Innovation is one of those modern business buzzwords that everybody knows, but only few can actually put into meaningful practice. This is especially the case in local councils or municipalities, that are rapidly getting access to new large amounts of data about their city or region, but are struggling to use this data to improve wellbeing of citizens.
In May 2012, the Wall Street Journal published an article, stating that, as the word “innovation” increased in usage, it decreased in meaning. Quarterly and annual reports that year used the word ‘innovation’ 33,528 times, while 43% of (US) company executives said that their company has a chief innovation officer or similar role, and 28% of business schools had the word ‘innovation’, ‘innovate’ or ‘innovative’ in their mission statements.
While this may seem like a good thing, the fact that the success rate of innovations hasn’t changed means that the term ‘innovation’ has lost much of its meaning. So before starting an ‘innovation’ project, it is helpful to see what innovation really means.
What is innovation, really?
A recent article in Forbes Magazine defined innovation as:
“Innovation is [doing] something different that creates value.”
“When people hear the term “innovation,” they tend to think of new-to-the-world gadgets that fundamentally change how we live our lives. Yes, but it’s many other things, too. Let’s break down the definition:
- “Something” includes products and technology. It also includes services, processes, revenue models and loads of other things. Consider this: Many would argue, quite convincingly, that the Toyota Production System was one of the biggest innovations of the 20th century.
- “Different” often surprises people. After all, even Merriam Webster defines innovation as “something new.” But here’s the thing: One of the most commonly cited innovations, the iPhone, wasn’t new. Even Steve Jobs admitted it when he said in his keynote speech that Apple was introducing three products: a widescreen iPod with touch controls, a mobile phone and an internet-connected device. The iPhone was different, however, because it combined those three devices into one.
- “Creates value” is probably the most important part of the definition. All innovations solve problems. Solving problems creates value. If you solve a big problem, either because it’s a problem lots of people have or it’s a very painful problem a few people have or something in-between, you create a lot of value for others and for yourself.”
Innovation for local government
The Dutch A&O Fonds (Dutch Foundation for labour market and education for municipalities) therefore has been organising training sessions for employees in municipalities, providing a new data-driven innovation methodology. Based on a step-by-step workbook, co-authored by one of the DotSpace co-founders, participants learn to make innovation projects run smoothly.
“Innovation is a skill that can be learned and has become of great importance for municipalities to be able to continue to deliver public value. “Joris Kruse, DotSpace Foundation
Data driven innovation
Municipalities have been using data in their work for decades. Since 2013, the use of data has intensified, referred to by terms such as ‘data-driven management’, ‘information-driven management’ or, more neutrally, ‘data-driven working’.
All kinds of experiments have shown that there is value in data for local governments. For example, to gain new insights from so-called dashboards. To make predictions and use them as a basis for determining the deployment of enforcers. Or to do simulations, so that you can determine in advance whether a certain, often expensive, intervention in public space will have the desired effect.
Experiments in recent years have shown that innovation processes are not always easy. If innovation is creating new value, then we as local authorities are faced with the question of how we can innovate professionally using data.
From innovative idea to implementation
Have you been walking around with an innovative idea for a while, but you can’t get it right on paper? Or is there a lack of progress in your project or support from your management? Then you will benefit from the methodology. The workbook is full of exercises and learning from colleagues at municipalities.
On the basis of practical exercises, you will make a flying start with your innovation plan in four modules and you will take concrete steps with your project. You gain insight into achievable innovation goals, work packages, who you should involve and what planning you should think about.
Download the practical guidebook
To help local governments, but also other interested companies or specialists, dotSpace co-founder Joris Kruse and innovation consultant Martin Jansen created a practical guidebook. Using this tool, innovation project team members work through a series of steps to identify data driven innovation opportunities, learn how to ‘sell’ these to management and successfully implement in the organisation.
To accomplish this, the guide contains twelve exercises to help you analyse your own case. You can do this at the start, during a possible reorientation of your data-driven work trajectory or somewhere along the way. You can use the diagrams individually, for example in your role as project leader. But it is more powerful to do this together with your team, because in this way you can quickly grasp the various aspects of your project. Your harvest will be richer as a team.