are more often than not held in ‘special’ locations and usually off site. Many use special suites of rooms, often built round one room where linked computers help participants to input ideas, to build on them and to assess them – especially valuable when the participants do not know each other well or are hesitant contributors. (It is now possible to do this remotely or using laptops linked through the internet, thus connecting together remote offices. Immediate connection to the internet also provides participants with instant access to other information and resources.) These suites usually have break-out rooms and a plenary room, and are equipped with play and modelling facilities.

Processes for the selection of participants vary widely, from working with existing teams, to random invitations, to attempting to create teams balanced for their different disciplines, backgrounds, experience (of these processes), likely ability to contribute well etc. Effective groups almost always include the problem-owner, a facilitator, a ‘challenger’, one or more technical experts and one or more experts from analogous fields – people from ‘outside the paradigm’. From the arts we heard about how individuals can ‘play off one another’ – how the way they work can be the switch that stimulates another or others.

We have encountered two recent contributions to better team selection (see ‘Idea Connection Systems’ p 22): the first proposes that you should include people with special expertise in each of the stages of the process (and implementers are often a very different set of people); and the second focuses on roles needed in the process and uses the nature of the task (evolutionary/ revolutionary/… etc) as well as the stage of the process for selecting team members. Another recent approach suggests that you should bring together people who have differing sorts of adjacent possibilities, as together they know what is do-able.

In some workshops (eg EPSRC’s Sandpits, BT, Seedcamps), carefully selected teams are brought together in competition with one another; and recognition, the award

of future project work, future funding, rewards (or prizes) are an important part of the outcome.

Good facilitation is a key to successful workshops. Many facilities have small panels of people whom they know and have used regularly as their facilitators; some choose their facilitator from such panels based on the culture of the group with whom they are working (eg BIS’s FutureFocus p 15); but it is clear that the type of outcome that is sought should also influence the selection of the facilitator – alignment among the participants, team-building and enhanced motivation are almost as important outcomes as the development of ideas or as the solution itself.

The process emphasises that a very significant amount of time should first be devoted to identifying a good question; it then usually prescribes Divergence followed by Convergence, often repeated. There is a wide range of approaches available to and used by facilitators – many of whom have their special approaches. Among them are: viewing from a different perspective or starting from a different point; free or guided association; metaphor, simile and analogy; brainstorming; and TRIZ (a comprehensive set of ‘operations’ derived from patents – largely in physics and engineering). We have our-selves carried out some work in an attempt to suggest which approaches may be best suited to what kinds of problems and/or to the different stages of the process.   

There is an increasing focus on evolution (of the idea/concept/plan/product) in the course of such workshops, and on repeating the process of making models. Ways for turning ideas into tangible ‘products’ include lo-tech scissors and paste, as well as drafting, drawing, rehearsing, modelling, model-making and prototyping; and each of these require their own facilities – some of them of considerable sophistication (eg rehearsal facilities or a prototyping workshop at hand).


























Users of Innovation Workshops                                                          Page


Individuals as innovators                                                                                                6


New products, services, processes, businesses etc

Water Holes – at Stanford                                                                                    7

IDEO and Deep Dives                                                                                    7

            Royal Mail’s Creativity Lab, Rugby: the model for many others                        8

Consultancy ‘Sense Worldwide’ makes use of co-creation in helping

                      organisations to identify ‘innovation opportunities’                                    8

Watering Holes – the BBC                                                                                    9

              BT’s R&D uses Hothousing in a big way                                                             10

            Syngenta and turning ideas into innovations in use                                                11

Seedcamps: venture capital                                                                                    12


Innovation in public services

               Copenhagen, Thinkpublic and Nesta                                                                                    13

               Future Centers in Europe (Hank Kune’s Paper, abridged)                                    13

FutureFocus – the Government’s Innovation Workshop                                    16


Innovation in Academia

               Innovation Workshops at the Royal College of Art                                                            17

            The University of Essex iLab, Southend-on-Sea                                                17

EPSRC’s Sandpits                                                                                                18

York University: bringing together different disciplines                                    18

               Tom Inns and Theatres of Thinking at Dundee University                                    19

            An Innovation Workshop that uses a James Bond theme                                    20


Innovation in media and the arts

Watershed, Bristol – innovation in media and the arts                                    21


Facilitation skills

            Hank Kune – Educore, Amsterdam: a synthesiser and a deliverer

                        of outcomes                                                                                                22

             Phillip Joe – facilitator of projects and of ‘user experience’

visualisations                                                                                                22


Various group workshops/processes

            ‘Idea Connection Systems’ and synergy in groups                                                23

Generating innovations with e-workshops                                                            23

DSTL’s (Defence Science and Technology Laboratory) various

approaches – and problems with them                                                24

Living Labs                                                                                                            26





Individuals as innovators

Some people are more fluent than others in innovation; and David Stuart, a

Partner in The Partners, a graphic design house with an enviable string of successes and awards to their name, included in his book about design (1) a number of vignettes about how famous designers said they went about finding and developing their ideas.

Aziz Cami, the Senior Partner of The Partners likes to make a commitment about delivering his solution; and then he prefers to sit at his desk by himself for his initial thinking – ‘you can break a lot of ground more quickly’, he says; and it is then that he likes to engage with others to build on his ideas once they are half-formed.

He finds that playing between two subjects often creates wit ( – as the essence of a good design) – almost like flints bashing against each other, which create the third thing, the spark. Eventually some aspect of this interplay may give the beginnings of an idea – which then begins to seem appropriate in one way or more. And then trying out embodiments of the idea often helps him along, as it does when he is working with others in a team on the development of the idea.

Our work with exponents of ‘hothousing’ illustrates a number of parallels with Aziz’s ways of working. Working to a definite time-frame; working with a team; using workshops for idea development; shaping embodiments (prototyping) are among them. What is particular to Asiz is that he likes to be at his desk (he claims to be lazy!), though many creatives find stimulation in diversity; that he favours the cranking of ideas together (though this is not uncommon among creatives); and that for his initial thinking he likes to be alone (in common with most scientists).

Research tells us (unequivocally) that individuals generate more and better ideas than do groups – because ideas often come after a period of incubation, often unexpectedly, for instance while gardening, walking, washing or sleeping. They are capricious: they can jump out at you, hide, go as quickly as they came, dominate your thinking, grow productively, and spawn others.  Artists, scientists, designers, and advertising executives would all endorse this, and so does the Nobel Prize Committee. So when and why are colleagues in groups of value?

