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Ten Enabling Conditions for Innovation Labs

Friday, February 12, 2016

by Nick Charney RSS / cpsrenewalFacebook / cpsrenewalLinkedIn / Nick Charneytwitter / nickcharneygovloop / nickcharneyGoogle+ / nickcharney

We've written a lot about innovation and innovation labs in the past (See: The Future of Innovation Labs: Accelerating Social Movements of Convening Solutions Ecosystems,Innovation Strategies: Centralized and Dedicated or Distributed and Open, On Prioritizing Policy Innovation: Wicked or Tame Problems?Why Governments Would Never Deploy Adobe's Kickbox and Why Maybe They Should, etc.) but now having worked inside one for the last month I can say with a degree of certainty that the biggest differentiating factor between a lab environment and a traditional government office (at least in my experience) is the underlying ethos of hope and experimentation. Both of which have been sadly absent from most of the places I've worked previously.

Now, that's not to say I haven't worked with good people (I have) or done good work (I have) but even in environments where I've been able to do good work with good people I haven't felt the same sense of hope or willingness to experiment that I have in my current role. Maybe I've drunk the kool-aid but the energy is nothing short of contagious

Surely there are a number of factors that help enable this kind of environment, and I doubt all labs are the same. That said, I'll try to name a few of the enabling conditions that I've observed thus far (in no particular order):

  1. People who are curiously optimistic, outcome focused and willing to fail in the pursuit of creating new public value streams
  2. Leadership that is willing (mindset) and able (skillset) to act as first line of defence against the "no-machine"
  3. Senior Management that is accessible, audibly champions experimentation, and puts their weight behind it through their actions
  4. Just enough hierarchy to get things through the system but not so much as to weigh any person or project down
  5. Direct ownership over projects / files (and all that comes with it)
  6. No duplication of work
  7. Trust as proxy for formal checks and balances
  8. Rigorous time management and firm commitment to deadlines
  9. Open and honest communication among team members
  10. Flexible working arrangements for everyone at all levels
I'm sure there's more, but that's as good a place as any to start.