Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Social Innovation

A good piece by Geoff Mulgan about 'social innovation'.

"Although more policy ideas are now piloted than in the past, there are very few institutions devoted to social innovation, no widely accepted methods for doing it, no serious academic works analysing it and no widely used metrics for measuring it. Worse, there are strong disincentives to innovate in both the public and voluntary sectors. It is well known that the penalties for failed innovations are often high while the rewards for successful ones are slim....."


"... all new ideas threaten existing vested interests. Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised that ineffective models survive far longer than they should - for instance, in fields as various as criminal justice (where recidivism rates remain ridiculously high) and education (where levels of truancy and the number of people not currently in employment, education or training have remained stubbornly high for a decade or more)."

I'd add another brake on social innovation: Anyone that comes up with a good idea, and finds a way of making it commercially sustainable faces the following hurdles:
  1. The public sector likes the idea, and decides to 'procure' it (i.e. decide to do it, they either work out ways that it can be done without outsourcing it, or ways that they can get an external supplier to help them 'tick the box' without being that bothered about doing it properly)
  2. The public sector likes the idea so much that they give an NGO the money they need to do it. Even though someone in the private sector has already invested in the idea and is trying to do it in a commercially sustainable way.

Examples? Seen CITRA? A good idea, no? Someone put a lot of hard work and their own money into it. So why are the Government giving £Millions to NCVO to launch an 'ICT Hub'? And have you seen Governance Magazine - aimed at Charity governors? (OK, probably not, unless you're a charity governor...). A good idea, no? Again, money, hard work, and people who know what they're doing. So why are the Government giving NCVO £millions to launch 'The Governance Hub'?

There are plenty more where that comes from. The lesson? If you have a bright idea, don't invest any of your own time or energy in it, because the government will come along and balls it up for you.


Green Fairy said...

The problem lies with the traditional notion of central government as a 'trainer' a 'mandator' or 'director' or in all sense of the word, the power-holder of policy.

I think it needs to be transformed, or transform itself, into a facilitator of policy, of dialogue and action. Donald Schon said this in the 1970's, and perhaps this naive and idealistic view might be something which will only ever be espoused and not enacted, although I'd hope that localism, double devolution and the coming reorganisation of local government would present a splendid opportunity for new patterns of policy making, innovation and governance to emerge.

Central government is not capable of understanding social innovation, or organisational innovation if it does not attempt, experiment or innovate itself. While central government employs tens of thousands of people and has many 'channels of communication' (communication in this context meaning one-way data transfer) making a lot of white noise across Whitehall, it has practically no spaces for dialogue or collaborative or deliberative processes across departments.

Develop legitmacy and more flexible structures to allow transformative dialoue (and not just dialogue) to emerge within government, and I suspect this would reveal a surprisngly large number of people who understand the lunacy and duplication which occurs across sectors and thus begin the long overdue process of birthing itself into the new age. Man. :-)

Paulie said...

Wow! Far out!

Is 'dialoue' a typo Green Fairy? Or is it a word I should be dropping into conversations?


Government has a whole industry designed to ensure that this transformative 'dialoue' never happens. That's the problem.

Anonymous said...

Re: Hubs

As anyone who works at NCVO will tell you, the organisation is near-collapsing under the weight of its own ambition. The Hubs were not an act of altruism, merely a land-grab for resources. The money would have been far better spent elsewhere; instead, all you have is people spending money like it was going out of fashion in order to feather their own nests with little accountability.

— NCVO employee