Groups have the potential for more diverse thinking, the ability to build on each others ideas, and most importantly the capability for bringing ideas into use, of getting value out of them, of seeing projects through to implementation, because groups contain a wide variety of  skills and experience etc, and they can draw upon other organisational strengths. In practice, groups are often inappropriately composed and melded together, or poorly facilitated; people often block one another’s thoughts and contributions; and groups can be easily stuck or led awry (by a seductive line of thought). Some say: start by working alone; some say use electronic brainstorming; some say use an expert facilitator; some say be sure to use experienced players; others say only use a group when you are stuck in a rut or the solution is proving elusive. (2)

Work at MIT (3) tells of how teams are developing capabilities for vicarious learning, so that they can benefit from the latest learning by others and avoid repeating mistakes. Flexible membership, expandable tiers, extensive ties, a lot of external activity and co-ordination among all the components of the team are cited for achieving this.

(1)  “A Smile in the Mind”, David Stuart, Phaidon, 1996.

(2,3)  “Creativity and Innovation in Organizational Teams”, Eds Thompson and Choi,

        Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2006. Chapters 8 and 9.



Water Holes – at Stanford

Carlson, CEO of SRI introduced an innovation process in which he expected his researchers to pitch their work regularly – under four headings (known as NABC) and which came to be known as Water Holes:

1.     Need – a statement of an important customer and market problem

2.   Approach – that proposes a way to use resources

3.   Benefit per cost – to deliver superior customer features

4.   Competition – when compared to others in the market.

              SRI aimed to draw a careful distinction between development of an idea and its assessment; and Water Holes were predicated on the basis ‘none of us is as clever as all of us’, and as a process that should be repeated several times to continuing effect.

Water Holes draw together diverse groups of inter-disciplinary people, with an emphasis on users’ views; and the members of such groups are encouraged to provide feed-back to those who pitch their idea – feed-back in terms of what makes it good, how it might be improved, and from a user perspective, with each person taking on a different kind of thinking hat.

Productive teams, Carlson added, were an essential part of a successfully innovative organisation – teams that were interdisciplinary and capable of breaking boundaries; and they needed a champion – as advocate and path-finder, passionate and visionary, to inspire and motivate. And he said that organisations needed to be aligned to their purpose: if that is innovation, then the whole organisation needed to be aligned round that purpose.



IDEO and Deep Dives

With a number of small offices in various cities round the world, IDEO is the archetypal new product development consultancy.

IDEO’s approach is to run intensive development sessions – in which the principal stages are: first to identify and separate out the main issues; next to focus strongly on searching out customer needs (and they have built their recent reputation on increasingly sophisticated methods in this area); then to brainstorm for solutions; and finally to build instant models or prototypes.

Round the wall of the main room in their Palo Alto premises are the rules for brainstorming, thus:

1.   Quantity not quality

2.     Capture every idea

3.     Build on other ideas

4.     No comments or evaluations.

The organisation is distinctive for the experience of their staff, their broad range of disciplines, their fascination with gadgets and their playfulness, and their in-house prototyping laboratory.

Boss Tom Kelley (and others) publish a lot about their field and their art (ABC Newsnite made a 22 minute film of IDEO at work on a new product); and they have developed their well-known pack of Method Cards – for searching for customer needs. 

Their reputation stands high, with a wealth of experience, an outstanding customer list, and many products (a lot of them in the hi-tech field) to their name.



Royal Mail’s Creativity Lab, Rugby: the model for many others

            In 1998, Royal Mail fitted out a Portakabin at its Management Centre in Rugby with a laboratory designed to help the organisation think about its future. The first room was an electronic introduction to social, technical and economic change and to the way such change might affect the Post Office and its customers. Beyond this was a  lightless room, with curved walls, (on which you could write (and erase)), with three circular bar-height table, on each of which sat four connected laptops. On the main wall was a screen, to which the laptops were connected through software that enabled one-liners to be pumped into the peripheral laptops and shown sequentially and instantly on the screen. This set-up enables participants to produce ideas at the same time as all the other participants; and to contribute them anonymously, thus producing in a short space of time a large and rich collection of ideas. The software then enabled these thoughts or ideas to be commented upon, to be sorted, in any imaginable way, and then voted on – in a variety of ways.  All the tables were liberally strewn with small toys, and more were available; as were pictures and puzzles of various kinds that acted as prompts for exercises. The set-up was designed for using creativity techniques of any origin; and the ethos of the set-up was speed. The speed of the software (which is marginally faster than using Post-its and sorting them on the wall – but makes recording easier) has been used as the theme which has been developed by the facilitators – by using time-pressure and short cycles (20 minutes), and then re-energising participants with the toys.

            The facility is said to have been at its most successful for: problem solving, for working with in-house groups where there were silos or hierarchies, and for gaining access to [and gleaning information from and about] customers.

            The Royal Mail soon constructed a much larger facility, with three times the number of computers, a briefing space, a project room and break-out rooms; and this has been in use ever since. It was and is used by Royal Mail; has been used by many other organisations; and has been the model for many other facilities throughout the UK.




Consultancy ‘Sense Worldwide’ makes use of co-creation in helping organisations to identify ‘innovation opportunities’

SenseWorldwide is a consultancy working with large commercial clients, that sets up and facilitates complete co-creation projects, in which it acts as a bridge between a network of collaborators and its client. Its aim is to help clients to devise innovation strategies, ie to identify innovation opportunities.

The company’s underpinning philosophy is that of open innovation, that the best ideas come from outside – through collaborative creation. Its two outstanding features are its worldwide network of collaborators with whom it is able to have interactive consultations on particular projects; and secondly its co-creation workshops – workshops which encompass selected collaborators from the above together with individuals from all of the camps inside the client organisation that have a stake in the innovation(s) being considered.

These collaborators (distributed in a large number of countries) have been carefully selected, and they conduct grassroots competitor research, keep the company up-to-date on micro-trends, and participate in expert interviews via an online platform which employs blogs, media sharing and webcams; and they are used to populate co-creation workshops (along with members of the client organisation.)

The company would claim that its skill lies in asking the right questions, of the right people, in the right way. It applies these skills to three initial stages: the ‘Research amnesty’ – looking at the background and landscape surrounding the client’s business in order to understand what has come before and to build up a picture of how it comes over to its public; second the ‘Scoping Session’ – examining the scope of the project, asking the dumb and difficult questions to uncover and challenge any assumptions, hunches or hypotheses; and thirdly, bringing thoughts and ideas from various external sources and tapping into the company’s network of collaborators, where its skill lies in finding the right language, references and methods to articulate the business challenge in such a way that it aligns everyone to commit their creativity to developing answers – by making it accessible and palatable to everyone involved.

The next stage in the process consists of co-creation workshops, in which collaborators and a variety of people from inside the client organisation are brought together to generate and develop ideas about opportunities for innovation in the client organisation. Included in these workshops are representatives from all of the groups in the client organisation that have a stake in the innovation(s) being considered.

The company would claim that the way in which it works with its collaborators and its clients is of the essence: that it has successfully established a genuinely collaborative working style with them that builds momentum as the project progresses; because of the intellectual stimulus that the work offers to the collaborators, and the empathetic style with which collaboration is infused.

