Introduction & context:
This is (by necessity) a small research project, but it’s on a very large subject. I’ve therefore not attempted to be comprehensive, and consequently won’t be making any far-reaching claims. I’ve held a preference for comparatively new initiatives, and those which I’ve seen mentioned in my immediate circles. (I had initially anticipated making personal contact with some of the leaders of the initiatives I’ve looked at, and knowing someone in common may have facilitated making contact.)
At Tonya’s suggestion, I kept a list of sources (all websites) I found while doing this work. I’ve added this list to another blog post.
Four current practices:
Co-location: In recognition of the roles of emergence, serendipity, community and interpersonal relationships to innovation, some organizations have focused on creating environments which maximize these, by bringing together like-minded people and organizations under one roof. Beyond simple workspace, equipment, workshops and events, and other programming is offered. Co-location as a method isn’t new, but it’s expanding to new sectors: CSI is focused on the public good; MaRS, on a range of sectors; Rock Health on transformative mobile health apps; and QB3 on bioscience.
Challenges are contests, in which entrants submit an idea or prototype, and compete to win monetary awards. Most challenges don’t offer any significant support besides cash awards, and so they fall outside of the original parameter of this research. (I’ll mention them again later, because as turns out, they’re an interesting contrast to the other practices.)
Intensives can take several forms. The Unreasonable Institute offers a 6-week residential summer program. Rock Health offers co-working space and a (mandatory) 5-month workshop program. MoJo will run a “HackFest” (presumably a couple of days in length) late this summer.
Embedded researchers: Several programs embed experienced researchers/practitioners in organizations, in order to take advantage of their experience (and tacit knowledge) to navigate complex situations. Different programs are using it to address complexity in different sectors: UW’s EiR program helps academic researchers with commercialization, the Health Launchpad looks for innovation opportunities in health institutions, the Radical Redesign program addresses social problems by studying families’ problems, and MoJo seeks to bring innovation to newsrooms.
Organizations & Programs:
MaRS: Offers private office spaces and medical research labs, to startups and other innovation-oriented organizations. (Like CSI, MaRS is involved in many other initiatives. Here, I’m just considering their co-location offering.) marsdd.com
QB3 MB Innovation Center: Offers office and biomedical research lab facilities for lease for startups. Tenants also take advantage of the center’s social network and profile. http://qb3.org/innovation-toolkit/qb3-mbin
Rock Health: An initiative to incubate new products in the “interactive health space.” Accepted applicants will receive US$20,000, 5 months of mentoring, support services and office space in Silicon Valley, and access to venture capitalists. Funded by venture capital firms. rockhealth.com
Unreasonable Institute: A 6-week training and incubation program for social entrepreneurs. Funded by social venture finance firms, who also participate in the program. unreasonableinstitute.org
Good Company Ventures: A program for blended value entrepreneurs, incubating their projects for two days per week for 10 weeks. Funded by venture firms looking for blended value. goodcompanyventures.org
Health Launchpad: This program places entrepreneurs in healthcare institutions. Their role is to act as talent scout, to design new cost-effective services from the bottom-up, to act as navigator and connector, to secure funding for new initiatives, and ultimately to change the culture of the organization to embrace innovation. A program of the Young Foundation. http://www.youngfoundation.org/our-work/ventures-and-investment/health-launchpad/health-launchpad
University of Washington Entrepreneur-in-Residence program: This program places successful entrepreneurs inside the university for 6-9 months, to develop relationships with academic researchers, to identify opportunities, and to help the university achieve greater success in commercialization. http://depts.washington.edu/uwc4c/start-ups/entrepreneurs-in-residence/
Radical Redesign: A design process in which a team with diverse backgrounds (design, policy, business and community) collaborate to address complex social problems. The team uses a co-design process to understand and intervene in a situation through rapid prototypes, while anticipating sustainability and scalability. Developed by InWithFor, this process is now being used in TACSI’s Family by Family program. inwithfor.org
MoJo: An initiative of the Mozilla Foundation and Knight Foundation, to foster innovation in newsrooms. The first stage is a challenge. The winners are invited to participate in a “HackFest,” and finally 5 participants are selected as Fellows and placed for several months in a major newsroom. Funded by the Knight Foundation. https://wiki.mozilla.org/Drumbeat/MoJo
Clearly, I was missing the point. The goal of challenges and intensives isn’t to come up with final solutions. The goals are to inspire new and creative thinking, to bring attention to an issue, to identify creative entrepreneurs, and to build buzz. Once that work has been done, a community of interest has developed, a common language is emerging, and people are increasingly on the same page, taking on the “hairy” problems is a more viable prospect.
I’m (you may have guessed) most inspired right now by the projects which are embedding researchers in institutions. Attempts to inspire innovation in a field would almost certainly benefit (and perhaps require) the use of all four of the methods identified above. Part of the challenge is to identify which method would do the most to address the field’s current state with respect to innovation. (This may not be knowable; it’s dependent on the on-the-same-page-ness of practitioners.)
So based on all this, I’m going to propose that:
- Challenges produce ideas
- Intensives produce models
- Embedded research produces validation (or, more likely, invalidation)
(Co-location produces: on-the-same-page-ness? experience with and capacity for collaboration? acceleration? momentum? all of the above?)
- discussed my findings with ‘thought leaders’ in the sector, for their feedback
- researched more initiatives (both past and present), which might validate or invalidate my proposal about which approaches produce which kinds of value
- created more rigid definitions for the four categories of methods
- looked for methods which don’t fall easily into my four categories; especially seeking ones which are complimentary or subsequent to ‘embedding researchers’