Reflecting upon 12 Months of iLab

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2015 has been a busy first year for the ip&e iLab. It’s hard to believe that it’s just over 12 months since I first pitched the idea of an innovation lab to our COO. When I reflect upon everything we’ve done since being given the green light to progress the concept, I feel proud about what we have achieved. Of course that’s not to say that we haven’t made a few mistakes along the way, but in the true spirit of prototyping we’ve learned from them and moved on. We’ve still got a way to go, but the hard work we’ve put in during 2015 gives us good grounding to take iLab to the next level in 2016.

Since we opened for business, 24 ideas have been submitted, and 8 of those have progressed into full iLab missions (design challenges). But we haven’t discarded those ideas that didn’t make it through our iLab mission control the first time around. Whilst around a third of ideas progressed into design challenges this year, the rest remain on-ice, waiting for more information, the right partner, the right funding or simply the right time to progress them further.

So what have we been up to? Well we’ve worked on 8 iLab missions:

  • BlasterHow might we find ways for ip&e to support people with disabilities into work?
  • NibblesHow might we design new ideas that enable people who through a life change care for someone, to make healthier food choices?
  • Social GoodHow might we support ip&e staff to increase the social good they undertake in the community?
  • FusionHow might we find ways for ip&e to reduce its electricity and fuel consumption?
  • Fit GuerrillaHow might we find ways to enable people to become more active whilst at work?
  • VIPERHow might we find ways for ip&e to quickly respond to national and international crisis situations in order to coordinate acts of social good?
  • ColoursHow might we help inject some of the energy, the fun and the colour that surrounds our children in to the worlds of older adults?
  • Share My SundayHow might we find ways for people to share their Sundays?

Each of the missions has provided us with its own set of successes and failures. We’ve learned a lot about what solutions do and don’t work, but we’ve also learned about how to run the missions themselves. We’ve learned that choosing the right type of challenge, and the right way to progress it through the iLab is an important factor when it comes to ensuring that iLab time is time well spent. We’ve also learned that setting timescales for delivery is vital, as is choosing the right partners and collaborators. As we move into 2016 we’ll be putting our learning into practice. Over the past couple of weeks we’ve been sharing our thinking around Colours, so it’s a case of watch this space as far as partners go. We will also be starting to look at pulling together the right team to partner with us on the development of Share My Sunday – If the Bisto ad campaign this Christmas has taught us one thing, it’s that we need to move faster with our ideas, not to beat the competition – there will always be competition, but because our ideas are valid. It’s quite often all too easy to be modest or let self doubt creep in, but we need to be more confident in progressing ideas that we know through our intuition and scoping activity have real potential.

But the iLab isn’t all about undertaking social design challenges. One of our key objectives is to promote service design and design thinking as catalysts for social change, so we’ve been working hard to spread the word and create new networks. In the summer I attended the largest gathering of innovation labs in the world, the Nesta LabWorks Conference, and I met some great contacts from as far away as Australia and Texas (and a few from here in the UK too) who were really interested in what we were doing here in Shropshire – so we’ve done a bit to raise the profile of ip&e and Shropshire Council as innovators in public services, but there is always more to do. Inside ip&e we’ve been running fortnightly #LabBlabs – focused sessions where over lunch staff can share and talk about their favourite online social design and innovation content. We’ve found the #LabBlabs a really good way of fostering our own creativity and have shared the best links in an external mail-out we call the iLab Voyager Update (because just like voyager we’re searching the universe for content so that you don’t have to). We’ve also started a Social Design Drinks movement, running two events, first in Shrewsbury, and most recently in Oswestry – We issued an open invite to people to come and have a chat over a pint on a Wednesday evening, and we met some brilliant socially minded people from a range of different backgrounds and sectors, that we hope we can keep in touch with, and even partner with should the right idea come along; we’re hoping that the movement will continue to gather pace with more Social Design Drinks events planned for 2016

I’ve used my reflections to create 5 iLab top priorities for 2016 which I’ve summarised below (in no particular order):

  • Collaborate – Forming mission teams that contain the right people, with the right knowledge, is really important. We’ve struggled on a couple of our missions because we didn’t have the right mix. Innovation isn’t something that you can do for some one, you have to do it with them, so working in collaboration is essential.
  • Network – Talking to more people and bringing them on-board will be a real make or break for the iLab in 2016. In order to collaborate we need to have links both within the organisation and outside of it. We need to get out and talk to more people about our work and grow our networks by organising more Social Design Drinks events and by joining existing groups. Running the first Service Jam Shrewsbury will also provide a great way of expanding the iLab network, not just locally but internationally, whilst also creating something tangible and worthwhile in a really short period of time.
  • Faster Challenges – We need to get better at following our hunches and just get on and run challenges. We’ve been working on challenges which have taken up a lot of time – in large part because we wanted to get the research right in order to ensure that our solution has the greatest impact, but perhaps sometimes we got so caught up in the detail that we lost too much momentum. We’ve learned from other innovation labs, and also the third sector that JFDI doesn’t necessarily mean ‘not designed’, and JFDI solutions can have a huge impact on a community; and anyway so what if not all of our challenges save the world, so long as the outcomes they achieve help to move us in the right direction that’s OK, right?
  • Select the right challenges – At least 50% of our challenges have been inward focused. That’s OK in theory because part of the iLab purpose is to design solutions which help the company. But we should be mindful to ensure that when we are selecting which ideas to turn in to challenges, we pick ones that are also going to enable us to work with external partners, share knowledge, share learning, and achieve some real social value for and with the people in our communities.
  • Measure Impact – Measuring the impact of our work is really important because it enables us to prove our worth. But we need to design new ways to measure the real impact of our work, not just rely on traditional bean counting. Quite often the hard to communicate human stories get lost in the easy to collect data. We need to find and communicate new ways of thinking about impact in order to ensure that we can reflect the difference that our work has had, not only on the people that the challenge was seeking to help, but also through the wider ripples it will continue to create through the inspiration others in the sharing community might take from it.

So we’ve got a lot to look forward to in 2016 – It’s going to be an exciting year. We’re going to be running our first truly collaborative missions, as well as organising the first Shrewsbury gathering of the Global Service Jam on 27th & 28th February.  It’s been an interesting 2015, not without it’s ups and downs, but as I reflect upon the past 12 months it’s obvious that we’ve both achieved and learned a whole lot.

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year – It would be great to hook up with you all in 2016! Drop us a line, we’d love to hear from you.

Simon Penny – @simon_penny



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