The outcomes of the process are ‘innovation opportunities’ for the client in the form of briefs, which the client is then in a position to take forward.




Watering Holes – the BBC

 At one stage, a staff survey in the BBC revealed that many people felt that the Corporation did not value their creativity. As a result of a visit to Stanford Research Institute, the BBC took one aspect of SRI’s approach and used it for the purpose of developing ideas for new programmes into fully-fledged proposals.

The BBC’s Watering Holes brought together, alongside the idea’s originator, producers/directors, audience experts, commissioning agents, marketing people etc, with the aim of turning the idea into a mature proposal in which its market was more clearly identified, the potential programme more robust, and its issues more clearly addressed, so that it was ready to be pitched to those in the BBC who commissioned programmes.

At one stage, the manager of this exercise was touring parts of the UK running Creativity Labs in which people selected for their promising ideas were invited to participate in a week’s Watering Hole. In practice, while some of these ideas have indeed evolved into broadcast programmes, it seems that more of to-day’s programmes have evolved from or translate out of previous significant successes, to the exclusion of radical innovations; and the BBC discontinued this exercise.






BT’s R&D uses Hothousing in a big way

Suites of rooms have been built in two locations, where 40-50 Hothouses a year are run, each focused on a significant business problem or opportunity – identified by a Business Unit of BT (‘tangible outcomes are essential’). Expensive though each is (they can involve 50-100 during the Hothouse itself, though less both before and after,) they are seen as the only solution to the waterfall approach (the project handed on down the line to its next stage), in which the danger of an unforeseen problem arising late in the development process can and has involved expensive iterations and missed opportunities.

These are better described as small problem-solving conferences than workshops. Between three and eight teams (each of 6-8 people) compete (for small but significant prizes) in the presence of the problem owner, other stakeholders, his boss (and often his boss). Participants are chosen to fulfill a specific mix in a team and while fully briefed beforehand, they may or may not have hade previous experience of  Hothouses. Teams are composed through an electronic auction; and the 3-day process is marked by presentations at the end of each day, and the presence throughout the proceedings of a carefully chosen panel of judges. Each team’s space in the large communal break-out area has its plasma screen and white board; and Microsoft’s Sharepoint Online software is used for enabling each team to share material, with two other programs for sharing software in development. The Facilitator will regularly call very brief ‘stand-up’ meetings to ask about progress, obstacles, needs, and resources that might be made available.

The ‘conference’ space is institutional and Spartan (no toys – what would their bosses think!); and the process is intensive and full of energy. There are no signs of any input – either of people or materials – from outside BT, (though that will apparently depend on the business problem, and no doubt customers will often form part of the process); indeed the technical members of the teams ensure that use is made of relevant existing BT platforms.

The main uses are currently for ‘Troubles to fix’ projects – whose aim to overcome obstacles in the development process; but now that the tide has turned a little for BT, there is increasing interest in ‘Concept to market’ Hothouses – about the development of new products, services etc.

All of BT is now being equipped with these large plasma screens, interactive white boards and video conference facilities (round half the outside of a circular conference table), around the perimeter of which project teams are co-located, enabling their members to conference or hothouse alone or with fellow teams eg in Ireland or Bangalore.

             Formalised methods more than experience or expertise in this type of activity distinguish BT’s Hothouses; and they are very process-driven.











Syngenta and turning ideas into innovations in use

Syngenta is a global company working in the field of seeds. With a large number of scientists in the US, Bill Knowles is responsible for running innovation workshops – mainly for its predominantly scientist staff, (but also for finance, marketing and other staff) and focused not so much on generating new ideas as on helping small teams to turn their ideas into real innovations.

            Groups of two to four attend his workshops, to which they will have added one or two people on the fringe of the team (sometimes stakeholders or people from the company’s matrix management structure). Selected for their passion to engage, they come to the workshop (of between one and a half and four to five days) with an opportunity identified, but only by way of example, because the objective of the workshop is to provide the team with tools that they can take away for continuing use.

             Much time is spent on identifying a good question – by diverging into lots of possible questions, from which the group is encouraged to look for three to five different patterns of questions – asking which are the most impactful? A similar approach characterises the next stage – that of coming up with ideas, where patterns are again sought (and ideas are shared through the Innocentive website).

             These workshops include a lot of team-building, using Myers Briggs – of personalities, and ‘Disc’ as a profiler of behaviour types. They also use SDI – a value system profiler, and models of appropriate corporate culture, developed for people in various innovation contexts eg new product development, new service/process/business development.  But Knowles emphasises that he tries to avoid too much categorisation in case people play to their ideotype more than try to support the needs of the innovation process (turning ideas into innovations).

              During the process, team members are assigned to continue team capability development. Sometimes, he says, innovatory approaches are blunted by virtue of the fact that new projects have to be signed off by so many people in the company, but they are always focused on the customer’s ‘hiring’ ( = acceptance) criteria. The role of sponsor also comes under scrutiny and its effectiveness measured.




















Seedcamps: venture capital

                        Seedcamps sees itself as a catalyst for next generation entrepreneurs. It is an organisation with a programme created ‘to jump-start the entrepreneurial community in Europe by connecting next generation developers and entrepreneurs with over 300 advisers from a top-tier network of company builders including seed investors, product experts, marketers, lawyers, PR, HE, recruiters, journalists and venture capitalists’.

                        Seedcamps acts as a micro seed fund to invest in startup companies, mainly through Seedcamp Week which started in 2007 and now takes place in September every year. Mini Seedcamp programmes are now also run in startup hubs around Europe from January to June and more recently elsewhere in the world.

                        They are designed to help entrepreneurs to develop the right connections, gain validation, build teams and raise seed capital to supercharge their businesses.

                        Seedcamps not only provide access to seed funding (as do Dragons’ Dens) but also, more significantly, expose startups to the collective experience of people who can help inspire the next generation of technology entrepreneurs.

                        Selected start-ups compete for 50,000 Euros for 8 to 10 percent of the company

in question from the Seedcamp venture capital fund. Following Seedcamp Week, the companies that receive investment stay in London (which has become something of a mecca for seed funding) for three months to grow and develop their company, with the objective of their building key and lasting business relationships that will help them to sustain a viable business. The Seedcamp organisation aims to continue to support its businesses – with further events, contacts and opportunities to gain further funding – as ‘part of the Seedcamp family’.

                        To our knowledge this approach has not yet been taken up by other entrepreneurial or venture capital organisations but the Seedcamp organisation has supported IBM in the development of their SmartCamps.


In 2010, Design London ran a similar series of events in order to select ventures for its Incubator.  The Design London Review Panel, composed of representatives of NESTA, Imperial College Business School, Imperial College London and the Royal College of Art announced a shortlist of ventures that had made it through to the next round of the selection process, based on the multi-disciplinary nature of the business idea; on ventures which were design-led and operated on the cross roads of design and technology; on the innovative nature of the idea and the strength of the intellectual property involved; and on the business potential of the venture (candidates had to be linked with the RCA and/or Imperial College in some way: student, staff or alumnus.)

Having a multi-disciplinary team, composed of at least one technical/creative person and one business person was a prerequisite to being admitted onto the next stage of selection; and Design London aimed to match teams to potential new members from different backgrounds with the aim of complementing the existing projects with new talent and expertise.

At the Venture Selection Showcase, applicants introduced their newly form multi-disciplinary teams to the Review Panel. The selected venture teams would participate in a week-long Entrepreneurial Bootcamp during which a team of eminent lecturers and professional business coaches would assist them with developing a business case, action plan and request for funding.

The coaches would help the teams to prepare and rehearse a powerful ten-minute pitch to the Review Board. These pitches took place during the prestigious closing event of the Bootcamp on the Friday afternoon and aimed to convince the Review Board, amidst stiff competition, of the merits of selecting a project to join the Incubator. The final criteria were:

*  The overall strength of the business case: market, solution, business model

*  Consistency and realism of the action plan and the request for funding

*            The added value the Design London Incubator can bring to the venture

*  The overall enthusiasm and cohesiveness of the team and its obvious eagerness

    to succeed.























Innovation in public services 



Copenhagen, ThinkPublic and Nesta

More recently, as the focus of innovation has alighted on public services, there has been interest in using similar short periods of intensive development. For some time, there has been a group of people in Copenhagen – mainly from large design-led organisations – who meet from time to time on ad hoc basis, to help with issues around public services.

ThinkPublic was started by the winner of a Nesta grant, to work with organisations on such issues in the UK. Sessions are often shorter than a week and are characterised by helping participants to identify clearly their potential customers, to envision the customer journey, and to reflect upon ways in which customer involvement can be more intimate. Sessions use analogies, images and other forms of representations; and include presentations and cases; and adjacent rooms invite the participants to browse related material.

These processes have been used by Nesta for helping to develop new ideas for public services, enabling them to offer grants to selected project groups whose concepts were clearer, more robust, and with a better chance of success.



Future Centers in Europe (Hank Kune’s Paper, abridged)

            Future Centers are special working environments that help organizations and people break out of patterns and routines, see issues from multiple perspectives, and choose effective courses of action. They are high-touch, technology-enhanced learning spaces, which enable people to create, develop, prototype, and communicate ideas, strategies, plans, solutions and actions that help them to: 

                        • deal effectively with today’s challenges;

                        • achieve middle- and long-term goals; 

                        • deliver sustainable solutions and results.

             A Future Center is an organizational, physical, methodological and virtual space. It is a mental space, an affective space, and above all a people space. It exists across time, moving between past, present and future as it navigates knowledge and experiential

 pathways to achieve its objectives.

             [As of 2008], there were more than thirty Future Centers in Europe. They assume different forms in different places, and in different organisations they are known by different labels – innovation labs, creativity centers, mindlabs and diverse organisation-specific names. Some operate in public administration and others in multinational industries; there are corporate centers and centers open to the general public, centers serving geographical areas and specific domains. 

            They operate in various domains, for a range of purposes. Looking at public

administration, there are Future Centers operating at ministerial level in national

government, in cities, and in regions. They operate in governmental and semi-governmental agencies dealing with economic affairs, taxation, transportation, public works and water management, nature and the environment, spatial planning and urban revitalization, social affairs and employment, pensions, the welfare system, and education. There are Future Centers bridging the work of four ministries (in the Netherlands), and centers working for three ministries (in Denmark and in the UK). In Israel and the Netherlands there are centers working to improve the quality of education in school systems. In several countries, studies are being performed and/or plans

drawn up for centers in provincial government, in NGOs, and as public private


             In the private sector, a variety of sectors have company-specific versions of

Future Centers: post, telecommunications, energy, consumer electronics, insurance and banking. A number of consultancy organisations – both large and small – operate their own Future Center-like initiatives on a commercial basis. 

             A further distinction can be made between centers created around a permanent physical space, and those that create temporary dynamic future space on-site, at the location where its users live and work, or where the issues it deals with actually occur.

             What unites them is a common focus on dealing with real people and real

issues in organisations and society. They are all centers for facilitated collaborative problem-solving, where people seeking new ideas, new directions, and sustainable real-time answers to complex problems can bring their questions, issues and ideas. They provide the means to leverage the collective intelligence – and distributed intelligence – of relevant organisations, sectors and communities, in order to apply this intelligence to tackling specific organizational issues and societal challenges. The core competences of Future Centers – developing people-friendly and “brain-friendly” working environments with optimal user-centricity, developing and investigating future perspectives, creating prototypes for policy options, and engaging in multi-stakeholder dialogue which leads to action – impact the effectiveness of organisations to meet the present – and future – needs of their customers and governments to deal pro-actively with present and future societal challenges.

             Future Centers are facilitated working environments, collaborative workplaces

where learning and insights from past and future, and from diverse participant

perspectives, are applied to solve real-world problems in the present.  They are innovation engines to help people and organisations collaboratively, systematically and continuously explore, anticipate, prepare for and actively design the future – and then return to the present to realize it. 

             Future Centers support their users and clients with facilitated activities in physical, virtual, cognitive and emotional space. They are user-centric, people-centred working environments purposely designed to enable users to collaborate in thinking about, questioning, designing and prototyping the future. They facilitate organisations to create innovative solutions to issues that matter to them by prototyping new policy, products, services and work relationships. They provide dedicated working environments, methods, tools, facilitation, and the appropriate context for furthering organisational, technological, social and societal innovation. 

             How do they work? By adding intelligence to the work that people, projects, and organisations perform: visual, emotional, spatial, creative and collective intelligence. They do their work by asking questions, challenging assumptions, and not accepting easy answers; by helping people – and organisations – to let go of habits, work with multiple perspectives, create multiple options and multiplier effects, consider their consequences, and take responsibility for their actions and decisions. Despite the ‘future’ label it is the conscious linking of past, present and future that is actively pursued. In the search for added value, the present serves as departure point, the past as a cradle, and the future as an asset.

             Future Centers can fulfill a variety of functions in their parent organisations.

Most fulfill several functions, and particular centers actively organise their activities to fulfill a number of these functions in an integrated way:

• Innovation. Facilitating and enabling innovation (continuous, radical, disruptive)   in diverse ways.

 • Meeting and networking space. They provide meeting and encounter sites for people: a low threshold-meeting place for people and ideas, both internal and external, that is always surprising and inspiring. This function is not about holding meetings; in fact, most Future Centers are adamant about turning down clients who simply wish to hold meetings in an unusual setting.

• Future orientation. Facilitating conversations about the future and its consequences: creating future images, perspectives and scenarios and through them, impacting the future of people, their parent organization(s), and society.

• Knowledge creation. Facilitating the co-creation, sharing and implementation of new knowledge – and turning it into value. 

• Prototyping. Creating fast, testable prototypes of ideas and products, work processes and policies, which can be tested with end-users. The Future Center is an incubator and testing ground for new ways of working, communicating and thinking, and for potential solutions to challenging problems.

• Talent development. Helping people to develop new types of leadership for innovation, and practice skills needed to effectively address the future.

• Education. Imparting new skills, attitude, and working methods to individuals and organisations using it. 

• Anchoring results achieved in the Future Center: in the center itself, in the parent or client organization, in the sector and in society. 

            A central function that many Future Centers fulfill is creating and facilitating

new ways of working with people on issues that are important to them and their organisations. In essence, they take people out of their standard working practice, and provide a new way to organise the knowledge, resources and activities required to achieve the desired outcomes. Centers create working methods based on their operating principles and key competencies, designing them to deal with specific issues, and use them to facilitate the process of moving from thinking to doing. As such, this also offers a way for session participants to learn how to organise work effectively. People practice

new skills, acquire new competencies, and can bring them back to their regular workplace. These skills and competencies can then be more widely applied and influence the way work is organised throughout the organisation.













FutureFocus – the Government’s Innovation Workshop

Constructed about ten years ago, it consists of a suite of about ten rooms in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) in Victoria Street, London – rooms of varying sizes including a presentation room (with film projectors) and different break-out rooms. In two of these rooms, up to 20 computers (though normally a dozen) can be located, linked by Group Systems Software, which enables brainstorming to be conducted anonymously and expeditiously, with the resulting ideas immediately presented on a public screen, to which comments may then be added, so that they can then be sorted, listed and evaluated using a variety of criteria. Screens also enable the presentation of material from Skype, videos, webcams, cameras and the internet. 

A recent development of this software enables it to be downloaded via the internet, thus expanding the sources of ready material available to individual computers, as well as making it possible for such brainstorms to be conducted on ‘away’ grounds.

The unit is used by the main departments of state, firstly for future thinking, second for interdepartmental working (eg multi-stakeholder projects), and thirdly for team-working and project planning. It runs about 370 events per annum, mostly of half a day or a full day.

Its special expertise is in adapting the styles and approaches of its events to particular users and their needs; and it has contracts with a variety of facilitators including scientists, actors, academics et al. User departments tend to use the facility more for exploring how to achieve what they want to achieve eg impact/outcomes, and to get at quick solutions, than for generating innovative ideas; though ‘more for less’ is a theme of topical relevance. Evaluations tend to be very positive, though they are of course difficult to carry out with clear conclusions.

A development which is anticipated by Future Focus as a result of the software becoming available via the internet is that it will be possible to link meetings being held (and facilitated) separately in different locations, thus enabling offices in different locations (or different countries) to hold such meetings without the costs and inconvenience of travel. While the unit is dedicated to government use, it has also been used successfully by industry, including for a time by M&S.



















Innovation Workshops in Academia


Innovation Workshops at the Royal College of Art

            The Royal College of Art runs occasional innovation workshops effectively on two conditions: first if they contribute in some way to learning or teaching at the RCA; and second, where the RCA can muster appropriate resources from its widespread contacts ie from teaching staff, students or alumni.

            Projects undertaken will be about complex, design-related issues, usually involving a number of stakeholders and different disciplines, and they tend to be culture-related ie about changing acceptability, public values or tastes.

            Clients have been in the public sector (the Home Office, the Prison Service), in the private sector (B&Q, Johnson and Johnson), and for institutions such as the BBC.

            The RCA’s approaches have been distinguished by the following:

·      information collected by means of research, including the use of video etc

·      information distributed to workshop participants in advance – by e-mail

·      working with a large number of participants, often working in parallel, with reporting sessions

·      workshops often of several sessions

·      sometimes involving designing/ prototyping

·      with visually striking reports to the client.


The University of Essex iLab, Southend-on-Sea

               This lab follows the pattern of the Royal Mail’s lab (above), as do a number of others in the UK; but is rather simpler and less forbidding. The computer area (16 laptops) leads into a break-out area in which everyone can come together. There are cupboards around the large room, where toys, musical instruments and art and craft materials are available for use at any time.

                The main users have been local schools (Essex is a keen adopter of such labs in its schools), charities, healthcare organisations, SMEs and local public services. The facility has been used among others things for: gaining involvement and commitment, project planning and evaluation, product testing, and eliciting issues from eg front line staff. [The University of East Anglia’s iLabs also work on policies, plans, programmes and courses.]

               The key difference is that the computers do not use ‘Group Systems’ software, which simply links the computers to the screen, but uses – software which connects them via the internet. This software enables all of the laptops both to connect with a screen (just like Group Systems software) but also to have access to any material that is available on the internet, both public sites and personal sites, as well as to material (including photo/video material) that may have been collected specifically for a particular workshop.

               iLabs, says the Director, have three key characteristics:

•    as a ‘special’ place, they focus you onto communal problem-solving

•    they ‘release’ you – into free-thinking and playfulness, and

•    they add to the common dimensions of thinking the physical and the visual, as well as

     enabling the instant import of e-sources.

               The staff of the facility have produced a training package for facilitators, for which they won work with a number of comparable European facilities; and they have also visited a number of comparable Finnish facilities – a leading country in this field.


EPSRC’s Sandpits

For six years, EPSRC has run ‘Sandpits’ – week-long residential workshops, as part of their Ideas Factory. The objective of these is to bring together people from different disciplines, to work on significant problems, and by breaking down barriers and building new relationships to find new approaches and solutions and identify new areas for research.

Sandpits are distinctive in that they start with relatively large groups (20-30) of scientists, who do not know each other, selected from their own submissions – to achieve  diversity in the group, and for their suitability for the process (‘arranged marriages’). They know that they will have to work on a significant ‘real world’ problem and that there is a considerable pot of funds immediately available – for those projects that will be decided upon by agreement at the end of the week.

            The ethos is one of self-management, but the process is shaped by a Director, Mentors and Facilitators – leading participants through and on to an understanding of the opportunities and problems, and arriving at a Problem Statement; and thence to the formation of ideas, around which smaller groups begin to form. Finally proposals are short-listed and ranked before a final funding decision is made. Pre-work, speed-dating, site visits, games, challenges, visitors from alien fields (poets, ethicists, IT experts) are all designed to help with the process. They are run in various locations (including once at Royal Mail’s Creativity Laboratory at Rugby).

            Originally designed to bring scientists out of their silos and to help them to think creatively together, the programme ‘has resulted in ambitious, innovative research without boundaries, and lasting legacies of new relationships and new ways of thinking’. The concept has since been of interest to the National Science Foundation in the US, and to comparable organisations in Germany and New Zealand among others.

Work is currently being undertaken – with Nottingham University, to experiment with similar meetings via the net, and to see whether and how games and other computer-based interactions may be useful for the process.



York University: bringing together different disciplines

            The university has run a number of workshops where people from one of its hum-anities departments have been brought together with other departments, and with other organisations or agencies, with the aim of stimulating discussions designed to get a new perspective on an issue, to identify a new approach to tackling it, or new research.

            Its philosophers have worked with its epidemiologists – to see how under-standings of causation might help the latter. The Professor of English has worked with a big pharma – inter alia on the role of trust – a project subsequently taken forward with

3-year funding from the Wellcome Foundation. Another department has worked with the European Space Agency – on issues to do with safety; and environmentalists have worked with lawyers – on issues of climate change. (At one workshop, a computer project was enabled by actors acting out how this would play out with users.)

            One approach has been to take an abstract theme, and to start by having expert speakers from several different departments or disciplines (including leading experts from worldwide), then inviting questions about what they have said. Break out groups are then formed and their discussions go where they will, the day culminating in a full plenary session


Tom Inns and Theatres of Thinking at Dundee University

            Tom tends to run big workshops eg of fifty academics, mainly in the world of academia and quasi R&D, where his aim is to build future platforms, interests and collaborations.

            His work is in the field of inter-disciplinary initiatives, where benefits are likely

            *            to be different from those that are expected;

            *        not to be expressible in terms of the discipline that originated the initiative;

            *            to involve new questions, or reformulation of objectives;

            *        to be in the form of capacity to respond to future events, not past ones;

            *        to arise after a long time – perhaps long after the initiative has formally ended (‘Creating Value across Boundaries’, Nesta, 2010).

            He talks about exploring a potential project; about building a specification for a programme; about eliciting responses and ideas about a possible project. He will often explore drivers of change and trends; and he sees the workshops he runs as themselves drivers of change; and as providing an opportunity for exchanges that would not otherwise happen eg people from different disciplines (arts and humanities), from different sectors (academics and industrialists), and around particular strategic issues that cross domains (climate change); with people who are often notorious for working in silos.

            He sees his role as a facilitator as essentially that of a designer of experiences. He trained as an engineer, and then studied industrial design at the Royal College of Art. For him design is about building communications and he is interested in how designers work collaboratively within teams.

            Choreography and theatres are metaphors central to his thinking; and he is interested in spaces, props, (loose) scripts, characters etc; and play, ownership and structure are concepts that would be part of his design-led approach. He likes cabaret style seating, using big floor spaces as a grid, pyramid reporting and graphic methods of information capture. He makes use of co-experience activities as a source of ideas. He likes taking methods out of the areas in which they are commonly used and turning them into 3D realities or happenings, with the aim of making tacit information explicit.

            Ensuring that workshops like these have a beneficial legacy he sees as a big challenge. He comments that they are of course very expensive ( – large numbers of people, much time involved); and that you must therefore make them very valuable. So he concerns himself with as much as the following 12 to 24 months, and with the value of their outcomes.

            He implies that workshops like those that he designs and facilitates should be in common use; and he has used them extensively in projects for the Arts and Humanities Research Council.












An Innovation Workshop that uses a James Bond theme

Prof A J Fee ( Visiting Prof. Marketing and Innovation) Queens University, Belfast

All businesses need Creativity and New Ideas to cope with Change and emerging technology. The world we live in is competitive and to succeed we need to be moving forward all the time. In the world of Espionage and 007, high speed critical thinking is essential. Professor Curious of Queen’s University, a leading practitioner of Deep Dive Think Tanks, (DDTT) organises James Bond Creative Clusters in which small dynamic teams of businessmen and women, undergraduates, postgraduates and academics explore emerging ideas and technology challenges.

When James Bond is on a mission, there is only one outcome. He will be victorious. In spite of many a tricky setback, many a challenge and many a tough moment Bond will win and the bad guys will be destroyed. Industry needs heroes, just like 007. Industry needs to think the way Bond does and must convince itself that there are answers to all the market uncertainties they face. When faced with spinning saws, hanging from a speeding train or of being chased by machinegun touting competitors Bond stays cool and, using his innovative, creative mind, finds elusive ideas to give him the upper hand.

Think Tanks that are modelled on a James Bond Theme have been used in QUB for some time with startling results and the outcomes have always been explosive! In a series of tasks which become increasingly difficult, participants learn to look in new, unusual places for answers…. and they find them. Bond is confident to the end. With James bond on your team you will defeat the ogre, find the new method and succeed.

A group of mixed disciplines always works better than a monotypical group

(eg engineers only.) A typical 007 event is open to anyone who proves themselves innovative – undergraduates are asked to apply for an invite. If your submission is intriguing enough then Miss Moneypenny may select you to attend. If your application is dull and boring you will not gain admittance. Dress Code is strictly, 007, Villain, Bond Babe, Q or Moneypenny. You must dress in an innovative manner, must come prepared to think innovatively and curiously enough and you will be Creative and Innovative as a result. Truth Serum is provided, shaken, not stirred and there is no charge for attendance. High power smoothies and energy food is essential. Numbers are strictly limited to 25. Enough for fun, competition, and control. Thinking like Bond will help your career, business and brain.

The room being used must be very well choreographed. This is not expensive, but glasses, videos, music, space, drinks, food, accoutrements make or break the aura and a well run “operations room” creates more ideas and worthwhile outcomes.

(Google: Casino Caper: STVP Stanford)












 Innovation in the media and the arts


Watershed, Bristol – innovation in media and the arts

Watershed in Bristol, is now an established arts institution – which operates in a number of different dimensions. It is a significant local presence at the retail level – as a building on the waterfront that contains three cinemas, a cafe, a bar and a restaurant.               Still more significantly it runs several different processes whose aim is to generate and develop inspirations in the arts (as the currency of meaning, and hence the shaper of our culture) especially in theatre, film and other media.

                The aim of the Pervasive Media Studio is to be a curated Open Innovation Space:

  housing a limited number of carefully selected innovators working in a variety

   of  different disciplines.

  in an ambience whose essence is open-ness but curated – with happenings that

   are designed around supporting creativity and interactivity.

The studio forms a unique kind of innovation workshop; it is indeed a workshop in the sense of being a physical space; and it is one that is in continuous session, in which people from different disciplines are brought to work together on their different projects, in a common environment that is carefully curated.

Through its subsidiary iShed, Watershed also runs several different kinds of innovation workshops and investment schemes (namely media sandbox and theatre sandbox.)

For the Sandbox projects, iShed runs one-day ideas generation workshops : theatre sandbox, a star in the firmament of the Arts council, is now run nationally with bases in six regional theatres. A similar process is run for people with ideas in digital media.

               The concept of the Sandpit (See EPSRC’s Sandpits, above) is that of a

short period in which people from different disciplines are brought together to address a particular issue (eg in relation to health, wealth or wellbeing) to identify problems or opportunities and to develop ways forward. Watershed’s iShed takes aspects of the Sandpit concept and gives them a new and fuller life. It does this by:

– providing a much longer development period – of three months

– often (but not always) by extending the inter-disciplinary nature of the arena by

  virtue of housing together and in the same big room a (carefully selected) number of

  complementary projects

– by providing support that is relevant to the particular moment of each and

  every project

– by ‘curating’ a space and an ambience that includes happenings designed to

  stimulate creativity, openness, sharing and development

– by requiring everyone to identify their learnings, which are then e-disseminated to

  a wider audience.

The Pervasive Media Studio brings together a collection of people with ideas who would not easily find homes for their work elsewhere, whose projects are based around pervasive media. Organisations associated with Watershed (among them Bristol City Council, Hewlett-Packard and Nokia) bring projects of various kinds to Watershed.




Facilitation skills


Hank Kune – Educore, Amsterdam: a synthesiser and a deliverer of outcomes

            Hank is especially interested in stimulating innovation. He works with citizens groups, organisations and ministries; and particularly on societal issues – and on such issues where they span boundaries; and in Futures Centers (qv p 12).

            He claims to excel [my word] at synthesis – linking ideas and adding to them to create new concepts; and in making people enthusiastic to carry out their ideas. He also claims to be a planter of seeds – ideas, that he drops when he meets the many people or groups that he encounters.

            He was the Co-ordinator of a European Commission project that researched and reported in 2008 on ‘workspaces dedicated to helping people with problems and issues’ (then about 30). And he says that he is now the stimulator of Future Centers (many of which are found in Scandinavia and the Netherlands) – ‘physical work spaces where people can collaborate in their organisations or sectors on their issues, learning from the past and envisioning the future; and bringing back what they have learned to the present’.



Phillip Joe – facilitator of projects and of ‘user experience’ visualisations

            Phillip Joe is an expert facilitator of small groups

*   involved in facilitating meetings with customers in the development and planning

     of projects for Microsoft, and

*   working on ‘user experience’ architecture, especially in developing visualisations

     of the customer journey, where he was seconded for a period to the NHS.

            His special skills are

·      with multi-stakeholder groups (problem owner/operator/experts/customers etc)

·      in driving them and delivering results quickly

         (the Microsoft culture is of 1-hourly meetings)

·      in creating atmospheres of openness and trust

            (he aims to be seen as a ‘neutral scribe’)

·      in empathy used to gain involvement and elicit contributions from

          everyone in the room

·      in discreetly structuring their inputs

          (into categories/priorities/immediacy of relevance etc)

·      in conceptualising, visioning and prototyping

                (he brings his own wall-surfacing material for drawing on)

·      in generating areas of agreement so as to move projects forward

          (in terms of plans/decisions/ideas/rationale etc).

            Trained as a designer – at the Royal College of Art, he has worked for IDEO, especially on user-centred and interaction design (which he has also taught); and he is now a studious exponent of facilitation.

            As such, he is an empathetic elicitor of peoples’ problems, thoughts and ideas, a shaper of them (‘work the gaps; work the items’), and a translator of them into graphic forms – so that they can be publicly worked on.

            He does this with a sensitivity and a frivolity and humour that mask his talents but oil his work; and a drive, born of a quick mind (‘processing on the fly’) and intensive articulation. 


Various group workshops/processes


 ‘Idea Connection Systems’ and synergy in groups

            ‘Idea Connection Systems’ in the US works with industrial and governmental organisations, and specialises in the human dynamics that make innovations happen, and in turning ideas into innovations [that are in general use].

            Among their interests have been: how do you select the members of innovation groups, and how do you get the most synergy out of them. My own work  (Managing  Creative Groups – what makes people good at it, Roffey Park, 1996, and (1)) took Belbin’s analysis of the different roles that are required in an effective team into the realm of creative teams, and suggested that successful creative projects needed a carefully selected variety of team roles – from among a slightly larger variety of such roles than Belbin had proposed. Idea Connection Systems has taken this two steps further: working with the Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro they have developed and used an assessment instrument (the ISPI – Innovation Strengths Preference Indicator) which distinguishes people on the basis of the roles necessary for effective work in innovation teams: they have then related these firstly to the kind of innovation that is called for (eg is it evolutionary/expansionary/revolutionary); and secondly to the stages of the innovation process. This has enabled them to select teams that are carefully matched to the needs of the task and of the moment in the innovation process. Using this approach, they quadrupled the effectiveness of the selection and development process of new product projects at Raytheon.

(1)           See: ‘Releasing Creativity: how leaders develop creative potential in their teams’, John Whatmore, Kogan Page, 1999.



Generating innovations with e-workshops

Among the difficulties involved in trying to adapt workshops of the kind we have been discussing to the internet is that it is more difficult to synthesise people’s ideas, to get people to build on each other’s, and to bring about consensus; it is not easy to generate the same kind of intensity, and nor is it at all so easy to synchronise participants’ working.

IBM’s UK Laboratories have a culture in which people work independently of one another, but they do use the net for what they call ‘jams’. These are periods of time during which ideas are sought (on the intranet) – on any subject. Open for a limited period of time, they work best if after a number of responses have been received, the perpetrator posts a summary, and then relaunches the Jam for a further defined period and then feeds back the findings. They are said to capture thousands of ideas and to be used to fund sizeable innovation activity; and they are often used by very senior level managers.

The NHS Institute for Innovation and Improvement used a similar approach in its attempt to generate improvements to nursing and midwifery practice in 2009. The Chief Nursing Officer made a ‘call for action’ in a three week period during September, to which over 600 good practice submissions were posted, and there were thousands of hits on the NHS III website from people reading and commenting on the case studies that had been presented. ‘When campaigns focus on a specific topic area and are time-limited, the quality of responses and number of submissions improves considerably’, comments the NHS III. The website asked about the impact the work had on quality, patient experience and cost, as well as getting some of the practical details of what was important in making it a success. ‘A key concept behind any ideas management approach is that all ideas are important and can usually be built on and made even better’. The success of the programme depended on working with those who really knew the problems and had the solutions – the frontline staff. Three principles were espoused: to engage people on an emotional level rather than a technical level; to relate the desired improvements to the driving motives of the staff involved; and to nominate ‘Champions’ for the project. ‘We know that telling people what to do will not achieve the results that everyone wants’.  What was essential was that frontline staff should be able to lead and make the improvements themselves. A programme of support and material was also designed that would help nurses and midwives make changes in the specific areas.

Jane Galsworthy of Oxford Innovations has used ‘Thinktank’ software in a workshop at FutureFocus (see above). She ran the first part in the usual mode  – with everyone present, but she ran the second part remotely – as an online workshop. She comments that this part got a lot of ‘lurkers’; a lot of detailed written submissions; and the contributions were more cautious, more specific, and more detailed.

John Moores University’s Innovation Centre uses the ability of to enable participants in such workshops to contribute information to the group remotely and in their own time. Where new products or services are the issue, information about customers’ motives, interests and behaviours, and about how existing products and services are delivered and used can be captured with cameras and fed into group sessions.



DSTL’s various approaches – and problems with them

The Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) does not have a single trademark workshop format but employs a range of innovation techniques dependent upon the requirements and scope of the challenge. The content and process used is tailored to provide an appropriate response. Some techniques employed include:


·     Tiger Team. Most recently this format was employed for an extended duration of 1-year with selected staff from within the organisation coupled with industrial partners (more than two-thirds of the team) to provide a multi-discipline, multi-organisational team to generate, evaluate, trial and develop, detection technologies, processes and procedures to deliver to the front line.

·     IDEAS Workshops. Here, junior and mid-level technologists and scientists within the organisation volunteer their time and collective intelligence to attend short 2 hour idea generation sessions on key technological challenges facing the defence community. The topics are proposed either by the participating staff or by a specific sponsor and the outputs are selected in consultation with the problem owners. The sessions have ten to twelve participants attending in an informal environment. Each forum is designed to have a blend of staff from different departments attending each session ensuring a wide range of knowledge and expertise is present. The sessions are carefully timed (during the year), choreographed, located and staffed to maximise the propagation of ideas. Some ideas generated are already being pursued within existing programmes validating the decision to conduct this work and often this occurs because it is not possible to know what is being pursued within all of the current programmes. New ideas are generated within the sessions but taking these ideas forward needs support from Senior Staff with the organisation to give the idea/concept some traction.

·     The Network is an online forum developed during a wider initiative to enhance technical networking across the organisation.  These ‘hyperforums’ encourage invited subject-matter experts and participants from a range of different disciplines within Dstl to use online discussion boards and wikis to discuss potential solutions to a specific technical topic over the course of a few hours.  The form of the technical output of the ‘hyperforum’ is inherently dependent on the input from the participating staff. The main benefits are enabling staff to interact without being physically co-located, and enabling staff to develop technical networks. The drawbacks are that it is difficult to facilitate comprehensively and control negative input.

·     A ‘Dragon’s Den’ approach has recently been piloted with new entrants to the organisation as a combined event with a Hyperforum event. Its aims have included: initiating ideas generation, forming possible teams for delivery, and enabling teams to pitch to senior technical staff for funding for their developed concept. Successful applications receive time, funding and mentorship as a result.

·     Security considerations can limit the ability to draw in the wider science and technology community to some events; and in some cases challenges have been articulated as fictional characters (e.g. Batman) with specific tasks to complete – as a focus for the generation of ideas in sensitive areas.

·     Other creativity and innovation workshops are designed with the specific problem in mind whether that be a technology challenge, product requirement, process or strategy direction. They use a varying range of techniques, stimuli, locations, attendees and outcomes and can be delivered by a set of trained facilitators in-house or by external experts where appropriate.

Key challenges for the organisation include:

*            the ability to  engage effectively in the creative process people from outside

            the organisation;

*            commercial and IP related complications;

*            perceptions of freedom with time to generate ideas versus requirement to deliver;

*            public expectation of the work undertaken; and

*            not all staff see or feel the benefits or are entirely comfortable with the process.

        IDEAS Forums. Autonomous sessions take place at the three main sites but each discuss the same key S&T requirements (technical questions) that have been obtained directly from our customers. The initiative therefore encompasses staff from across the lab and is facilitated at mid level (and thus having no security issues) – with multiple sessions run over lunchtimes (i.e. voluntary attendance).

        A number of technical questions are listed at the beginning of each forum and the group selects which and how many problems they want to tackle in a session. Ideas are generated, collated from the sessions and attributed to the staff that came up with them.

        Crucial factors determining productivity and success in these sessions are:

1) the time in the financial year the sessions are conducted (i.e. avoiding holiday periods and the start/end of the FY is necessary to ensure attendances)

2) staff numbers present (i.e. a min of 6 staff works but lower than this not so well, above 12 staff and it becomes more like crowd control than facilitation. In addition, in groups above 12 quieter members of the session will be intimidated and not contribute

3) physical surroundings (e,g, style of meeting room, amount of background noise etc)

4) Style/phraseology of the tech question (i.e. too detailed means there is limited lateral scope to think, too general and the reverse applies so getting good output can be difficult)

5) Blend of personalities (i.e. all the lateral thinkers together doesn’t work as the can generate the idea but may be not the final concept, putting all the loud opinionated one together also isn’t idea. A mix is preferable where ideas generators can be helped to be developed by quieter, considered thinkers).


6) Blend of technical expertise experience (i.e. range of departments – absolutely essential to the whole process. Also, you ideally want more than one representative from a particular area)

7) Fine balance in the amount of background information (i.e. similar to 4 – too much info too early skew the group towards want is currently done as highlighted in the summary paragraph above. Not enough detail and it can be difficult for the group to understand exactly what the actual problem is that needs to be addressed. Having the particular “problem owner” in the room can help/work but they themselves need to know when to interject relevant info to the group).

Two dedicated facilities have been created – in Portakabins, with meeting table, break-out table, process related posters, scribblable walls and collections of random objects available; but no linked computers, no ready internet access, and little to help build trial models or solutions.



Living Labs

            Living Labs (conceived some 20 years ago at MIT) were given a boost when in 2000 the European Community funded some work of this type. Living Labs start from the point of view that traditional research is insulated, indeed isolated from real life; and Living Labs use real life environments in which to try out new approaches – a form of action research – whose essential advantage is that of progressive iteration over time. This approach claims to have applications in the commercial sector, the public sector and the research sector.

            A project with which we made contact was of 36 months duration, funded by the EU under Framework 7, its objective: the development of smart meters – that would make more economical and effective use of energy in the home.

            Digital Birmingham had built a consortium of 13 organisations, led by the City Council, with other city councils, energy agencies, small business and research partners; and ran projects in five locations, developing software to collect data on energy wastage  – in 20 households, introducing plug metering – in 50 households, and assessing how behaviour changed, (as well as carrying out research on personal carbon trading.)

            The essence of work by the Living Labs Association consists in partnerships – of parties in the public sector, the private sector and in research. Typical work consists in community consultation, finding user needs, and experimenting with ways to satisfy them.

            Other applications of Living Labs have apparently included the funding of work on broadband – in terms of its capability in supporting:

·      online admissions to schools

·      the building of capacities in communities

·      inter-generational learning, and

·      building communities.


Copyright The Centre for Leadership in Creativity, 2010


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